Category Archives: Non-Profit

Mercer Street Friends: Trenton Digital Initiative Gets Tech Savvy

By Anna Mucciarone

While walking down a bustling city street in the morning, you might pass some people who are talking loudly into their phone and others with headphones plugged into both ears, listening to music. As you’re walking, you might even take out your own phone to send a few quick text messages before arriving at your destination. What you might not notice while walking down the street is the number of people you pass that aren’t using a phone, possibly because they can’t afford one. In today’s society, most people tend to focus more on the growing technology addiction than the reality of the digital divide. While Internet access is a rite of passage for many people, there is a portion of the population that can’t afford to buy the latest iPhone or Internet connection. For those that live in Mercer County, evidence of the digital divide is apparent right in their backyards. Of the 85,000 citizens that call Trenton home, a significant number do not own a computer. With the Internet becoming more of a staple in our society every year, these families are being limited to what they can participate in with regards to school and their careers. For the families of Trenton and surrounding areas that find themselves in this situation, a section of the non-profit organization Mercer Street Friends may be able to help. This program, called the Trenton Digital Initiative (TDI), is working to slowly end the digital divide in the local community by distributing free computers to families that are in need of one. At its start, the Trenton Digital Initiative was a small idea being launched by tech-savvy founders, Dave Zboray and Glenn Paul. “We were just talking about how we could use our computer skills to help others,” said Zboray, who is now an IT specialist at Mercer Street Friends. “We came up with the idea we called ‘100 Computers for 100 Mercer Street Friends: Trenton Digital Initiative Gets Tech Savvy Families,’ which we would later rename the ‘Trenton Digital Initiative.’” Since it began in 2012, TDI has established a partnership with Mercer Street Friends and distributed 350 computers to families in need. In addition, TDI works to educate both youth and adults on basic computer skills. “We didn’t want to just hand out computers,” said Zboray, emphasizing the importance of offering these classes.  “So we have included training with each computer we distribute.” The computer education classes are offered through the Youth Services Program and Parenting Program at Mercer Street Friends. By signing up for either set of classes, families gain the opportunity to expand their knowledge of computers and technology. Another major concern for families that are struggling to make ends meet is being able to afford a stable Internet connection. With help from TDI, those families can connect to a special plan offered by Comcast. For just $9.95 per month, they can put their computers to use. The mission Statement for Mercer Street Friends is, “Bridging opportunity gaps…helping families and communities make the journey out of poverty.” TDI exemplifies this statement by providing local families with the opportunity to take home a computer of their own and support their Internet connection with an affordable plan. With each computer they distribute, the Trenton Digital Initiative is helping to end the digital divide within the Trenton community.

Mercer Street Friends 151 Mercer Street, Trenton, NJ 08611 Phone: (609) 396-1506

Preserving Families, Transforming Lives

By Jared Wolf

The plight of individuals experiencing homelessness in the Mercer County area remains a recurring issue that our community faces. This is especially problematic when these issues of poverty interfere with the well-being of children. As impoverished parents struggle to provide a nurturing environment to raise their families, their children face the challenge of experiencing a healthy childhood from which they can transition into a prosperous adulthood.

Despite the plethora of facilities, organizations, charities and government programs specifically designed to combat this issue, homelessness and poverty remain one of the greatest challenges to tackle in New Jersey.

In the past decade, homeless shelters and facilities have been reorganized, renovated and expanded in direct response to this inconvenient truth. One recently established facility in particular has made a tremendous impression on the Mercer County community in its short life span.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, HomeFront celebrated the Grand Opening of its Family Campus and Preservation Center at 101 Celia Way in Ewing, N.J. As a local nonprofit organization established to combat and lessen the immediate pain of homelessness by harnessing the resources and expertise of the community, HomeFront is beyond excited to make full use of the many resources and opportunities the amazing facility offers.

The newly opened Family Preservation Center Campus is making an immediate impact on the local community. As a fully funded public project, the new building is designed to provide a safe learning environment and shelter for families in need in the central New Jersey area.

