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…


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.

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.

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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.


The Blank Check

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Specialist (Tyler) Dee – 1992

By Michelle R. Dee, Senior Director of External Affairs, U.S. Army Veteran

When people ask me the best way to honor veterans I have a hard time answering. Yes, I am a veteran and my husband is a veteran and the majority of people that are not my blood relatives, but are still my family, are either still serving or veterans.  Yet, I don’t speak for veterans.  I don’t think any one person can speak for veterans.  According to VetPop2014, a document prepared by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, as of this year there are 21,680,534 living civilian veterans and active members of the armed forces.  Statistically, veterans are as diverse a population as imaginable.  Veterans come from every cross section of society, every walk of life.

Yet, there is one single tie that binds; the blank check. Every person in the armed forces has written one.  The fallen have had theirs cashed.  Many who have come home with traumatic injuries, visible and invisible have had their checks partially cashed.  Many were fortunate to receive their checks back, unblemished.  Bottom line, every single person who has served has written that blank check; the one that promised to give everything, up to and including their lives, in service to our nation.

In that tie that binds, in my opinion, is the core of the best way to honor veterans. Serve.  Do something.  Be a part of something greater than yourself.  Volunteer.  There are innumerable ways to get involved that not only directly impact veterans, but their families.  There are even more ways to get involved that better your community.  Ultimately, honoring veterans is about respecting the sacrifices they made and continue to make every day.  Making an impact in your community is a pretty great way to honor those sacrifices.

If you are looking for ways to get involved this week, or any week, we can help you find a place to give back. Go ahead; write your own “check,” be a part of something, volunteer.

Happiness Happens

Life can be rough, and anyone can fall into the trap of focusing on the negative. It’s raining, there was traffic, the drive-thru at my favorite coffee place was too long – you know the drill. So take a break and celebrate National Happiness Happens Month. Created by The Secret Society of Happy People (SOHP – and yes, it’s real), Happiness Happens Month encourages people to reject the growing cultural norm of keeping happiness to themselves and appreciate and embrace happiness in their day-to-day lives. SOHP encourages everyone to express their happiness in the way that many tend to talk about their unhappiness.

National Happiness Happens Day, celebrated since 1999 on August 8th, and now expanded to an entire month, reminds us to celebrate, rejoice, and express the small things that make our day. It’s a reminder to relish all of the everyday moments that go right by taken for granted.US Map Painting

In Jersey Cares’ humble and unbiased opinion, volunteering is a great way to get your happiness on! A 2013 study showed that 94% of people who volunteered reported an improved mood, 76% felt physically better and 78% felt less stress.

The best part of expressing and sharing your moments of happiness? There are so many ways to do it that manifest themselves as small acts of kindness: donating food or clothes, reading to a child, holding the door for the person after you, complimenting others, and hundreds of other opportunities – all of which are volunteering, by the way.

Join Jersey Cares in celebrating National Happiness Happens Month by tweeting at us what makes you happy (post with #HHM2015 and #BeTheChange). And try taking the 31-day Happiness Happens Challenge for the rest of August. We do have a few ways to cross some of those challenges off your list! Happy National Happiness Happens Day!


What Does Volunteering Mean to You?

By Simone Carvalho, Jersey Cares’ newest Service Events Manager

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Even after years of working with volunteers, I still find myself astounded by their benevolence. From individuals to families, Scout Troops to Fortune 500 companies- volunteers can take many forms but the spirit of generosity is identical.

What is this goodwill I speak of? It is the 17,341 Jersey Cares volunteers who donated 63,730 hours of their time to 410 agencies across New Jersey in just 2014.

These numbers leave me astonished because:

  •  17,341 is more than the entire population living in Hopewell Township, New Jersey.
  • You would have to volunteer 24 hours a day for 27 years to accumulate 63,730 service hours.
  • According to the Independent Sector, a volunteer hour in New Jersey is valued at $25.33. In 2014, our volunteers’ service was worth $1,614,280.90!

These numbers only just begin to quantify the enormous value of service because we can’t measure the smiles, bonds formed, or how a community has strengthened. But we can ensure the continued success and expansion of volunteer projects across the state. Jersey Cares strives to increase the level of meaningful volunteer engagement by creating and managing efficient, impactful projects that address critical community-identified needs.

We are celebrating National Volunteer Week 2015 by highlighting opportunities to #GiveBack and #BeTheChange with @JerseyCares on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram throughout #NVW2015.

Tag us @JerseyCares and tell us what VOLUNTEERING means to you!

– Simone Carvalho

What’s a Flood Got to Do With It?

Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States, but not all floods are the same. In New Jersey, flash floods develop in just a few minutes. Flash floods are the rapid and extreme flow of water into normally dry areas or the rapid increase in water level in a stream or creek.

Some of the most common flash flooding in this area is snowmelt flooding. This occurs when melting snow causes a major source of water to overflow quickly. The snowpack can hold water for a long period of time until the temperature rises above freezing and the snow melts. blog picsOnce the snow melts, the water acts similarly to a large rainstorm and penetrates the soil, runs off into rivers or lakes, or both. This can cause massive overflowing as a snowpack can contain gallons of water.

This is extremely dangerous when there have been large amounts of snowfall in a winter with little time above freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, New Jersey has experienced both in the last few months.

In order to prepare for flooding this spring below are some simple steps you and your family can take to stay safe:

  • Make an inventory of household items for insurance purposes
  • Clear debris from gutters and downspouts to allow for proper drainage
  • Move furniture, valuables and important documents to safe, dry places
  • Put together a safety kit with water, canned food, first aid, radio, flashlights and blankets
  • Be aware of the flood evacuation route in your area and know alternative routes from home, work and school

Once you and your family are prepared for floods, there are ways to volunteer to get your community prepared as well. Volunteer to help elderly neighbors clean their yards of debris or volunteer at one of Jersey Cares Environmental Stewardship opportunities across the state.

For more information on floods and how to protect your family, please visit www.ready.gov/floods and www.floodsafety.noaa.gov.


Seniors in Hillsborough Give Back to Their Community

One of our Project Coordinators, Becky Bongiovi, describes her involvement connecting seniors in service for the Jersey Cares Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. 

What happens when you have a group of willing and able volunteers without transportation? You bring the event to the volunteers, of course!

In celebration of Jersey Cares Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, seniors at an assisted living facility in Hillsborough took a break from games and recreation to make no-sew fleece blankets for a local children’s shelter. One generation gave back to another to honor Dr. King’s legacy.

As a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator, I am constantly on the lookout for new volunteers, either for the Volunteer Opportunity Calendar project I lead, Cooking Creations in Somerset County, or one of the other exciting projects managed by Jersey Cares. Often times those persons are right in front of me if I look hard enough, engage in some conversation and connect the right people together. With a little imagination and a dream, anything is possible!

Volunteers with their finished product.

Volunteers with their finished product