• CHANGE IS COMING WITH THE HELP OF GANDHI GARDEN by Alexis McLaughlin (Artwork:"Young Girl in Garden" by Gennie Darisme)

  • 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.)

Change is Coming with the Help of Gandhi Garden

Change is Coming with the Help of Gandhi Garden

Article written by Alexis McLaughlin

 

Jonathan Gordon looks upon the garden with certainty, a satisfied grin spread across his face. His labor was well worth the cost.

“We needed a space like this,” said Gordon, still taking in the scene. Weeds six feet high overran this small yard, just one year before. It was another desolate fixture of the Trenton community.

“It was a huge eyesore to the area,” Gordon recalled. Things have since changed — and drastic are the end results.

A yard of weeds, old tires and wooden planks is now an oasis, with vivid murals, fresh produce, and eco-friendliness abound.

Named the “Gandhi Garden” by Gordon and his two partners, Will “KASSO” Condry and Graham Apgar, the goal behind its creation is simple: to create a sense of compassion and community among all who visit.

"Birds in a Tree" by Devona Todd

“Birds in a Tree” by Devonna Todd

Moved by the teachings of activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi (after whom the Garden was named), Gordon, Apgar, Condry, and the rest of the S.A.G.E. (Styles Advancing Graffiti’s Evolution) Coalition designed the Garden in the hopes of inciting change in the Trenton community through “civil disobedience.” The artful, but illegal, graffiti mural of Gandhi along the garden’s grounds is a tribute to this philosophy.

“Be the change you wish to the see in the world” is the Gandhi adage that the founders live by, Gordon said — and one that they hope to spread, through the expansion of the Garden.

“It just benefits so many people on different levels,” Gordon said.

This drive for community is further reflected in the Garden’s architecture, Gordon explains. The designated “artgineer” of the group, Apgar designed the Garden free of gates and archways in order to foster a feeling of accessibility to everyone.

“You always have a feeling of it being open,” Gordon said of the design.

This open atmosphere has brought visitors to the Garden in droves. Carl Washington, a local poet and videographer for the S.A.G.E. Coalition website, cites the many artistic elements as the Garden’s finest feature — both for its quality and the lack of rivalry behind it.

“It’s competitive, it’s a sport,” said Washington about the art. “Everything’s big…sometimes, you get drowned by the greats.”

Yet a competitive edge is not necessary to inspire. With regular musical and theatrical performances along with frequent art shows, Washington is often awestruck by the creativity that immerses the Garden.

This is precisely the effect that Gordon strives for. The Garden, he believes, is a model — one which allows people of “any base and any background” to “build something beautiful out of waste material.”

An avid craftsman for most of his life, Gordon credits the Garden with improving his imagination.

“The project [Garden] has inspired me to be more…creative in what I create,” said Gordon with a smile. Across from him trickles a solar-powered water fountain made from a used tire. “It’s really helped get the creative juices flowing again.”

Others would agree. “To me, it’s just, like, a place of serenity,” said Trenton native Messiah Harrell. A candle maker and woodworker for the past four years, Harrell sees the Garden as the place to go, when he hits a creative or emotional slump.

“It’s a place you can come to, clear your mind, and let fresh thoughts enter,” said Harrell.

"Young Girl in Garden" by Gennie Darisme

“Young Girl in Garden” by Gennie Darisme

The Garden has also gained the attention of Trenton’s more prominent officials. A member of the Cadwalder Place Civic Association, Rachel Cogsville-Lattimer notes the drastic transformation of the land over the past year.

“The area wasn’t beautiful, by any means,” Cogsville-Lattimer asserts. “But now, it is a beautiful area because of the hard work of the S.A.G.E. Coalition.”

Yet the Garden’s beauty, in her view, spans far beyond aesthetics.

“My favorite [part of the Garden] is not only the beautiful location,” Cogsville-Lattimer said, “but the level of respect” that all visitors receive. It is a true show of community — the greatest goal that Gordon and the S.A.G.E. Coalition has aspired to.

“I feel good because I’m using my money to fund a great program,” concluded Gordon.

Prisoner Reentry: Giving People a Second Chance

Prisoner Reentry: Giving People a Second Chance

Article written by Maria Minor

At A Better Way, a nonprofit in Trenton, we help those who have been incarcerated acclimate back into their communities and be successful members of society.

