Over time, technology has become a useful tool to many Americans; so useful that for the most part, everything is now done electronically. With computers, cell phones, iPads, tablets and much more, the Internet can be accessed by those who are fortunate enough to provide themselves with these resources. However, there are people who struggle financially and do not have the opportunity to equip themselves with these advancements.
With that being said, there has been a digital divide formed between those who have regular access to the Internet and those who do not. The digital divide occurs between those people who are financially capable of keeping up with the vast advancements in technology and those who cannot afford such luxuries.
Homelessness is something that does not only occur in Mercer County and the Trenton area, but all around the United States. In the year of 2015, in Mercer County alone, there were approximately 600 people left out on the streets at night, experiencing the treacherous conditions of homelessness.
This number does not include the numerous amount of people who struggle to provide for their family, who live paycheck to paycheck and those who have to choose between necessities such as warmth at night or dinner on the table.
Many people have acknowledged the importance of homeless citizens who need the experiences of computers and the internet, and have acted positively to supported these people. Specifically, the Rescue Mission of Trenton is a non-profit organization agency in the city of Trenton that serves men and women who are in need of food, shelter, and other necessities.
The TEACH program, which has been created by the Rescue Mission of Trenton, allows people who do not have a home with a computer or the means to afford a computer, to access the internet, learn how to search the web, and navigate their way through the digital world.
Because many job applications are to be completed online, the TEACH program provides people with opportunities for employment and to better their lives. Both classroom instruction and one-on-one tutoring are offered through the program. Tutors consist of volunteers from the area who are very good at working with computers and searching the internet.
The Rescue Mission of Trenton’s goal is to provide a safe, clean, and warm refuge for the homeless, the hungry, the transient and the addicted. People will find this program very beneficial if they are interested in GED preparation, basic literacy tutoring, parenting classes and computer and word processing skills.
The Rescue Mission of Trenton is located on 98 Carroll Street in Trenton, New Jersey. It is open from Monday through Saturday, opening at 10 a.m. and closing at 5 p.m. If interested in contacting this facility, call (609) 695-1436.
According to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, 16.1 million children in the United States, 27 percent of the American population live under the poverty level and suffer from food insecurity. Specifically, according to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey more than 300,000 children in the Garden State do not have food security on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, the majority of children in Trenton are food deprived and likely not introduced to healthy foods like vegetables while growing up.
These numbers can change. The food banks, schools and organizations throughout Trenton have the chance to turn around the statistics of children who are struggling with food insecurity and create solutions.
Not only do the food banks in Trenton such as Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) and Mercer Street Friends Food Bank fight to end food deprivation in children, but also they have teamed up with the Trenton public schools to educate and feed children throughout the Trenton area healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables.
According to TASK, around 300 children go to the local food banks each year.
“Healthy foods like fresh vegetables and fruits are more expensive than canned foods, which are higher in sodium and less nutritious than their fresh counterparts,” said Jaime Parker, the manager of production at TASK. “ Also, the City of Trenton does not have many grocery stores that sell fresh foods.”
The food banks in Trenton and in the Mercer county area, such as TASK and Mercer Street Friends, are coming together and developing programs for families and children who are food insecure.
Parker explains some programs in which TASK has: “Our ‘Thanksgiving at Home’ Program provides families with all the ingredients to cook and eat Thanksgiving dinner at home, […] we host a special Spring Egg Hunt just for children, and invite our families to come to a special Halloween party and Back to School backpack and supply distribution.”
Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and Mercer Street Friends Food Bank are just two examples of the fight towards food security for children throughout New Jersey.
Not only do the food banks around Trenton promote healthy eating, but the public schools in Trenton do as well.
Parker explains the reality in which Trenton faces, “Many low-income families may not have regular access to a working car and do not live within walking distance to one of the grocery stores that do sell fresh produce. Eating healthy foods is a challenge for low-income families in Trenton.”
Most children in Trenton do not learn much about healthy eating at home because they do not have access to healthy foods, which is why the school districts throughout the mercer county area are responsible for giving these children a healthy lifestyle.
As told by TASK, “during the week, there are many kids who rely on free/reduced breakfast and lunch programs in school.”
Some students have never seen some of the foods that are on their plates during lunch because they have never been introduced to such foods before. Therefore, the schools in the Trenton area are trying to change that through school gardens as well. The school gardens allow the children to see how food grows and the options of healthy foods there actually are. All in all, the Trenton public schools are changing the way children look at food.
