By Ryan Mealy, Corporate Relations Manager for Jersey Cares

Coming on the heels of the most unprecedented year in recent history, civic-minded companies and individuals across the country enter 2021 with an appetite for service as the new year offers a chance for the rebirth of traditional volunteerism.

As we’ve witnessed since the beginning of last year, the initial spread of COVID-19 has prevented millions of seniors from contacting their loved ones, families from accessing healthy food, and disrupted school routines for countless students who have had to adjust to an entirely new type of education. No longer able to rely on in-person volunteer programs to bolster their efforts, organizations such as these were left wanting as the traditional volunteer assistance that they so relied on in the past was then widely unavailable. Despite this desire to pick up where they left off, however, nonprofits cannot simply dive back into their pre-pandemic routines into 2021 as the general business disruptions and the economic effects of the pandemic still loom over a majority of U.S. businesses and organizations.  

Although the distribution of newly minted COVID-19 vaccines are giving many hope for a return to relative normalcy, former CDC director Robert Redfield, vaccine developers, and the FDA have noted that it is unlikely that COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available until the middle of 2021, and it is unclear how many will agree to them or what total effect they will have, forcing nonprofits to rethink volunteer engagement not just for 2020, but also into the new year.

Much like the many nonprofits forced to reconsider their programs because of the pandemic, we at Jersey Cares knew we were in for an uphill battle to keep our programs moving forward. With no end to the virus in sight, we as an organization were compelled to seek out new and inventive ways to ensure our corporate partners stayed engaged and that our community partners received help to meet their respective needs. Having come together, we as an organization took the opportunity to pivot our focus to virtual volunteerism to satisfy the needs of our community partners, holding off what for others had become a seemingly indefinite stop to civic involvement.

With volunteers unable to physically revitalize a school or socialize with seniors in their rec rooms, volunteering in 2020 lived instead on the computer screen. Large-scale company-wide days of service became large Zoom or Webex meetings where our Jersey Cares team would lead eager volunteers in live interactive workshops with interested students, guiding them in a variety of topics like answering questions about different career paths, providing different ways to stay fit and active from the comfort of their homes, and learning about prominent black leaders to name a few. For those who were more interested in working with their hands than hosting virtual classroom activities, we were able to reinvent our ever-popular kit assembly projects, mailing kit materials to individuals’ homes to complete and return all the while under the instruction of one or many of our experienced Jersey Cares team leads.

Although somewhat foreign to traditional volunteering, this video-platform technology (Zoom/Cisco Webex/Microsoft Teams) that we have utilized has been a strong tool in connecting civic-minded individuals to even the most challenged populations with ease and widespread success. Senior homes in particular have been able to greatly benefit from our programming and continue to thrive in our new initiatives created in 2020. As the most at-risk population currently facing down the pandemic, seniors have experienced great isolation in 2020, unable to visit their loved ones or even socialize in the activity room with one another. Thanks to our new virtual efforts, however, we have been able to provide seniors with a much-needed means of connection, having volunteers host virtual bingo sessions for seniors and even maintaining ongoing virtual letter-writing programs to let them know someone out there is thinking about them.

While Jersey Cares was among the select few nonprofits that managed to come out the other side of 2020 with a promising new method of service, many were unable to successfully adapt to the new reality brought about by the shutdown. For many nonprofits similar to Jersey Cares, the physical limitations brought about by the 2020 pandemic dealt a serious blow to their ability to operate effectively. According to a joint study by the Independent Sector (working in tandem with Washington Council Ernst & Young) conducted last June, a staggering 71% of nonprofits surveyed reported reductions in services or available operations, with 67% of organizations having to furlough their staff and 51% being forced to lay off employees since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (see the full list of statistics below).

With the many challenges nonprofits have faced in adjusting to the pandemic fresh in our minds and an end to the pandemic still uncertain, virtual volunteering will continue to be a crucial element in advancing nonprofit programming into 2021. Despite not physically gathering in large groups, companies and individuals have been able to come together over our virtual platform and, in a way, have been able to expand their impact as a result. While in-person volunteering limits engagement to people local to the benefitting organization, focusing more on virtual volunteering has allowed for company and individual involvement to connect volunteers across the nation and world in a single cause. Linking companies’ multiple offices in a single session not only provides a means for companies to include more of their team in service, but also provides those who live in an area where volunteering means are unavailable a brand-new channel to serve their community. Though nonprofits are still subject to COVID-19 restraints as we enter the new year, the inclusion of virtual volunteering provides a great deal of optimism for the future of volunteerism as we navigate these uncharted waters.

