Barringer High School ServiceWorks Capstone Project

serviceworkswithasmileBy:  LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

As a ServiceWorks AmeriCorps VISTA, I’ve often visualized my scholars as glowing embers; a tempered heat, reserved, uncertain and at times even uninterested, but you can still see a glow, however faint. Depending on their circumstances and perspective, some are also quite charred but it never bothered me because I understood the importance of time; of the trust and rapport needed in order for more free-flowing conversations. I knew that the flow, coupled with the realization that someone genuinely cared about what they had to say and about their thoughts on issues in their community could actually make a difference. “The embers will glow until they catch,” I once wrote. “And then there will be fire.”

“I’m tired of all the shootings,” yelled one student in the middle of a brainstorming session when they were trying very hard to finalize their Capstone Project. “Yeah, me too. It’s all over the place,” chimed in another. Other thoughts popped up here and there, but everything always came back to gun violence. Always. It’s a grave topic with an enormity that can be hard to grasp no less actually address, and it certainly showed on their faces at times but, “we’re not trying to cure cancer in a day,” I reminded them. “What can we do, here, now to make a difference even in just one person’s life?”

I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do know that the embers began to burn a little brighter. The heat intensified at the prospect of doing a school assembly; of having some type of discussion around gun violence that would be engaging and not just another adult droning on to students. There was a crackle of excitement when one suggested ordering bracelets that could be handed out to all of those in the audience with a message that would encapsulate the theme of the day: It Starts With a Smile – ServiceWorks, they all agreed.

There was plenty of ServiceWorks project planning and ServiceWorks project development in the interim, but I did my best to fan the flames when the idea of creating videos to highlight gun violence and its effects was thrown on the table. “You can absolutely do this,” I urged. “You just need to think it through.”

In the end, my ServiceWorks scholars created two impactful videos: one that depicted images of people in mourning and crime scenes of violence juxtaposed against gun violence statistics of their city. It also included voice overs of interviews with people of various ages discussing the problem. The second video was a brief, filmed dramatization of gun violence scenarios that the class acted out (see combined videos here: Barringer HS Capstone Video). Both videos preceded three former gang members who spoke with raw honesty about the dangers of gang life and alternate routes to take which can truly create different and better options (see small clip here: Barringer HS Capstone Speaker). The energy was one of quiet captivation. The 120 students in the audience (glowing embers in their own right) absorbed it all as they watched and listened to stories of pain and tragedy but also to the possibilities that stand behind better choices.

As a ServiceWorks VISTA, I absolutely loved watching my scholars literally see, firsthand, their Service actually Work; to see them eye the many students who felt compelled afterwards to approach our speakers to spend a little more time talking.   I was excited for them and truthfully, quite proud. I also saw what I already knew, and that is that embers do glow. Embers do catch so that there is fire. And fire, well — it spreads.

Take 5 With ServiceWorks – Marc Wolensky


In the spirit of National Volunteer Week (#NVW2016), join us as we celebrate service. This week we will highlight volunteers who are Success Coaches supporting our ServiceWorks program in Newark. NJ. These inspiring individuals are paving the way and leading our Scholars to the onramps they need to lead a fulfilling life. ServiceWorks is a three-year, nationwide initiative that uses community engagement and volunteer service to help underserved youth and young adults develop the skills they need to prepare for college and careers. Jersey Cares is one of ten nationwide host sites for this initiative facilitated through a grant received by Points of Light and funded by Citi Foundation through their “Pathways to Progress, a three-year $50 million initiative to unlock economic opportunity for 100,000 low-income youth in 15 cities across the United States.” If you would like to learn more about joining this remarkable team of passionate volunteer leaders, please contact Thomas Dougherty.

Take 5 With ServiceWorks

Marc Wolensky - Jersey Cares - ServiceWorks - Success CoachandSkills Trainer 2016Name:

Marc Wolensky

At which ServiceWorks site are you a volunteer?

Rutgers University

How long have you been a ServiceWorks volunteer?

6 months

Why did you decide to volunteer with ServiceWorks? 

I decided to become a volunteer with ServiceWorks because I believe in the vision, and saw how the program could be very helpful to today’s youth. I compared it to when I was a college freshman, and how being a part of something like this could have been beneficial to me. I am a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, and I originally volunteered to be a Success Coach. But then as I learned about the Skills Trainer position, and the need that ServiceWorks had for them, I felt compelled to do more because I knew that my life’s experiences may be able to help others in their growth, development, and outlooks on life and their futures.

