Bridging Gaps in Healthcare Accessibility: A Spotlight on Capital Health’s Community-Centric Approach

By Tanzim Didar 

Healthcare is a fundamental need; however, there are many inequities within the system. Almost 13 million people say they know a friend or family member who has died because they couldn’t afford care, according to CBS News.

According to HUD Archives: News Releases, on a single night in January 2020, 580,466 people, about 18 out of every 10,000 people, experienced homelessness across the U.S. — a 2.2% increase from 2019. 

Much of healthcare in the U.S. is not affordable and thus not given equally. However, there are many nonprofit clinics that are dedicated to addressing these disparities.

Katherine Stier, director of marketing and public relations for Capital Health, a nonprofit hospital located in east Trenton among other locations, shared her insights on nonprofits and how they help the community.

Capital Health’s main hospital, which is a level two trauma center, is located on Brunswick avenue in Trenton. They have an additional hospital in Hopewell, which is located across the street from the Trenton airport. 

“I handle the community education events at Capital Health,” Stier said. “I’ve been here for about seven years and Capital Health has been in Trenton for 50 to 80 years.”

Stier, who has worked in healthcare for 25 years, said 90% of hospitals are for profit. 

“As a nonprofit, we don’t really make money,” Stier said. “We always try to take in medicare and medicaid patients, because everyone has a right to care. We also have balance because there are people who have healthcare insurance and they pay, but when you walk into our emergency department, some individuals don’t have health insurance, so we work with individuals to tighten up on a paying system or government substance.”

Stier said Capital Health implements initiatives that helps sure each individual patient is receiving the care they need.

“All in all, we take care of everybody,” she said. “Some hospitals only take some kind of insurance or payers, letting them decide who they can take in or not, but we do not do that here.”

Given the demographics of Trenton, a lot of individuals do not have health insurance or may not be citizens, and are afraid to go to the hospital, so Capital Health tries to take care of many individuals and make them feel comfortable. 

“We also have a mother baby clinic where we take care of people, so there are a lot of different events and care given,” Stier said. “We run a food pantry every week through Arm and Arm and we go to different sites and hand out food. We are really involved in Trenton beauce the CEO is all about Trenton and the community. He feels that with the healthcare system, it’s really our basic goal to be the center of the city because if you’re healthy, you don’t need to go to our ER. We want to keep everyone healthy.”

Since its establishment, Capital Health’s mission statement has never changed. They have always been committed to serving the city of Trenton. 

“I’ve always been in healthcare,” she explained. “So, I started off at a children’s hospital, where 93% of every dollar went towards patient care, so patients don’t need insurance. I would see some of these children come in who were paralyzed and missing a limb, and they would leave with a prosthetic arm, leg at no cost and or even get back surgery, basically things that would help them live their life at a better quality.”

“For me, it’s always been an involved process,” Stier added.”I just see the good there is. The facility is always making sure individuals are fed and getting free screening they need. Some of our doctors are the most compassionate people I have ever met in my life. They give so much of their time and energy to work these free screenings, give lectures and make sure everyone receives what they need. If I can just tell their stories, then I have done my job.” 

Navigating Challenges and Building Bridges at Trenton Area Soup Kitchen

By Tanzim Didar 

In the heart of Trenton, a small but determined group of individuals has diligently been working on improving the community’s living conditions. These individuals are members of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and their mission is to address local issues in the surrounding area. 

TASK is driven by a group of dedicated volunteers who feel compelled to address various community issues. Although their work may not be the most glamorous and their impact, while meaningful, may not take the spotlight, that is not their first priority anyway; they are more focused on the work they do behind the scenes.

According to TASK’s website, the organization served its first meal on January 13, 1982. The organization currently serves 9,000 meals per week at 36 locations near Trenton, and offers a wide variety of programs and  services to help encourage self-sufficiency and improve quality of life.

Patrons Services Specialist Evie Spadafora shared her thoughts and experiences, offering a glimpse into the complex realities faced by patrons.

