Scott: What I Learned from Being a Triumphant Teen

By Essence Scott

I was in the inaugural group of Triumphant Teens when the program first started over ten years ago in 2005. I knew very little about high school at the time; and I knew less about what to do when I graduated. The purpose of the program, originally implemented by HomeFront, is to give at-risk teens a vision of a life that includes college and mainstream employment and to prepare them for such opportunities.

I am the first in my family to graduate from high school—a fact that I am incredibly proud of. Had the Triumphant Teens program not been around, I feel that I would have dropped out of school at age seventeen, at the beginning of my senior year of high school.

My younger brother and sister were also Triumphant Teens. In the program, we prepared documents and applications for college, received help with our homework, and participated in job-readiness workshops. It was in this program that I created one of my first résumés.

This invaluable learning experience, along with my first job at HomeFront’s main office on Princeton Avenue and, later, at their Family Preservation Center (formerly at the Katzenbach School of the Deaf, now called HomeFront Family Campus on Celia Way in Ewing) and prepared me to work and socialize in a professional setting.

The program also helped prepare me for college. I am the first person in my family to attend college, and there was so much that I did not know at the time. In all honestly, I did not enjoy college as much as I probably should have because of my mental health; still, however, I am grateful for the experience and to the resources that I received that made my attendance possible.

In addition to résumé building and other professional development skills, the program taught me the importance of hard work and true grit and the rewards that come of this. I also learned this from my parents, who have worked tirelessly to provide for my siblings and me.

I learned how to come to work on time, how to dress for an interview, what to say at an interview. While a computer literacy class my freshman year of high school jumpstarted this all, I still needed to learn about other things with individuals who shared my experiences growing up.

While the majority of the students in my freshman year computer literacy class could seek help with their résumés from their parents and would have no problem getting a job, I could not. Triumphant Teens provided me with this advantage and filled the void.

To my knowledge, the Triumphant Teens program no longer exists; and this saddens me. There is a critical need for such programs for adolescents growing up in particularly challenging circumstances. In addition to providing them with the support to move forward with their academics, the program disperses important information and practical life skills related to ethics in the workplace, ré- sumé building, and SAT or ACT preparation, among others.

It provides teens with a safe, welcoming environment in which they can realize their goals and cultivate the educational, vocational, and relational skillsets that they need to achieve these. The Triumphant Teens program helped me tremendously in receiving the jobs that I have gotten over the years. Perhaps, more importantly, it has given me the confidence and motivation that to pursue these

Scott: Visits to Princeton Inspire HomeFront Artists

By Essence Scott

Children experiencing homelessness do not always feel safe within themselves. When I was homeless, I experienced this uncomfortable reality. When I moved to Connecticut Avenue, I still felt like I was homeless; I had to readjust.

There was one place where I felt my absolute safest: the Arts Council of Princeton on Witherspoon Street. I went there with HomeFront on Thursday nights for art class.

A lot of the time, I was the oldest one there, but that did not matter to me. On Thursday nights, we worked with a number of different artistic mediums—painting, clay, and the performing arts, among others.

I have many fond memories of being swept into the world of A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. I loved the times when McCarter performers came to teach us a little something; it gave me hope that we very well could be actors and actresses. It also helped me learn a great deal about the world and perceive it as one big stage—full of opportunity, rehearsals, reruns, and final performances.

Attending these art classes also helped me escape for a little bit. In school, I was exceptional, but introverted and I did not make friends easily. While I felt purposeful at school, I did not exactly fit in. When I was with HomeFront, I was still on edge because I was usually one of the oldest in the group—people of my age tended to be volunteers—but the opportunities that these art classes afforded me made it all worth it. I was learning to be present with myself and practicing new and constructive ways to express my feelings and thoughts.

The Thursday night art classes quickly become a staple—something that I could look forward to every week. I did not always like being at home, a small motel room with too much stuff and not enough room; the art space soon became my respite from all this.

One night, I remember visiting a mural near the Arts Council with my class. I felt something stir in me when I looked at the mural; it inspired me to write one of my first poems. Much like the images on the mural, I felt safe, insulated by this world that someone else made. I knew that I could express this with my writing—something that I had found comfort and solace in for years—and so I began to write and I have not stopped since then.

The class at the Arts Council helped me to find myself. One time after a nighttime excursion with a person that I thought I trusted went horribly wrong, I felt lost and isolated. I could barely write anything, and I was so afraid of everything around me. At class that week, we were doing fairytale retellings. I wrote a Sleeping Beauty retelling that involved Cinderella as her sister. I put a grim spin on the text and spilled my negative feelings and thoughts onto the page.

