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As mental health concerns mounted in the early 1960s, five leaders in a northern New Jersey town took on the problem, creating a nonprofit to provide area residents professional treatment close to home.
Sixty years later, NewBridge Services is a regional provider of counseling, housing and education that annually helps thousands of children, adults and seniors in Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties, and beyond. Over the decades, NewBridge Services has expanded both its service area and programs to meet emerging needs.
“My dad would be in amazement at the depth, breadth and vitality of NewBridge,” said Andy Atwood, whose late father, the Rev. Donner B. Atwood, was one of the founders.
NewBridge tackles some of society’s toughest issues, including mental illness, substance use, isolation, and homelessness. It offers psychological first aid in the aftermath of tragedies and natural disasters. NewBridge provides affordable housing for people with special needs, and supports seniors so they can remain in their homes. It helps keep families together, and gives young adults who leave high school a second chance at earning a diploma and finding a career path.
NewBridge partners with federal and state agencies, local governments, other nonprofits and volunteers. Last year, NewBridge joined forces with Christian Health, a large health care organization in North Jersey, to ensure NewBridge’s sustainability long into the future. NewBridge purchased property for a new headquarters adjacent to its adult psychiatric day treatment program and apartments for adults with special needs in Pequannock’s Pompton Plains section. By 2024, NewBridge will operate its headquarters from the campus.
“We are proud of our rich history, and as we look forward, we remain committed to identifying community needs and developing solutions that bring balance to people’s lives,” NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden said.
NewBridge was founded as the Pequannock Valley Mental Health Center, coinciding with President John F. Kennedy signing legislation for providing mental health care where people live and work.
Atwood, pastor of The First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains, Dr. Kurt Manrodt, and municipal judge Herbert Irwin, had each witnessed growing mental health challenges in the community. None could fix the problem alone, so they joined forces, along with residents Mary Jane Kelly and James Ryan, to create the nonprofit.
“The foresight of our founders was transformational,” Borden said.
The mental health agency opened its doors on Dec. 23, 1963 in the former Pompton Plains library by town hall. It now has locations in Haskell, Parsippany, Pequannock and Sparta, operates five group homes and provides 84 units of affordable housing throughout northern New Jersey.
NewBridge Board of Trustees President Debbie King, daughter of Ryan, said, “I think he would be so proud to see how the organization has grown.”
To celebrate its 60th anniversary, NewBridge will honor the five founders at NewBridge Services Legacy of Hope Gala on May 11. Information about tickets and sponsorships is available at newbridge2023.givesmart.com. NewBridge will also release stories on the founders, all deceased, over the coming months.
Supporters of NewBridge will be able to purchase commemorative bricks for a walkway to be created at NewBridge’s new campus. Details on the fundraiser will soon be available at newbridge.org.
Adaptability has long been a pillar of NewBridge, and the pandemic underscored that.
“Our staff showed incredible ingenuity and flexibility to ensure clients’ treatment never flagged.” Borden said. NewBridge pivoted to virtual care, and resumed offering in-person treatment as soon as it was allowed. “That is now part of our story,” she said, noting NewBridge plans to bury a time capsule in 2023 to be opened on its 70th anniversary.
NewBridge Services, a 501c(3) nonprofit, is a leading provider of counseling services, housing and educational programs in northern New Jersey, helping thousands of children, adults and seniors each year. NewBridge treats mental illnesses and addictions; teaches skills for coping with stress, grief and challenging relationships; helps children who have been abused and neglected — and their families — heal; builds and manages affordable housing; offers school-based programs that teach children and adolescents resiliency skills for healthy emotional development; helps young adults succeed in their education and prepare for careers; and supports seniors so they can remain independent. Throughout its 60-year history, NewBridge has remained true to its mission of bringing balance to people’s lives by tracking shifts in communities’ needs and providing innovative, effective programs to meet them.