When I first started working at A Better Way, a year ago, I thought it was a friendly place with well-intentioned services. I quickly came to the realization that this nonprofit was fighting a war against injustice and overwhelming odds.

"Home" by Helen Baeza

“Home” by Helen Baeza

One day after GED class, one of my students came to me and apologized for being late. He told me that he needs this course so that he can pass and support his family. He told me that he has done the whole street thing, he has been in and out of prison, and does not want that life anymore.

The current correctional system traps people in a vicious cycle that may as well be a death sentence, and burdens law-abiding citizens with exorbitant taxes to support this injustice.

Likewise, the current reentry program — most popularly supported by our state and federal institutions — involves driving ex-inmates to a bus stop and dropping them off.

To those of us not exposed to the multidimensional issues surrounding prisoner reentry, a bus ticket may seem like a fair deal. However, imagine a man who has just finished a 15 year sentence.

When he went to prison, he had an 8th grade education to his name, most likely from an underachieving school district. He has not been educated since, and the psychological or emotional damage that occurred prior to his incarceration has not been addressed.

Family ties have been broken or strained. He may not own a house or have a place to live.

He possibly owes money for child support. He does not have a job or many means to support himself or his family. He probably does not have an active license or vehicle. And the only thing his resume shows is a criminal conviction and 15 years of unproductivity.

By all practical purposes, ex-offenders are our nation’s refugees, to whom we turn a blind-eye because we fear them, mistrust them, and do not want to be bothered. They are the invisible people who have fallen through the cracks of our society and left to “make it by” because they are criminals and have gotten what they deserve.

"City 1" by Kathy Bird

“City 1″ by Kathy Bird

So they turn to the streets — the only place they can really go. More than one third of ex-offenders return to prison. This is not the life they would choose for themselves.

This current situation is not only an inexcusable social injustice, but also a drain on citizens. According to the 2012 report done by the VERA Institute of Justice, the incarceration of each individual costs about $55,000. Many who are released then become reliant on welfare and social services.

Bo-Robinson is a prison in Trenton that is addressing this in- justice. Prisoners who have a year or less remaining of their sentence are transferred to Bo-Robinson where they receive counseling, guidance, training and education. Initiatives, like these, bridge the gap between incarceration and reentry into society.

This past month, Bo-Robinson held an alumni night where ex-inmates shared their testimonies. The alumni strolled in like celebrities to the sound of a roaring crowd. One after the other had left this program and bettered their lives. They all had pursued basic and higher education, and are currently employed. Some found the love of their lives and married.

One man had served 25 years only to then earn his GED, bachelors and doctorate degrees.

When he came up to speak, he stood in front of the crowd of inmates and said, “Who wants freedom?”

A few people nodded their heads. He then yelled, “Who here wants to be free?” To those who jeered and raised their hands, he said, “Good, I can work with you.”

More importantly than any degree or job is the change of character these alumni professed. They spoke about personal responsibility, honesty and integrity. They said that humility is necessary to change, and without that willingness to reject who they were, they would have never have made it a foot off the streets.

Most ex-offenders are not nearly as fortunate as the alumni of Bo-Robinson. Without this sort if support structure, many are doomed to the same life that led them to prison in the first place, which includes poverty, homelessness, and crime.

I hope to see a brighter future for our justice system where we treat people humanely, offering them correction as well as rehabilitation. Facilities like Bo-Robinson and organizations like A Better Way prove that a second chance is not in vain and that it is never too late for people to turn their lives around and be an inspiration to us all.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 Issue of The Wall Newspaper

 

Womanspace: Aiding Victims of Domestic Violence

Womanspace: Aiding Victims of Domestic Violence

Article by Julie Kayzerman

 

Every nine seconds, a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten, one in four women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime and between 4 and 8 million women are victims of domestic violence every year, according to national statistics. Yet, domestic abuse is an avoided subject, an issue that “not many people want to talk about” and even in “2013, we still think it’s not happening,” said Reyna Carothers, director of Emergency Services at Womanspace.

"Small Woman 2" by Kimberly Lennon

“Small Woman 2″ by Kimberly Lennon

However, it is happening — it is happening everywhere and it is happening right here. “We know that it happens everywhere because domestic violence doesn’t discriminate,” Carothers says. “It happens everywhere regardless of your social economic status or your educational background.”

