Enabling Voices: Joy, Hopes and Dreams

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.


"Green, Red, Gold Abstract"  By Diane Clark
“Green, Red, Gold Abstract”
By Diane Clark

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

Website: http://www.homefrontnj.org

Email: homefront@homefrontnj.org

Taking a closer look: Women, Infants and Children Program

By Lily Kalczewski

Since its original introduction in 1972, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program has come a long way. Its mission is to help pregnant or nursing women, infants and children up to five-years-old who are at nutritional risk.


There are currently over 10,000 WIC locations across the nation. There are, however, three that can be found here, in Mercer County — the Trenton WIC office, the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey and the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey’s Mercer County WIC Program.


Eligibility is determined by family size, household income and proof of residency. Individuals need to also be able to provide evidence of nutrition or medical health-related risks.


Also, as the agency coordinator of Children’s Home Society of NJ’s Mercer County WIC Program, Jennifer Nagy said, “The Mercer County WIC Program will make every effort to help eligible families receive WIC services.” Not many people are turned down, and for those who do not meet one of the eligibility requirements, WIC offers referrals to other programs that can help.


WIC does a lot of things right. The program provides guidance, assistance, and ensures healthy children as well as confident parents. It helps educate mothers, provides them with health care as well as food benefits and gives them the tools to raise their children to be happy and healthy.


The program not only teaches mothers how to shop, cook and eat nutritiously, but it also offers breastfeeding support through telephone hotlines, peer counselors and mommy groups.


There are many local organizations that cooperate with WIC to help provide these food and healthcare benefits. The Mercer County Board of Social Services offers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Mercer Street Friends has a food bank and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) serves free meals to those who need it. A local company to the east coast that has chosen to be a part of WIC is ShopRite.


The company has chosen to cooperate with the program because as Customer Service Manager of Zallie’s ShopRite in Clementon, N.J., Deby Doughtery said, “I believe we provide a service to our community by accepting WIC checks in our stores. Most participants are having financial difficulties and being able to use their benefits at ShopRite gives them one less challenge.”


Doughtery also pointed out the convenience this collaboration creates for participants because now they are able to purchase their WIC items in the same grocery store where they do their weekly shopping.


Although WIC has made great strides over the years, there are still challenges to overcome. As a Front End Supervisor, Doughtery said, “The biggest challenge I see is the participants are unsure of what they should be purchasing, so training the participants would be the one thing I think WIC could do better.”


"Woman with Flowers"  By Dolores Frails
“Woman with Flowers”
By Dolores Frails

ShopRite carries an array of WIC-approved items, as is their responsibility. And although this is the case, the company does not have to carry every version of certain food categories, which can be frustrating for patrons.


Nonetheless, ShopRite makes sure that the approved items they are carrying are in stock. If something they are carrying, like formula, is out of stock, ShopRite will get it in as soon as possible. Otherwise they will contact the WIC state office and work out a solution.


As for Nagy, she said, “I would like to see an even greater focus on breastfeeding education and support services through WIC as increased breastfeeding translates into healthier moms and babies.”


Nagy also acknowledges that the program currently provides a food package containing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat milk and enhanced food packages to women who are breastfeeding. Nagy hopes, however, that more whole fresh food items will be added to these packages.


With the world becoming more technologically advanced, Nagy had one more suggestion for WIC to help make it an even better program.


“I would also like to see technology enhancements, such as an online application or pre-screening process and mobile apps to make shopping easier for WIC participants,” Nagy said.


Overall, WIC is a wonderful program that supports mothers and families who are enduring hard times. Its goal is to see children with full bellies, smiling faces and families who can breathe a little bit easier.


For Nagy, she enjoys working for a public health program that helps to nourish families.


“To me, empowering pregnant women and families with young children with the knowledge and understanding of the value of breastfeeding, healthy foods and regular health care has been the most valuable aspect of working for the WIC program,” Nagy said.



Trenton Division of Health 222 E State St Trenton, N.J.  08608 Phone: (609) 989-3636 Must call for a WIC appointment.

The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey 635 S. Clinton Ave Trenton, N.J.  08611 Phone: (609) 695-6274 Must call for a WIC appointment.

Mercer County WIC Program 416 Bellevue Avenue Trenton, N.J.  08618 Phone: (609) 498-7755 Must call for a WIC appointment.

