Category Archives: Non-Profit

TDI: Connecting the Capital

Article by Odalys Quito

“Trenton makes the world takes” can be seen by anyone who passes the Lower Trenton Bridge. The powerful slogan represents the historical significance of a city that was once a landmark for business and opportunity. Today, while the city is still alive with the same vivacious spirit, it is also home to high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and poverty.

For many of the individuals who experience these adversities, access to the internet, technology, and a basic understanding of how a computer works underlies many of these problems. Fortunately, programs in the capital such as the Trenton Digital Initiative are working tirelessly to provide these same individuals with an opportunity to overcome such modern challenges.

TDI receives donations that are then renovated into functional computers and laptops. Their mission is to get a computer into every home in Trenton, where over 17,000 families lack access to the Internet. As of today, TDI has provided over 580 computers and laptops to families in the community

Although TDI does not provide families with direct Internet access, they have partnered with Comcast to implement the Internet Essentials Program (IEP). Families who have a child enrolled in the federal lunch program are eligible for IEP, which provides internet access for the price of $10 per month.

According to the City of Trenton, 62 percent of K-12 public school students in the city are enrolled in the federal lunch program and a large majority of these students now have access to the internet through IEP. Families receiving housing assistance are also eligible for the program.

Dave Zboray, the program’s cofounder spoke of the importance of Internet access to many of these families and children: “Imagine for a day, let alone a year, that you don’t have access to your laptop. What does that mean? You don’t have access to education.” For children in particular, the lack of access to this important resource can hinder academic success and achievement. Zboray also discussed the lack of public technological resources in the city, citing the city’s few libraries as a limited source of access.

Zboray’s work continues to make a positive impact on the residents of Trenton. He cheerfully recounts the experiences of the residents that he has worked alongside. For example, an unemployed single father of two received a computer from TDI. The same day that he received the laptop, he started to apply for jobs on the internet.

Zboray elaborates on this experience by stating that “the father calls me and says ‘I got an interview at The Cheesecake Factory. A week later, he tells me that he got the job.”

With technology and the internet become more and more of a necessity, programs like TDI are moving the lives of many forward and working to close the gap one computer at a time.


Trenton Digital Initiative

(609) 689-9960 x16

(609) 203-9064

tdi@midjerseychamber.org


Photo by Jared Kofsky

Organizations Deliver Food to Local Homebound Residents

By Shradha Suresh

In addition to families, single parents and children, many of the elderly in our communities are faced with food insecurity. According to Feeding America, about 8% of households (2.9 million seniors who are above the age of 65) experienced food insecurity in 2015. The Mercer Street Friends Food Bank’s website states that oftentimes the elderly have to chose between food and medicine. Food insecurity has a dangerous impact at any age, but it can be particularly problematic for the health of the elderly.

There are a number of problems that contribute to the rising number of elderly faced with food insecurity and the gravity of the issue. The website of Food Insecurity and Aging Adults states that “the elderly feel that food stamps are reserved for the young and would be judged if they used them. They also lack transportation and are unable to prepare food.”

The Mercer County Nutrition Project for the Elderly is combating the problem on two fronts, providing access to satiating, nutritional meals and an opportunity for these individuals to engage with their communities.

“This program is quite different from other programs because they stress on the importance of socialization; it is a program that is catered for the elderly to get a warm meal,” says Jenifer Williams, the program’s Executive Director.

The program is also unique in that it provides these same services to those who are homebound and immobile, as well. The program, which is both locally and federally funded, runs from Monday to Friday. The only requirement is that the client or his/her spouse must be over the age of 60.

Kamille Munger, a client of the program, said that she started visiting the program with her husband years ago. Today, the same location is where she seeks closure for her husbands and daughter’s deaths through an extensive network of friends that she first met there. In this way, the organization has helped her work through a challenging period of grief and depression.

Another organization that delivers similar resources and support to individuals who are homebound is Meals on Wheels of Mercer County. With the help of a large base of committed volunteers, the organization delivers meals to these individuals.

