• The Wall Team Honored by the Mercer Alliance

  • PRISONER REENTRY: GIVING PEOPLE A SECOND CHANCE by Maria Minor (Artwork: "City 1" by Kathy Bird

  • LIFE AFTER FOSTER CARE TEACHING TEENS MARKETABLE SKILLS AND BOOSTING SELF-ESTEEM By Amanda Ippolito (Artwork:“Building Piece” by Shanna Brown)

  • FORECLOSURE: THE PROCESS OF PADLOCKING A HOME by Michael Nunes (Artwork: “Pink House” by Christine M.)

Thrift Project Brings Together Community for a Great Cause

Thrift Project Brings Together Community for a Great Cause

“It brings together the campus community with the Trenton community and is a really fun way to fundraise for an amazing mission.” — Katie Kahn

 

It was noon at the Brower Student Center at The College of the New Jersey. Students pushed through to grab lunch before they headed off to their next class.

In the midst of the swarm of backpacks, a group of students stood behind a table covered with colorful clothes and shoes. A pair of combat boots sat in an open, vintage trunk propped on the table. A rolling clothing rack displayed treasures like a Macklemore-esque fur coat, a long dress and a red and white striped shirt perfect for a Waldo costume.

Aside from the crazy finds, dresses, tops and familiar staples of a college girl’s wardrobe were on display. As students weaved by, holding salads and pizzas, some paused and bought whatever caught their eye.

While not all of the customers were aware of the impact of their purchase, the truth is the few dollars they spent on a new shirt contributed to eliminate clothing waste and benefitted their homeless neighbors in Trenton.

This is the Thrift Project, the College’s very own “Pop Up Shoppe.”

The Thrift Project was started by Tiffany Teng, a Bonner Scholar at The College of New Jersey, last year. Katie Kahn, a Bonner Scholar and the current project leader, began helping Teng out from the start of the project.

Kahn described how she saw the project as innovative and creative.

“It brings together the campus community with the Trenton community and is a really fun way to fundraise for an amazing mission,” Kahn said.

How the project works fully supports this collaboration between college students and their neighbors. Next to Ewing, where the College is located, lies Trenton, a city with a substantial homeless population. In Trenton, organizations like the Rescue Mission reach out to those hit hard by tough times.

According to Rescue Mission’s website, “The Rescue Mission of Trenton is the agency in the City of Trenton that serves the truly needy men and women who have no place to turn for shelter, food, and clothing. The Mission provides a safe, clean, warm, refuge for the homeless, the hungry, the transient and the addicted.”

"Parking Garage" By Ron Carter
“Parking Garage”
By Ron Carter

Just miles away, many students at the College wish to get new clothes, but many lack the time to shop, the money to splurge and the transportation to get to local shopping centers.

At the same time, jammed into the minuscule closets of dorm rooms, piles of unworn clothes accumulate dust. Seeing the potential of benefiting both parties, the Thrift Project sells good condition, second hand clothing to fellow students with the proceeds benefiting Rescue Mission. Clothes discarded at the bottom of the closet are given to new owners and proceeds feed the hungry.

Ultimately, the Thrift Project believes, to quote music sensation, Macklemore, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” And this belief has been proven true by the success of the Thrift Project. A Pop Up Shoppe appears on campus once a semester, with hundreds of dollars made in a few hours.

Looking ahead, the Thrift Project hopes to find a permanent place. While the Pop Up Shoppe is a novel idea, spontaneous and anticipated, a permanent location in downtown Trenton will allow students to visit the city they are supporting.

Kahn and other Bonner Scholars hope to continue to educate their fellow students about the needs of neighboring communities in a fun and engaging manner. As the process to secure a permanent location continues, the Pop Up Shoppe will continue to brighten up wardrobes, donate money for a warm meal and eliminate waste.

 

Article written by Melody Hwang for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall

 

 

From Sharing Stories to Saving Lives.  Welcome to the A-TEAM.

From Sharing Stories to Saving Lives. Welcome to the A-TEAM.

“Art: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.” — Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

“Before letters and numbers, [art] was the original language,” said Roger Senski, a patron of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. “And today, it is more than that — it is like a priceless currency.”

Art defines one of the most diverse fields of study and expression. This field has been synonymous with the course of history and transformation of culture. And, more and more frequently, art is becoming a vehicle for change in urban areas such as Trenton, N.J.

