By Annette Pinder

It’s always great to report good news. Recently, Against the Storm Foundation (ASF) awarded $10,000 to Mental Health Advocates of WNY (MHA) to support the mental health of pre-K through K children in the Cheektowaga Central School District. The grant will provide these children with Basic Emotional Skills Training (BEST), a program designed to help them develop healthy social and emotional skills.

Many pre-K through K children are socially and emotionally unprepared for kindergarten.

BEST is proven to increase skills to help young children understand their feelings and interact with others in a healthy, socially responsible manner. Lack of these skills can lead to poor academic performance, social isolation, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

“We are in the midst of a national crisis in child and adolescent mental health, exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our kids, and ASF is proud to support this important effort,” says ASF President Thomas Lillis. “Bringing mental health into the classroom at such an early age will hopefully establish a framework for these young people to significantly improve their academic, social, and economic outcomes, leading to success in school and life.”

School social worker Maria Kocialski notes that teachers and parents look forward to incorporating the program into the school curriculum, which will then help to carry these skills over into the home environment. BEST program director Mary Lou Montanari confirms the importance of children learning to share and discuss their emotions, and handle anger and conflict nonviolently.

The grant, which will continue through the end of the year, serves a diverse population of 579 students. Learn more about ASF and MHA at and