Denise Beckles – International Women’s Day

Denise Beckles

Director, Vocational Services

The Arc Middlesex County

denise becklesWhat inspired you to get involved?

The People. They are some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. I am a Diversity Management Leader and an advocate for growth and development. I’m especially drawn to the under-served people. My heart is to make a difference in their lives. In my diversity leadership work—I’ve been especially moved by the tenacity, the warmth, openness, struggles and needs of those with disabilities and those who have health disparities. This demographic is the most underserved in our nation; yet they are resilient despite disparities. What I have discovered is that all people usually want the same things out of life, love, purpose, resources and security.

I have the privilege to use my corporate skillset, my compassion for the underserved and my love for teaching everyday as I provide leadership for the Vocational Program of the Arc Middlesex County

What keeps you motivated?

The People.  The Individuals who need support and have an expressed desire to learn vital life, community, safety, vocational, social skills, to live fuller lives. My Staff—who have a heart to serve those in need and advocate for their best interests to be achieved. My Leadership-who have a vision and mission to help Individuals achieve success and become their best self. Results motivate me; when I see tangible results, improvement in a task or happiness as a result of fulfillment. I believe to teach is to touch a life forever. My goal is to touch a life; one person at a time.

What are your hopes for the future of the organization?Arc-logo

My greatest desire is for the Arc Middlesex County to become the obvious choice when families and loved ones are seeking services, whether day programming/vocational, residential, employment support and family support. We are here to serve.

 

 

Karima Jackson – International Women’s Day

Karima Jackson

Organize Change, Inc.

What inspired you to get involved?karima
Among values such as family, religion, and education that I was taught growing up, community was also very important. My family modeled active citizenship and civic participation so I learned very early that I have a responsibility to my community.

What keeps you motivated?
I am largely motivated by my passion around social justice and the hard work done by community activists before me like my great aunt who passed away in 2014 at the age of 80. When you realize the sacrifices people like her made for their community, it’s hard not to pull up your sleeves and do your best to fill as much of the big shoes they left behind. I stand on the shoulder of giants and I’m only as good as my awesome team.
What is your hope for the future of your program/organization?

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My hope for my organization is that we spur a similar responsibility to community in the youth we work with so they have the tools and the passion to take the torch of leadership in their communities and be the agents of change we need for the future.

Lisa D. Banks – International Women’s Day

Lisa D. Banks

Preschool Program Director

Mercer Street Friends

What inspired you to get involved?

lisa banksI have been inspired to work with young children from a very young age, I always wanted to be a teacher.  I was raised by my grandparents, being the oldest I was responsible for caring for my siblings at a very young age making sure they were clean, neat and loved, even teaching my baby brother to read.  I care about the young children in our care making sure they are safe and learning in a positive, nurturing environment where children can learn and have fun as they grow, I have an excellent staff, some of the greatest Preschool Teachers around and I could not do my job without them.

What keeps you motivated?

What keeps me motivated is watching the children grow, it’s an unexplained joy that I get watching the children and parents enter our doors, not sure of what to expect, then seeing them happy and comfortable leaving their children in our care and the children not wanting to leave.  It is beautiful to see the children transition from Preschool to Kindergarten and watching them learn throughout the year.

 

What is your hope for the future of your program/organization?

logoMy hope for our program and organization is that we continue to make a positive difference in the lives of the children we teach.  It is a blessing when families keep coming back for the wonderful services that we offer.  Our greatest testimonies come by “word of mouth.”

 

Jennifer Amaya – International Women’s Day

Jennifer Amaya

Director of Outreach and Prevention

Visions and Pathways

What inspired you to get involved?logo-white

I’ve had a passion for working with at risk youth vp-team-jennifer-amayasince I was younger. I always have and always will enjoy the grass roots interaction that I have with these youth. They are our future and we should all be working to lift them up to reach their potential.

What keeps you motivated?

I am motivated by every youth that takes the steps to make their situation better. Whether it is just making the call to us for food, hygiene or food, reaching out for housing, asking for employment assistance or getting back into school. These are big steps for the youth we work with and I am motivated by their courage, perseverance and willingness to do better, be better.

