Forty Days of Service – One Volunteer’s Journey

For some people, turning forty can be an impetus for change; for Nyree Anderson Miscia it was a call to action. She has committed to forty days of service leading up to her fortieth birthday and we caught her at the midway point of her journey to ask her a few questions.

If you are interested in embarking on an “epic” journey like Nyree’s or just looking for a single day of service with your friends and family, check out for hundreds of exciting opportunities where you can find your purpose.

Q: What inspired you to do 40 days of service in a row?

A: To me turning 40 is a big deal. I feel more fulfilled by helping others, therefore I wanted to ring in 40 with something big.

Q: You are on day 20 how is it going so far?

A: It’s going great. Today I was in Paterson at a women’s shelter spending time with children. I’ve also done a beach sweep with Jersey Cares. I’ve been meeting a lot of great people and learning about all the organizations I’ve been fortunate enough to work with.

Q: What has been your most rewarding nyree-2experience?

A: There have been two standout projects that have been most rewarding. Saint Anne’s Soup Kitchen in Newark, being able to cook and serve the food to people was very fulfilling. Second, Mentheny School in Gladstone I got to spend time with six nonverbal students and we got to talk about election and they got to have a mock election. Seeing how they communicate was fascinating.

Q: What have you found most surprising?

A: This may sound strange (laughs) but at Selective Seconds in Belmar there was a piece of furniture that looked horrible, by the time we refurbished it, it looked brand new.

Q: How have your family and friends reacted to this news?nyree

A: Some people think I’m nuts, some want me to come over and do their chores. In all seriousness, people have been very supportive, people have told me I’m inspiring them. People who I haven’t talk to in years have reached out on Facebook to show their support. People are so surprised how many places there are to volunteer at.

Q: What would you say to people who are thinking about volunteering through Jersey Cares?

nyree-3A: Jersey Cares is a great organization. They have a variety of organizations to work with. Even if people don’t want to go to Newark or Paterson, you can volunteer for them behind the scenes doing admin work in Livingston. You can also volunteer everything from time to money.

Q: What advice would you give to people who want to undertake the same type of challenge?

A: Plan it. Make sure you give yourself some leeway. Make sure your schedule is flexible, somethings don’t always go as planned.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: I’ve learned to never be bored. There is always something to do. I am shocked how much attention this is getting; a newspaper might do a story about me. This has been a ton of fun being able to give back and dedicate time to others has been so rewarding. Remember, every little bit counts.

It’s Alive…

frankenstein-halloween-vector_21-58629591By: Samantha Castagna, Jersey Cares Corporate Service Manager

Frankenstein Day, really?  Who knew that there was a day celebrating Frankenstein?  The author of Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, was born on August 30th, 1797 (which would have made her 219 this year) and so Frankenstein Day was born as well. Mixing elements of both the gothic and romantic movements, Mary Shelley created a work of science fiction that has inspired others’ stories, plays, and films for years succeeding Frankenstein’s initial release.  There have been no less than 52 movie and television adaptations of this classic as well as millions of printings of the novel.  The word itself has wound its way into the American lexicon.

While Jersey Cares was founded a whopping 175 years after Frankenstein’s first publishing, we have a few things in common with this enduring piece of literature:

1.            Much like Dr. Frankenstein, our volunteers and staff are always creating – creating change in the community and creating new ways to serve and get involved

2.            Similar to Frankenstein’s monster, our volunteers – coming from all walks of life – contribute a little bit of themselves to every project, ultimately coming together to be a huge force of good in New Jersey’s communities

3.            As Mary Shelley’s story has inspired many, creating a legacy within the literary and art community, Jersey Cares strives to inspire volunteers across the state to be the change in their community, creating a legacy of service across the Garden State

No matter what you may think of Frankenstein, you can’t deny how pervasive and influential it’s been through the years. For this, we are happy to celebrate Frankenstein Day and look forward to creating a similar legacy for volunteerism.


