Category Archives: Community

‘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

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



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
















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.

College Students Camp Out

By Shaun Field

On the campus of The College of New Jersey, Bonner Scholars, fraternities and clubs have all joined together to push an initia­tive to raise funds and awareness about Habitat of Trenton.

The latest Habitat-related events on campus included: Al­pha Chi Rho (AXP) Fraternity’s campus camp-out and ReStore raffle and TCNJ Club Habitat’s second annual car wash.

The campus “camp-out” was held outside the student center over the course of three days and two nights raised over $1,000 that was donated directly to Habi­tat of Trenton.

TCNJ Club Habitat raised an­other $300 for Habitat of Trenton as well, holding a car wash on the corner of Lower Ferry Rd and Pennington Rd in Ewing. Each car wash cost $5.

Jess Malone, the president of Club Habitat, said, “Living so close to the Trenton community, all of our chapter members are able to see the impact our volun­teer work has on the low-income residents of Trenton.”

Malone also said that Club Habitat has multiple fundraisers and events planned for the up­coming semesters.

The College of New Jersey’s connection with Habitat for Humanity is growing by the year and looks to be a vital resource for the years to come. If you have any questions about Habitat for Humanity or are interested in finding out more about opportu­nities to volunteer, donate or to participate in any of the programs offered contact or call (609)-503-4257.

This issue originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of the newspaper.