Moreover, there are nonprofit organizations in Trenton, like Isles, Inc., that supports education for the children and parents of New Jersey about healthy eating and growing fresh produce.
Isles, Inc. is a community garden in Trenton that supports more than 60 school and community gardens, teaching children the knowledge on growing fresh food. Isles allows the children throughout Trenton to be introduced to fresh foods like vegetables and how they can grow their own food.
Isles along with many other programs like community gardens throughout Trenton are the moving towards the goal of no more hunger in the city of Trenton — one step at a time. Children in Trenton and New Jersey will be educated about fresh foods and have food security instead of being food insecure and organizations like Isles is how the solution begins.
Children in Trenton and around America who suffer from malnutrition lower both their health and well being every time they eat Cheetos instead of carrots. Stated in an article written by Catherine Saint Louis, “Pediatricians Are Asked to Join Fight Against Childhood Hunger,” some pediatricians do not even realize how many children in their community are victims of food insecurity.
According to Louis, the American Academy of Pediatrics is urging pediatricians to familiarize themselves with the food banks around their area and closely examine children for food deprivation. Due to food deprivation, children are becoming sicker and are being hospitalized more often than children who eat healthy. The doctors around America are using screening tools to determine whether or not children in their community are suffering from a lack of food; the pediatricians have the ability to educate both the children and the parents about what a healthy diet consists of and how they can have one. Pediatricians have the power to tackle food insecurity at the source and educate families. Pediatric doctors around America and within the Trenton area can help stop food deprivation for children, one step at a time.
All in all, the astonishing statistics of children who are food deprived in the United States can and will change with the help of the community and many organizations who are making a difference every day for children.
The food banks throughout Trenton such as TASK and Mercer Street Friends Food Bank are just one piece of the puzzle to fight food insecurity. Along with the food banks, the public school who have teamed up with the food banks throughout Trenton are just an additional solution for children who do not have access to health foods, bringing the healthy foods to them.
Slowly but surely, Trenton can push through the bumps in the road ahead and fight for the children who are food insecure.
To be a teenager living in an era revolving around technology, as it is today, means seeing peers with their faces basically burrowed into their phones and computer screens. Pictures, videos, statuses and tweets are posted and shared amongst friends, as well as the rest of the world. Some posts, even, evolving from a simple video to a viral phenomenon in a matter of minutes, giving the individual a moment of fame. Though the Earth is vast and contains parts unknown to some, we constantly remain connected through the Internet. We befriend strangers in other places. We maintain relationships with those close to us.
With advances in technology, our means of acquiring education and information has improved significantly. We find easier ways to complete tasks through online mediums. It is easier for adolescents to speak with friends and professors online, and complete assignments at his or her own pace. Getting jobs has even become easier and more accessible — as recruiters post positions online and expect to receive interest from a vast number of students.
The Internet can be an incredibly useful tool, and to most American teenagers, an easily acquirable “necessity” taken for granted. But what is the Internet to a teenager who is experiencing homelessness?
A luxury as valuable as gold.
The workers and volunteers at HomeFront, a Mercer County-based homeless prevention social services agency, witness this “digital divide” amongst those facing homelessness every day, and help bridge the gap between them and the Internet. The agency has been working with homeless, at-risk and very low-income families in Central New Jersey for 25 years, and has been providing them with the tools and resources needed to become self-sufficient.
When asked about the biggest challenge these depraved teens face, Meghan Brittingham, Volunteer Coordinator at the facility, said, “Definitely education.”
Having worked at the agency for almost two years, Brittingham notices the challenges young and impoverished individuals face without easily accessible Internet connection.
“Being able to submit assignments and research online…and being able to excel in different subject areas is the biggest challenge for these kids,” Brittingham said.
She mentions that teens with no Internet access or smartphones also struggle to communicate and keep in touch with professors, friends and family.
HomeFront strives to provide services and programs geared towards education and employment. Its primary focus for teens is to help them realize the importance of graduating high school and continuing their studies. Students are tutored in all subject areas, assisted with their homework three nights a week, and trained on how to use a computer, given access to computers and the Internet when needed.
“Triumphant Teens” is a program initiated by the agency, in which the teens with the most need are given the opportunity to gain work experience and showcase their skills. The program’s three components are job readiness, tutorial and internships.
During the summer months, the program’s objective is more recreational and students listen to guest speakers and take weekly trips. This, along with other programs like Kids4Kids or Women’s Initiative, can be found on HomeFront’s website at www.homefrontnj.org.