Since opening, the facility has welcomed over 30 thankful families with open arms. The top floor has 30 residences for families with single moms, while the bottom floor has eight residences for families with single fathers, a new feature of the HomeFront program, which had previously been devoted to providing care for solely female parents.

Hey There by Emery Williams
Hey There by Emery Williams

According to Liza Peck, the Volunteer Coordinator for family campus, “The center works closely with a number of different agencies, such as the Mercer County Board of Social Services (MCBSS), to ensure that HomeFront can accommodate all the things a family needs in one space.”

Throughout the day, families are given opportunities to discover new interests, break bad habits and learn new skills. Children are provided with childcare every day. In addition to an art space and sewing area, via HomeFront’s already established program called ArtSpace, the Family Campus provides parenting and budgeting classes, housing and tutors.

“The overall impact of this building — every corner, every room, every decision that was made — is with an eye to making sure our guests are treated with dignity and respect,” said Director of Development Judy Long.

As Long envisioned the near future for the new facility and its families, the excitement in her voice was palpable.

“We want to give these families a vision for a better future with endless possibilities, not just by giving them hope, but by giving them the tools to fulfill that hope,” Long said.

In addition to the many skill-based workshops and programs, the residents are provided with Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), which emphasizes the importance of thinking before you act. HomeFront has also included the WorkFirst program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The WorkFirst program is a welfare reform program offered to residents who are looking for new job and career opportunities. Career specialists are available daily in the Hofmann Career Center. Volunteers aid adult residents by providing them with the opportunities and resources they need to discover or realize their desired career path.

Healthcare services have been implemented in conjunction with local agencies to ensure the utmost comfort of guests. Cooking classes are located in the Teaching Kitchen with recipes for affordable, nutritious meals. There is a computer lab, lounge, library, yoga studio, music room and so much more.

The ArtSpace facility on the main floor of the center is a great place for guests to relax, cope with stress in healthy ways and escape from daily struggles.

According to one of the guests, Jamie, the ArtSpace program serves as “a place where we can learn a lot about ourselves.”

Jamie, who has been a part of the HomeFront family for two months due to her experiences with domestic violence, discussed how she has changed from the time she first starting living at the center.

“I have gained a more positive outlook on life,” said Jamie. “I can now see myself going further, beyond where I am today.”

While her struggles have not magically disappeared, Jamie saw a profound transformation in her attitude and well-being since she first arrived.

“I have an urge to want to do more — not just for myself, but for others,” Jamie said.

HomeFront Family Campus

101 Celia Way Ewing, N.J. 08628

Phone: (609) 989-9417



Mercer County’s 2014 Point-In-Time Count Summary

As 2014 comes to an end, it is important that we revisit the year’s most demanding issues in the political, economic and social arenas. More importantly, we must evaluate the resolutions that were put forth to address many of these problems and recognize those which continue to beg for resolutions.

Unfortunately, homelessness remains a significant problem of the latter status. In looking forward, we must first understand the extent of the issue, its implications and the context in which we are working.

Mercer County’s annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count of the Homeless, coordinated annually by Mercer Alliance, can help us in doing this.

The count, which was carried out on the night of Tuesday, January 28, 2014, provides countywide estimates of the number of homeless households in our communities and information about where these individuals find shelter and the different factors that contribute to their homelessness.

While Mercer County shows the shortest length of homelessness in the state, it continues to struggle through the afflictions of homelessness.


Comprehensive Summary of the Mercer County 2014 PIT

On the night of the count, 500 households, (a total of 632 persons) were experiencing homelessness in Mercer County. This is a decrease of 36 persons (5.4%) but an increase of 55 households (12.4%) from 2013.

Of the 632 homeless individuals counted, 393 of them stayed in emergency shelters, 201 stayed in transitional housing and 38 were living unsheltered.

The totals for transitional housing and unsheltered both show a decrease from 2013.


