SNJ Today Becomes Follow South Jersey; Student Journalists to Provide Local News, COVID-19 Updates

Contact: Michael Mandarino, Assignment Editor
(908) 296-7245 |


Bridgeton, N.J. — Today, Hopeloft, Inc. formally announces the rebranding of SNJ Today to Follow South Jersey, a local nonprofit news organization for residents of Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties. The name SNJ Today has been a staple in our community since 2013, but it is now time to create a more active brand in local news. The core values of SNJ Today’s local news coverage remain, but are bolstered now with an increased focus on local engagement and local advocacy. We are encouraging you to not just read the news but follow it.

Previously, SNJ Today included news stories and important community information delivered through a free website, newspaper, and across multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Under the Follow South Jersey brand, we will focus on social media and will cover topics related to education, community resources, child welfare, and public health–with a particular focus on the City of Bridgeton and providing resources for people in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.All will be located at

“Access to current local news is more important than ever,” said Hopeloft founder Melissa Helmbrecht. “This is a scary and uncertain moment as we are experiencing the effects of the pandemic and months-long shutdown in our homes and communities. We are launching the Follow South Jersey brand to reconnect our communities as things start to reopen and to hopefully alleviate some of the fear and uncertainty through regular local updates.”

Follow South Jersey will feature news updates and stories about local people and organizations making an impact in our South Jersey communities. While the site currently presents articles in English, they will soon establish a section for Spanish-language content to support the large Spanish-speaking audience in our area.

This new website will organize content based on county and topic, to make it easy for locals to find stories that interest them. It will also serve as a platform for connecting members of the community with information about local organizations providing critical services, such as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) advocating for youth in foster care, the school supply drives organized by Operation South Jersey, and the deliveries of fresh food made possible by Unidos para La Familia.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program which is geared toward building healthy communities throughout New Jersey, Hopeloft is able to generate stories by employing student journalists to write and create a significant portion of the site’s content. The student journalists are selected from schools in our area and contribute content by working as paid interns for the site, receiving valuable feedback and work experience along the way.  

Follow South Jersey is led by Michael Mandarino, a recent graduate of Penn State University who acted as a Senior Editor of Onward State — the world’s most widely-followed independent student-run news outlet. Mandarino wrote more than 1,000 stories, supervised student journalists, and was responsible for covering Penn State football during his time with Onward State.  

“Mike joined us after he graduated from Penn State and immediately sprung into action, developing the student journalism program, hiring, training, and supervising the journalists, and producing an astounding 50 original stories in just ten weeks. His experience and work ethic is the perfect fit for a student- and citizen-led news platform,” said Helmbrecht.

“We are thrilled to be able to hire local student journalists for Follow South Jersey to help ensure our communities stay healthy, informed, and connected during this pandemic and throughout our collective recovery,” said Mandarino.

Hopeloft encourages all southern New Jersey residents to visit Follow South Jersey, as well as “Like” and “Follow” the site’s page on Facebook at where it’s easy to keep up with all their newest stories. Follow South Jersey also has a presence on Twitter and Instagram, so be sure to “Follow” them on both platforms for additional commentary.

Hopeloft, Inc. is a community coworking lab located in Bridgeton that has incubated more than 30 projects which are working together to achieve social change and economic revitalization. Hopeloft’s leaders, organizations, and social enterprises serve more than 5,000 children and families annually and have catalyzed more than $40 million in resources to support Hopeloft member programs and their local communities. Learn more about Hopeloft by visiting their website at and by following them on Facebook at

New Jersey Health Initiatives is the statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Established in 1987 in honor of the New Jersey philanthropic legacy of RWJF’s founder, Robert Wood Johnson, NJHI supports innovations and drives conversations to build healthier communities through grantmaking across the State of New Jersey. To meet the many health needs of our state’s diverse populations, regions and communities, the NJHI program encourages collaboration across sectors to foster deep relationships committed to long-term change affording all New Jerseyans the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. Learn more about NJHI at, and follow NJHI on Twitter at

Follow South Jersey provides local journalism which highlights our diverse communities; fosters transparency through robust, localized, and vital reporting that holds leaders and institutions accountable; addresses critical information needs; supports people in navigating civic life; and equips people with the information necessary to partake in effective community engagement. If there is a story or event you think we should cover, please send your tips to with “NEWS” in the subject line.