Who is Care of The Park?

Pat Thomas has been a part of the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Essex program since 2014, dedicating many volunteer hours to the Care of The Park program at Essex County Branch Brook Park. A lifelong resident of Newark, Pat grew up around the park and takes every opportunity to give back as a volunteer leader with Care of the Park. Keep reading the below interview to learn more about Pat’s experience as a Master Gardener at Care of the Park.

Why do you volunteer?

“It’s been instilled in me to help others and if I can garden while helping my community than that’s even better. I saw the opportunity to give back to the park I grew up with and help people who enjoy it like I do. Even giving a few hours can be so helpful especially when the money and resources aren’t always there to do the job. I volunteer because I like helping others and the community I grew up in.”

Pat Thomas – Master Gardener

What compelled you to volunteer with Care of the Park?

“This is the park that I grew up with, played in, and always felt connected to. It’s something dear to me. I like gardening, so I joined the Master Gardeners and this opportunity just fell into my lap. It’s been great getting to work with the team and whenever I tell my friends from Newark that I volunteer at Branch Brook Park they always say ‘thank you for taking care of our park.’”

What was your favorite moment volunteering in the park?

“My favorite moment was seeing three college students who were all friends but went to different schools. They wanted to get together and decided to do that by volunteering at the park. They could have just gone to dinner but decided to spend time together while taking care of a park that they grew up around. It’s really wonderful seeing all the people coming together and making the most of the time they spend here at the park.”

What was your biggest takeaway from your volunteer experience?

“Despite all the negativity you may hear, there are so many people who are taking care of their communities. So many people come through the park and are thankful for the work that we do. And it’s wonderful to have the Essex County Parks Department and the Branch Brook Park Alliance give so much to take care of the park and the community. I love seeing the collaborative effort to give back, and volunteering has been a big part of that.”

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about volunteering?   

“Pick something you like that is near and dear to you. Sometimes that park can be difficult and a lot of work, but when you have skills and the passion for it is always great. Just find something that you would like to do and take the time to give back.”

What does it mean to be a Rutgers Master Gardener?

“Part of being a Master Gardener is going out to different gardens and sharing what you have learned with others. We have a little expertise that we get to share and help out in a lot of different places. And we get to meet a lot of other nice people. And when people hear that I work with Care of The Park at Branch Brook Park they even say thank you and great job!”

What does Care of the Park mean to you? “Really Care of The Park is a wonderful experience. So many people come around while we’re working saying “Thank you”. They are so grateful to see so many people taking care of the park. It’s so nice seeing this feeling of ownership for the park that so many people grew up with, played in, and would drive through as a shortcut. And you have so many different people from corporations or schools, so many people from different backgrounds. It really is a collaborative effort.”

Planting Seeds of Hope

At Plant It Forward in Newark, Planting Seeds of Hope is working hard to provide community food access as well as increasing both economic and educational opportunities for local residents. In the heart of Newark’s South Ward, Emilio and his team are working tirelessly to provide fresh and healthy food to the local community and are dedicated to empowering local residents to take back control of their local food system and health.

Planting Seeds of Hope is more than just planting and growing healthy food, it serves as the opportunity to educate and provide deeper relationships within the community. The gardens and programs are meant to build a cohesive, integrated community around the common bonds of healthy local food. 

The goals of Planting Seeds of Hope are:

H – Health – Environmental, public and individual wellness

O – Open communities – Intentionally inclusive and integrated places

P – People development – Ample growth opportunities for youth and adults

E – Entrepreneurship – A spirit of innovation and creating shared prosperity method

Open to all local residents and visitors as a place to assist in volunteering or act as a classroom to learn more, the farm and community center serve its purpose! With the assistance of volunteers and Project Coordinators assisting in maintaining and creating planting beds, planting, digging, watering, weeding, and composting, Planting Seeds of Hope is well on its way to kicking off summer with some fresh fruits and vegetables.

Interested in joining this team of passionate and hard-working volunteers who are dedicated to local farming? Become a Project Coordinator today and take the lead in transforming this Newark neighborhood into a Healthy, Open community where People develop and Entrepreneurship flourishes.

Project Coordinator Fellowship Spotlight – Jonhatan Blaise

The Project Coordinator Fellowship (PCF) program works tirelessly to close the opportunity gap of low to moderate income Essex County young adults between the ages of 16-24.  The PCF program aims to enhance professional development and reduce youth unemployment for young people who live in and around Newark. Read on to hear the experience of one of the 150 fellows who benefit from the PCF program each year.