Nowhere is that more evident than the walls of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) that are adorned with the work of the A-TEAM.

Sprouting from an art class offered by TASK in the late 1990’s, the A-TEAM became an independent entity in order to share and sell its work in the community. While the A-TEAM is still hosted and sup- ported by the soup kitchen, as a collective, the artists have continued to make their own unique impact within Trenton.

“Drawing kept me off the street and out of trouble and now I teach others how to do it too,” said one of the founders of the A-TEAM, Herman “Shorty” Rose.

Along with working with the A-TEAM at TASK, Rose also attends the monthly classes that the group facilitates at the ARC Mercer, an organization that helps people in need achieve their fullest potential through various instilled programs.

“It is not a contest. Everyone helps each other and everyone works together,” said Rose. “When young guys come in, I tell them, ‘Everyone can draw, just give it a shot and see what happens.’”

Senski, one of the team’s newer members, emphasized the significance artistry carries.

"Family" By Samantha Rivera
“Family”
By Samantha Rivera

“It is important for the city,” Senski said. “Some people had college, I had art. Anyone who can paint, gives them a chance to be ahead of the economy.”

With over 11,000 households in the city earning less than $25,000 annually, reported by the U.S. Census’ 2008 American Community Survey, being ahead of the economy is a luxury that many in Trenton could benefit from.

With over 50 members participating in 20 events a year, the A- TEAM continues to make its mark in Trenton and it has garnered the praise from the highest powers in the country.

After a striking portrait of President Barack Obama was completed by the A-TEAM’s Walter Roberts Jr., the group decided to get the Commander-in-Chief’s thoughts on the piece and sent it to the White House. Roberts Jr. received a letter of commendation from the president for his impressive work. A letter that has been immortalized in one of Rose’s signature frames for visitors to admire.

“Whenever we get out, people ask, ‘Is the A-TEAM coming?’” said Rose. “They are happy. They bring their friends, and I say, ‘If you love what you do, keep doing it.’”

 

A-TEAM

Website: http://www.ateamartists.com/

 

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen

Phone: 609-695-5456 72

Escher Street, Trenton, N.J. 08609

 

Article written by Raj Manimaran for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall

 

Building a Network: Food Waste and Recovery

Building a Network: Food Waste and Recovery

The problems facing those currently experiencing homelessness are wide and varied. Among these complex and multi-layered social and political issues, the widespread problem of food waste has been gaining particular attention in recent years. According to a recent USDA report published in 2014, 31 percent of available food in the U.S. (or 133 billion pounds / 430 billion pounds) is wasted or discarded of each year.

For the homeless community, food waste represents a very serious threat and presents particular challenges to nonprofits trying to end hunger. Interestingly, the vast amount of food wasted each year is not only the result of poor planning and negligence, but also stems from legislation that makes it increasingly difficult to give leftover food to the homeless.

A report published by the National Coalition to End Homelessness (NCH) in 2014 titled “Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People in Need,” touches on the structural problem, highlighting three main ways in which legislative action has led to food waste. The first has to do with cities placing strong restrictions on the use of public property, forcing groups to buy a permit to distribute food to the needy in places like public parks. The second legislative barrier consists of the stringent food safety regulations that groups must follow if they wish to distribute food. The final and most significant barrier has been the “Not in my back yard” (NIMBY) mentality, which is often used to prevent groups that help those experiencing homelessness from entering communities.

Groups like the NCH are now spearheading a movement to enact legislative reform in the area of food sharing legislation, eventually hoping to make it easier to provide food to those in need.

On a grassroots level, groups like the Food Recovery Network (FRN), are also making significant progress in alleviating food waste and improving distribution.

Started in 2011 by three students at the University of Maryland College, FRN aims to fight food waste and hunger by organizing college students to donate leftover food on campuses to local soup kitchens and other nonprofits. Since its creation in 2011, FRN has expanded to 95 colleges across 26 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.

"Love Life"  By Samantha Rivera
“Love Life”
By Samantha Rivera

Most recently, students at The College of New Jersey have started organizing a chapter of FRN in hopes of helping to solve the food waste issue in Mercer County. Student leader Gavin Parker first became interested in starting FRN at the College after it was assigned as the final project of his Social Justice First Seminar Program (FSP) taught by philosophy professor Dr. Morton Winston.