Homelessness: Everyone in Life is Only One Step Away

By Lisa McMillon

I worked at a nursing home for 12 years, the longest that I have ever kept a job. I thought I was going to retire with that job. I had a great 401k plan, four weeks paid vacation and all the bells and whistles that come with job longevity. My boss started bringing in family members who were recent college graduates and asked the staff to help train them in various departments.


At first, everyone went with the program. However, slowly but steadily they started laying off employees and the family members starting getting various positions. I thought I should be safe. I had been with the company for 12 years; staying overnight in winter emergencies and filling in when they did not have adequate staff coverage. And then it happened. I was feeling very leery, butterflies in my stomach, when the boss informed me that they didn’t have adequate funding. They would be laying off some employees, and I was one of them. I was in shock and total astonishment.


“How could this happen to me?”


I later found out that the dietary aide that I was training, so that I could take vacation, would be filling my position. I was making $15.00 an hour and they paid her $9.75. I applied for unemployment, but this took some time to process. My bills were accumulating and I started falling behind on my rent, PSE&G bill and other living expenses. I started going to local food banks. My pride was consuming me.


“How could this happen to me?”


I gave my landlord my last four unemployment checks, and explained to him that I was waiting for an extension. A week later, I got a court ordered eviction notice.


“How could this happen to me?”


I went to court and got a 30-day hardship stay as I had been living there for 11 years. I was praying that my unemployment would come through. But after 30 days, I was evicted from my apartment. My unemployment check came through after I was evicted, so that money was consumed while staying with various relatives and at hotels.


But as soon as you don’t have any money, people make you feel unwelcome. I had to split up my family, stay at various places because of my monetary situation and spend most of my money so that my child could stay in a stable environment. It was heart-wrenching.


“I was homeless!”


I got a job at a friendly restaurant and was getting paid partial unemployment. I went from 100 to zero real quick. I hated leaving my son at night, hated splitting up, but I had to do what I had to scratch a meager living. I would go without eating properly sometimes just so that he could eat. In between working, I would apply for jobs every morning for nine months. I searched for housing and a decent job. I finally found an apartment, put the deposit down, but that was delayed because an elderly man’s house caught fire and he had to live in the apartment temporarily. Another setback.


"Swirl Face"  By Derrick Branch
“Swirl Face”
By Derrick Branch

My mother called me one day. She was always encouraging me to pray. I was becoming desolate.


“When is the Lord going to answer my prayers?”


Slowly, the miracles started happening. I got a job offer. I immediately accepted the position. I was ecstatic when the woman informed me that I could start in two weeks. I started the job, and loved it. I got off to a rough start, very rough, but I endured.


I was talking to one of my supervisors one day and she asked me, “Are you okay? You look very stressed.”


I replied, “I’m OK.” She then asked me if she could pray for me, and I said, “Yes.” She prayed, and I started to cry. She was adamant, “What’s wrong, Lisa?”


“I’m homeless,” I said. “I’m grateful for my job, but I need an apartment so me and my child can live together.”


She said, “Why didn’t you tell someone about your situation?”


She started to help me mentally and materially. Then I got a second job. She told me to keep the faith — it’s coming. I was working both jobs and checked with the apartment complex daily. The landlord called me about three months later and said, “Lisa, I have good news and bad news. The older gentleman will be relocating to the Senior Center, but the apartment hasn’t been painted.”


I told her, “I just need my own place. I’ll take it, they can paint it later.” She said she would have to get a lock for the apartment. The first night, she said she didn’t have time to get it. She called me the second night and said the same thing. I hung up the phone on her. She called me back and said to look out the window. I looked up and she was dangling some keys. I left the chicken in the fryer. I was crying and happy at the same time.


It was over.


I had a decent job and an apartment. I lived in that apartment for a whole month without cable or television. Just a couch and a bed. I was just happy to have a place to call home again.


As for the job, I’m still working there and it has gotten better with time. I have an extended family and friends, and I’m doing what I love: cooking. Come see me! The food is fantastic, and you can get anything from soup to nuts for free. You can even get deodorant and soap! I invite you to come dine with me at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.