Patrons may receive one hot meal and one cold meal per day on Mondays through Fridays. There are also a small number of weekend meals available to weekday meal recipients. In addition to these services, the program offers nutrition education, shelfstable groceries once a month, ‘Blizzard Bags” during inclement weather, and pet food for those who need them.

Although the program only requires that patrons be over the age of 21, Sasa Montano, the Executive Director of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, said that the program finds that it is serving an increasing number of elderly residents who are immobile.

The program allows patrons to can choose the day, meals and length of the services that they need. A nutritionist determines all the ingredients and meals provided on a daily basis. Additionally, the program uses federal poverty guidelines to determine if patrons require a subsidy.

According to Joyce Stilwells, the Director of the Lawrence Township Meals on Wheels Program, “the delivery system is like a check with the elderly where they still have their independence and dignity but through which they can connect to people.”

Moreover, they provide these individuals with the independence and nutrition that they need. These two programs serve as an important resource to an often-overlooked population in the community.


Mercer County Nutrition Project for the Elderly  – (609) 989-6650

Meals on Wheels of Mercer County – (609) 695-3483

East Trenton Organization Brings Housing To City Residents

By Maksymilian Popinski

On 794 E. State St in Trenton is the Martin House, the building from which Father Brian McCormick of the Catholic Diocese first established his non-profit organization, Better Community Housing Trenton (BCHT) in 1972. Fa ther Brian McCormick, known as Father Brian within the community, devoted his life to building the organization into what it is today: A non-profit that restores dilapidated and neglected homes and sells them strictly to struggling families in the region.

According to their website, the purpose of BCHT is to provide home ownership and ownership skills to those who fall below the poverty line.

The Martin House itself was designed as a clothing store, in which members who qualified for and purchased a home had to volunteer one day of service to the Trenton community.

In the store, individuals can purchase a grocery bag of clean clothes for eight dollars, and those with special conditions (behavioral issues, burn victims, physically disabled) receive this clothing at no cost. Martin House receives the majority of their inventory from donations, a portion of which is from locals moving out of the area.

Originally, the bulk of the building housed only the Martin House, but when the organization started to expand and sell homes, Father Brian McCormick decided to use the adjacent buildings (through very generous donations from the community) to add new wings to the Martin House. Likewise, the staff originally consisted only of Father Brian, a few priests who resided in the bedrooms, and a few secretaries.

Now the former bedrooms and wings are used for recreational or Martin House sponsored events. These events embody the vivacious spirit of the East Trenton community, attracting individuals from across the state including actor Martin Sheen who attended a program in 1989.

Along with the Martin House is the Martin House Learning Center operated by Ms. Sheila Conway. Conway devotes her time to hosting a number of educational, recreational and social activities including boy/girl scouts, a preschool, and afterschool programs. In conjunction with these educational initiatives, parents were invited to study for their GED alongside their children as they complete their schoolwork.

In 2011, BCHT completed a project on the 900th block of E. State Street where they built twelve new homes. This was the last project by Fr. Brian McCormick who reached the age of 70 and retired as per the regulations of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately for the Martin House, the only tie that the Diocese had to the organization was Father Brian McCormick, and without a new priest to take up the reins, Martin House no longer has access to a $120,000 stipend from the Catholic Diocese.

Unfortunately, this has taken a toll on the home rehabilitation operations. Despite not having the help of the Diocese, many of the organization’s Catholic affiliations are still very much involved with BCHT’s efforts.

The Martin House is currently headed by Pearleen Waters. Waters, the Chief Executive Director of Operations, became a homeowner as a result of the Martin House several years ago. Waters spends her time sharing the organization’s rich history and advocating for individuals’ equal opportunity to own and maintain their own home.

“With housing in general, a basic necessity in life, it is very upsetting that some people cannot even maintain a roof over their heads,” said Waters.