Parker and his classmates have been working with Sodexo, the food provider for the College, to work out practical issues, such as how food with be transported and how food safety training will be administered. The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen is currently onboard as a community partner for FRN at the College.

Explaining the origins of the idea to bring FRN to the College, Winston explained that he was “looking for a project for the class…that would enable them to tackle a real social justice issue and do something to address it.”

Although the issue of food waste still looms large, the combined legislative and grassroots efforts will likely help to reduce the staggering figure of 133 billion pounds of food that is wasted each year nationally. For the homeless community, few issues are more important than ensuring that food is distributed in the most efficient and resourceful way possible. Along with important social and economic reforms, the elimination of food waste will be critical in solving the related issues of poverty and hunger.

 

Article written by Steven P. Rodriguez for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cherry Tree Club: Small Footprints Taking Big Steps

Cherry Tree Club: Small Footprints Taking Big Steps

Imagine yourself three or four years old, possessing a mind with boundless direction-unfettered by time. The world was your playground, seemingly infinite and everlastingly innocent. Many of us imagine a time free of worry, filled with exploration and devoted to endless possibilities. Our minds were like sponges, absorbing every dollop of information that fell within inches of our realm of potentiality.

Now again imagine yourself at four years old. But now you are often without food. You feel a ping in your stomach from meal to meal, experiencing hunger daily. You have moved numerous times in your brief existence, slept in many different beds, from motel to motel to homeless shelter; you have no place to call home. You have often been mistreated and you feel ever so small in a big, scary world. And with your parents struggling more than ever, there is a feeling for you that there is no way out.

These are the kinds of struggles no child should ever have to endure. However, this is the reality that many children at Cherry Tree Club face every day.

The Cherry Tree Club is a government-licensed preschool program for homeless and at-risk children between the ages of three and five in Mercer County, New Jersey, located in Princeton Junction.

According to their website, the Cherry Tree Club’s goal is “to provide a loving and nurturing environment that allows the children to thrive and grow emotionally, socially and academically.”

This nonprofit organization, in partnership with The Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and HomeFront, gives destitute children an opportunity to have a normal preschool experience. The organization ensures that every child in its program is cared for and receives the resources every child deserves. Throughout the year, families are signing up for their children to become a part of the program.

Many of these underprivileged children struggle with insecurity and low self-esteem. Now, in its 20th year, the Cherry Tree Club gives its students an opportunity to feel important, included and safe.

“It is the same goal for every student,” said Lead Teacher Shaneica Barnes. “We want them to start kindergarten on the same academic level as any other child.”

However, Barnes adds that this goal is more difficult than it may seem. Many of the children come into the program with delayed development due to their domestic situations.

Nine out of the 30 Cherry Tree Club students have little speech to no speech at all. Some of the children have witnessed brutality or been subject to mistreatment, and all have experienced hunger. The preschool has a large number of volunteers, giving the children the individual attention they so desperately need.

"Crazy in Love" By Frankie Mack
“Crazy in Love”
By Frankie Mack

Most of the children in the program change residences often. And so, along with being fed breakfast, snacks and a hot lunch, the children receive special care and affection from the staff to combat self-deprecation and self-doubt.

From play therapy to pre-literacy development to violin lessons for the older students, the Cherry Tree Club works diligently to ensure each child feels a sense of accomplishment.

Barnes said that two twin boys came into the program from the inner city a few years ago. Their father was fresh out of jail. Barnes shared, “They did not know how to behave like children. By the time they finished in our program, they were enthusiastic to learn, and were behaving like well-mannered children. That is what this program is all about.”

Funded largely by private donations, the Cherry Tree Club has created a service that is making a grand impact on many children’s lives.

Director Wendy Schutzer stated, “It is not easy to support the cost of the program.” While the program receives McKinney grants from the state government, it remains both “frustrating” and “a challenge” to keep the program fully funded.

Schutzer is currently working with the state to try and get the families to receive childcare subsidies.

For six hours, five days a week, these children can escape from the incommodities of a small motel room or homeless shelter and receive the positive feedback, socialization and even a little bit extra. Something as simple as a place to run around freely and safely outdoors can be really special to a child who comes from an impoverished neighborhood.

One student, Brandon, said, “My favorite part of Cherry Tree Club is play time outside!”