Volunteerism in a Virtual World

2020 has brought about great uncertainty. During a time in which a helping hand usually offers a soothing solution,  COVID- 19 isolated billions of people from work, school, socialization and – most importantly for nonprofits –  volunteering. Despite these challenges, COVID-19 has inspired organizations to reimagine volunteering in order to motivate communities and find new means of supporting each other in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Due to social distancing and strict CDC guidelines put into place at the beginning of the pandemic, many in-person volunteering opportunities came to a halt. In order to keep their doors open, nonprofits had no choice but to direct their focus to the digital world, and explore methods of virtual volunteering. In March 2020, VolunteerMatch reported 68% of nonprofits reported cancellations of volunteer events. As the need for critical funds and volunteers increased, virtual volunteering provided creative ways for nonprofits to receive much needed support. By May 2020, volunteering increased by 15% and 45% of organizations were using virtual means of volunteering. Even with reduced resources, virtual volunteerism gave 57% of nonprofits the opportunity to continue operating and provide critical services to their communities.  

Benefits of Virtual Volunteering in Regards to Team Building 

Virtual volunteerism’s impact was two-fold; not only was it a lifeline for nonprofits to continue operating, but it also created a new space to build strong and connected teams driven by purpose and impact during a time where 19% of the population reported loneliness due to working remotely. The solution to isolation seemed simple, as virtual work spaces created more flexible schedules, there was a more flexible environment for employees to volunteer. 

According to recent surveys, such as the Edelman Trust Barometer Special report, 78% of employees looked to their companies to act and provide support to communities during this tumultuous time. As companies began to offer customized volunteer experiences, employees from all over the world were able to connect and unite under the mission of building a more civically engaged society. In turn, volunteering boosted morale among colleagues, and built a sense of pride for employees, consumers and the community. America’s Charities Snapshot Employee Research found that 71% of employees surveyed said it is imperative or very important to work where culture is supportive of giving and volunteering. Not only are engaged and connected employees happier and healthier, they perform at a higher level within their role and help motivate team members.  

Interview with Corporate Service Intern – Aaliyah Vega

How did you contribute to the Jersey Cares virtual volunteerism efforts?

“All of the Jersey Cares volunteer events are thoroughly planned out, so I served to provide crucial support behind the scenes. This included preparing all the materials for the virtual and in person events; whether it was combining all the submitted virtual projects or gathering all the materials to ship to the employees. Not only was I able to help from behind the scenes but I was able to participate in the event and serve as a host to interact and lead with volunteers which was my favorite part.”

How has your view on virtual volunteerism shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Prior to the pandemic I did not know much at all about virtual volunteering. After seeing all the possibilities through the Jersey Cares events, I was able to see how efforts to help others can be achieved even through a computer screen. It also helped me to see that there are no limits to who you can help; even if you live in California, through virtual volunteering you can help people as far as New York. One of my favorite projects was the “Chopped Challenge” where we had to figure out how to shop for groceries with a very limited budget. What was eye opening was that the budgets, small as they were, were based off of real-life! After this simulation the employees gathered in groups to create healthy and easy recipes to be given to families who have limited food choices due to their economic circumstances. So even through something seemingly small such as making a recipe, the corporate volunteers were able to assist families who need ideas for what to cook for their families.” 

How did you see virtual volunteerism bring communities and corporate teams together?

When employees would gather together for the virtual event it was so refreshing to see how much fun they were having. Although they were doing tasks such as making recipes or writing letters it became a fun time for the employees to chat together, revealing their personalities. Through the events the coworkers were able to have fun but also take joy in knowing that they are helping other people, which created such a happy and joyful atmosphere. Through the Jersey Cares events the employees’ eyes were opened to see the many ways they can help even in a difficult time period. After the event many asked for details to participate in other Jersey Cares events or for the non-profit’s information to help support further. So through the volunteering events employees were not only able to come together to help others, but were able to broaden their view of how they themselves can help more people.” 