Jonhatan Blaise is currently a senior at Caldwell University studying towards his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. When not attending classes or working in the University’s mailroom, Jonhatan is also a member of Circle K Caldwell Chapter and was inducted into the National Honor Society for Leadership and Success in Spring of 2017.

Jonhatan spent his PCF internship with Newark Community Solutions (NCS), an organization that works to provide Judges in Newark’s municipal courthouse with a variety of sentencing options for low-level, non-violent offences.  NCS aims to limit the reliance on prison sentences and fines for these offences, instead focusing on community service and other productive sentencing options.  When asked about his time with NCS, Jonhatan stated:

My time at NCS has not only been eye opening but also a great pleasure. The group sessions that they run every so often are really engaging. In the group sessions, we chat and have conversations with the clients, making them feel welcome. In the sessions we also talk about life and its struggles, while sharing experiences and tips.

Jonhatan went on to describe the countless skills that he has gained throughout his time in Jersey Care’s PCF program as well as his internship with NCS.  From administering intakes of new clients, finding out what their needs were, to having the opportunity to watch a court session on his first day, Jonhatan learned valuable lessons and gained skills that will carry over to his future career in the Criminal Justice system.  When discussing the skills he learned from the NCS team, Jonhatan remarked that:

At NCS I learned what it means to have and give your trust, integrity, and respect to others. Loving your neighbor as yourself and serving them; showing empathy, compassion, and an ear to listen to. I also learned the value of wanting those around you to be successful in life despite their setbacks from mistakes, and ultimately motivating them to overcome all limitations and rising above their circumstances.

PCF experiences such as Jonhatan’s could not be possible without the support and mentorship of individuals like you! If you’re interested in getting involved in the Project Coordinator Fellowship program, as either a fellow, sponsor, or leader, click here to learn more.

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Meagan Mulligan, Jersey Cares Service Events Manager

Meagan Mulligan
Jersey Cares Service Events Manager

Who would have thought that in 2019, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of love and acceptance for our fellow man would be as relevant as ever before? Even in our modern world, it can be easy to feel discouraged and question how far we have really come as a society. Looking around the room during this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, I paused to note that although we have far to go, Dr. King’s dreams were alive and well in the cafeteria of 13th Avenue School. Individuals of different ages and backgrounds, working together for a common goal – giving back to our neighbors in need.

Single-digit temperatures couldn’t stop our dedicated volunteers from venturing out of their warm beds to serve their communities. At 10 project locations across New Jersey, 1,380 volunteers came together at schools and senior care facilities to honor Dr. King’s legacy. Taking their time, and with strict attention to detail, volunteers exemplified what it means to be the good you wish to see. They added extra polka-dots to super hero capes in the hopes of brightening the day of a child in the hospital, mixed paint for school-spirited wall murals to be the perfect shade of blue, and went out of their way to say hello to a senior member of the community. Making over 1,600 kits, volunteers ages 4 and up created STEM kits to inspire the next generation of scientists, hygiene kits and pillows to welcome individuals spending their first night in a shelter, blankets to keep seniors warm during the blistering winter months, and backpacks filled with necessary supplies and well wishes for veteran’s struggling to get back on their feet after returning home. The true impact made throughout the day is immeasurable.

Witnessing volunteers as young as 4 and as old as “not a day over 20” work hand-in-hand is something we don’t often get to see. These individuals are in such different seasons of their lives and yet here they are, in the same room, with the same kindness in their hearts. I find children to provide so much perspective into the impact of our actions, with eager eyes and a growing spirit they are happy to help those they have never even met. It’s magic to see the pure compassion, that needs no nurturing to exist, seep onto paper as they decorate a card for someone less fortunate. I truly think volunteering brings out the best in people of all ages. Individuals who may often get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday communication are able to put their phones away and think about those who may not have those luxuries. The atmosphere created is one unmatched in other areas of our lives.

I consider myself lucky to be a part of an organization that allows me to see how much good there still is in our community. Thank you to our volunteers who shine a warm light on society’s redeeming qualities and for reminding me in the words of Dr. King that “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”

2018 Youth Workforce Fund

$3.75 million fund to increase access to apprenticeships, internships and vocational training for youth across the United States 

Livingston, NJ  (October 30, 2018) – The Citi Foundation recently announced that Jersey Cares has been awarded a $250,000 grant from their 2018 Youth Workforce Fund, a national initiative that is supporting community organizations in key cities across the United States to help them expand their programming and connect low-income youth to a range of employment opportunities.  youth-workforce-fund

The Youth Workforce Fund is part of the Citi Foundation’s three year $100MM global Pathways to Progress initiative, which focuses on career readiness initiatives that provide youth job seekers the full range of services needed for long-term employment and economic success.