The organization does a fantastic job preparing the children with a lively curriculum for entering the public school system, but unfortunately, this is only the first step to a long staircase of challenges that lie ahead.

Cherry Tree Club

E-mail: info2@cherrytreeclub.org

Phone: (609) 799-1753

 

Article written by Jared Wolf for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall

Resilience Personified: The Empowerment of Art and an Artist

Resilience Personified: The Empowerment of Art and an Artist

“It was a Friday morning, I will never forget that day, when my daughter called,” reminisced Jo Ann Abdelwahabe. “She said that the house was on fire.”

Upon arriving at the scene, Abdelwahabe was unable to process what was happening as she witnessed firefighters swarming what was left of her home. It was then when she was asked, “Do you need to go to a shelter?”

She could not even begin to consider the option. Abdelwahabe, a Trenton resident, had led a very normal life up to this point. She even volunteered to tutor students in math at her daughter’s school, and was taking care of her ailing mother on the day of that life-altering call.

After losing her home, she at- tempted to stay with her parents, continuing to care for her mother. But once her mother’s condition took a turn for the worse, Abdelwahabe was forced to seek assistance. It was under these dire circumstance that led Abdelwahabe to HomeFront.

A local homelessness prevention agency serving families and individuals in Mercer County, HomeFront provides many services and programs, as well as an emergency shelter, to keep those faced with situations, similar to Abdelwahabe’s, from having to resort to a life on the streets.

Abdelwahabe stayed in the shelter for three months, and although this could have been the lowest point in a string of unfortunate situations, she had no idea that it was actually the beginning of many uplifting moments to come.

“One of the ladies at the shelter invited to me to go to an art class, but I told her that I wasn’t an artist,” said Abdelwahabe. Despite her reluctance, Abdelwahabe was persuaded to just attend one class at ArtSpace — HomeFront’s art program — to see what it was like. It was here that she discovered her new talent.

“I found out that I loved to paint,” Abdelwahabe said.

"Sunny Landscape"  By Jo Ann Abdelwahabe
“Sunny Landscape”
By Jo Ann Abdelwahabe

It was ArtSpace’s mission in action. The therapeutic art program encourages its clients to express their stories through creative outlets; stories that may otherwise be kept hidden from others. It also instills a sense of confidence and self-esteem that many struggle to attain given their circumstances. “Jo Ann was a natural from day one,” Executive Director of ArtSpace, Ruthann Traylor, said. “It’s like she’s been painting for years.”

In addition to operating a venue for paintings, Traylor also works tirelessly to get her client’s work into exhibitions to be sold. Abdelwahabe can still remember her first exhibition.

“It was an art show so I got as dressed up as I could,” recalled Abdelwahabe. “I had a purse and a nice dress, and I felt like a movie star.” It was then when she was told that her first painting had been bought.

“I couldn’t believe that some- one wanted to pay me for my art,” Abdelwahabe said.

After having moved into an apartment of her own and sold several more paintings, Abdelwahabe has still not gotten used to people’s admiration of her work, but she has begun to share her artistic prowess with others.

“She not only helps the other la- dies with their paintings, but also teaches them to sew at our new space,” Traylor said referring to SewingSpace, a new venue that started with just a few sewing machines, but is now adorned with paintings, bags and patterns designed by clients.

“I really like working with the other women here,” Abdelwahabe said. “Sewing provides them with a way of realizing that they can get past these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”

After effortlessly demonstrating the use of several machines and sharing some of her newer work, Abdelwahabe expresses her gratitude for Traylor, the volunteers, as well as HomeFront as a whole.

“The work we do here is more than just gratifying,” Abdelwahabe said. “It is empowering for us all.”

 

Article written by Raj Manimaran, for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall

Mercer County’s 2014 Point-In-Time Count Summary

Mercer County’s 2014 Point-In-Time Count Summary

As 2014 comes to an end, it is important that we revisit the year’s most demanding issues in the political, economic and social arenas. More importantly, we must evaluate the resolutions that were put forth to address many of these problems and recognize those which continue to beg for resolutions.

Unfortunately, homelessness remains a significant problem of the latter status. In looking forward, we must first understand the extent of the issue, its implications and the context in which we are working.

Mercer County’s annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count of the Homeless, coordinated annually by Mercer Alliance, can help us in doing this.