Jersey Cares Impact in a Virtual Space 

Like many other nonprofits, Jersey Cares had to navigate through the new and emerging world of virtual volunteerism, and reimagine their volunteer model to engage communities, create team building opportunities, and provide critical care to their nonprofit partners. As thought leaders in volunteerism, Jersey Cares established virtual programs for corporate and community groups that impacted seniors, students, healthcare workers, teachers and more.  

By the numbers in 2020, Jersey Cares:

  • Delivered 84,000 healthy meals across New Jersey in collaboration with The Common Market to communities facing food insecurity. 
  • Collected and distributed more than 36,000 diapers to families facing a critical shortage of essential items.
  • Filled 5,511 holiday wishes for children across New Jersey as part of the Frosty’s Friends program.
  • Delivered $52,257 worth of groceries to isolated seniors who could not leave their homes during the pandemic. 
  • Helped more than 10,000 volunteers support their communities in hundreds of unique acts of service.

Works Cited

Derecskei, A. K., & Nagy, V. (2020, October 12). Employee Volunteerism—Conceptual Study 

and the Current Situation. Retrieved from


Huang, S., Erdogan, T., & Gillman, M. (2020, June 2). Team Culture During the COVID-19

 Pandemic: New Data. Retrieved January 15, 2021, from

State of Remote Work 2019. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2021, from

V. (n.d.). The Impact of COVID-19 on Volunteering A Two Month Comparison. Retrieved

January 15, 2021, from



The Business Case for Employee Volunteer & Skills Giving Programs. (2019, April 19). America’s Charities.

Adrienne Petrino

Mentor Extraordinaire

The Jersey Cares Youth Workforce Development Fellowship is designed for low-to-moderate-income youth of Essex County and addresses the gap between youth workforce skills and their employment opportunities. The Fellowship creates a unique opportunity for Fellows to benefit from the merging efforts of Newark’s major companies and its vibrant nonprofit sector by learning skills that employers demand, exercising the skills in internships and gaining access to permanent employment opportunities. It is through the talent of our volunteers, who are subject matter experts in their field of work, that our Fellows build their workforce skills.

One such expert is Adrienne Petrino, a longtime Jersey Cares volunteer who donates her time as a workshop facilitator providing our Fellows with a solid understanding of emotional intelligence. Adrienne is not your average workshop facilitator because she takes her work personally and knows that emotional intelligence is much more than a soft skill. She never begins a training workshop without shaking every Fellows hand, looking directly into their eyes and calling them by name.

As a facilitator, Adrienne creates an environment that encourages the pursuit of self-awareness and seeing failure as an opportunity to succeed. Her 18 years of experience enables her to help others unlock their potential through self-discovery, vulnerability, and mindfulness. Adrienne’s mentoring is focused on engaging groups to give and receive feedback, in addition to managing conflict in a positive manner. For example, program participants are recorded on video during a three-minute mock interview. The video is then played back for the cohort to collectively engage in group discussion about the individual’s performance.

After each of Adrienne’s workshops, participants demonstrate far greater creativity, productivity, and happiness with themselves and each other than they had when they had walked into the workshop. You can hear it in their tone during their interactions with each other. You can see it in their body language as they leave the workshop. Adrienne says that:

“building relationships all starts with unlocking one’s potential by discovering the curiosity in you and being curious about others. Interpersonal communication is a skill set that has continuous evolution in one’s toolbox. By exposing oneself to other perspectives through listening and nonverbal communication, you become mindful and self-aware of your actions and emotions, and the emotions and actions of others. Your mindset begins to shift; it recategorizes and strategizes your approaches and actions through empathy, gratitude, and happiness.”

Adrienne Petrino is currently the Senior Speaker Bureau Manager at VMLY&R, a global full-service marketing agency which fuses creativity, technology, and culture to create connected brands that impact the world. Her role emphasizes client engagement and building impactful and cohesive teams. Her career spans from leading teams of up to 35 individuals across a variety of industries, which include sport, hospitality, and biotech.  

Adrienne earned an Accredited Coach Training Program Certificate from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) in Leadership Coaching for Organizational Performance with Rutgers University. She is pursuing an Associated Coaching Certificate with ICF that she expects to complete by December. Adrienne is also a 4-Year Volunteer Grief Support Facilitator with Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, in Mountainside and Newark, NJ.

Adrienne credits her passion for service and volunteerism to her attitude of gratitude, which has been developed through resiliency from enduring life’s challenges and reflecting on the joy and beauty this life has to offer. We continue to be honored by her generous gift of time and talent to others through Jersey Cares.