The idea that a majority of teenagers are now provided with frequent access to technology is encouraging, yet, that does not mean we can ignore the deprivation faced by the hundreds of millions of individuals experiencing homelessness in our world today.
“Without the tools to succeed in school, their plans for the future may not have many options,” stated Brittingham. “We will continue our computer training programs and work hard to ensure accessibility…[and] continue to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable population in our community.”
After completing my Community Engaged Learning Day at El Centro in Trenton, New Jersey, I felt like I needed to know more about this community center. My friends and I raked up trash, and leaves with some of the workers of El Centro to improve the streets of downtown Trenton and to help those who live there.
Several of the leaders of the community service said they have been volunteering there for many years, and are familiar with some of the guests that come in. I was inspired by their effort to really help the community.
Founded in 1999, El Centro has been a great and supportive resource for the Spanish-speaking community. With locations in Burlington, Mercer, Ocean and Monmouth County, this center helps with job training, immigration assistance and many other basic needs.
Briana Sosa-fondeur, a senior at The College of New Jersey, has worked with El Centro for two years.
“Anybody can walk in their doors and say ‘I need help’ and they will find the resources they need,” Sosa-fondeur said.
No appointments are required and most services are free for anyone in need of help. El Centro can prepare some in need of a job. The community service center is connected with a lot of businesses throughout the county.
“They try to build up the economy within Trenton by helping people get jobs,” Sosa-fondeur said.
In addition to getting people jobs, El Centro can help immigrants pass their citizenship test. There are evening classes to prepare consumers for naturalization in the United States as well as other accredited immigration services. These services help them adjust to American traditions.
“In this country they value being American,” said Sosa-fondeur.
English as a Second Language (ESL) Classes are also available for non-English speaking immigrants. The students that attend these classes are mostly adults who aspire to benefit themselves and their families.
“They come from having two to three jobs and still are dedicated to take these classes,” explained Sosa-fondeur. “They are dedicated for their kids as well.”
El Centro is a very special place that is trusted within the Latino community. Teaching basic needs and job training techniques for immigrants it has played an important role for many within the community.
“It is a little family.”
For more information about El Centro please call (609) 394-2056.
History teacher at Trenton Central High School, William Pyper, recalled a student he had during his first year of teaching AP courses in the Trenton School District who was homeless.
Pyper said that she was a gifted student and had received a full scholarship to attend Carnegie Mellon. She nearly missed her opportunity when she needed to send in a deposit to the school to hold her place. However, Pyper said he was not going to let her pass up the chance, and offered her the money to pay the deposit. She attended the University that fall and even paid Pyper back with a refund from scholarship money. He said that she was one of the only students that he didn’t cut any slack who was in that situation and only because “she didn’t need it.”
Homelessness is an increasing issue for students in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2012-2013 school year, over 1.2 million students were identified as homeless. In Trenton, homelessness is a tricky subject. Several teachers at Trenton Central High School spoke to me about their encounters with students who they knew or suspected to be homeless, how they responded to the students, and how they adapted their teaching style to better suit the students’ needs.
History teacher, Matthew Russell felt that the more pressing problem was poverty; that students would have a home, but there was not always food or other basic necessities.
Additionally, often times in Trenton, as well as other areas, students are less often homeless than they are staying with extended family or friends. This can bring a different set of problems and can overshadow schoolwork.
Another recurring theme was that teachers felt a desire to help. Several teachers mentioned giving students money for food, or bringing in coats for them when the weather was cold. Nearly all of the teachers said they adjust their teaching style in that they become much more lenient when dealing with students who are experiencing homelessness. They understand if students are tired in class or if their work isn’t always in on time. They try to recognize that schoolwork is not the number one priority when you are worried about where you are going to sleep or eat after school.
Literature teacher, Kathy Mulcahey, said that she would never communicate with the student about experiencing homelessness directly, but if she felt that a student was struggling, she would “understand if they were sleeping in the earlier classes and make sure that they had something to eat.”
Most of the teachers I interviewed said that they hadn’t had too many of these students, about four or five suspected over their teaching career. One teacher said he heard that there are about a half a dozen a year out of about 2,000 students at the high school level in the district. Whenever they had a feeling that they had a student in this situation, they did their best to offer help.
Through my different interviews it became clear that homelessness is certainly a serious issue that can cause a range of struggles for students and interfere with their learning. Poverty is prevalent in the Trenton School District. The sentiment among each teacher I interviewed appeared to be, regardless of shelter: if a student is worried about where they will be getting their next meal, they’re not focused on their academics.
Written with and for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Trenton, New Jersey area.