Barringer High School ServiceWorks Capstone Project

serviceworkswithasmileBy:  LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

As a ServiceWorks AmeriCorps VISTA, I’ve often visualized my scholars as glowing embers; a tempered heat, reserved, uncertain and at times even uninterested, but you can still see a glow, however faint. Depending on their circumstances and perspective, some are also quite charred but it never bothered me because I understood the importance of time; of the trust and rapport needed in order for more free-flowing conversations. I knew that the flow, coupled with the realization that someone genuinely cared about what they had to say and about their thoughts on issues in their community could actually make a difference. “The embers will glow until they catch,” I once wrote. “And then there will be fire.”

“I’m tired of all the shootings,” yelled one student in the middle of a brainstorming session when they were trying very hard to finalize their Capstone Project. “Yeah, me too. It’s all over the place,” chimed in another. Other thoughts popped up here and there, but everything always came back to gun violence. Always. It’s a grave topic with an enormity that can be hard to grasp no less actually address, and it certainly showed on their faces at times but, “we’re not trying to cure cancer in a day,” I reminded them. “What can we do, here, now to make a difference even in just one person’s life?”

I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do know that the embers began to burn a little brighter. The heat intensified at the prospect of doing a school assembly; of having some type of discussion around gun violence that would be engaging and not just another adult droning on to students. There was a crackle of excitement when one suggested ordering bracelets that could be handed out to all of those in the audience with a message that would encapsulate the theme of the day: It Starts With a Smile – ServiceWorks, they all agreed.

There was plenty of ServiceWorks project planning and ServiceWorks project development in the interim, but I did my best to fan the flames when the idea of creating videos to highlight gun violence and its effects was thrown on the table. “You can absolutely do this,” I urged. “You just need to think it through.”

In the end, my ServiceWorks scholars created two impactful videos: one that depicted images of people in mourning and crime scenes of violence juxtaposed against gun violence statistics of their city. It also included voice overs of interviews with people of various ages discussing the problem. The second video was a brief, filmed dramatization of gun violence scenarios that the class acted out (see combined videos here: Barringer HS Capstone Video). Both videos preceded three former gang members who spoke with raw honesty about the dangers of gang life and alternate routes to take which can truly create different and better options (see small clip here: Barringer HS Capstone Speaker). The energy was one of quiet captivation. The 120 students in the audience (glowing embers in their own right) absorbed it all as they watched and listened to stories of pain and tragedy but also to the possibilities that stand behind better choices.

As a ServiceWorks VISTA, I absolutely loved watching my scholars literally see, firsthand, their Service actually Work; to see them eye the many students who felt compelled afterwards to approach our speakers to spend a little more time talking.   I was excited for them and truthfully, quite proud. I also saw what I already knew, and that is that embers do glow. Embers do catch so that there is fire. And fire, well — it spreads.

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Final


LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we conclude 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 Service Works here.

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.

Navigator’s Log Lovedate 041.2-16.3.34B 

Stations. We have come quite a ways from the classroom setting where our scholars have had countless discussions about their community and the problems that plague them. They are tired of the cycle of drugs, violence, poverty, educational inequities, etc. and as we are moving from theory to practice, they now want stations. Yes, stations. Let me explain.

For our MLK Day service project, our site partnered with a grassroots organization to provide for the homeless within our borders. The day included having four tables called “stations” that held coffee and donuts, a meal, clothing and toiletries; bags of toiletries that our young people assembled and handed out. Inspired by their experience, they have decided to do something similar for their ServiceWorks Capstone Project. They have entitled their project, “Caring & Sharing” and will utilize their school space to create provision stations, but instead of tables, they will have rooms; one room to obtain a meal, one room for clothing, another for toiletries, and finally, a large open space to eat and commune together.

There is much to do as we continue with the development and planning process, but the scholars are abuzz. “Maybe we can include some kind of counseling services,” expresses one and “I can cook the food myself,” shares another. They have a concept that they will transform into beautiful action and I am excited to see them see it — to see their Work turn into Service.

Invested energy. Watch out and hold on.

Thanks Sally

By Michelle R. Dee, Senior Director of External Affairs

Today is International Women and Girls in Science Day but I am not a scientist. I was fortunate to be raised in a house, however, where no one ever told me that there was something I could not do because of my gender. I was lucky enough to be born after Title IX became the law of the land and girls had access to the same sports boys did.   I was always told that I could be whatever I wanted. But, there were still things that “women didn’t do,” at least in my mind.