Often, leaving the violent situation leads to homelessness which can discourage a person from removing themselves from the situation.

That is why Womanspace is readily available in Mercer County, offering several programs to help victims of domestic abuse get support and overcome their tragedies.

“It’s important we do this because it’s a service that is needed, in Mercer County,” Carothers said. “I hate to say it’s bad, but it’s bad.”

Womanspace offers emergency services like 24/7 hotlines in English and Spanish with the option to connect to other languages as well as sexual assault and domestic violence response teams, transitional housing, shelters, support groups, advocacy programs, access to counseling and more.

“We can be someone who will be there for them,” says Carothers. “If they don’t want to pursue anything legally, we are still able to provide them with supportive services.”

But it is not just the obvious victims that can receive help too. According to Carothers, about 30 percent of cases include children that have been present during instances of domestic violence, and those kids are victims too that can get help from Womanspace.

Womanspace has served over 301,076 adults and children since 1977 according to their website — providing them with the help they needed catered to their personal situations — do not be afraid to make that number 301,077.

“This is something that I’m passionate about,” Carothers said. “I want to impart some sort of hope in the clients that we work with. I realize that we’re not going to be able to help everyone because it’s their choice and they may choose to go back, but my hope is that they are better off by coming to our program than they were before.”

 

Womanspace (609) 394-9000 1-800-572-SAFE (7233)

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 Issue of The Wall Newspaper

 

Life after Foster Care  Teaching Teens Marketable Skills and Boosting Self-Esteem

Life after Foster Care Teaching Teens Marketable Skills and Boosting Self-Esteem

Article written by Amanda Ippolito

 

Foster Care

Turning 18 is a major milestone. It means going to college, moving out or finding a job. And it can be difficult. But the independence associated with this particular birthday has very different – and frightening – implications for foster care children.

At 18, teenagers in New Jersey foster care age out of the system. They face realities such as homelessness, joblessness and incarceration. Many are left to transition into the real world without the support of a family, but there is an organization based in Trenton that can help.

 

Beyond Expectations

Beyond Expectations is a nonprofit that provides teens with marketable, tangible skills that can be used in the workforce. The program provides hands-on media education, featuring workshops in film-making and television production.

Participants are involved in every step of the process, from the concept all the way to production. While the program focuses on media, the skills learned prepare teens for jobs in any field.

"Building Piece" by Shanna Brown

“Building Piece” by Shanna Brown

“Everything we do is about giving them something very tangible that they can use,” said Leontyne Anglin, a founder of Beyond Expectations.

The organization was started in 1999 by a group of parents in Burlington County who wanted early exposure to college and careers. In 2008, after learning about the difficulties teens in foster care face, the group decided to shift its focus. One year later, the Beyond Expectations Teen Film Program was launched.

Beyond Expectations is open to all youth – not just those in foster care. They partner with organizations such as the YMCA, group homes and mental health groups. Teens can also choose to enlist themselves individually.

Beyond Expectations has two locations: Bordentown in Burlington County and Trenton in Mercer County. It also travels across the state to work with organizations. Programs are typically five sessions. Short-term programs – such as weekend retreats and a one-day speed program – are also offered.

Workshops in the film-making program include storyboarding, camera instruction, script development, recording sessions, and film shooting. Television workshops include camera instruction, teleprompter operation, audio production, vocal techniques, and wardrobe styling. Both programs also discuss college and careers.

All aspects of production are in their hands. They decide the subject, crew and camera operators. After deciding who they will interview, they conduct research and write interview questions.

“There is nobody in any of our programs sitting in the corner. Everyone is engaged,” Anglin said.

“Participants might realize if they enjoy storyboarding and writing, they could start a blog.  And if they enjoy working behind the camera, they might consider freelance photography,” Anglin said.

Some might even decide to pursue a career in television, film or radio. In a video on Beyond Expectations’ website, Anthony Weaver, a participant in the program, says his experience has inspired him to pursue a career in media.

"A Walk" by Gennie Darisme

“A Walk” by Gennie Darisme

“I’ve taken a lot away from this (program), whether it be knowledge, or doing what I want to do for the rest of my life,” he says in the video.

