Project Coordinator Highlight – Mary Pereira

Say Hello to Mary Pereira!

Although Mary only recently became a Project Coordinator with Jersey Cares in May, she has been an active volunteer since 2017!  Throughout the years, Mary has been involved in a variety of volunteer opportunities such as Lights On in Newark, Games Galore and More in Hanover, and Conversations and Connections in Elizabeth. When asked why she chose to participate in these opportunities with Jersey Cares, Mary responded:

“I really enjoy it! Although volunteering with seniors (Games Galore and More in Hanover) is not something that I ever saw myself doing, I really enjoyed it and think it’s a great experience. Not only the volunteer realm of it, but the one on one experience from people of different generations and areas really is a great opportunity to be able to expand younger minds. I am happy to be a part of the experience. Additionally, the Care of the Park opportunity is the one I’m excited to work with. It’s not your typical volunteer experience so I am looking forward to being a part of this experience.”

As a new Project Coordinator, we wanted to know what advice Mary would offer to those interested in participating. Mary discussed feeling extremely nervous during her first volunteer opportunity, however once she dove in, she realized she overthought everything way too much. She went on to advise, 

“We are all here for the same reason. Regardless of where we are from – we are all here to help our community. Be sure to TALK! You’ll learn a lot from a stranger who is doing the same thing you’re doing. Even more so than you will learn from your friends. These experiences will shape you into the person you want to become. Being in my early 20’s, volunteering has truly changed the way I view people, situations, government, politics, and so much more. It has shaped me into who I am. Volunteering even one time can really change how you see and view both yourself and your surroundings”

Since beginning her volunteer journey with Jersey Cares in 2017, we asked Mary what her favorite part of volunteering was where she emphasized,

“I’m currently a psych major and everything that happens to me and with every conversation that I have, I always look back and try to realize how that has shaped me. I view everything in a psychological way and one of the things that makes me happy to do this is that we all go through things, sometimes bad situations, and we wish someone can help us. We tend to forget that other people are struggling, so why not go out there and give back? Take one day out of the month to volunteer. We all go through some situation where you want someone there to help you so if that’s the case, be there for someone else. If I am in an okay situation, why wouldn’t I want to help the next person? A five minute conversation with someone can truly make someone’s day.”

Outside of volunteering with Jersey Cares, Mary’s days are constantly busy.  She is a full time student, works part time, attends kickboxing on a weekly basis, loves to read, enjoys the great outdoors, and helps take care of her three nieces and nephews.

Join Mary in becoming a Jersey Cares volunteer leader through our Project Coordinator program.

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.

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.

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!

#NationalSelfieDay Summer Challenge

j.By:  Jadea Asante, Ready Corps

With the temperatures steadily increasing and the smell of barbeque in the air, it’s safe to say that summer is here. It’s easy for millennials, like myself, to get wrapped up in the same mundane routine. Going to work, looking for work, taking a summer class, and being glued to our cellphones; incessantly refreshing our feed to stay connected. What would happen if this summer we disconnected from technology and made real life connections with people in our communities?

Amazing things happen when we volunteer. Naturally doing good makes us feel good, volunteering boosts self-confidence and happiness.  As millennials, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to find the “perfect” job, that internship that will jumpstart our career or even getting accepted in our dream school. Although focusing on achieving goals is great all that pressure can leave us feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Volunteering is a great way to relieve stress and put thing in perspective.  

Living in a digital world its second nature to click a blue button to acquire new friends, but through volunteering you can meet amazing people in person. Through my own personal experience volunteering with Jersey Cares I have been able to meet likeminded individuals from all walks of life. 

Volunteering with Jersey cares is easy, fun, and meaningful. This summer I challenge you to put the phone down and go out and impact your community.

 

Flamingos and Service

By Michelle R. Dee, Senior Director of External Affairs

Monday morning I was talking with my husband about the fact that it was finally getting cooler in the house in the morning when we woke up.   I was mentioning that it was chilly but not “cold” yet, even though it was cold outside. That is when he told me, “I get up every morning before you and turn the heat on so that the bathroom is warm when you get out of the shower.” All day long, it stuck with me and the more I thought about it, I came to realize that was my very stoic husband’s way of telling me he loved me. The small, almost unnoticeable gestures that make my life better without me knowing it are his little “I love yous,” every day. Don’t get me wrong. He does grand gesturesIMG_3387 as well. Ask any of my friends and co-workers. He got me an “amazing” Kate Spade Flamingo Purse for my birthday. It was epic – and fortunately returnable – and was his giant, silly way of telling me he loved me. But, the just as meaningful “I love yous” are in the little things he does. Getting up before me and turning on the heat so the bathroom isn’t cold, unloading the dishwasher because I hate that part of doing the dishes, making me laugh even when I am absolutely sure I don’t want to.

As we gear up for MLK Day, a day on which federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of volunteer service in honor of Dr. King, I have been reflecting a lot on what service truly means. I was looking for a way to talk about service and the legacy of Dr. King and what service is about and what it means to me.

On my drive home Monday night, in a single moment of clarity, I realized that service for me is a lot like love.   (Stay with me here…)   Service is a combination of flamingo purses and getting up early to turn on the heater. It is the small and the large and the mundane IMG_1846and the grand. It is whatever speaks to you as a person. For some volunteers, it is the rush of the big days of service. They love to serve, surrounded by hundreds of other volunteers and enjoy the feeling of community and accomplishment that comes with that. Other volunteers prefer to serve by leading projects as Project Coordinators on a recurring basis. They work with us on a monthly basis on an issue that holds meaning for them. Other volunteers serve across different opportunities in different capacities. One month they may sort food, at a local food pantry, and the next they may work at a local animal shelter. Bottom line, they serve.

Heading into a week packed with service and reflection, I think the most important thing we can remember about service was said by the man whom we are honoring with service – “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Bottom line, no matter what your skill, your interests and your desires and no matter if you are a “flamingo purse” or a “getting up early to turn on the heat” kind of volunteer, we thank you . If you haven’t figured out what your passion is or what kind of volunteer you are, we can help with that too.

Jersey Cares