The experience of doing so was euphoric and I felt much better afterwards. I needed to confront the hurt and anger that I was feeling and had it not been for the particular focus of class that night, I may have succumbed to my mental torment. In this instance and many others, the art class provided me with a safe and productive outlet to challenge and cope with the hurdles in my life.

Right now, there is much that I want to pursue in life. I want to write, play sports, and be an actress. The art classes that I attended as a teen and a young adult gave me a safe haven to work through some of my most difficult experiences growing up; they taught me to take control of my thoughts and emotions in ways that make my dreams realistic and attainable today.

#VotingBlockNJ: The Wall Hosts Political Potluck in Trenton

On November 7th, New Jerseyans will head to their neighborhood polling place to cast their votes for the 2017 gubernatorial election, as well as for State Assembly and State Senate. Two public questions are on the ballot as well, and residents of many municipalities will also vote for positions such as Freeholder, Board of Education member, and Mayor. As Election Day nears, news outlets across the Garden State are hosting ‘Political Potluck’ events in the communities that they serve as part of Voting Block, an initiative that is being coordinated by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media in partnership with outlets such as WNYC in New York, WHYY in Philadelphia, and NJ Spotlight.

In order for the voices of Trenton residents, especially individuals experiencing homelessness and/or poverty in New Jersey capital city, to be heard as part of Voting Block, The Wall, which is published by The College of New Jersey’s Bonner Institute in collaboration with the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, recently held a Political Potluck in the city. The event was held in partnership with the Trenton Community A-TEAM on Wednesday, October 25th at the Stockton 51 gallery on North Stockton Street in the Old Trenton neighborhood.

The dinner was catered by Trenton’s own Thomasena’s Restaurant, and signs advertising the Political Potluck were posted across the city, including at the CEAS Center, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, the Henry J. Austin Health Center, Catholic Charities, and the Orchid House. Flyers were also distributed to residents who are experiencing homelessness.

Although the team at The Wall was unsure how many Trentonians would attend, we were fortunate to be joined by around a dozen area residents during the meal to discuss a variety of issues related to public policy. Attendees included individuals experiencing homelessness who are currently staying at the Rescue Mission of Trenton, patrons of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, local artists from the Trenton Community A-TEAM, community members who run the Orchid House, and residents of the surrounding Old Trenton neighborhood.

The event began with all attendees introducing themselves, and one participant sang to his fellow residents. Discussions included public transportation in the Trenton area, and the possibility that the River Line could one day be expanded to the New Jersey State House. Attendees also talked about the need for increased funding for public schools in Trenton, charter schools, the ‘food desert’ crisis that is facing the city and other urban areas across the state, vacant properties in their communities, a lack of shelters and housing in general for people experiencing homelessness in New Jersey, high taxes in the Garden State, the “epidemic” of drugs in the state, racism, classism, corruption among New Jersey politicians, police brutality, and the importance of the public questions.

During the Political Potluck, most community members who came said that they were either unpleased with candidates Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno, or that they did not know about Murphy and were not interested in voting for Guadagno because of their dissatisfaction with Governor Chris Christie. One attendee, who said that she votes in every election, told the group that she is considering boycotting this election.

Regarding homelessness, one attendee experiencing homelessness discussed how “the Rescue Mission is the one and only shelter,” explaining how people of all ages are staying there. She stated that her fellow residents are “carrying bags all day” and “struggling with mental health issues,” adding that she believes that some of the cost of operating these kinds of temporary shelters would be better spent on providing individuals experiencing homelessness with permanent housing.

“When you walk around the city, there are so many buildings that are empty,” she explained, citing how the former Mercer Hospital, which is currently vacant, could be converted into housing for people in need.

“There are so many properties that are vacant, but they can really be used for something good,” she told the group.

This is the first in a series of reports about The Wall’s Political Potluck in Trenton. More articles about the event will be posted on thewall.pages.tcnj.edu.

Come Eat and Talk Politics With The Wall on Wednesday 10/25

The team at The Wall is excited to announce that we are partnering with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media, and the Trenton Community A-TEAM to host a Political Potluck as part of the Voting Block project!

Trenton residents experiencing homelessness or poverty are encouraged to come to the Stockton 51 gallery, located at 51 North Stockton Street in Downtown Trenton, this Wednesday, October 25th at 3:00pm for a free catered dinner and to discuss public policy, politics, your views on the current state of Trenton and New Jersey as a whole, and, specifically, what you feel is important as the 2017 election nears.

Please note that the dinner discussion will be audio recorded for possible broadcast in order for other residents of New Jersey to hear your perspectives.

Please let us know at thewallnewspaper@gmail.com if you have any questions, and we hope to see you on Wednesday afternoon. Visit https://www.votingblocknj.com/ to learn more about the project.

#VotingBlockNJ

-Flyer by McKenna Samson-

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

Written with and for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Trenton, New Jersey area.