Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Social Justice

Juan Camacho and Stephany Ayala
Jersey Cares’ PCF Fellows

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear innovation? Creative, new, original? ATMs are probably not included in that list. For two fellows in the Jersey Cares’ Project Coordinator Fellowship (PCF), Stephany Ayala and Juan Camacho, ATMs became a proposed innovative community solution during their internship at the I Have A Dream Foundation – Newark (IHDF-NJ). 

Stephany and Juan are PCF interns.  The PCF connects young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in Newark with opportunities.  With a unique collaboration between corporate partners, non-profit organizations and young people from low-to-moderate-income families, fellows learn valuable career skills which they put into practice at Newark non-profits.  While participating in workforce development workshops facilitated by corporate partners, and mentorship from Jersey Cares, students help build the capacity of local non-profits, putting their newly developed skills to work as interns. 

Juan and Stephany meet with their PCF Mentors, Anthony Barley and Janique Sanders

Although Stephany and Juan worked on multiple projects during their time at IHDF-NJ, ATMs became a focus for the team.  In observing local businesses in the West Ward of Newark, the students realized there was a surplus of ATMs located in the neighborhood.  Juan shared, “ATMs are considered a business and in the West Ward, they [ATMs] account for 16% of all businesses. In comparison to only 2% in New Jersey.”  Stephany continued, “The people of the neighborhood have limited access to banks and ATMs are usually easier to get to. They are always in different stores who have card limits or do not accept cards. This is an example of a social engineering project.”

The team related that the profit from the ATMs are typically attributed to the individual owner and those funds rarely are circulated back into the community. The team recognized a link between engineering, entrepreneurship and social justice and the opportunity to put an innovative solution in place.  With the support of their supervisor, Yolanda Gadson, the two fellows began developing solutions that would benefit the community. Stephany and Juan developed the idea of the creation of community owned ATMs that would be operated and maintained by a community group. The community group would reinvest the profits made from fees back into the community to fund after-school programs, feed and provide resources for underserved populations, and other community programs and initiatives. This cycle would put communal interest at the forefront in local conversations. They imagined creating a platform for local businesses to use a portion of their profits to help fund revitalization projects within the community– in schools, community centers and other local institutions. They would schedule town hall meetings to introduce the business owners to the community members to understand who their donations are helping.

Yolanda Gadson
Executive Director
I Have a Dream Foundation – Newark

Stephany and Juan’s supervisor, Yolanda Gadson, Executive Director, IHDF-NJ, raved about the two fellows and the work they have completed while interning. She was so thrilled by their capabilities that both students have been offered continued opportunities to work with the foundation after the completion of their internship. She highlights the impact of having two young people, especially two young people of color, to help explain how engineering relates to everyday life. Gadson states, “It’s not often you have interns come together and they work, but they really work. They make time for something outside themselves. I go to them and ask for their voices, because their voices matter. They were such a positive and professional light in the office.”

Juan and Stephany are rising sophomores at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) where they are studying engineering. Both fellows are heavily involved in various campus organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, where they both are executive board members, and the Robotics Club. These two outstanding students also mentor Dreamer populations, help create and facilitate interactive STEM workshops for Pre-K children, and are working on a sustainable schoolyard revitalization project at 13th Ave School in Newark’s West Ward community. They made a commitment to go above and beyond and are shining examples of the power of people to be the change they want to see in their own community.   

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.

Making Time to Make A Difference

With school back in session, we understand that it can be hard to balance both academics and community service. New schedules, new courses, it’s a lot to take in! For Jersey Cares Project Coordinator and Rutgers New Brunswick Senior, Dominick DiCarlo, civic engagement is a vital part of his college experience.Dominick DiCarlo-September 2018

Looking for ways to make a positive difference during his free time, Jersey Cares provided both the tools and platform necessary to do just that. “I started volunteering with Jersey Cares because I wanted to become more involved in my community, both at home and at school. My desire to volunteer increased significantly while in college, specifically in the areas of hunger and homelessness, due to the surprisingly high level of students at my university and residents in the community who were food insecure.”

According to Dominick, community service is “a very important, if not THE most important, thing to be involved in outside of school work”. He attributes civic engagement both to his current success as well as his personal fulfillment. “Service blends real-world experience with people, which can be applied to almost any job you could think of, with tons of other skills, like the ability to improvise, work in a team, and communicate. You grow these skills, all while supporting others who need help, making you feel empowered as you’ve helped make a positive impact on other people’s lives”.

