By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
BRIDGETON — It was the shooting that made national headlines and led the news coverage on CNN and other national shows the night it happened — two dead and 12 injured during a mass shooting at a party in Fairfield Township in Bridgeton in May of 2021.
The shooting stunned locals but surprised few with the climbing number of violent gun deaths among young people in the area.
While the news played out that weekend, a phone call was made by local businessman and community activist Richard Todd Edwards to Amy Mansue, president of Inspira Health Network.
The friends talked about the tragedy, which led to a larger conversation about what could be done beyond talk and the condolences to follow.
Part of that answer came in March when U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez announced that a $1 million federal grant to a coalition that included Inspira Health Network, the grassroots community nonprofit Life Worth Living, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae and Gateway Community Action Partnership to tackle community violence.
The funds will be used to support a no-cost summer camp as well as year-round support services for youth in violence-impacted and disadvantaged areas in the county. It will provide funding for 30,000 hours of supportive services to area youth between the ages of 10 and 24, year-round case management services to address physical and mental health, mentoring for academic success, and economic mobility by an array of licensed providers.
“We expanded into the hospitals and we’re now engaging families that may come in with a family member with a gunshot wound or force trauma with credible messages,” John Fuqua, the founder of the Bridgeton-based Life Worth Living, told Front Runner New Jersey this month.
“We are now in these different spaces helping families with the challenges of violence.”
That kind of organizational planning and funding is critical in curbing community violence in Cumberland County, which is often cited as the poorest county in the state, based on census figures. The poverty in Cumberland County is 15.5%, well above the state average of under 10%.
“We’re covering more areas right now and reaching more people,” Fuqua said. “Without our partners, we wouldn’t be able to branch out to make our mark.”
Fuqua and Robin Walton, senior vice president of government and external affairs at Inspira, said it was a true partnership that crossed political aisles.
Walton praised the effort of not only Menendez but U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew in helping the group secure the proposal funding.
Walton, who has worked as an executive across government, higher education and healthcare entities, said it is these types of community, private sector and public sector collaborations that can make a real difference.
The funds from the federal grants is also helping established programs like the area Police Athletic Leagues and local recreational activities, allowing for additional training for youth/young adult volunteers, and addressing barriers to youth engagement.
Fuqua and Walton said the best is yet to come from the alliance, in making families and the communities healthier and safer in Cumberland County.
“To think, it was just a matter of picking up the phone and calling somebody,” Fuqua said. “They had enough and wanted to know what can be done to help. Since then, Inspira and all of our other partners have been locked in and gave us their resources and time to make a difference.”
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