While teens learn many technical skills specific to the media industry, they also learn soft skills necessary for any job.

“Some benefits teens take away from the program include enhanced communication, the ability to collaborate, refined body language and improved self-esteem,” Anglin said. “They also learn the importance of planning and management.”

“Foster children may experience a lack of trusting relationships, as they often move from place to place on their own,” Anglin said. “When they work on a crew with Beyond Expectations, they feel a sense of being needed; the rest of the group is dependent on them.”

Beyond Expectations notes on its website, “The same young people often shunned and overlooked have become the role models.”

Anglin explained that a group of young men – who many people did not want to work with, as they were “rough around the edges” – wrote and produced a short film with Beyond Expectations. After presenting their film at a community screening, they were approached by people who wanted them to speak at their schools.

“If you provide any young person – I don’t care what their background – if you provide them with access to information and resources, you can change their whole lives,” Anglin said.

“When they come to our program, we want them to learn everything they possibly can,” Anglin said.

There is a sense of urgency, she said, because they often do not hear from participants again.

“I think they’re surprised at themselves and at how much they are able to achieve in such a short span of time,” Anglin said. “Our classes are typically only 20 hours. It’s less than one day that we have to transform young people who typically are never exposed to this type of program.”

Having marketable skills – such as those learned in Beyond Expectations – is particularly important for teens in foster care, who may not have the resources or connections that other teens have.

In 2011, more than 26,000 children in foster care aged out of the system, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Sources.

According to childrensrights.org, 12-13 percent of those who aged out experienced homelessness. The unemployment rate was 25-55 percent. Those employed had average earnings below the poverty level, and only 38 percent of those employed were working after one year.

To learn more about Beyond Expectations and how to get involved, visit http://beyondexp.net/.

 

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 Issue of The Wall Newspaper

 

The Return Home: “I Am Still Alive”

The Return Home: “I Am Still Alive”

Article by Melissa Katz

 

War has plagued this country since its founding, most recently from the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each war has a different focus, origin and outcome. One thing that does not change from war to war, no matter the circumstances, is the effect it has on returning veterans. It is a simple fact – no one returns home the same as when they left. What they return home with – the traumas and the images – lasts a lifetime.

Kenneth Bridgewater, a United States Marine Corps Veteran of the Vietnam War, is now residing at the Salvation Army Perth Amboy Corps in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

Bridgewater has had a life full of struggles and difficult times, from the time he was drafted at the age of 19 in 1968. He began abusing drugs as soon as he entered the service and did not stop until 2012.

"Moving Emotions" by Shanell Hutchinson

“Moving Emotions” by Shanell Hutchinson

“I’ve been clean now for 18 months. I’m still alive. I’m 65 and I’m still alive. We’re still human beings. We still have a mind and we still think.”

Bridgewater grew up in Trenton, New Jersey with a mother, three sisters and two brothers. After being drafted, he began work as a warehouseman in the U.S. Marine Corps. He described his first days in the Marine Corps as: “Scary. It was my first time away from home.”

He was assigned to stations in Hawaii and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During his time serving, Bridgewater got involved in the pervasive drug use among Army and Marine Corps troops, which continued for 44 years after returning home.

Over these 44 years, Bridgewater was in and out of jail, constantly involving himself in different drug activities.

Upon returning home, Bridgewater got married, but he did not feel any respect from the public. In 2010, he was put in jail on multiple drug charges.

“I should’ve gone in for 50 plus years. I was lucky. I got probation and a fine,” said Bridgewater.

In 2011, he was taken back to jail for probation violation and spent 5 months in the county jail.

At this point, Bridgewater had had enough. After getting out of jail, he went to the East Orange VA Hospital and spent 44 days in a drug rehabilitation program. He continued in his recovery by spending the next 6 months in the Lyons Veteran’s Hospital in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, before coming to the Salvation Army Perth Amboy Corps.

As of 2012, it is reported that as many as “62,619 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness,” according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), prepared by the Housing and Urban Development Department for Congress. “Only 7 percent of the population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13 percent of the homeless adult population are veterans.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that “each year, Veterans Affairs (VA) provides health care to almost 150,000 homeless veterans and other services to over 112,000 veterans through its specialized homeless programs.”