Despite the humanitarian merit of the organization, Waters admits operations have become difficult without the funds from the Diocese, and Martin House requires a contractor and bookkeeper in order to continue with home rehabilitations. Martin House accepts donations of all kind and encourages those who may have spare furniture or clothing to stop by and donate.


Better Community Housing Trenton

802 E. State St. Trenton, NJ 08602

Phone: (609) 989-0271

www.bchtrenton.org

“It’s All Love” at Stockton 51: The A-TEAM Gives Back

Article By Jared Wolf – Photography by Jared Kofsky

Sixteen years ago, a small group of visual artists met with Extra Helpings volunteer, Susan Darley, to discuss the possibility of forming an art cooperative within the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). Founded in 2001, Extra Helpings was a small art program designed to alleviate the stresses of poverty by encouraging artistic expression.

The small collection of amateur artists came to be known as the A-TEAM, eventually morphing into the Trenton Community A-TEAM (formerly know as TCAT), which recently opened Stockton 51, a neighborhood art center within a previously abandoned two-story carriage house at 51 North Stockton Street in Downtown Trenton. The space was given to the A-TEAM by Isles Inc., a Wood Street nonprofit organization that is working to establish an arts district in the surrounding community.

Today, the Stockton 51 art studio is a popular haven for a number of local painters, sketchers, musicians, and sculptors to unwind from the vices of urban life in America, and simply create.

In its earliest form, TCAT was designed to offer an open facility to those who possessed creative talents or an interest in the arts, but it did not have the necessary resources to pursue its creative endeavors. Darley wished to create a “collegial environment in which they [the artists] could hone their creative abilities.”

The goal: sell artwork and realize the benefits of seeing hard work come to life.

From the beginning, the artists decided how the A-TEAM would operate and which projects it would undertake. In this way, “membership in the group also provided an opportunity for the artists to learn entrepreneurial skills,” said Darley.

Membership expanded, and the walls of TASK quickly became an open display of their work. Over the years, the ‘A-TEAM Artists of Trenton’ have participated in hundreds of shows. From displays in museums and galleries to corporate offices and government agencies, the A-TEAM has seen their pipe dream become reality

Moreover, the A-TEAM artists have given back to the Trenton community in a multitude of ways, by lending work to local businesses and non-profit groups, or by leading monthly art workshops for residents of the Rescue Mission of Trenton and patrons at The Arc Mercer.

The artists have also hosted clients from the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital’s art therapy program in their studio. And just last summer, Stockton 51 hosted a community cookout in which over 2,000 people attended. During the event, which was funded by TASK, the studio gave out over 1,000 hamburgers and hot dogs

This is one of the countless examples of how this facility has given back to its community.

One artist in particular has had a profound impact on the A-TEAM family. Self-taught artist Walter Roberts, Jr. learned how to shade from his sixth grade math teacher. His teacher told him that if he taught him how to shade, he had to start paying attention.Today, Roberts is celebrating over twenty years as a member of the A-Team and considers his ability to shade his greatest strength.

Derrick Branch, another self-taught artist, has been with the A-TEAM for over ten years. A bass guitarist, Branch helped begin a music program within the TCAT crew and hopes to see it expand in the coming years.

Branch, in collaboration with other musicians, has made several hip-hop compositions, in addition to rehearsed renditions of prominent Jazz scores from musicians like Duke Ellington.

From what started as a few friends seeking extra community services at TASK has transformed into a playground for the disenfranchised. Roberts described Stockton 51 as “a sanctuary in the city” from which “anything can be thought.”

For many of the teens who go to the studio to paint, draw, build, jam, sketch, or create, Stockton 51 is a healthy way to stay off of the streets and out of trouble. Well equipped with tools and gadgets, artists can spend endless hours creating and composing.

Roberts recalled several nights where he and other artists worked until 8 in the morning to complete some of their more complex pieces. Roberts’ was happy to share one of his proudest pieces: a portrait of the 20th century academic and activist Angela Davis. Roberts’ worked for five straight days without sleep to compete the piece—his desire for perfection acting as the sole motivation to stay awake.