In fact, when they aren’t hitting the books, Dominick and his peers serve on the executive board of the flagship Rutgers Cares club, an organization that connects Rutgers New Brunswick students with local Jersey Cares opportunities. Aside from their participation in recurring Jersey Cares opportunities, the club conducts mini service opportunities, and work with other Rutgers organizations to coordinate collection drives. Last year alone, they collected over 250 pounds of food for the Rutgers Student Food Pantry and grocery bags of toiletries for the Jersey Cares First-Night Kits!

While his ability to manage service on top of school work may appear superhuman, for Dominick, it’s all about discipline and time management.

” You have to decide that you want to volunteer early, and build it into your schedule, so that you can still have time for work, as well as leisure time to relax. By planning ahead, you ensure that you can successfully balance your school work and volunteer work, and leisure time without being overwhelmed or sacrificing one for the others. It’s also good to start off with a light volunteer schedule and then progressively add more events. When you’re eager to start volunteering, you want to be as active as possible, but you also want to make sure not to overload your schedule, which may stress you out or cause you to back out of some of the events. For example, last school year I volunteered with a food pantry every-other Friday for the first semester, and then bumped my volunteering to every Friday.”

So, if the new school year has you skeptical about continuing community service, take a page from Dominick’s book and start off slow. Once you find an opportunity that you really connect with, making time to make a difference becomes a piece of cake. Head to our volunteer opportunity calendar to check out upcoming opportunities near you!

Leaders Who Mentor Future Trailblazers

Before starting the Project Coordinator Fellowship at Jersey Cares, Elida Abreu was wading through a pool of uneasiness. However, with her mentor’s advisement, she championed a job interview and has a renewed confidence. Jersey Cares’ 10-week internship program provides more than just an internship experience with diverse assignments. The program offers an opportunity for interns to learn workforce development skills with corporate employees in conjunction with a mentor. This mentorship aides Jersey Cares interns as they maneuver through new challenges and see the fruits of their labor.elida-abreu-pcf-2018.png

Included is a snippet of the coaching conversation Abreu had with her mentor before her interview. The dialogue shows that our mentors aren’t solely focused on meeting business quotas. Instead, our mentors invest in the development of a fellow’s skills.

Intern: “The human resources department from NJ PAC just emailed me for an interview… I do want to go through some pointers.”

Mentor: “What do you need pointers on?”

Intern: “I wanted to know what’s the best way to present myself and what to bring.”

Mentor:  “Sure, here are a few tips for success.”

-Always bring a copy of your resume

-Dress Professionally

-Arrive early

-Prepare questions; interview them just as much as they interview you

Intern: “Thank you for everything you told me, I know I’ll do well today.”

*** Mentor Coaching After Interview

Mentor: “How’d it go?”

Intern: “It went great, they were really friendly, and they want me to start in Mid- May.”

Mentor: “Yayyyyy How are you feeling?”

Intern: “Very excited and wanting to get involved.”

Upon completion of the Jersey Cares Project Coordinator Fellowship, one will realize that they’re well equipped to thrive in professional environments. Before her interview, Elida told her mentor, “Thank you for everything you told me, I know I’ll do well today.” Sometimes, we merely need a few words of encouragement. Jersey Cares congratulates Elida Abreu for being awarded an internship placement at NJPAC as a Graphic Design Intern in the Creative Services/Marketing Department. Her work as a New Media Technology student at Essex County College will not go unnoticed at NJPAC as she carries the lessons she learned with Jersey Cares. To learn more about the Jersey Cares Project Coordinator Fellowship, click here.

Can You Paint a Project Management Room With Your Genius Gifts?

The new and exciting Jersey Cares Project Coordinator Fellowship exposes our young people to workforce trainings, internships & employment opportunities. Case in point: a recent Workforce Development Training session at Prudential Financial, Inc. in the heart of downtown Newark, where students from Rutgers, NJIT and ECC learned about Project Management and Leadership Competencies. Nervous students uncertain of what to expect walked into an unfamiliar world the second they entered the building: professionals at the front security desk announcing their arrivals, other students patiently waiting for elevators that would bring them up to meetings, while some proceeded through the lobby for routine security checks to await their host. Our young people witnessed Prudential corporate culture, a culture of business, efficiency, and expediency even before entering a room – exposure indeed.Genius Gifts

Work Breakdown Structure. Planning Phase. Timeline. Risk Analysis. Deliverables. Change request. They are all phrases innate to project management and simple on paper, yet weighty in nature and execution. They were explained best, however, by Prudential facilitators Jessica Battle, Director of Process Management and Stacey Green, Project Manager, through the announced task and case scenario: “Let’s paint a room!” A simple task, but is it really? Students broke into groups to discuss: What exactly does the client want? What about supplies? How many people will be needed to do the job? Do we want friends or professionals? Does yellow paint cost more than blue? When did the plan change? How?

