Support the Mental Health of Children

By Dick Shaner, Jr.

Against the Storm Foundation, Inc. (ASF) recently raised $10,000 for Mental Health Advocates (MHA) of WNY to support its Basic Emotional Skills Training (BEST) program. BEST provides classroom-based learning to help pre-K through K youngsters in the Cheektowaga Central School District develop healthy social and emotional skills.

Many students in this age group are socially and emotionally unprepared for kindergarten.

The BEST program is proven to increase skills that enable young students to understand feelings and interact with others in a healthy, socially responsible manner. Lack of these skills can result in 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 the Against the Storm Foundation is proud to support this important effort,” said Thomas Lillis, president. “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 in life.”

“The BEST program is an amazing resource for our students at Union East,” said school social worker, Maria Kocialski. “The teachers love the lessons and look forward to working them into their own curriculum. They particularly love the classroom engagement and interaction with their students by the BEST staff. Parents also look forward to this program and enjoy the carryover with their children at home.”

“BEST has developed a strong working relationship with the students, staff, and families in Cheektowaga,” said BEST Program Director Mary Lou Montanari. “All students need the social-emotional skills training that BEST offers. Through BEST, students learn to be “peacemakers” who share, discuss emotions, and handle anger and conflict non-violently, thus building a foundation for academic and interpersonal success.”

BEST currently serves a diverse population of 579 students in the district. The grant from the Against the Storm Foundation will help continue and expand this program in Cheektowaga through the end of the current school year.

Established in 2019, the Against the Storm Foundation, Inc. is a New York State-authorized not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Its mission is to help fight blood cancers and support other causes that will improve the health and quality of life of people in need. For more information visit:

Mental Health Advocates of WNY promotes mental health and well-being in our community and supports individuals and families living with mental illness through advocacy, treatment linkage, and outreach services. A non-profit agency, MHA delivers non-clinical services to more than 17,000 individuals each year in homes, schools, hospitals, community organizations, and workplaces across Western New York. For more information see www.MHAWNY.ORG.

Dick Shaner, Jr. is a public relations professional and freelance writer.