“I work with volunteers, but the biggest part of my job is patron services. I meet with patrons who come to my window and ask me for everything from who they should talk to about an issue to needing socks or razors,” Spadafora said, describing the multifaceted nature of her role. Her office serves as a central hub where solutions are sought, and assistance is provided to those in need.

Spadafora’s connection with TASK dates back to her days as a girl scout leader.

“I would bring scouts over from Bucks County to do volunteer work,” she explained. Her commitment to community service persisted, leading her to a year of AmeriCorps service when a job transition presented an opportunity to work with TASK. Her journey highlights the diverse paths that bring individuals to serve in critical roles within community organizations like TASK.

The changing demographic landscape of Trenton has presented unique challenges, particularly in fostering cultural understanding.

“The biggest issue right now is cultural understanding,” She said. “The people who have lived in Trenton for years are seeing a sudden influx of Hispanic and central European people, and the languages charged along with the cultural challenges really are heightening people’s moods and the way they are reacting with each other.”

In response, TASK is actively addressing these challenges by incorporating different languages into its services.

“I have taken Spanish, and my French has also improved,” Spadafora notes, underscoring the organization’s commitment to inclusivity.

Spadafora’s personal experiences further shape her approach to demonstrating compassion towards patrons.

“I myself am an immigrant,” Spadafora said. “My parents are German, and I grew up speaking German. So, English is my second language, like a lot of the patrons that come to TASK.”

Her diverse background, including living in various parts of the U.S. and Germany, has exposed her to different cultures.

“I always realized that I am very blessed, but any one of us may need a soup kitchen at any time,” she said, emphasizing the universal vulnerability that transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries.

Spadafora’s work at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen goes beyond mere duty – it embodies a commitment to building bridges between communities, fostering cultural understanding, and providing essential support to those in need. With Spadafora’s guidance, TASK continues to serve as a beacon of hope in Trenton, bridging gaps and fostering a sense of community for all.

TASK has been involved in local charity work as well. They coordinate food drives and fundraisers to support local families in need. These initiatives have helped many residents put food on the table, even if only temporarily. Yet, the deep-rooted poverty issues in the area remain a formidable challenge.

Spadafora succinctly defines TASK’s mission: “We strive to create a welcoming environment where individuals can find not just a hot meal, but also a sense of community and dignity.”

She highlighted the transformative impact on the community.

“Our soup kitchen is not just about providing sustenance; it’s about restoring hope and fostering a sense of belonging,” she said. “We see faces light up when we serve a warm meal, and that, in itself, is a powerful form of outreach.”

Spadafora described the vital role volunteers play at TASK.

“Volunteers are the backbone of our organization,” she said. “They bring an extra layer of warmth and care to the dining experience. Whether serving meals or engaging in conversations, their dedication is truly invaluable. “

“Our mission is not just to feed the hungry but to nourish the soul. Through compassion, understanding, and a commitment to dignity, we aim to make a lasting impact on the lives of those we serve,” said Spadafora, marking TASK’s role as a source of hope, resilience and community in the heart of Trenton.

While their work may not be the solution to all the issues facing Trenton, it’s a reminder that every bit of help counts, even when it does not always make headlines.

Accessibility of Mental Health Support Increased for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

By Tori Duym

In recent times, mental health concerns have grown to be a central focus of society. According to Mental Health America, about 19.86% of people are experiencing some form of mental health battle. Many individuals struggle in silence simply because they do not have access to the proper resources for treatment. Whether it be for financial reasons or lack of information, this can be avoided.

In May 2023,  Gov. Phil Murphy implemented a bill supporting unhoused individuals receiving free and accessible mental health care. Several government officials, such as the Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver and Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman have commented positively on this legislation as they believe mental health should be prioritized for all. 

The New Jersey state government partnered with the NJ Coalition for Ending Homelessness in the process of creating this legislation.