Family Makeup in Homeless Households

Of the 500 homeless households counted in Mercer County in 2014, 71 (14.2%) were families with at least one child under the age of 18 and one adult; 429 (85.8%) of these households were households without children under 18.

These households were composed of 431 adult individuals.


Age Demographics

On the night of the count, there were 68 (10.8%) homeless adults between 18 and 24 years old, 444 (70.2%) homeless adults over age 24, and 120 (19%) children under 18 years old. The majority of these children were between zero and five years of age (69 children; 57.5%). Of the total homeless individuals counted, 145 (22.9%) were between the ages of 45 and 54.


Unsheltered Living

Of these 429 adult-only households, 228 (53.1%) of them were staying in emergency shelters, 168 (39.2%) were in transitional housing and 33 (7.7%) were unsheltered. While the number of adult-only households in Mercer County has decreased by 48 over the past five years, the county has experienced a 16.9% increase (62 people) since 2013.


Disabled Individuals, Veterans and Victims of Domestic Violence

Of the total number of homeless individuals in Mercer County on the night of the count, 52% of them reported having some type of disability. Among disabled adults, 51.5% reported mental health issues.

It is also important to note that more disabled homeless children reported a chronic health condition (58.5%) than any other disability.

On the night of the count, 57 homeless households (14.1% of all households) reported having been a victim of domestic violence.

A total of 38 homeless veterans were counted, which is one more than 2013. The largest majority of veterans, 73.7%, were found to be staying in an emergency shelter; four veterans were unsheltered (10.5%) and six were in transitional housing (15.8%).


Chronic Homelessness

The count identified a total of 64 persons in 63 households as chronically homeless. This is an increase of six persons (10.3%) from 2013. The rate of chronic homelessness as a percentage of overall homelessness increased from 8.4% to 10.1%.


Causes of Homelessness

On the night of the count, more homeless households attributed their homelessness to being asked to leave a shared residence (131 households, 26.2%) than any other cause. Of the 369 households who did not attribute this to their homelessness, 19.8% of them attributed the reduction of job income or benefits; 11.8% of them cited eviction as a cause and 11.4% of them cited release from prison or jail as a cause.


Length of Homelessness

Of the homeless households counted, 149 (29.8%) of them reported that their most recent, continuous episode of homelessness had lasted from eight days to one month; 351 of these households (70.2%) said they had been homeless for less than three months; 6.4% of them reported having been homeless for more than one year.


While this summary only looked at the count conducted in Mercer County, other counties throughout the state of New Jersey participated, and the results were compiled into a New Jersey Point-In-Time Count.

From this count, 13,900 homeless men, women and children were surveyed across the state. This number shows an increase of 1,898 persons (15.8%) compared to the 2013 count.

According to the statewide PIT Count, of the 13,900 homeless individuals in New Jersey, 931 persons were living unsheltered. This number is has gone down 33.4% from the 1,399 persons counted in 2013. These 931 persons made up 6.7% of New Jersey’s total 2014 population of homeless individuals.

Our hope is that these statistics, among the many others available in the reports, provide community members and leaders with a perspective of New Jersey’s growing problem with homelessness and the gravity of the situation.

More importantly, we hope that this information serves as a reminder and an incentive to approach the problem with more vitality in Trenton and other cities across the state.


Mercer County & New Jersey Point-In-Time Counts for 2014

The official reports can be found online at the Monarch Housing Associates website:


Article written by Engy Shaaban for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall









Habitat for Humanity’s Efforts

Local Dedication

By Shaun Field

As the red ribbon hung from the banister after the ceremonial ribbon cutting, TaShawn Wilkins stepped into her brand new, Energy Star® certified home at East Trenton, NJ. Having com­pleted 300 hours of required sweat equity over the course of the year, Tashawn Wilkins and her two children became the proud owners of the new home with red brick façade. With three bedrooms the family can live comfortably and each child will have their own bedroom for the first time.