Multiple factors contribute to the homelessness of veterans, such as lack of resources, poverty, support networks, employment. Difficult living conditions in substandard or overcrowded housing may be their only option. These factors are also putting about 1.4 million other veterans at the risk of finding themselves homeless, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Many of the displaced or at- risk veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in addition to substance abuse and an absence of any family or communal support. “Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment,” said the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

“The problem is people don’t know,” said Nathan, an employee of the Salvation Army Perth Amboy Corps. “Most people are unaware of the issues when veterans return. The public needs information. It’s important for people to know how much we want to legitimately do good for the people of Perth Amboy and specifically our returning veterans.”

The Salvation Army is devoted to helping communities everywhere, keen on providing whatever is necessary to help people.

“This place is helping me get on my feet,” said Bridgewater as he smiled and let out a deep breath. “I’m still alive.”

The Salvation Army New Jersey Divisional Headquarters

P.O. Box 3170 Union, NJ  07083

Phone: 908-851-9300 Fax: 908-688-4460

Email: nj@use.salvationarmy.org

 

The Salvation Army Homeless Drop-In Center

575 East State Street Trenton, 08609

Phone: 609-599-9373

 

More resources for veterans experiencing homelessness can be found in the resource guide.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 Issue of The Wall Newspaper

 

Foreclosure: The Process of Padlocking a Home

Foreclosure: The Process of Padlocking a Home

Article written by  Michael Nunes

 

The foreclosure rate in New Jersey has spiked 89 percent for 2013, reports CNN.

Since the housing bubble burst in 2008, foreclosure rates nationwide saw a spike because many people could not afford to pay off their mortgage.  The bursting of the housing bubble contributed to the credit crisis, bringing on an economic recession. At its peak, the recession caused many Americans to be laid off and unable to make payments, thus the foreclosure rate began to rise.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate before the recession hit was a stable 4 percent. After the recession it shot up, hitting a peak of 9.7 percent in December of 2009. Currently, the unemployment rate has been slowly sinking to 8.5 percent throughout the state.

"Pink House" by Christine M.

“Pink House” by Christine M.

New Jersey has so many foreclosures that banks have delayed the process to keep up with the influx of homes. The average foreclosure time-table, according to law offices of Jenkins & Clayman, is 1033 days, the second longest in the nation next to New York.

Foreclosure is a long process that could take months or even years.

It all starts innocently enough with a missed mortgage payment. Most banks will usually wait until the second or third missed mortgage before taking legal action. Before the bank can legally foreclosure on a home, they must inform the owner at least 30 days ahead of time. After those 30 days, the bank will file a complaint with the courts.

Once the bank files a complaint with the court system, the homeowner will also get a notice. This is meant to notify the owner of the foreclosed home that the bank has taken legal action. Once the complaint is mailed, the homeowner will have 35 days to respond. If the court does not get a response from the homeowner, then the foreclosure process will continue.

By responding to the court notification, the homeowner gets to appeal the foreclosure process.

The General Equity Judge hears the cases presented by both the bank and the homeowner. Before the banks can repossess the house, the judge has to make a ruling in favor of the banks.

The General Equity Judge for Mercer County is Paul Innes. Depending on evidence put forth by both parties, the court case could take a few months to complete.

Even if the judge rules in favor of the bank, the process is still not over. When the banks try to sell a foreclosed house, they must advertise the home every week for a month in local media outlets, such as newspapers.

After the sale of a home is properly advertised, the bank schedules a sheriff’s sale. A sheriff’s sale is a public auction were foreclosed property is sold. Due to the large amount of home foreclosures in the state, the sheriff’s sale often is pushed back.

At any time during the process, a homeowner could take steps to reclaim their home and stop the banks from repossessing the house. If the late mortgage payments are paid, including late fees, to the bank, then the home is no longer in danger of being taken.

There are other ways as well, including modifying a home loan or refinancing debt. Filing for bankruptcy stops the foreclosure process from going any further. This gives the homeowner time to repay loans.

As stated earlier, New Jersey has one of the highest foreclosure timelines in the nation. This could prove useful for settling late mortgage payments.

 

For more information about available resources please see the resource guide.

 

The Crisis Ministry of Mercer County, Inc.

Trenton —  (609) 392-0922

                        (609) 396-9355

Princton — (609) 921-2135

 

 

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 Issue of The Wall Newspaper