What is your hope for the future of your program/organization?

mkwlaMxZ_400x400My hope for Visions and Pathways is that we will continue to help those youth in need and be the place they call for someone to turn to. I would hope that more and more people would use us as a preventative resource, to reduce the severity that situations can turn into and limit the amount of trauma that can accompany these situations.

Marla Higginbotham – International Women’s Day

Marla Higginbotham

Executive Director

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County

Marla Higginbotham

What inspired you to get involved?

For the past 20 years, beginning with my senior thesis in college on alternative education choices for black inner- city students and my first job at the National Governor’s Association working with states to implement the National Education Goals, I have been steadfast in my commitment to the protection, safety, education and enhancement of young minds.  Currently, I am Executive Director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County, leading a team of outstanding individuals in serving and advocating for the most-vulnerable individuals in the county — children placed in foster care after being removed from their homes due to neglect, abuse or abandonment. casaCASA staff and volunteers truly make a difference in the lives of young, deserving individuals who often have limited sources of assistance and no other inspiration in their lives.

What keeps you motivated?

Results. This is my most-important motivator. Each month when I look at advocate reports submitted to the court I see how we directly impact the lives of foster children right here in Union County and feel especially motivated. Every month there is at least one special case that inspires me on a greater level. Over the holidays, it was 7-year-old IQ, who had been in foster care three years and was formally adopted by his older sister, a young woman in her early 20s just becoming an adult herself; nevertheless, she was unwaveringly committed to bringing her family back together. Real stories. Real inspiration.

What are your hopes for the future of the organization?

My hope for the future of the organization can be summed up in one word: growth. We must continue to grow the number of fragile children served. The initial cause for a child’s removal from home and placement in foster homes or residential facilities is traumatic enough; yet it is compounded when the child is most often placed with strangers in an unfamiliar environment, and this can last average 18 to 24 months. There are 560 Union County children in foster care right now and CASA of Union County currently serve 262. There’s still more work to be done. For many of these children, no matter how many times a placement changes, their CASA volunteer is the only constant in their life. Every day we continue to strive to reach our goal of providing a CASA volunteer for every Union County foster child. That is CASA of Union County’s future.

 

Jersey Cares Selected as Citi Foundation Youth Workforce Fund Grantee to Boost Access to Jobs Among Youth in Newark, NJ

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 Jersey Cares Selected as Citi Foundation Youth Workforce Fund Grantee to Boost Access to Jobs Among Youth in Newark, NJ 

$4 million fund to support youth employment organizations across 15 U.S. cities

 Livingston, NJ (October 24, 2017) – The Citi Foundation recently announced that Jersey Cares has been awarded a grant from the 2017 Youth Workforce Fund, as part of its Pathways to Progress initiative to provide youth both in the U.S. and around the world with the training and access to jobs, including paid apprenticeships and internships. In partnership with America’s Promise Alliance, 15 nonprofit organizations across the U.S. will expand their programming to provide a range of employment opportunities in areas including environmental sustainability to robotics and culinary arts to coding. Collectively, the Youth Workforce Fund is expected to reach more than 5,000 youth across the country.

Jersey Cares will receive a grant of $250,000 to address the disconnect between workforce development training and employment opportunities for Newark young adults, by positioning them to be the focal point of merging efforts between major companies and Newark’s nonprofit sector. Specifically, students will receive workforce development training from major companies; training which will then be applied to non-profits in Newark to help build capacity.

“Understanding the vast resources and talent that we have, our great City of Newark is driven by a host of individuals, agencies, companies, and institutions that are committed to working together to address our pressing challenges while forging new pathways to success,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “This new Jersey Cares initiative will give impulse to dynamic cross-sector relationships, as well as expose our young people to professional opportunities that can greatly transform our city, and importantly, their lives.”

Access to apprenticeships, internships and vocational training is essential to empowering youth and preparing them to compete in today’s economy. According to the Citi Foundation’s Global Youth Survey 2017: Economic Prospects & Expectations, 78% of young people surveyed believe that internships and apprenticeships are critical for career success; however, 60% say there aren’t enough of these opportunities.

“While there is much focus on the skills mismatch among today’s youth and the jobs available, there are a lot of community organizations across the U.S. that are changing the dynamics around youth employment in their communities,” said Brandee McHale, president of the Citi Foundation. “Through the Youth Workforce Fund, we’re supporting those organizations that are expanding the skills of young people, building their networks, and connecting them to jobs.”

