Category Archives: Additional Articles

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

What We Are Reading This Week: Top Stories about Homelessness

This series of posts aims to provide a brief survey of some of the most interesting stories relating to homelessness each week.  The 24hr news cycle would have one to believe that there is a paucity of stories relating to homelessness, but many advocacy groups, blogs, and other internet resources actively report on the latest news in this area. Below is a blend of stories about people experiencing homelessness and some news on political policy.

The Importance of Housing

Last year, The Wall published an article treating on the same subject as this article: the importance of housing in combating homelessness. Our article surveyed the success of Mercer Alliance’s rapid rehousing program here in New Jersey. The article linked to here presents an alternative approach to housing known as “permanent supportive housing”. In essence, this approach to combating homelessness aims to flip the traditional model of housing assistance on its head by providing the person experiencing homelessness with access to a home first, and then helping them gain the skills necessary to support themselves in the future. The program is funded by the government and its effectiveness has been touted with an estimated 80 percent success rate. Simply described, permanent supportive housing is for those who need significantly more help than people who would otherwise utilize programs such as rapid rehousing.  Like many innovative programs, permanent supportive housing is dependent upon government funding and a steady supply of housing. Without these two essential ingredients, the program cannot function.  So, despite the possible concerns regarding sustainability, this approach to ending homelessness seems to be a promising solution.

Lasting Impact of “Million Dollar Murray”

Students Facing Homelessness

Though often overlooked, many students—in high school and college—have or are experiencing homelessness.  In the article linked to below, Camilla Garner discusses her own personal struggle with homelessness. The second link to the NPR report, discusses Rashema Melson’s personal academic success (achieving an impressive 4.0 GPA while also juggling high school sports) in face of homelessness. A very moving story. Here is an excerpt:


Even Melson isn’t sure how she’s managed to successfully juggle school (a 4.0 GPA), athletics (cross-country, track, volleyball) and homelessness. “I just know when I have a goal, I try not to let anything get in the way,” she says.

That goal, even before becoming homeless, has been to graduate from medical school and become a forensic pathologist. She says her father’s murder when she was a baby inspired her to pursue the career.

“At The Head of Her Class and Homeless”, NPR

Homelessness Policy

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has published its 2014  “State of Homelessness in America” report. It is full of interesting statistics and policy info. Read it online:



The Wall Team Honored by Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness

On April 29, 2014,  The Wall team, consisting of Editor-in-Chief Shayna Innocenti, Media Director Steven Rodriguez, and Business Director Raj Manimaran, was honored by the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness at their annual spring fundraiser. Members of The Wall were recognized for their effort to raise awareness of homelessness in Mercer County and desire to give dignity to the homeless community.


For more info, see the Mercer Alliance website:


Mercer Awards
From left to right: Editor-in-chief Shayna Innocenti, Tarry Truitt, Steven Rodriguez, Business Director Raj Manimaran (Image courtesy of the Mercer Alliance)