The session, “was helpful to my understanding of getting stuff done,” noted one Rutgers student, Naa Adei Kotey. “With the room, my thought was to just get up and paint, but you need to think about the details involved. It made me think about myself and how I approach things.” Of course, project management was not taught to its fullest in a couple of hours. Highlighting its key elements in a relatable way was a poignant start, as was acknowledging that students work on projects all the time, however unaware.

The training continued with Leadership Competencies led by Prudential’s Francine Chew, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. There was a candid discussion that moved from having a strong moral compass to the importance of being aligned with a company’s vision and mission statements to help students set themselves up for success. “I know a lot of people who work in an industry just to make money,” said Rutgers student, Christian Illescas. “Money is necessary, but I like to give back and I like that she highlighted the importance of looking at companies to understand how they do that.”

“What’s your genius gift?” Francine Chew later asked. “That something that comes effortlessly where there are tons of people who can’t do that thing, whatever it is, nearly as well.”  She stressed that as an effective leader, you have to hone in on yourself and work deliberately to understand not only your ebbs and flows of productivity, but what you’re really good at — and then intentionally use that information to help elevate yourself to the next level. “This opportunity is making me review what matters and managing for example, a business plan. It’s forcing me to think more about what I want to do — what would make me happy,” remarked ECC student, Jailene Galvanes. “This experience is definitely different than going to class!”

Self-examination. Painting rooms. Professional training. Intentionality. Project ambiguity. Expertise. Genius gifts.   Project college graduation. Professional feedback. Prudential workforce development training. Exposure indeed.

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 – Barbara Allende

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 a ServiceWorks

Barbara Allende - Jersey Cares - ServiceWorks - Success Coach - 2016Name

Barbara V. Allende

At which ServiceWorks site are you a volunteer?

Rutgers and Youth Build

How long have you been a ServiceWorks volunteer?

6 months

Why did you decide to volunteer with ServiceWorks?

I wanted to help first generation college students ease their transition from high school to college and provide guidance to them on navigating their new environment. When I was a college student I remember feeling overwhelmed and wishing I had someone to talk to that could relate.

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

I have 4 Scholars, and have developed different relationships with them. During our conversations I see how they have adjusted to college and work life and it’s been fun to watch how they blossom into adulthood. There have been growing pains for them all, but going through those pains is how they develop and grow. I’m really proud of all of them.

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

I had breakfast with one of my scholars, and during our conversation discovered we have many similarities. We were both very young mothers, we both spent time in foster care, we both had similar difficult periods of adversity in our childhood. And during our conversation we bonded. I looked and her and saw myself, and she looked at me and saw what she could become. I’m not a crier, but we both cried during that meeting and we have been close since.

How has being a ServiceWorks volunteer impacted you personally?

I have typically done ‘hands off’ volunteering; volunteering that didn’t require developing close relationships, like fundraising or coordinating groups to collect donations for the homeless, things like that. I am not a person that gets too close to people. I realize now that I have a lot to offer in a mentor relationship and that it’s OK to bond with people, because I can give guidance to someone who is experiencing the same adversities I did in my life. If I can help someone through young adulthood and give them advice to make their life a little easier, then it’s all worth it.

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

Emotional. Hectic. Fulfilling.

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…

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part I

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we begin 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.

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 248.2-15.1.47A

By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA


LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

At a point in our Pre Service Orientation, I decided to stop trying. I stopped telling myself that I needed to question everything, understand everything, and be prepared for it all. “There’s no way”, I realized then, that I could know it all and even if they had told me everything (yes they tried), I wouldn’t have remembered it anyway (indeed I don’t). “Your task then”, I declared to myself, “is to become a Master Navigator.”

 We’ve been on this mission for 47 days and while we’ve yet to enter the true waters of full scholar-trainer-coach engagement, I find that what I’m most navigating, what I’m finding my way around and under, up and down, over and about is — myself.   

“Stay positive,” I say, to remind me of my ultimate goal, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the rolling wave of ego that prevents me from seeing the amazing gifts others have to offer, or the crashing wave of stubbornness that wants to convince me my way is best. And there are other off-putting waves in this self that fight for attention: waves of judgment, frustration, angst, etc. but with every surge, the mighty wave of discovery pushes back. I’m seeing how humility makes way for empathy, how camaraderie slices through isolation, and how compassion swells purposefulness. I still have no idea what lies ahead, but a Master Navigator I strive to be, and it’s what pushes this self, this ship to stay the course.