America’s Promise Alliance, the largest coalition of youth-serving organizations across the United States, will help us promote the adoption of new ideas that arise from Youth Workforce Fund programming. “We know that for many youth there is not one straight line to success and that the more opportunities young people have to work in real-world environments, the better chance they have for future economic mobility and success” added John Gomperts, President & CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “The programs supported by the Youth Workforce Fund reflect different pathways into the workforce that are essential for helping more young people beat the odds.”

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About Jersey Cares:

Jersey Cares is a dynamic nonprofit organization that meets community needs by making volunteering in New Jersey easy and meaningful. Jersey Cares works directly with local nonprofit organizations and schools, identifying their needs and managing volunteer projects that address them. Jersey Cares volunteers have provided hundreds of thousands of hours of service to communities, including mentoring troubled teens, reaching out to isolated seniors, restoring the environment and assisting children with their learning. Jersey Cares offers meaningful volunteer opportunities that showcase the rewards of civic engagement and address some of our communities’ most serious needs. For more information, please visit www.jerseycares.org.

About the Citi Foundation

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

About America’s Promise Alliance

America’s Promise Alliance leads an alliance of organizations, communities and individuals dedicated to making the promise of America real for every child. As its signature effort, the GradNation campaign mobilizes Americans to increase the on-time high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and prepare young people for postsecondary enrollment and the 21st century workforce. For more information, visit www.americaspromise.org.

Staff Spotlight – Meet Jack

Meet Jack, one of the Jersey Cares AmeriCorps VISTA members! Our VISTA members have brought their passion and perseverance to the Jersey Cares team and are now wrapping up their year of changing lives.

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What is inspired you to become an AmeriCorps VISTA?

 

“My parents instilled in me a strong sense of community and the importance of giving back and I decided to continue that along with my experience with working with teens and youth.” “I like working with youth because I really do believe they are the future.”

What do you like most about working at Jersey Cares? How are your values reflected in the work done at Jersey Cares?

 

“I believe that volunteering helps create a stronger sense of community and that is evident in working with Jersey Cares because we help bring so many communities together through volunteerism.”

As part of the Programs department at Jersey Cares, you have helped manage and coordinate volunteer programs, agency relations, and leadership development with various youth populations, what is your greatest lesson from working in this department?

 

“My greatest lesson is how important these volunteer events are to the people we are helping to serve and the difference that we are making in the community.” “At first it can be difficult to realize the impact a simple volunteer event can have on a population, but after engaging with community members, you quickly learn how important these projects are and the difference it makes in the lives of these people.”

Your AmeriCorps term is due to end in November, how do you feel about leaving Jersey Cares?

 

“I feel grateful.” “I am going to miss all the people I have formed relationships with over the past year including the staff members at Jersey Cares.” “I am also going to miss the great work we do at Jersey Cares and knowing that every day I come into work that I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.”

What Hope Looks Like

 

By: Vanessa Martinez, Service Events Manager, Jersey Cares

Bag pipes, names, fathers, daughters, planes. Towers, sons, mothers, pain. If you ask me what I recall during the attacks of 9/11, I’d respond this way. As if recalling a memory, I intend on forgetting, but keep recalling anyway – a nightmare. I grew up in a small town – West New York – where people bustle about their lives the same way people did on that Tuesday morning on September 11th, 2001.  If you walk west towards the Hudson River, you could see the silent beauty that is the New York City skyline – all of it. Uptown cathedrals, the bright “New Yorker” sign, the Empire, West Side Highway, downtown skyscrapers towering above clouds.  Living here, one gets used to having such magic so close – you forget to look as you ride along the boulevard. That Tuesday morning, that quiet, unseasonably warm morning, everyone noticed it. Everyone heard it. Everyone stopped and stared at a different sort of magic– the black smoke that billowed, the ferries stopped in their waved paths, the sirens from every direction, the fire and smoke reflected on the river—it was as if everyone felt everyone elses lives turn into dust.

Some covered their mouths in horror, some looked away. Some jumped on the nearest City bound bus, maybe they knew someone. Maybe they wanted to help. As for me? I was 12 and late to my Science class as I walked into the 5th story corner classroom of P.S. #5. Incomprehension as the second plane impacts the South Tower.