This legislation is an important step in the right direction to provide the wraparound services people experiencing homelessness throughout our state so desperately need,” CEO Connie Mercer said in an article from the Department of Human Services.

Additionally, Mercer County has a mental health division that is committed to serving the community and offering help. This division is another element that works hand-in-hand with the implementation of Murphy’s bill. They can help unhoused individuals easily navigate these new resources and also address the concern of being able to afford the services.

The Division of Mental Health is a county-funded resource, and it plays a role in assisting to enforce the new bill as well, making sure that everyone in need is receiving access to essential mental health resources.

The Division of Mental Health’s mailing address can be found at 640 S. Broad Street in Trenton, NJ, P.O. Box 8068. Michele Madiou, director of mental health for the division, can be reached at mmadiou@mercercounty.org. The DMH can be reached at 609-989-6574. 

Several emergency shelters in the area including Rescue Mission and others in Mercer County now offer free mental health support for individuals experiencing homelessness. If you or someone you know is in need of support, please do not hesitate to reach out to any of these resources as New Jersey is now required to provide access to mental health support, thanks to the A-4755 bill.

TASK Launches Food Truck to Serve the Community

By Neyssa Deriphonse

In a significant move aimed at expanding their outreach and enhancing support for the Trenton community, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) has recently rolled out a brand new food truck initiative. This innovative project aims to address the evolving needs of the community and provide vital food assistance to those who may face barriers in accessing traditional meal sites. The Streetlight spoke with Paul Jensen, who oversees the day-to-day operations at TASK, and Max Gatto, the Food Truck Coordinator, to delve deeper into the motivations behind this initiative and its potential impact on the community.

The decision to introduce the food truck stemmed from the noticeable changes in different communities throughout the city. “One of our goals was to get to those communities that can’t get to the locations that we physically have,” Jensen said, highlighting the organization’s commitment to reaching those in need.

Gatto’s motivation to lead this endeavor stemmed from his passion for food security.

“I was coming in as a volunteer and found out about the position opening,” he said, reflecting on his dedication to addressing hunger in the community.

The new food truck, which is distinct from TASK’s delivery vehicles, will serve freshly prepared meals directly to individuals in need. Jensen emphasized the truck’s aim to reduce the distance individuals need to travel for a meal. “If we could cut that walk in half or more, it can still make a big difference,” he said, underscoring the organization’s commitment to accessibility and alleviating food insecurity.

Gatto envisions the truck not only as a source of nourishment, but also as a platform for education and awareness about TASK’s comprehensive services. 

“The first thing they’re going to think about is the food that we’re giving out, but there’s going to be a lot of education and spreading awareness,” he said, emphasizing the truck’s potential to foster a deeper understanding of the resources available to the community and empower individuals to access support beyond food assistance.

Regarding assessing the impact of this initiative, Jensen highlighted Gatto’s role in providing assistance in gathering feedback from the community. 

“Max will be out there in the community. Rosa will also come out with him as a community meal site coordinator. She will be helpful to Max as far as establishing metrics… and get information to measure if we’re kind of impacting or making a difference with the truck,” he said, illustrating TASK’s commitment to continuous improvement and responsiveness to the evolving needs of the community.

The collaboration with other organizations, such as Arm and Arm and Capital Health Hospital, underscores TASK’s commitment to community partnerships. 

“We’ve already started to work collaboratively with them (Arm and Arm), as well as with Capital Health as far as providing meals in areas of Trenton,” Jensen said.

Addressing concerns about cultural sensitivity, Paul stressed their dedication to accommodating diverse dietary needs. 

“We try to keep a good mix of different meals so everybody feels like there is something for them to eat,” he said.

Moreover, TASK remains committed to ongoing dialogue with community members to ensure that their dietary preferences and requirements are taken into account. 

“We welcome feedback from individuals and continuously strive to adapt our menu offerings to better meet the diverse needs of our community,” Jensen added, emphasizing the organization’s responsiveness to feedback and commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment.