In what ways have you seen Service Scholars grow and develop because of ServiceWorks?

Service Scholars have grown in many ways and developed many new skills because of their involvement in ServiceWorks. I believe that everyone was impacted, even Service Scholars who were not always active in the program. Many of them expressed fears in the beginning about public speaking. It was incredible to see how the Service Scholars began to gain more confidence in themselves, and how it impacted their ability to speak in front of the class, interact with peers, as well as community members within their Capstone Project planning. I think the Service Scholars certainly learned new skills, but even more importantly, they grew confidence in themselves for performing certain activities that they were nervous about, and that can impact them in several other areas of their lives, over the course of their entire lives.

What has been your most memorable or inspiring moment as a ServiceWorks volunteer?

Picking only one is hard! But the feeling deep down that I impacted someone, and made a difference in someone’s life feels incredible! I would like to share a few moments. In my initial meeting with two Service Scholars as a group, seeing the tensions go down and comfortability go up in that session was memorable. Hearing them talking on the way out about “how that was cool”, made me feel like I was doing a good service. Another moment was when I was working with my Service Scholars on visions and goal setting, and one in particular went from being skeptical to being involved and loving it. To hear how she constantly thinks about it now, and is setting goals in more effective ways is truly inspiring to me, because I know that I was able to help her, and she is better off because of knowing me. Same goes for my Skills classes. Many of the students became more comfortable as the Modules went on, and it was inspiring to share with them what I know…and I feel that they had mutual respect for what I had to say, and that they knew I was there to help them. I will never forget my time working as a Success Coach or Skills Trainer, and memories and inspiring moments that went along with it will stay with me forever.

How has being a ServiceWorks volunteer impacted you personally?

I have grown personally in many ways since volunteering with ServiceWorks. As a coach, I was able to develop my skills in new ways. As a Skills Trainer, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and do some things I never thought I could (or would) do, such as plan and lead a college level class! It helped grow my own confidence in myself in many areas of my life, and helped me to become a more Self-Compassionate person. Being able to gain the respect of the Service Scholars, and them knowing that I was there for them…and nothing else…truly made me feel like I was making a difference in the world. And that feeling has impacted me in many more ways that words can describe. Also making new personal relationships with my peers, including my VISTA has impacted me in many ways. I am truly grateful for being able to work with such a great partner, where we were able to truly bring out the best in each other.

In three words or less, describe what it’s like to be a ServiceWorks volunteer.

Helpful, Empathetic, Empowering



Be A Shero

By Siara Clemente, Jersey Cares Program Manager, ReadyCorps AmeriCorps Member




  1. a woman, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.



Siara Clemente, Jersey Cares Program Coordinator, ReadyCorps AmeriCorps Member

To be a shero, one does not need to save the world, but rather, simply make a difference. Here at Jersey Cares, it is our goal to enable average individuals to conduct heroic gestures. These gestures may include sorting items at a foodbank or mentoring youth. The fact is, as long as a difference is made in someone’s life, and an impact is left, the mission has been accomplished. It’s important to remember that although a difference may not been made on the whole population, a difference was in fact made for at least one individual, and to that person, our sheroes appear to be wonder women.


This all being said, I’m excited to report a new opportunity available for sheroes, as well as their friends and family. Jersey Cares is working with the American Red Cross to help conduct the New Jersey Region Home Fire Campaign. Volunteers who attend are broken up into teams and provided a specific area to canvass, in which they provide residents with fire safety information and help the local fire departments install smoke alarms, should they be needed. These events will be occurring all over the state of New Jersey, and are open to anyone who would like to raise awareness, as fires are the most common natural disaster.

I was fortunate enough to attend my first fire safety canvassing event in Lambertville, New Jersey, located in Hunterdon County. I was placed on a team of four, and my team alone reached about 137 homes. As a whole, volunteers canvassed a total of 765 homes, and had approximately 86 alarms installed by the local fire department.

It’s important to know that not every family has the income to have smoke alarms installed on their own, and it’s even more important to be aware that more than half of parents do not have a designated meeting place in case of disaster. Families need to prepare now, for what may or may not occur in the future. This is a call to all parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, families, and friends; be a shero, be a hero. Learn what you need to know, and share it with others. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Volunteer.

