How Union County officials plan to address growing mental health issues

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ELIZABETH — Staying connected to the community, adding mental health programs and services, and cultural enrichment and recreation will be the focus of the Union County Board of Commissioners in 2022.

Commissioner Rebecca L. Williams announced the initiatives at the county reorganization meeting on Thursday where she was selected as council chair. Commissioner Christopher Hudak was named Vice-Chair.

As part of the “Connecting our Community” initiative, Williams said the county is developing a countywide fiber ring, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act.

She said it will be completed in three phases, with the first two phases to begin in early 2022 involving connectivity between county buildings and the parks system.

Rebecca L. Williams has been selected as Chair of the Union County Board of Commissioners for 2022.

The third phase will add municipal buildings and police departments to the network. When complete, the life expectancy of this fiber network is 20 years and will help bridge the digital divide to better ensure public safety and overall network reliability, Williams said.

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To improve connections for mental health and wellbeing, Williams will work with the county’s Department of Social Services on additional programs and services.

Citing that many have experienced stress, anxiety and grief related to isolation during the pandemic, Williams said the mental and emotional well-being of residents is key to moving forward this year.

Christopher Hudak is sworn in as Vice Chairman of the Union County Board of Commissioners.

Christopher Hudak is sworn in as Vice Chairman of the Union County Board of Commissioners.

To build connections through cultural enrichment and recreation, Williams said a series of programs will be introduced to help define Union County as a community. She said there are plans to set up an arts and cultural theater development program for emerging playwrights to develop their work with staged readings, hiring actors and renting facilities, such as the Union County Performing Arts Center.

She said a ribbon cutting is planned for this year’s opening of an all-inclusive area at Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield. The park will include a playground with intergenerational attractions, traditional play equipment and aural and musical expression and Union County’s first meditation maze.

Newly elected James E. Baker Jr. is sworn in as a member of the Union County Board of Commissioners.

Newly elected James E. Baker Jr. is sworn in as a member of the Union County Board of Commissioners.

An intergenerational community engagement program is also planned where young people can work with older people on different projects.

“Social connection for those who are particularly locked down is extremely important to the health of our elderly population. And as I mentioned earlier, throughout the pandemic, I have recognized the importance of maintaining relationships and not to be isolated,” Williams said. “The simplest things like phone calls, card writing, virtual hospital or home visits could change someone’s mental health and this project would be great for including our most vulnerable population.”

In a private installation ceremony prior to the reorganization meeting, Commissioners Alexander Mirabella and Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded were sworn in for their next term and James E. Baker Jr. was sworn in for his first term as Commissioner.

Email: srussell@gannettnj.com

Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, the courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Union County NJ officials plan to tackle growing mental health issues

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