For Construction Coordinator, Dan Santa Lucia, the ribbon cut­ting ceremony, held on Thursday, September 20th, was a day of pride. Laughing and recounting stories, Dan’s face showed great appreciation and respect for the hard work of the Wilkins family and the other volunteers on hand.

Touching on the help of universi­ty students from Rider, Princeton and The College of New Jersey as well as regular Saturday volun­teers, Dan give high praises for long time corporate volunteers, Credit Suisse and ETS and the corporate sponsor for the house, Bloomberg Corporation, for their dedication and enthusiasm over the course of the year.

Members of the corporate of­fice based in Skillman, NJ, were in attendance led by Monica Hilliard, head of the Bloomberg philanthropy division.

Chelsea Naylor, Director of Community Outreach for Habitat for Humanity of Trenton noted: “To see the new homeowner, who has put in over 300 hours of work into the home, finally receiving her keys and conse­quently a renewal on life is truly inspiring,” Naylor said.

For Habitat and Naylor the tran­sition from house to home is the ultimate goal. “For the first time, her children are going to have their own rooms. They’re go­ing to have a kitchen table to sit around, and a living room to do their homework in. That’s huge,” Naylor said.

In her new role, Naylor aims to expand the reach of Habitat in the community by forming mutu­ally beneficial partnerships with other non-profit organizations in the area.

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

Womanspace: Safe Alternatives to Domestic Violence

by Jackie O’Malley

If it weren’t for Womanspace, I’d be dead,” said Emily, a victim of domestic violence.

Emily came to Womanspace with her two small children in search of somewhere to escape her abusive boyfriend.

“Domestic violence is like having a disease,” Emily said, “I have this disease of a boyfriend.”

Domestic violence is a disease; victims are robbed of their once healthy lives, and feel trapped, scared and helpless.

Susan Adams is the Coordinator of Volunteers & Community Outreach at Womanspace Inc., a nonprofit organization, which provides services for victims of domestic violence in the Mercer County area. She has witnessed the devastating effects of domestic violence on its victims. “You lose all control. You’re being controlled,” said Adams.

Womanspace statistics indicate that nearly half of homeless women and children are victims of domestic violence. An abuser controls every aspect of a victim’s life, sometimes including finances, making it difficult for a victim to afford a safe haven for her and her children.

Victims struggle to find shelters because resources are limited, says Adams, many shelters are at full capacity, forcing them to turn women and children away. Through no fault of their own, these victims are left in the streets with nowhere to turn. But Adams wants to ensure all victims that homelessness is not the only alternative to abuse. “There is help. It’s out there,” she said.

To prevent victims from succumbing to their fear of homelessness, Womanspace Inc. offers temporary, affordable housing for victims.

According to Womanspace, the Transitional Housing Program accommodated 15 women and 21 children in 2010.

The Transitional Housing Programs “provide individual and group counseling, childcare subsidies, affordable rent, and career assessment and direction,” according to Womanspace.

There are two types of housing programs; Barbara’s House, is “structured for clients who need housing for a limited time,” according to Womanspace.

The Next-Step Program “provides clients with housing for up to twenty-four months,” Womanspace says, “it allows 5 families per year to develop the skills and financial means to secure and maintain safe permanent housing.”

Emily and her two small children were one of these families. She was provided with the resources and support she needed to pursue a healthier, independent lifestyle.

According to Adams, “domestic violence can happen to anyone not just poor, inner city people, as people like to label victims.” Like a disease, domestic violence does not discriminate against age, class, gender or race. When this disease consumes a life, it triggers physical, emotional and psychological pain.

“But we don’t have doctors, we can’t just fi x it with medicine,” said Adams. Help and support from others are the closest we have to medicine.

Womanspace Inc. has guided Emily and her children, along with over 279,000 other victims over the past 30 years, toward healthier lifestyles. If you or a loved one is looking for help, Womanspace Inc. can be contacted at their confidential Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-572-SAFE, or their Sexual Assault Hotline, 609-394-000.

*The name is not disclosed for the privacy of the victim.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of the newspaper.