Click here to learn how you can follow Adrienne’s lead and support local youth with the Youth Workforce Development Fellowship today!

Planting Seeds of Hope in Newark

Project Coordinator’s (PC’s) are stewards and ambassadors of Jersey Cares, leading other volunteers in projects that benefit the community.  Project Coordinators drive social change by leading well-managed, sustainable projects and programs that meet community-identified needs and provide volunteers with a positive experience, inspiring everyone to continue their journey of service.  This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting opportunities and partner agencies that have a need for Project Coordinators. 

Emilio Panasci, Co-Director of Operations and Education for the SWAG Project (also known as Planting Seeds of Hope) at Plant it Forward in Newark, can be seen in many different lights.  However, a visionary and a leader are what are undeniably true. Leading many different volunteer opportunities and working hard to provide community food access for residents of Newark, Emilio and his team are increasing the educational and economic opportunities around Newark to take back control of their local food system and health. We decided to interview Emilio and dig a bit deeper to find out what the motivation was to create this opportunity.

What made you want to start this initiative and what steps did you have to take to get there? 

“S.W.A.G Project Farm started as a partnership between TEAM Academy, Peshine Avenue School, First Tabernacle House of Worship, and the City of Newark. My organization, Planting Seeds of Hope, played a facilitator role. We built a small community garden on the grounds of the Tabernacle. our assumption was students and teachers would adopt the garden as their own with the help of the church. However, management of a community garden was something that needed more help and so my organization stayed involved at first very casually, but each year started adding more growing space and programs. By the time we got from 2009 to 2013 we were already having enrichment classes in the Spring and Fall for students, on-site farm stand, and even helping other organizations start gardens around the city!”

Planting Seeds of Hope is seen as more than just a way to plant and grow healthy food.  It also serves as an opportunity to provide a deeper relationship with the City of Newark and involve the community to gain a sense of community surrounding the topic of food access. The program serves to build a more unified community. With the countless volunteer opportunities Planting Seeds of Hope offers for the community, we asked Emilio what he found most enjoyable about the experience and what are the major takeaways he would like his volunteers to walk away with.

What is your favorite part of everything that you do?

“Not to sound corny but my favorite part of Urban Agriculture work is just connecting with people around the joy of being outside and being around healthy food and nature. We love that we make an impact on people’s health and on their lifestyle, and for grant applications we must quantify our impact with specific evaluation measures. Yet I think so much of community development is intangible. On a day-to-day basis one of the best things is just joking around with a volunteer at the garden or market, while also discussing what healthy local food means in their life, knowing they will always think “local food” is cool and exciting.

What are some takeaways you want volunteers and Project Coordinators to have at the end of the opportunity?

“When people volunteer with us, I hope that they get first and foremost a fun experience and a sense of belonging no matter what their background or life situation may be like. Being in a garden and working with soil and plants should be a relaxing and inclusive experience. We are not a place that needs to demand a lot of hard work or skill level when you first visit us. In fact, we want people to be creative and ask questions and just do what they are able, not more. The philosophy is that if people want to get more serious about agriculture or food justice in the future, they need to have fun first! Then, there are many places that they can pursue more advanced training, but they could always remember that they got their start and they have a family of support at S.W.A.G. project- and they can always come back and take on more responsibility and projects!”

Learning more about the man behind S.W.A.G. Project, we had to find out more information on who Emilio was outside of his organization and what drives his passion. When asking Emilio more about what keeps him motivated, he stated,

“I’ve always been interested in nature, but I am definitely not an agriculture specialist. In fact, I went to school for Urban Planning (Undergraduate in Literature and Philosophy) and consider myself sort of a Community Organizer and Project Manager.  Yet really, I’m a Facilitator of the Development of Community Based Projects trying to bring together lots of other people to work in collaboration and obtain the resources they need to be successful. But local food system projects touch on everything that I care about from environmental and health improvement to racial and social justice issues. I love getting my hands dirty and I also love talking to local government officials and funders at fancy meetings. I love teaching kids about worms as well as seeing land be rehabilitated and preserved for ag! I guess I like that this kind of work has many sides to it and is never dull. 

Ready to join Emilio at Plant it Forward in Newark (Planting Seeds of Hope)? Then don’t hesitate to become a Project Coordinator today!  Click here to learn more and sign up today.

