Mayors discuss Valley issues and volunteer honored at annual Breakfast

Volunteer of the Year, Kahme presents to Dr. Velderman

Community stakeholders, elected officials, and representatives from local organizations gathered for the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance’s 26th Mayors’ Breakfast on Wednesday, October 12, 2022 at the Brick Farm Tavern. This annual event features updates from the HV Municipal Alliance and each Hopewell Valley mayor, as well as honors a HV Municipal Alliance Volunteer of the Year. This year, the award was presented to Dr. Christopher Velderman, aHopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) administrator.

Mental health was the main topic at this year’s event. To gain a better understanding of our community’s youth’s mental health, the HV Municipal Alliance, in cooperation with HVSRD, conducted a survey this May of 1,331 students grades 6 to 12. The survey assessed how successfully adolescent lives are being positively influenced by “protective assets” or benchmarks in the 40 Asset Model that indicates a healthy upbringing. Click here for the list of assets.

The results are sobering. HV Municipal Alliance director, Heidi Kahme, explained that HVRSD students are meeting only 20 out of 40 “protective assets,” matching the national norm. Alcohol is clearly the “drug of choice” with 22% of surveyed students having consumed it within the last 30 days. A startling 11% of surveyed students attempted suicide in the past, a number that doubles with LBGTQ+ students.

One of the ways that the Municipal Alliance is working to help students is by offering a Youth Mental Health First Aid Training program from November through March. The program trains individuals who work with youth to identify signs of mental health issues and provides tools for how to help. (See “Helping Identify Mental Health Warning Signs, Municipal Alliance Offers Training in Youth Mental Health First Aid” for past coverage. For more information about the upcoming training programs, please contact the HV Municipal Alliance.)

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes spoke about his own struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction. “Someone didn’t fill those assets for me,” he said about his youth, wishing that he had the support and commitment of people like those in the HV Municipal Alliance, describing the organization as “perfectly poised” to help more young people.

Hopewell Township Mayor Courtney Peters-Manning said, “It feels like we’ve really turned a corner in the pandemic… but we can’t do that without being mindful of the impact this has… on our youth.” She remarked at how much students have missed — some of them their entire middle school experience. “Our kids are in a precarious position. During the pandemic, quite a few of these assets were outside of our control, and families themselves have also been dealing with enormous stress. We all have been. I say this to highlight the importance of all of you in the Municipal Alliance. Community is critical, and especially in times of great stress, it is an asset we all can work towards providing for our youth.”

Pennington Borough Mayor Jim Davy spoke about Pennington’s current priorities, namely NJDEP funding for two projects: 1) landfill remediation investigation; and 2) lead pipe replacement. Davy said that Pennington residents should expect a community meeting regarding the future of the Pennington landfill, and noted that the inventory of lead service lines (those from the street to residences) is 80% complete. He also spoke about the future arboretum that will be behind Toll Gate Grammar School. Currently, the Borough is taking down dead ash trees and will install a split rail fence.

Hopewell Borough mayor, Paul Anzano spoke excitedly about the Borough evolving as a destination. He highlighted many of the newly arrived businesses downtown, as well as projected greater revenue and community building opportunities including a planned cannabis dispensary and the transformation of the Old Baptist Church into a community meeting space.

Capital Health was a partner of the event and continues to work toward overlapping goals as the HV Municipal Alliance. 

“I’m thrilled to share that Capital Health will soon be launching our Anti-Vaping Campaign, ‘Be Smart, Don’t Start,” said Rebecca Kelly, Community Relations Manager for Capital Health. “With November’s designation as Lung Cancer Awareness Month, local middle school students, sixth through eighth grade, will be invited to enter our public service announcement video contest, along with a chance to win a monetary prize for their school’s PTO,” Kelly continued.

“Rather than learning about vaping from adults, we know that peer-to-peer messaging often has the greatest impact on students,“ Kelly stated. “This campaign allows students to help spread the word about the dangers of vaping in a creative way, while using their own voice and talents to do it. We’re excited to see what they’ll submit and encourage students to enter.” 

Kelly said that details will be coming  in early November to local middle schools and on Capital Health’s website.

This year’s HV Municipal Alliance Volunteer of the Year was presented by HVRSD Director of Pupil Services Paulette DiNardo to award winner Dr. Christopher Velderman.

Velderman has worked for HVRSD for more than11 years, as a school psychologist / case manager. For the past five years, he has served as the high school student assistance counselor. Some of the influential programs in which Velderman has been a leader include: Sources of Strength program runner, PANDA club advisor, and the Signs of Suicide program for students and parents.  

“He has made the hallways of Central High School a better, more inclusive place for all of us,” said DiNardo.

Those in attendance included County Executive Brian Hughes, Senator Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli, County Commissioner Lucy Walter, Hopewell Township Mayor Courtney Peters-Manning, Committee members David Chait, Kevin Kuchinski, Michael Ruger, Hopewell Borough Mayor Paul Anzano, Council members Ryan Kennedy and Samara McAuliffe, and Pennington Borough Mayor Jim Davy.

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