For more information regarding the Red Cross Fire Safety Campaign, as well as dates and times of events, please contact Siara Clemente, the Ready Corps Program Coordinator.

Red Cross Fire Safety Volunteer Event Registration


A Sheroes Story


Siara Clemente, Jersey Cares Program Coordinator, ReadyCorps AmeriCorps Member

This month at Jersey Cares we are celebrating Women’s History Month by inviting some of our friends to share their thoughts and experiences on the women who have inspired them.  Today we feature a piece by Siara Clemente, Jersey Cares Program Coordinator, ReadyCorps AmeriCorps Member. 

In honor of Women’s History Month and all sheroism, I have recently reached out to a former college professor of mine, the now retired, Det. Sgt. Toni Latario. While I was completing my B.A. in Criminal Justice, I was lucky enough to have Toni as my Criminology professor. Although a 6:30pm to 9:45pm, college night class can seem rather tedious, having Toni share her real life experiences with us really inspired me, and fueled my passion of helping others that much more. This is why I want to share her story.

Toni began her career in law enforcement in the early 1990s as a patrol officer for Plainfield Police Department, although she had aspirations of becoming a FBI Agent. In fact, in 1991 she passed the FBI entrance exam, right as they underwent a hiring freeze. While Toni was waiting for the hiring freeze to be over, she took the Police Officer Civil Service tests and chose Plainfield PD. Having grown up with a sense of pride in her city, she chose to serve her community as an officer. The goal was to gain experience as a patrol officer, and ultimately give the FBI reason to admire her for her tenacity to work in a rugged town. Little did she know, two years later to the day, she would be accepting a job with the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office, right before receiving a call from the FBI New York Field Office inquiring if she was still interested. It was at that moment that she made the best possible decision for her career, and opted out of the FBI.

After gaining two years of patrol experience, Toni left Plainfield PD to begin her career with the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office. Toni’s first assignment was in undercover narcotics, and less than a year later she was assigned to the Special Victim’s Unit, where she remained for over 15 years. Throughout Toni’s career with Warren County, she worked in every unit, including Major Crimes, Special Victims Unit, Domestic Violence, and Juvenile and Community Policing Units. Prior to retiring, Toni was the supervising detective of the Domestic Violence, Juvenile and Community Policing Units; the Human Trafficking Liaison for Warren County; and served as the Bias Crime Officer for Warren County. Toni assigned cases to detectives and still conducted investigations on her own in addition to training and supervising office detectives and college interns. Toni also represented the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office for six years when she worked as a facilitator for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, Office of the Attorney General, Advanced Investigation and Prosecution of Domestic Violence Cases. Trainings were held twice a year across New Jersey, and these trainings allowed Toni to build some of her most cherished relationships with others, especially law enforcement agencies, should she have ever needed their assistance.

When asked about how it feels to now be retired, Toni explained that at first she felt like a fish out of water, but now she’s actually busier than before. Not only is she a professor at two colleges, but she is also the Vice President of an organization known as the New Jersey Women in Law Enforcement (NJWLE). However, Toni has additional plans for her retirement. She’s interested in being a security guard, or perhaps even becoming a private investigator.

It’s important for people to know that Toni didn’t come from the ideal family background. When she was in high school her parents got divorced, and she actually dropped out after her school shut down when she was a junior. At that point, it made the most sense for Toni to work and help her mother support her and her two younger siblings. Toni did obtain her GED while working, but unfortunately her family lost their home and they were homeless for a while, at least until other family members gave them a helping hand. Toni does admit that there was a certain amount of shame growing up in such difficult circumstances, however, she is aware that those experiences have made her into the astounding officer that she was, as well as the inspiring woman that she is today.

After all these years, Toni still carries what she’s learned at the Police Academy with her. Her training taught her to over prepare and never allow mediocrity, but only excellence. Early on in Toni’s career, random inspections would take place in their patrol cars to see if they had their extra kits which consisted of additional supplies and clothes in case of a disaster; to this day Toni is proud to say she still keeps a kit in her personal vehicle. Being an officer and training future officers has also shown Toni how aware or unaware local agencies may be of the special needs and disabled population in their communities. Toni made it a point to say that everyone should be aware of the communities they reside in and their neighbors, as communities thrive when they are closely knit. It’s also a great idea to inform first responders of any special needs or disabled people in your home; you can register all those needed through your local 911 center. Communication is key when working with your neighbors and first responders regarding emergency preparedness.

