Category Archives: Featured Story: Community

EXCLUSIVE: Father and Son Reunite at Rescue Mission After 24 Years Apart

By Annette Espinoza and Jared Kofsky

Morgan Wilson and Morgan West Jackson reunited at the Rescue Mission of Trenton. Photo courtesy of Morgan Wilson.

Editor’s Note: This is the first part on an exclusive two-part series about Morgan Wilson’s surprise reunion with his son. Part 2 will feature the story of what has occurred in the time since this story was written. It will appear in our Summer 2018 edition, which will be known as The Streetlight.

Between his first and second days working at the Rescue Mission of Trenton as part of his new job at the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen patron and lifelong Mercer County resident Morgan Wilson crossed paths with an individual that shared a unique connection to him.

Wilson remembers the echo of this young man’s name that drew him out to the lobby that day in September 2015. There, in the entrance where many young men like him walk in and out for the services at the Rescue Mission, was someone named Morgan too.

“I’m sitting down and I’m looking at him like a baby,” Wilson recollected in an exclusive interview with The Wall.

“I said ‘your name’s Morgan? My name’s Morgan too,” before stepping outside to continue conversing with the other man.

As he soon realized, that day, after searching for him for over two decades, the young man who Morgan had run into was none other than Morgan West Jackson, his long lost first son.

As Jackson spoke about how he was adopted at a young age, and never knew his father, Wilson became increasingly confident.

“I listened to his story that day and I realized that this was my son,” he explained.

Twenty-four years filled with trepidation and loss had separated Wilson from Jackson.

“I didn’t want to be absent, I didn’t want to be like my father,” Wilson told The Wall.

However, in the early 1990s, Wilson’s struggles with drug use and subsequent periods of incarceration ended up dividing him from his child, but he always knew that Jackson was out there somewhere. As Wilson moved into transitional housing, a need grew within him to reclaim his family and reunite with his missing child.

In his mind, Wilson was haunted by an image of his deathbed and his wondering of who would carry his casket. Who would attend his funeral? And what would be said about him? This rang a need to leave a legacy; a legacy of positivity and hope, and a legacy for his sons to carry on.

Now, Wilson, who has a four-year-old son as well, describes himself as a man with so much more at stake and so much more to live for.  He is proud of his story and his efforts to be a better, more positive person for the people that depend on him.

Wilson and Jackson were inseparable after their encounter. Although the feeling of being called ‘dad’ by a 24-year-old man was surprising to Wilson, it introduced him to a love like no other—a love that stemmed from an understanding and forgiveness from Jackson.

“He is a good kid,” Wilson remarked, “better than me when I was his age.”

The more that Wilson spoke with his son, the more he learned about the son’s life over the previous 24 years. Jackson had been adopted by a suburban Philadelphia family as a young child. He later lived in both New York and New Jersey, before recently returning to the Keystone State, settling in Scranton and finding a new job as a hotel dishwasher.

“Working hard is in the bloodline,” according to Wilson, “I am so proud of him for never giving up.”

Although Scranton lacks direct public transportation to Trenton, and visits between Wilson and Jackson are rare, both speak frequently, especially since Jackson’s adoptive mother, Frances, passed away in 2014.

“He is very protective of me, said Wilson. “I am the only person he has left.”

Wilson describes how his son “got me in the loop” by signing him up Facebook, and speaks fondly of Jackson coming to the capital city recently to sleep over, share drinks and stories, and discover additional commonalities between the two of them. As it turned out, both Wilson and Jackson had overcome a variety of obstacles in their lives, developed an interest in boxing, and shared a sense of ambition to be better men.

“When he heard about all of the things I had overcome, he said ‘Dad, you’re the greatest’,” Wilson recalled.

Although in the two years since their first reunion, Wilson continues to miss Jackson, he is not the only one. Wilson’s four-year old son asks for his brother consistently, as do his sisters, his cousins, and his grandmother, who were equally excited about regaining a family member when Wilson shared the news with them back in 2015. His two sons, despite being from different marriages and having a 22 year age gap between them, play together and are mentors to each other. He hopes that his sons will continue to strive for positive and healthy relationships, and that they will remain family oriented and protective of one another.

Wilson’s case manager at Oaks Integrated Care since 2014, Rose Bernard, remembers the text message she received from Wilson that fall day two years ago. He wrote that something “unbelievable” had occurred to him and that she had to meet with him immediately. They met outside of Trenton City Hall that day and Wilson explained the heartwarming news.

“I’m supposed to help him, but I think he’s helped me more,” said Bernard, describing Wilson’s story as one of inspiration. “

Although you go through some hellish situations sometimes, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” says Wilson. “You’ve just gotta’ keep pushing.”

So what does the future hold for Wilson and all of his relatives? After putting himself together again “like a puzzle,” Wilson is enjoying the joys of life with his sons and his entire family by his side. In fact, Wilson is ready to grow the family and hopes to be a grandfather. For now, though, Wilson looks forward each year to March when both of his sons celebrate their birthdays and Jackson comes back to his birthplace, Trenton.

“The bond that we have is incredible,” said Wilson. “I just wish he wasn’t so far away.”

Morgan Wilson and Rose Bernard outside of the New Jersey State House in Trenton, N.J. Photo by Jared Kofsky.

‘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

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



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.