Then, in the summer of 1983, right Ride-sbefore I started high school, it happened. Sally Ride. I remember clearly several things about her.

  1. Her name – coolest name ever for an astronaut.
  2. The spacesuit – not a great look.
  3. She’s a woman – going into outer space.

Sally Ride did not inspire me to go into STEM, but she inspired me. A scientist who was a woman going into space told me that a woman could do anything. I don’t think I actually had those thoughts then, but I do remember feeling like the world was opening up in front of me. Maybe I would have felt that way anyway because of my young age, but looking back, I truly think that it was the result of a conflagration of events. My age, the times, the sacrifice of the women before me – and undeniably that single spark of inspiration that allowed the world to open up. To this day, Sally Ride still matters to me.

Maybe I would have done the things I have done without the inspiration I had, but I doubt it. I did not become a scientist but I chose things that I may not have pursued: played sports, served in the military and had careers that I chose, not those that were chosen for me. Currently, I am fortunate enough to work for an organization whose sole focus is to #makeadifference. Every day at Jersey Cares we look for ways to inspire and motivate people, young and old. We aren’t going into space anytime soon, but maybe, just maybe we can help a volunteer provide a spark to a young person and the world will open up in front of them as well.

Thank you Sally Ride, and all #WomenInSTEM, for opening doors for me that I didn’t even know existed.


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


Holiday Wisdom (from a 12 year old)

By Michelle R. Dee, Senior Director of External Affairs


This is the first year that my oldest child does not believe in Santa Claus. It has been harder on me, I think, than it has on him. I have tried to make magical memories happen, even though he knows it is his dad and I creating the magic. A few nights ago, we realized he didn’t really feel a part of what was happening. We had been so busy creating the magic that we hadn’t let him be a part of it, so we decided to let him take over some of the magical responsibilities for his younger brother. Watching him help his brother look for our Elf on the Shelf, even though he is the one who hid it in the pile of powdered sugar the night before, has been magical for me. Getting to see him learn the true magic of the holidays is in the giving and not the receiving has been a powerful gift.

DUGX7642[1]Last week at Jersey Cares we were getting down to the wire for Frosty’s Friends. At one point we still needed almost 250 gifts to meet our commitments to our agencies. I went home and virtually collapsed on the couch, my brain hurt from trying to figure out where to find the extra gifts. My boys asked me what was wrong and I told them that everyone was working hard to find gifts for the children who had asked Frosty for something and I didn’t know how it was going to happen. They asked me, “have you asked everyone you can think of?” I told them I thought I had. My oldest replied, “you haven’t asked us.” I told him that I had told him what we were doing. He replied, “but Mom, you didn’t ask us to help. You didn’t actually tell us what you needed. Let us help.”

In that comment I had my inspiration. I realized we had to ask. In the IMG_3265[1]morning, we recounted our gifts, collected all the letters to Frosty that remained and created a wish list on Amazon. We still needed 157 gifts. Then we sent the wish list out on Social Media. Slowly, one at a time, the items on the wish list began to disappear. One gift, two gifts, three gifts at a time, the list whittled down. People were posting their purchases on social media. Our friends were sharing with their friends. Tuesday night I went home and the boys asked me where we were with gifts. I was able to tell them that during the day, friends of Jersey Cares had brought the list down to double digits. Only 99 gifts left to go.

All night, I kept tabs on the list and on Facebook. I felt like Ma in her kerchief as I saw things disappearing on the wish list. The boys kept asking, “where are we now?” By the time I fell asleep, we were down to 37 gifts left to go. In the morning, the first thing the boys asked me was, “did we do it?” I checked Amazon and was able to tell them that we had. In less than 24 hours, we asked for some holiday magic and our friends came through with it.

In the end, we were able to make the wishes of more than 2,500 children come true this holiday – more children than ever before. Friends of IMG_3272[1]Jersey Cares really came through and all of us enjoyed the giving more than ever this year. As for me, it seems, once again I was taught a powerful lesson by my twelve year old.

From all of us at Jersey Cares – we hope the magic of the holidays finds its way to you.