Retired Det. Sgt. Toni Lattario is the epitome of a shero, and I am honored that she allowed me to share her story. May she inspire you to be the change, as she is the change she hoped to see in the world. May she remind you that your past does not determine your future. May she be an idol for those in need of a shero, or for those who hope to become a shero, as sheroes come in all shapes, sizes, and professions. To sheroes!

det toni

“The greatest feeling for me is knowing that I have made a difference in someone’s life.” – Det. Sgt. Toni Lattario



AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part IV

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we continue a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about Service Works here.

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.


LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

Navigator’s Log Lovedate 339.2-15.5.05B

By:  LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

With scholars finally entering our realm, I’ve seen one or two shooting stars but they were of a different sort. They were stars that shoot, not across the sky, but with guns as in harm & danger. Their target, another scholar, survived though he was grazed and all of this after only a day or two of meeting. Shooting stars, as you know, aren’t really stars at all but are meteors that flash & burn away, and as expected they were removed from the program before the program really began. No staff, crew member or other scholars were hurt as the shooting occurred off-site, but when a burning meteor crashes to our world, our space, we are all impacted. And yet that was one kind of light – a fiery, angry, one.

Since then, as Scholars have gone through our host site’s Mental Toughness process (one that assesses preparation & readiness and in so doing weeds out a few) I’ve seen pockets of brilliance. I do not mean intelligence, street-smarts or even common sense. Through Mental Toughness and our recent ServiceWorks info session, I’ve seen charred embers begin to brightly glow. While there is hesitation (a fight even –by some Scholars) to keep their light hidden for fear of ridicule, vulnerability and disappointment, it is hard when nothing but love, support, encouragement and the idea of possibilities form meteors of their own to chip away at a Scholar’s resolve.   The embers will glow until they catch and then there will be fire. Not an angry one, but one of determination. And that is another light – a radiantly beautiful one.



AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part III

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we continue a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about ServiceWorks here. Service Works

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

Navigator’s Log Lovedate 309.2-15.9.41A

By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

Prosper.  That was his name.  I met him at our recent National Day of Service and he is the Service Scholar of one of our crew (VISTA) who works at another site within our borders.  There were other Service Scholars there but I remember him, his name.  He was typical in many ways for someone his age – silly (borderline goofy), comical (hilarious actually), and a hard worker (or hardly working) and yet, in some ways he served as a IMG_3770bit of an adhesive.

A quip or gesture here, a funny expression or impersonation there, was often enough to keep his fellow Scholars entertained and engaged while working.  Their camaraderie was evident and it reminded me of a team, of how it can be, how it should be.  Each fit of laughter, every raised voice or discussion about some commonality (like holding a bag of leaves and pulling weeds) were ultimately sealing a bond that will come in handy as they move forward.

No doubt they didn’t see it or understand it then and may never, but I did, and it made me smile.  I smiled for our crew because they are truly ServiceWorking it and I was happy for myself because despite not having Scholars yet, I caught a glimpse of what is to come.  Here for a moment and gone the next?  Perhaps, but even that is ok.  Prosper.  Love long and.


AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part II

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we continue a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about ServiceWorks here. Service Works

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

Navigator’s Log Lovedate 278.2-15.8.30B

By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

We are floating.  To where, I do not know.  We encountered what we thought to be scholar activity in the distance, but learned instead that the activity was atmospheric shifts causing matter to unfold unto itself.  What does that mean exactly?  We’ve yet to engage scholars because there was a collapse due to a breakdown of communication and accountability.  This person set “that” up, and that person ignored or forgot or puIMG_3770t off the “this,” and as such, we are here – floating.

The good news is that this setback wasn’t because of the crew of this massive ServiceWorks enterprise.  While floating, we’re continuing to observe (while offering help); prepare (knowing our start day will eventually come); and take notes (our Points of Light home station demands this.)

And I don’t dare assume this incident doesn’t take a toll.  The energy around finally beginning has faded.  The recruits we worked hard to obtain may go to another site for fear of their disengagement as we wait for this matter to be resolved.  It’s for the good of the team, of course, but still a hard pill to swallow.

So what does a Master Navigator do?  I’m learning to manage the unexpected.  I’m networking and making new partnerships in my quest for additional cohorts.  I am willing myself to not just accept a new reality, but embrace it.  I am willing myself.  I am willing myself.  I am willing…