The count, which was carried out on the night of Tuesday, January 28, 2014, provides countywide estimates of the number of homeless households in our communities and information about where these individuals find shelter and the different factors that contribute to their homelessness.

While Mercer County shows the shortest length of homelessness in the state, it continues to struggle through the afflictions of homelessness.

 

Comprehensive Summary of the Mercer County 2014 PIT

On the night of the count, 500 households, (a total of 632 persons) were experiencing homelessness in Mercer County. This is a decrease of 36 persons (5.4%) but an increase of 55 households (12.4%) from 2013.

Of the 632 homeless individuals counted, 393 of them stayed in emergency shelters, 201 stayed in transitional housing and 38 were living unsheltered.

The totals for transitional housing and unsheltered both show a decrease from 2013.

 

Family Makeup in Homeless Households

Of the 500 homeless households counted in Mercer County in 2014, 71 (14.2%) were families with at least one child under the age of 18 and one adult; 429 (85.8%) of these households were households without children under 18.

These households were composed of 431 adult individuals.

 

Age Demographics

On the night of the count, there were 68 (10.8%) homeless adults between 18 and 24 years old, 444 (70.2%) homeless adults over age 24, and 120 (19%) children under 18 years old. The majority of these children were between zero and five years of age (69 children; 57.5%). Of the total homeless individuals counted, 145 (22.9%) were between the ages of 45 and 54.

 

Unsheltered Living

Of these 429 adult-only households, 228 (53.1%) of them were staying in emergency shelters, 168 (39.2%) were in transitional housing and 33 (7.7%) were unsheltered. While the number of adult-only households in Mercer County has decreased by 48 over the past five years, the county has experienced a 16.9% increase (62 people) since 2013.

 

Disabled Individuals, Veterans and Victims of Domestic Violence

Of the total number of homeless individuals in Mercer County on the night of the count, 52% of them reported having some type of disability. Among disabled adults, 51.5% reported mental health issues.

It is also important to note that more disabled homeless children reported a chronic health condition (58.5%) than any other disability.

On the night of the count, 57 homeless households (14.1% of all households) reported having been a victim of domestic violence.

A total of 38 homeless veterans were counted, which is one more than 2013. The largest majority of veterans, 73.7%, were found to be staying in an emergency shelter; four veterans were unsheltered (10.5%) and six were in transitional housing (15.8%).

 

Chronic Homelessness

The count identified a total of 64 persons in 63 households as chronically homeless. This is an increase of six persons (10.3%) from 2013. The rate of chronic homelessness as a percentage of overall homelessness increased from 8.4% to 10.1%.

 

Causes of Homelessness

On the night of the count, more homeless households attributed their homelessness to being asked to leave a shared residence (131 households, 26.2%) than any other cause. Of the 369 households who did not attribute this to their homelessness, 19.8% of them attributed the reduction of job income or benefits; 11.8% of them cited eviction as a cause and 11.4% of them cited release from prison or jail as a cause.

 

Length of Homelessness

Of the homeless households counted, 149 (29.8%) of them reported that their most recent, continuous episode of homelessness had lasted from eight days to one month; 351 of these households (70.2%) said they had been homeless for less than three months; 6.4% of them reported having been homeless for more than one year.

 

While this summary only looked at the count conducted in Mercer County, other counties throughout the state of New Jersey participated, and the results were compiled into a New Jersey Point-In-Time Count.

From this count, 13,900 homeless men, women and children were surveyed across the state. This number shows an increase of 1,898 persons (15.8%) compared to the 2013 count.

According to the statewide PIT Count, of the 13,900 homeless individuals in New Jersey, 931 persons were living unsheltered. This number is has gone down 33.4% from the 1,399 persons counted in 2013. These 931 persons made up 6.7% of New Jersey’s total 2014 population of homeless individuals.

Our hope is that these statistics, among the many others available in the reports, provide community members and leaders with a perspective of New Jersey’s growing problem with homelessness and the gravity of the situation.

More importantly, we hope that this information serves as a reminder and an incentive to approach the problem with more vitality in Trenton and other cities across the state.

 

Mercer County & New Jersey Point-In-Time Counts for 2014

The official reports can be found online at the Monarch Housing Associates website: http://www.monarchhousing.org/.

 

Article written by Engy Shaaban for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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