The food truck launched March 18. It represents a significant step forward in TASK’s mission to combat food insecurity and serve the Trenton community more effectively. With dedicated individuals like Jensen and Gatto at the helm, the initiative promises to make a tangible impact on the lives of those in need.

“Food is comfort for all cultures, it brings families together,” Jensen concluded. 

 

Hamilton Elks Lodge Strives to Provide for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness

By Tori Duym

On Feb. 7, the Hamilton Elks Lodge hosted an event to raise money and supplies for veterans experiencing homelessness as they help place them in apartments and homes, for the second year in a row. This event was held in conjunction with Business Networking International (BNI) as they work closely with the cause of housing veterans and providing them with the essentials needed to live comfortably. The event used a clever title, “3 hours 2 support 1 homeless veteran at a time,” getting their message across and explaining the event all in one. 

Rose Romaine, the head coordinator of this event through the Elks Lodge, who also has a connection to BNI, poured her heart and soul into organizing such a wonderful night to provide for a worthy cause. Joe Glover, president of the Elks Lodge, expressed his gratitude for all of the hard work Romaine put into the planning and execution of this event. 

“All of the credit goes to Rose, I’m just here to support and help provide veterans with the support they need,” Glover said.

Glover also expressed his gratitude for all of the volunteers and their hard work from everyone it took to make this event possible. He is very passionate about helping the homeless veteran community.

When speaking with Romaine, she provided information as to what goes into the Welcome Home packages that are provided to the veterans. She explained that each package comes with items like furniture, plates, bowls, silverware, bedding and some appliances. Their goal for the night was to raise a minimum of “$7,501, because we did $7,500 last year. . . but I would love to see us raise $10,000 this year.” All funds go directly towards buying “welcome home” packages for veterans experiencing homelessness. 

Business Networking International Area Director for Mercer County, Shawn Donelson, talked passionately about their co-sponsorship of the event, along with BNI’s annual golf tournament, to raise money for the same goal. He explained that this event raised the most money out of all of their events for the cause. 

Donelson emphasizes the importance of providing these welcome home kits to veterans, as he says “When a homeless veteran gets placed into a home, there are a lot of necessities that they need, including things like a bed, furniture, and more.” Welcome home kits include a wide variety of items,with the goal of raising enough money and donations to provide at least two full kits, with their future events continuing to provide more. 

During a conversation with Navy veteran Hank Elmer, he explained the impact of the event from his perspective. He currently serves as the committee chair of veterans, stating that after his tough return home from service, the Elks Lodge “works very hard to make sure veterans now won’t be treated the same way.”

Elmer also explained that the Elks Lodge works closely with the Veterans Association in order to place veterans in small homes or apartments. This process is possible for veterans who have served two years of active duty service and received an honorable discharge. There has been a significant increase in the number of veterans receiving assistance to find a home from last year to this year. According to Elmer, the amount has gone from approximately 12 veterans a month to over 30 now. 

The Elks Lodge has branches all over New Jersey, holding several annual events for veterans and to raise money for those who currently are experiencing homelessness. One of the most popular events, the Jim Hall Memorial Picnic, is held annually in June at the Brick Township Elks Lodge, which Elmer said has a large turnout each year. 

There are many opportunities to get involved or to receive assistance from the Elks Lodge in collaboration with companies such as BNI and other organizations like the Veterans Association. 

Vanessa Solivan Empowers Trenton Families Through New Beginnings Housing Program

By Rebecca Heath

When Trenton native Vanessa Solivan, a mother of three who had long battled housing insecurity, became overwhelmed with rent costs amid the pandemic, the home health aid began to look for avenues to become a homeowner. But as she reached out to numerous organizations, she quickly grew frustrated over the lack of opportunities for low-income individuals and families. 

“Why aren’t we giving people an opportunity? We’re working just as hard. It’s not our fault that these jobs are barely paying a living wage,” Solivan said in an interview with The Streetlight. “Housing should be a right. Why here in the richest, wealthiest country in the world are working mothers with children finding it difficult to follow their dreams?”