When asked if he could name a few of the artists who come to Stockton 51, Roberts simply responded, “I can name a billion of ‘em”. The studio has become a symbol of the community, and a representation of the beautiful art that can emerge from the struggles of a childhood in the city. “It’s all love,” he said. “Giving kids a place to openly express themselves distracts them from the jungle.”

Looking forward, TCAT hopes to go three-dimensional: the artists want to pursue projects that don’t just hang on walls. They are looking to create statues, T-shirts, clothing, and jewelry.

With new projects and ideas constantly flooding in, TCAT will continue to change and expand. A gift shop is currently being built at Stockton 51 and the artists are always redefining their image, both as creators, and as contributors to the community.

If you are interested in buying art or would like to reach out to one of the artists/directors, please go to their website at www.trentoncommunityateam.org.


 

Stockton 51

51 North Stockton Street Trenton, NJ

trentoncommunityateam.org

(609) 421-0793

Outreach Program Provides Identification for Mercer Residents

By Alyssa Gautieri

On any given night in 2007, there were 271 families and 840 individuals in Mercer County who were experiencing homelessness; many of whom were chronically homeless.

Through the strategic planning and operational supports provided by the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness and its community partners, these numbers have decreased dramatically.  According to a recent Point In Time (PIT) survey, homelessness in Mercer County has been reduced by over 70 percent for families, and 48 percent for individuals from 2007 to 2015. Both figures are well above the state and national averages.

While these PIT numbers, which reflect the reduction in homelessness on any given day in our community, are impressive, there are still significant numbers of homeless residents in Mercer County. The Rescue Mission of Trenton alone reported that over 1200 individuals sought their services in the past year.

“Unfortunately, individuals and families will continue to experience homelessness due to various circumstances. Our job is to find ways to end their homelessness quickly, and shorten their stays in shelter by getting them into permanent housing,” said Frank Cirillo, Executive Director of the Mercer Alliance.

In the coming year, the Mercer Alliance and its public and private non-profit partners will focus on ending chronic homelessness for individuals. These are people facing numerous health related challenges, and have experienced long-term homelessness, or multiple periods of homelessness over several years.

Cirillo, who joined the Alliance in 2007, recognized that a large number of these individuals did not have proper identification, such as birth certificates, voter registrations, driver’s licenses, or county identification cards.

Without this critical information, homeless individuals have great difficulty in accessing benefits and services like food stamps, Medicaid, or General Assistance. It also affects their ability to obtain employment, a bank account or establish residency.

“It is not uncommon for homeless individuals to lose documents or have them stolen. These items of identification are important to all of us, but to the homeless they can mean the difference between permanent housing and stability or living on the streets,” said Cirillo.

While obtaining these forms of identification seems like a simple solution, it can be a daunting task for individuals trying to navigate complex bureaucracies. It can also be very costly. For this reason, in July of 2015, the Mercer Alliance began the Homeless ID Project. This project mirrored an earlier Alliance endeavor in 2010 that was initiated by former Alliance employees Scott Fairman and Tarry

Truitt. That project was very successful, but was challenged by a lack of funding and the untimely death of Mr. Fairman.

The current project, which receives assistance from the City of Trenton, utilizes the contributions of CEAS Center and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen to satisfy individuals’ identification needs. Their efforts are greatly enhanced by the hiring of formerly homeless individuals to be the “guides” in this process. “These individuals are among the 600 that Mercer Alliance has assisted on their road to permanent housing. They provide the practical help in obtaining IDs and serve as proof that the currently homeless can move from the street to a home of their own,” said Cirillo.

The Alliance’s Housing First and Rapid Rehousing strategies have indeed proven successful and have become national models, due to the contributions of funders and service providers that make up the Alliance. Many early skeptics have become important allies in building a system to combat homelessness; proving, once again, that we are stronger together.

“The ID Project is an important part of that work, but we still have much more work to do,” said Cirillo. “There are still many people in our community who experience homelessness each year. We continue to believe that creative policies and programming can change lives.”