In October 2017, the Fund approved a two-year grant of $365,604 to Rutgers University Foundation, to support Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) in launching a peer tele-support mental health program for New York City and Northern New Jersey residents who are blind or visually impaired. The project aimed to provide peer support services, to develop a clinical psychology referral network in NYC as well as within UBHC, and, to refer callers to professional mental health care and vision rehabilitation services.
Through multiple outreach events, meetings, and contact with service providers, Rutgers is building its referral network and growing its clientele. With a streamlined intake process and accessible documentation system in place, peer counselors reported serving 95 clients, providing a total of 2,222 supportive contacts from October 2019 – December 2020. Since March 2020, the average number of peer contacts per week more than doubled. This reflects both heightened need for support and services during Covid, as well as greater awareness of the program resulting from increased outreach efforts, media coverage, and word of mouth. Survey results so far indicate high rates of client satisfaction, the most common rating being the highest (“very satisfied”). The service is now available nationwide. The Lavelle Fund renewed its support for this project in 2021.