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.   

Say Hello to Juanita Cook!

Juanita has been a motivated volunteer with Jersey Cares since 2017 but started her journey with us in 2013. In 2018, Juanita decided to take on the role of a Project Coordinator and become a part of the Jersey Cares family leading many different volunteer opportunities throughout the state. When asked what sparked her interest in Jersey Cares, Juanita stated: 

“Joining Jersey Cares was very unintentional for me.  In the early Spring of 2013, my church organized groups of volunteers to help local families in Sayreville clean-up their flooded homes after Hurricane Sandy.  Experiencing the damage brought back memories of losing my childhood home to a fire at the age of eight. Each bag of debris was a reminder of what it was like to start over from nothing but the clothes on your back.  From that day on I had a desire to do more and help those in my community. Around the same time, I joined the churches’ nursery ministry and still serve in a monthly rotation to provide childcare during Sunday services.  I also became active in another church ministry called ‘Love Your Neighbor’.  Twice a year we visited local senior communities in Monroe to assist seniors that had contacted the church to help them with activities like yard work, spring cleaning, minor repairs, etc. I maintained my monthly nursery commitment while working and attending a master’s program full-time, but after graduating in 2016 that desire to be more active in my community reappeared.  I felt obligated to dedicate a bigger portion of my time to doing more volunteer work.  After googling “volunteer opportunities in New Jersey”, I came across the Jersey Cares website.

Since then, my involvement with Jersey Cares has been a gradual progression.  In 2017, I sporadically searched the calendar and tried different volunteer categories.  Each time I attended an opportunity I had a strong sense of purpose and enjoyed coming together with kindred souls that also prioritized helping others.  Those things peaked my interest to return.  In 2018, it became intentional.  I set a personal goal to volunteer an average of one hour per month or 12 hours for the year through Jersey Cares, in addition to my monthly nursery rotation at church.  I am not sure how I ended up logging 21 hours, but it’s safe to say I achieved that goal. For 2019, my goal is to complete 50 hours through Jersey Cares.”

Throughout the years, Juanita has been extremely active both within her personal life and within Jersey Cares. In between her hobbies of traveling to eight different countries, spending time with family and friends, reading, and dancing, Juanita makes the effort to dedicate her time to leading several different volunteer opportunities offered at Jersey Cares. Some of those opportunities include Tutor and Mentor in Martinsville, Marketplace in New Brunswick, Computer Essentials in Elizabeth, Homework Helpers in Elizabeth, Marketplace in East Brunswick, Caring Closet in Hightstown and many more.

When asked about her dedication to volunteering, Juanita remarked:

“I consider volunteering one of my hobbies. Whenever it occurs to me that I have a free weekend or a large amount of free time I go to the opportunities calendar and see what I can get involved in. Volunteering is a great reminder to never take anything for granted”

When asked what she loved most about leading different opportunities, Joanne noted:

“Leading different events gives me opportunities to meet new people and learn more about the different issues facing our community. The opportunities I enjoy most are Marketplace in Jamesburg and Computer Essentials in Elizabeth. The team that operates Marketplace in Jamesburg is phenomenal!  They are extremely passionate about serving others and it is truly inspiring.  I hope to be able to stay committed for as long as the individuals there.  It is also astounding to see the amount of youth volunteers that attend every month, in and outside of Jersey Cares. At Computer Essentials in Elizabeth, I am grateful to be able to pass along my knowledge to the courageous individuals that seek their services. Hopefully, I am making a meaningful contribution to them, creating great opportunities for themselves and their families. Also, I recently attended Bingo Time in Bridgewater for the second time.  Now, I cannot stop thinking about the sweet residents and the amount of joy it brought them to have us there.  I think I will make this a regular commitment now.”

As a Project Coordinator with a lot of experience in different spaces, Juanita advises new volunteers to: “Just go for it!  It is not complicated or demanding to be a Project Coordinator. As a P.C. I aim to provide a high level of service to the contracting organizations and meaningful experiences for the volunteers.  I believe that having an engaged Project Coordinator present at opportunities creates a better experience for everyone involved. I encourage everyone to do it, especially if they frequently participate in an opportunity.”

Inspired by Juanita’s dedication to leading volunteer opportunities?  Become a Project Coordinator today and begin changing the lives of others today. Also, check out our Monthly Calendar to find the project that interests you.

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.