By Jared Wolf
The plight of the homeless and the impoverished in the Mercer County area is an issue that extends far beyond the streets of Trenton. Towns throughout the area are pushing to combat high rates of poverty by stressing the importance of education and by implementing after-school enrichment programs where students can learn the importance of being involved in their community.
Plagued by hunger and other struggles for basic needs, many children living in poverty find themselves stripped of a conventional childhood. When food is scarce and money is tight, prioritizing education, athletics, the arts and other secondary interests becomes difficult.
For families in severe economic hardship, providing a nurturing environment for their children during after-school hours can be both challenging and demanding. Affording a place where students can do homework, explore new interests and learn and develop skills that will give them advantages in the real world is crucial for their development.
Many parents of these children, underprivileged and frequently uneducated, work two or three jobs in order to provide as much as they can for their family. Accordingly, many children are left home with little to no supervision.
To address this concern, HomeFront, a nonprofit organization that addresses homelessness in the Mercer County area, established the Joy, Hopes, and Dreams after school enrichment program over 20 years ago. Each child participating in the program — pre-teens, teens and young adults — comes from a struggling family.
“The best part about my job is the kids … all the wonderful, fabulous, lovable characters,” said Program Director Chris Marchetti. “We don’t want to erase the social skills they’ve already developed and acquired, but rather we want to add on to their arsenal to make them even better people.”
The program teaches students about community service and the importance of giving back. The students develop good habits and learn how to get along better with others.
After-school program provides impoverished children with a well structured environment where they can learn to become active members in their community.
From tutoring and basketball to art classes and field trips, HomeFront’s after school enrichment program ensures that its students are using their time outside of school wisely.
For many of the students in Joy, Hopes and Dreams, college is a distant goal. By helping them reach their potential and realize their ability, the program has turned dreams into realities.
The list of success stories goes on and on. From students working in the healthcare field hand-in-hand with Ivy League graduates to students pursuing degrees in architecture, the Joy, Hopes, and Dreams program is constantly empowering children and giving them a voice they never thought could be heard.
“Ultimately, helping the kids is the goal,” said Marchetti. “We want them to become self-sufficient, to be independent, to help their families thrive.”
Through activities like the Discovery Club — where students learn about self-discovery and try to help one another find their interests — students are able to feel more confident about themselves as they pursue their own goals and aspirations. As a result, many students go on to chase after their passions, while making their ambitions realizable.
Positivity, activity and connectivity are all key elements to the Joy, Hopes, and Dreams mission. It stresses the importance of staying positive, staying active and staying a part of both a family and a community. It stresses the importance of lasting relationships, and how creating a safe and strong network of people can be rewarding.
But most of all, Joy, Hopes, and Dreams enables voices, letting children find their own voice by allowing them to be heard.
HomeFront Joy, Hopes and Dreams
1880 Princeton Ave. Lawrenceville, N J. 08648
Phone: (609) 989-9417