Through the Youth Workforce Fund, Jersey Cares will receive a grant of $250,000 to address the disconnect between workforce development training and employment opportunities  for young adults in Newark &/or Essex County, NJ.  Specifically, students will have the cross-sector experience of receiving workforce development training from major companies, and then direct application of those skills through internships at local nonprofits.    Jersey Cares will also have access to technical assistance and opportunities to share best practices with other community organizations that are a part of this initiative.

“The existing gap between having the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce and working at productive and sustaining jobs continues to prevent any financial stability for our young people and their families,” said Freeholder of Essex County, Robert Mercado.   “We are thrilled to work with Jersey Cares and the Citi Foundation to improve this serious concern.  Through the Jersey Cares’ Project Coordinator Fellowship, our young people are being equipped not just to live but to thrive.” star_intership

Access to apprenticeships, internships and vocational training is essential to empowering youth and preparing them to compete in today’s economy. According to the Citi Foundation’s Global Youth Survey: Economic Prospects & Expectations, 78% of young people surveyed believe that internships and apprenticeships are critical for career success, however, 60% say there aren’t enough of these opportunities in their cities.

About the Citi Foundation 

The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world. We invest in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant cities. The Citi Foundation’s “More than Philanthropy” approach leverages the enormous expertise of Citi and its people to fulfill our mission and drive thought leadership and innovation. For more information, visit www.citifoundation.com.

 

 

Who is Care of the Park?

Who is Care of the Park will be a recurring series aimed at painting a picture of the people that make the program possible. From star volunteers to Park staff, this series will shine a light on who is Care of the Park and why they give back.

Who is Care of the Park-October 2018

Emily Guo is a high school senior attending The Lawrenceville School. Passionate about service and sustainability, Emily reached out to Jersey Cares about volunteering at Essex County Branch Brook Park and the Care of the Park program. For 6 weeks, Emily volunteered as a Peer Leader, working with 11 high school students working for Care of the Park as part of the Summer Youth Employment Program. Below is an interview with Emily discussing her experiences as a Care of the Park volunteer:

Why do you volunteer?

“Before high school I never did any kind of volunteering. I really felt unmotivated. I always had an interest in sustainability and decided to search for those opportunities in high school. Once I started volunteering, being able to help others helped give me a purpose and motivation. I could give back to my community and have meaningful experiences, so it was kind of a win-win situation for me.”

What compelled you to volunteer with Care of the Park?

“Really it lined up with my own personal interests since I’ve always been passionate about the environment. I didn’t know much about Care of the Park or the Summer Youth Employment Program initially, but as I learned more I was excited. I was looking forward to working with people my age who had a shared mindset for making a difference. Doing all that while working in a beautiful park was just a bonus.”

What was your favorite moment volunteering in the park?

“It’s really hard to pick a specific moment. The first week of the program was awkward with the Park Ambassadors not really knowing each other. It wasn’t easy to get them to socialize or speak up, but as they got more comfortable working in the park and with each other that all changed. I’d say my favorite moment was when we came into work and I could see them being comfortable with each other and meaningful relationships being built. It made working together even more fun and the experience in the park even better.”

What was your biggest takeaway from your volunteer experience?

“The biggest thing I learned was understanding the perspective of others. My background was so different from the other Park Ambassadors and being able to learn about them helped me branch out my own views of the world. Learning about their passions and what mattered to each of them really opened my eyes. I found it both refreshing and inspiring.”

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about volunteering?  

“I’d say you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s hard to put it into words what exactly I gained, but volunteering has been such a transformative experience. I could see the growth not just in me, but the other volunteers around me. You get all that and get to make a positive impact on a community. Walking through the park and seeing people enjoy the places I worked in was so worthwhile. You may not see the difference yourself, but people in the community definitely will. And that will make the few hours you spend volunteering totally worth it.”

What does Care of the Park mean to you?

“It was really a transformative experience. I went in there looking to use my skills to contribute and make a difference. But working with Care of the Park, the most valuable part was working with the volunteers and getting to know each of them. Working with our volunteer leaders (Jersey Cares staff and the Rutgers Master Gardeners leading the projects) I felt like they cared about getting to know us and really humanized the experience. I was fortunate enough to be able to help others, but I also gained so much from the people I worked with. To me, Care of the Park is the great people you get to work with.”