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Ocean City Library Looks to Expand Wellness Programs

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The Ocean City Free Public Libary will feature more programming devoted to mental health and wellness.

By MADDY VITALE

Ocean City takes health and wellness seriously. From the library to the schools to city officials, the focus, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, has been on programming, wellness centers and other initiatives to keep the overall well-being of a resident or visitor at the forefront.

Jennifer Shirk, president of the Ocean City Free Public Library Board of Trustees, spoke about an idea she had during Monday’s board meeting.

A webinar she watched in May focused on different mental health-centered initiatives and programming and Shirk said she would like for the library to expand its wellness programs.

I met with the mayor (Jay Gillian) a couple of months ago. We were talking about mental health and I was looking to the school to be a community partner. I really feel the library is a good entity for resources and a valuable partner for mental health.”

She also met with Karen Mahar, the library director, and she plans on meeting with both Gillian and Mahar at separate meetings sometime this month.

“The library would be the huge factor and I’m hoping the city would agree and we could partner with the city and with the schools,” Shirk told the board.

She noted in an interview that Gillian has been a supporter of wellness program. In May during a City Council meeting, he presented a proclamation naming May as Mental Health Awareness Month in Ocean City.

Shirk said that Mahar would be in charge of spearheading more wellness programs.

Library Director Karen Mahar will assemble a team to go over ideas for new wellness programs.

The focus would begin, however, with Mahar and her team. She would put together a group of librarians to go over ideas for new wellness programs.

“I spoke to Karen about this and suggested the idea of her bringing together a team who she thinks could brainstorm and partner with the schools,” Shirk explained.

The library hopes to not only partner with the school district, which has wellness centers in the primary, intermediate and high schools, but also other groups.

Shirk said the library could even work with the city’s Health Advisory Council and the Senior Center on events and activities people can do to improve wellness.

Although the library is already known for its abundance of programming, including some that focus on wellness, there is always more that could be done, Shirk said.

Expanding programming that focuses on people of all ages and their mental health and wellness are keys, Shirk said, noting that it is so important now more than ever after the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many people experienced isolation due to the social distancing rules.

“We do events all year long. But it’s about education. Mental health and wellness programs are important. It’s not just about therapy and medication,” Shirk said.

She said that the library does a lot of fun programming. The wellness programs would have specific tags and themes for wellness from nutrition to physical activity to activities to strengthen the mind.

Students cut the ribbon to the Intermediate School Wellness Center in January of 2020 as then-Principal Michael Mattina looks on. (Photo provided)

Shirk emphasized that she would like to see the city list some of the library events that focus on wellness on its website, ocnj.us. That, she said could help broaden the pool of residents who may see the events and attend.

Interim Schools Superintendent Terry Crowley Sr., who was at Monday’s library board meeting, said that the school district is happy to share its resources with the library.

“They have done a lot of planning,” Crowley said of the staff at the schools, specifically at the wellness centers. “It’s a partnership that makes a lot of sense and we have resources we can share with you.”

Shirk said that she would be happy to speak with the school officials about sharing resources.

“Schools have great resources. It would also be great to make kids aware of what the library has to offer,” she said.

There isn’t a timeline as of yet for when new events and activities would begin that focus specifically on wellness. That all depends on Mahar’s team.

But Shirk said she hopes that there will be some new wellness initiatives by the fall offered by the library.

“Who knows, maybe we will start off small and then have something big in May for Mental Health Awareness month,” she said.

And while mental health issues are not solely an Ocean City issue, but a country-wide one, Shirk said “the one thing people in Ocean City can do is work on Ocean City.”

“I think it would say a lot about Ocean City and its concerns for its citizens,” she said. “We can focus on Ocean City – our community.”