Who is Care of the Park?

Who is Care of the Park will be a recurring series aimed at painting a picture of the people that make the program possible. From star volunteers to Park staff, this series will shine a light on who is Care of the Park and why they give back.

Who is Care of the Park-October 2018

Emily Guo is a high school senior attending The Lawrenceville School. Passionate about service and sustainability, Emily reached out to Jersey Cares about volunteering at Essex County Branch Brook Park and the Care of the Park program. For 6 weeks, Emily volunteered as a Peer Leader, working with 11 high school students working for Care of the Park as part of the Summer Youth Employment Program. Below is an interview with Emily discussing her experiences as a Care of the Park volunteer:

Why do you volunteer?

“Before high school I never did any kind of volunteering. I really felt unmotivated. I always had an interest in sustainability and decided to search for those opportunities in high school. Once I started volunteering, being able to help others helped give me a purpose and motivation. I could give back to my community and have meaningful experiences, so it was kind of a win-win situation for me.”

What compelled you to volunteer with Care of the Park?

“Really it lined up with my own personal interests since I’ve always been passionate about the environment. I didn’t know much about Care of the Park or the Summer Youth Employment Program initially, but as I learned more I was excited. I was looking forward to working with people my age who had a shared mindset for making a difference. Doing all that while working in a beautiful park was just a bonus.”

What was your favorite moment volunteering in the park?

“It’s really hard to pick a specific moment. The first week of the program was awkward with the Park Ambassadors not really knowing each other. It wasn’t easy to get them to socialize or speak up, but as they got more comfortable working in the park and with each other that all changed. I’d say my favorite moment was when we came into work and I could see them being comfortable with each other and meaningful relationships being built. It made working together even more fun and the experience in the park even better.”

What was your biggest takeaway from your volunteer experience?

“The biggest thing I learned was understanding the perspective of others. My background was so different from the other Park Ambassadors and being able to learn about them helped me branch out my own views of the world. Learning about their passions and what mattered to each of them really opened my eyes. I found it both refreshing and inspiring.”

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about volunteering?  

“I’d say you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s hard to put it into words what exactly I gained, but volunteering has been such a transformative experience. I could see the growth not just in me, but the other volunteers around me. You get all that and get to make a positive impact on a community. Walking through the park and seeing people enjoy the places I worked in was so worthwhile. You may not see the difference yourself, but people in the community definitely will. And that will make the few hours you spend volunteering totally worth it.”

What does Care of the Park mean to you?

“It was really a transformative experience. I went in there looking to use my skills to contribute and make a difference. But working with Care of the Park, the most valuable part was working with the volunteers and getting to know each of them. Working with our volunteer leaders (Jersey Cares staff and the Rutgers Master Gardeners leading the projects) I felt like they cared about getting to know us and really humanized the experience. I was fortunate enough to be able to help others, but I also gained so much from the people I worked with. To me, Care of the Park is the great people you get to work with.”

 

 

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By Women, For Women

Nestled in the heart of Elizabeth, New Jersey lies a hidden gem dedicated to empowering local women through skills training and development. Founded by the Sisters of Charity in 2003, Josephine’s Place is a safe space for women that seeks to provide free services ranging from Computer Skills workshops to support groups for any local woman in need of assistance.

Josephine_s Place-September 2018Sister Judy Mertz and those who work at Josephine’s Place always strive to ensure that their services meet the demands of those looking to receive them. Sister Judy recalls the initial founding of the facility, noting that “When we opened the doors on October 1st, 2003, we made sure to ask the women who came in what they wanted and needed. Many of them said they wanted to learn English or develop their computer skills”, workshops that the facility still provides on a regular basis. Participants are encouraged to take active leadership roles, often guiding new women in group activities.

The need for expansion was quick as more and more women came to hear about their work. Sister Judy notes the great success that many of those who have come to Josephine’s place have achieved, 2 of which have even moved on to start their own businesses. The community-based nature of the facility has fostered a strong “pay it forward” mentality. Many of those who received skills-based services in the past return to lead workshops themselves. In fact, several volunteers who frequent Josephine’s Place are the children and grandchildren of women who have benefited from their services.

For many women, Josephine’s place is not just a safe space, but a warm community. If you would like to learn more about Josephine’s Place and support their work, please consider signing up to volunteer! We offer several opportunities including Computer Essentials I, Computer Essentials II, and Conversations and Connections. Note: Volunteers must be female to sign up.

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!

Making A Difference: Before I Go…A Word of Thanks!

fellowship-photo-august-2018-e1531839000681.pngFellows of the Citi Pathways to Progress Project Coordinator Fellowship finalize their internship experience with a Demonstration Day in which students have the opportunity to present on their experience working with one of our partner nonprofit organizations. At this stage in the internship program, students have completed all of their requirements and have finished the program.

 

However, in this case, fellow, Jenika Scott, felt that she had left some words unspoken. Mentor and Program Manager, Sierra Jackson, received this email following the success of Jenika’s internship:

“Good afternoon Sierra,

I’ve been writing and rewriting this email over a thousand times trying to figure out the right words to say.

After all, what do you say to a person when the word thank you is simply not enough? I am not an English major, so, I cannot give you any tremendous words of Latin and Greek origins. So, for a lack of better words, thank you.

Thank you for all that you have done for me. From constantly reminding me to go to the workshops, to the proper way to dress, and to following up on interviews; all of this has ensured that I received the best out of my internship. But really, thank you for being that supportive person to a stranger you just met. I do appreciate all that you have done for me and no matter where this life leads us, I want you to know that I am happy to have met you.

Thank you for always being there.

Most Sincerely,

Jenika Scott”

Leaders Who Mentor Future Trailblazers

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

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

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

Mentor: “What do you need pointers on?”

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

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

-Always bring a copy of your resume

-Dress Professionally

-Arrive early

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

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

*** Mentor Coaching After Interview

Mentor: “How’d it go?”

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

Mentor: “Yayyyyy How are you feeling?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.