‘The FunkTASKtiks’ Give Voice to the Homeless

By Kris Alvarez

For 51-year-old bass player Derrick Branch, writing original music has become a fundamental medium for self-expression. Preston Demarco, 62, picked up his first pair of drumsticks at around 10 years old and has since been extremely enamored with all things music. Singing has provided Carol Johnson, 72, with the opportunity to communicate with others in a powerful and unique way.


As members of “The FunkTASKtiks,” a band that formed as a result of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen’s (TASK) “SHARE Project,” Branch, Demarco and Johnson are amongst many other members of the program that come together to express their musical talents and passions not only for the Mercer County community to see, but for themselves to enjoy.


“One of the missions of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen is to provide self-sufficiency and to improve the quality of life for our patrons,” said TASK Development and Community Relations Coordinator J Steinhauer. “And in 2009, we developed the ‘SHARE Project’ to act as an outlet for creative expression.”


Initially, the “SHARE Project” focused on helping participants interested in spoken word, poetry, art, short story writing and script writing to generate their own original works. Members would then present their ideas to others in the group for feedback and share their finished products with the local community.


In 2010, however, the program expanded its resources for members after receiving donations of music equipment, including electric/ acoustic drums, bass guitars, keyboards, electric/acoustic guitars and other rhythmic instruments. What started as a program with less than 10 members grew over time through word of mouth and currently benefits 40 to 50 individuals, 25 to 30 of which are regular participants.


“Before ‘The FunkTASKtiks, I was mainly doing spoken word. I would get street beats from some- body. I didn’t have a band and I wasn’t that comfortable playing and singing in front of other people,” said Branch. “But I wanted my music to be just as strong as my lyrics. So, I got with other people to get them to help me play my music.” Branch is also the bassist and vocalist for another urban / indie band from Trenton known as the “UnderGround Rats.”


"Bald-Headed Band"   By Elaine Jones
“Bald-Headed Band”
By Elaine Jones

Under an open-door policy, all participants are given free range to practice and write songs from any and all genres of music, regardless of their musical skills. Though the initiative was birthed by TASK, mem- bers of “The FunkTASKtiks” dictate the direction in which the band portion of the program is headed.


“The program kind of adapts to the artists,” Steinhauer said. Practices, which are held every Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the TASK multipurpose room, are divvied up into two halves; a one-hour free-jam session and a one-hour “open mic” session, where members can bounce song ideas off one another. The group ranges from original pieces to covers of popular songs.


“It’s not really scripted music,” said Demarco, who is also enrolled in a program offered by Hamilton-based employment placement company, Opportunities For All, Inc. “They don’t knock you off the stage if you drop a drumstick or anything either.”


Though the band serves as a productive means of expression for all, musicians like Demarco, find his participation in the group to be an escape from his day-to-day routine.


“After a long time behind bars, I met J at the soup kitchen and I wandered into the music room,” Demarco said. “I’m not walking the streets right now. I’m not sitting in the crowded mission … It grates on my nerves everyday that I have to stay in, but this takes me away from all that for a few hours.”


“The FunkTASKtiks” have performed nearly 50 gigs a year since the band was brought together.


"Music" By Brook Lachelle Beatty
By Brook Lachelle Beatty

Typically, the band is featured at community-wide events with- in Mercer County such as church events, art shows, fairs and more. On March 8th, they supported mem- bers of the “A-TEAM Artists of Trenton,” a group of aspiring local illustrators from TASK whom the band collaborate with religiously, at the opening reception to their art show hosted in the West Windsor Art Center, located in Princeton.


“The FunkTASKtiks” have regularly been asked to revisit previously played locations and perform after receiving positive reactions from their audiences.


Not only have “The FunkTASKtiks” promoted their brand through their many live performances, but the band will also be putting out a 10 to 13-track album sometime this summer. The record, which has already been recorded at Riverview Studios in Bordentown, is currently in the process of being mastered and contains an eclectic mix of original songs by the band ranging from jazz to experimental rock.


“My experiences with the band have been very positive and inspirational,” Branch said. “It keeps me going… keeps me stable and keeps me focused.”


Given the rapid success that precedes “The FunkTASKtiks,” and the die-hard dedication of its mem- bers, there are no bounds for what the future has in store for the group.


“As long as I’m in the Trenton area, I plan to stay with ‘The FunkTASKtiks,’” Demarco said with a smile across his face.


Trenton Area Soup Kitchen

Phone: (609) 695-5456 72 Escher Street