Teachers begin to cry as I stare fixated on burning buildings in the distance. A thought interrupts the moment as I reflect on the fact that I was just there on Sunday with my cousins and we gazed straight up between the two pinstriped columns and got dizzy at the scale. My twelve-year-old brain skipped to the thought of “what if they fall?” and instantly was replaced with “they’re massive, it’s impossible.”

They did fall. And with their descent they took so much with them.

We went home early that day and my sister and I walked the three blocks home in silence. My dad’s voice cracked when I called him at work. “I’m glad you two…. are home safe” Those are the things I remember. Not a whole lot compared to the lessons I learned in the aftermath of 9/11.

I learned that our beloved skyline would never be the same. I learned what a declaration of war is. I learned that if you “see something, say something”, but most of all, I learned what hope looks like…

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Today, hope looks like 500 volunteers from across New Jersey coming together on 9/11 Day of Service for one purpose: to serve alongside one another to transform a Jersey City 9-11 Day of Service 2017 (8)high school deeply impacted by the tragic events of the day and create meaningful kits to be donated to hurricane victims, local first responders, seniors, and refugees.9113

Families and teams from schools, corporate groups, churches, and service organizations joined Jersey Cares at Dickinson High School on Saturday, September 9th. Half of the volunteers worked on revitalization projects including landscaping the school’s 9/11 memorial, brightening doors and railings with a fresh coat of paint, painting inspirational murals in school hallways to foster pride and school spirit, and911 day 1 creating decorative rock mosaics for the front entrance.

Simultaneously, families and several student organizations created hygiene kits for hurricane victims, Senior Care Packages with comfort items and 911day2thoughtful notes for Jersey City seniors, indoor hopscotch mats and activity kits for refugee children, and First Responder Thank You Kits for firefighters in Jersey City.

The morning of 9/11, I left Dickinson High School with a mission of delivering our First Responder Thank You Kits.  I drove by several firehouses on the way to Engine 14 – all with their garage doors closed – eerily reminiscent of the stations downtown on that fateful day. As I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Palisades and Congress, I noticed it. A bright red fire truck poking its head out, followed by a line of solemn fire fighters. They followed their captain and lined up facing the spot where our beloved towers would have stood. They stood there in silence and saluted. It was 9:59am – the time the South Tower fell.

Palisade Avenue is typically a busy intersection. People walking, buses transporting commuters, but not at 9:59am. Traffic was paralyzed and people froze the same way as so many years ago.

Suddenly it did not matter how long I had been driving around or how far I had traveled to get these kits donated because in that moment, I realized what hope looks like and how far we have come. There are memorials scattered along the water, and countless lives that have been lost, but hope is everywhere and we must never lose sight of that.

Thank you to all of our incredible volunteers who came together to transform 9/11 into a day of empathy, unity, and service. Your time and hard work mean more than you could possibly imagine.  Thank you for keeping hope alive.

Staff Spotlight-Meet Kathleen!

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Meet Kathleen, or Kat, for short. She is one of the newest members of the Corporate Service team at Jersey Cares, but after getting to know her, you wouldn’t think it. When she’s not coordinating volunteer events, Kat enjoys painting (she’s good too—check her out here), trivia, and spending time with her family and her dog, Irwin. Last month we sat down with Kat and got to know her a little better!

Which of your projects are you most proud of?

“L’Oréal — I was overwhelmed with the amount of support I received from my team…[and] just seeing the difference the volunteers made at the two schools we worked with on that day gave me such a sense of pride.”

 

Which is your favorite Jersey Cares collection drive? Why?

“The Coat Drive is my favorite because I get to work with members of the community for our sort-off day…and I love experiencing how involved they are willing to be for such a great cause.”

When planning a Corporate Service project, what is the most exciting part of the process?

“I really enjoy working with the volunteers and the anticipation of knowing how they will be impacted by their service; it’s always a great reminder of how important their work is to the agencies we partner with and I really enjoy being a part of that.”

What attracted you to work for Jersey Cares?

“I really enjoy that I would get to see from start to finish the impact that volunteers make in the lives of people and community-based organizations and schools. I love being a part of that kind of change.”

Finally…what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

“That’s easy! Chocolate Peanut Butter!”

#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.