All posts by Steven P. Rodriguez

Creating an Outlet of Expression through Poetry

Patron. Volunteer. Student. Artist. Pervis Upshur closes his eyes, bunching his eyebrows in concentration, letting the words flow through him. Spoken word poetry comes effortlessly to him as he speaks his mind in rhyming stanzas for ten minutes.

Upshur, 39, has been coming to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen for the past year, producing poetry and artwork. “I put stuff in my own writing that way that I understand it. And that’s my way of speaking to people.”

Alongside his poetry, Upshur finds comfort by expressing himself through rap, explaining that he wants for his rap to someday inspire and help people through their own trials in life.

“Rapping helps me to get my words rhyming together, and that helps me with my poetry,” said Upshur.

A lot of his inspiration is drawn from scenery and landscapes. His paintings are mostly comprised of wildlife: birds, kangaroos, butterflies. He described two of his favorite paintings he did a few weeks ago, one a composite painting of a girl morphed with a lady bug and another of multicolored fish swimming in a river.

“The people here tell me that art can be anything,” said Upshur. “Art doesn’t always have to be a drawing.”

Currently, Upshur is working on an abstract painting of colors. When he is done painting it he said that the people at TASK are going to help him frame it so that he can give it to his mother.

“A lot of other artists here inspire me too,” said Upshur. “My friend Derrick, he is an artist. He inspired me to draw too.” Upshur explained that he has known Derrick Branch for years. Branch, who is an artist with the A-TEAM and involved with the SHARE Performing Arts group at TASK, had first introduced Upshur to the art programs that TASK has to offer.

While Upshur greatly enjoys formulating his creative works, the great joy for him is when he gets the chance to share it with people, and for it to possibly help people with their own troubles.

“I get stuff off my mind that I would be thinking about when I draw or do poetry,” said Upshur. “And I think that if you are upset about something than be creative with it and share it with other people.”

Aside from poetry and artwork, Upshur said that his goal is to continue his education and eventually become a counselor. Currently, Upshur is a student in the TASK Adult Education Program.

“I just want to be a counselor to help all types of people — all types of people that need it…that have their hand out,” said Upshur. “That is why I go here because I want to go to college to become a counselor.”

Having graduated from the Daylight/Twilight Alternative High School (a four-year alternative public high school that serves students, grades nine through 12, in Mercer County), Upshur expressed that he felt like he still needed to work on his schooling before pursuing his dream of becoming a counselor. He said that he primarily needs to work on his reading and basic math skills, and that TASK has provided him with great tutors that are dedicated to pushing him and helping him.

“I see a lot of progress in myself because I am trying, I am pushing it, and I am putting in a lot of work in here,” said Upshur. “Other people encourage me too. Just by looking at them, by people talking to me and telling me to go ahead and go for it, try it. Never, never be afraid to try something out just because you think you can’t do it.”

If there is any advice to offer, Upshur encourages people to express what is on their minds, and for people to get out in the world and put to paper what they envision for themselves or what they are feeling at a particular moment in their life.

“I gained a lot of experience and that experience makes me want to keep on going,” said Upshur. “I am glad to be here at the soup kitchen.”





Trenton Area Soup Kitchen

Phone: 609-695-5456 72

Escher Street, Trenton, N.J. 08609


Article written by Shayna Innocenti for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall 






Former “Trenton State College” Returns to Its Roots

If you have ever gotten the chance to travel through downtown Trenton, N.J., you might have noticed that the city’s transformation can be observed through its architecture.

With buildings dating as far back as the 18th century, one magnificent edifice holds particular significance to the present-day The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Once known as the New Jersey State Normal School, it had temporarily established residence in Trenton’s original City Hall. Decades after migrating just outside of city limits, the historic site can still be viewed from the windows of TCNJ’s new satellite office, TrentonWorks.

Though the college moved out of the capital in the late 1920’s, it never severed ties with the city. Through TCNJ’s Center for Community Engaged Learning & Research (CELR), the school in fact continued to develop its service to the city by man-dating first-year students to participate in service opportunities that primarily take place in Trenton. In addition, several upper-level courses participate in community engaged learning projects that also assist various nonprofits and public schools in the city.

In the spring of 2014, TrentonWorks was established in order to further develop this relationship.

The incubator space boasts a multimedia design lab, a storefront, as well as multiple workspaces. One of which has become home to Passage Theatre, a regional program that produces educational and socially conscious plays for the community. Additionally, the three- story building offers classes, guest lectures, movie screenings and workshops for students.

Madeline Urbish, the Policy and Public Relations Coordinator at the CELR, spoke to the potential educational opportunities.

“Being downtown provides a direct connection to the cultural resources in the city,” said Urbish. “For example, a political science class could have a lecture here and visit the statehouse, or an arts course could have a discussion and tour one of the many different art galleries.”

In addition to providing a venue to learn and collaborate, TrentonWorks also operates as a channel to drive traffic back into the city. With a downtown area that hosts many government and office buildings, the city becomes deserted after work-hours.

From facilitating lectures in social media’s rise in the corporate world, to citizenship assistance sessions for inspired immigrants, to professional development workshops for motivated teachers, TrentonWorks provides opportunities for everyone in the community.

“It is a two-fold. In addition to hosting expanded programming opportunities for TCNJ students, we are also building activity to keep people downtown after work hours,” said Urbish.

The Trenton Downtown Association (TDA), which is the lead partner with The College of New Jersey in the TrentonWorks initiative, is hopeful that these efforts will generate interest and, in turn, the much-needed progress for the downtown area.

As quoted by the Times of Trenton’s Jenna Pizzi, Christian Martin, the Executive Director of TDA said, “What better way to improve the atmosphere of downtown Trenton than to have an influx of engaged young people. As we try to define ourselves as a city I think education and medical are going to be a big part of the rebirth.”


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



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:


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









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
















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