Determined to make a difference in her community, Solivan began working with the City of Trenton to spearhead the New Beginnings Housing Program, an initiative that seeks to provide City residents with abandoned houses, and the financial tools to redevelop them, according to The Trentonian. Approximately 1,000 properties around Trenton are abandoned, and while the program is starting small, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora told PBS that expansion is on the horizon to address this crisis. 

“I’m very excited about [the initiative], and I see it having a lot of potential and just kind of inspiring people,” Solivan said. 

Through the pilot program, Solivan gained ownership of 651 North Clinton Ave., her childhood home. 

“It’s not finished yet but I’m still proud to have it the way that it is,” Solivan told The Trentonian.“I’m following in my mother’s footsteps who is the first generation to own a home.”

My mom was the first person in our family to be a homeowner, so to see her working and being responsible and paying the bills and doing everything that she was supposed to do, to this day, I could only want to be like her and be a homeowner,” she said. 

After the construction of her home is completed, Solivan said that the program will move forward with recruiting other families. Through Solivan’s journey, the program facilitators will work out the “kinks,” to ensure a smoother process for future participants. 

“I’m definitely happy with the progress,” Solivan said of the construction process. “We recently just got word that we will start our demolition phase pretty soon. I think that’ll be a very exciting time for not just my family, but the community, because everybody is watching. And they’re very interested to know about the program. So I will be excited to show that we’re moving along, that the program is still alive.”

While people of all ages have expressed interest in the program, Solivan said the population they are primarily targeting is families with children. She emphasized that prospective participants should be employed and have documentation, such as state identification and a W-2 form.

“I want us to be careful with the people that we are choosing and make sure that we have the right candidates that will really want to be a homeowner,” she said. They want to be in the city. They invested in the city. Their children go to the schools here.”

Solivan said that while participants must be able to prove they are ready to embark on homeownership, they aren’t looking for people with a perfect credit score. 

“If that was the case, you wouldn’t need our help,” she said. “We can help them build up their credit and work on all those kinds of things through the financial literacy and the homeownership program.”

While Solivan’s recent advocacy work has centered around housing security, the 38-year-old is no stranger to using her voice to empower her community and catalyze change. In 2018, Solivan began advocating for better pay for home health aids, in addition to fighting to reduce lead in Trenton’s water, soil and air. 

Solivan has also become involved with the Trenton Restorative Street Team, where she has aided in efforts to promote justice and peace in the city. As a board member of the Princeton Justice Initiative, Solivan has also recently hosted share fairs in hopes of providing free legal services for individuals who cannot afford a lawyer. 

Solivan said she considers herself a spokesperson for mothers like herself in Trenton. Though she acknowledged that working with the government to develop the program has been a slow and tedious process, she stressed her determination to continue fighting on behalf of her community. 

“You have to keep pushing. You have to keep fighting. You have to keep making awareness,” she said. “I feel like I’m the voice for the unspoken, these moms that can’t get out there and fight because they’re too busy working to take care of their families.”

Although Solivan is first and foremost committed to supporting the city of Trenton through her initiative, she doesn’t intend on stopping there. She said she hopes to eventually bring the New Beginnings Housing Program to other states, and one day, expand internationally. 

“I feel like I’m slowly but surely spreading my wings and hopefully, I’ll be able to take this to other cities, other states and across the world,” she said. “There’s a lot of people living in poverty and suffering from homelessness, but I always feel we have to start at home first. I made a commitment to my community and I want to be a woman of my word and continue on helping the people.”

As she prepares to further expand her efforts, Solivan emphasized the power of numbers in making her ambitious dreams a reality. 

“Hopefully we can get more investors and more people involved in the city and just rebuild,” she said. “I mean, I can’t do it all alone. New Beginnings can’t do it all alone. But if we all work together, do you know how powerful that would be? So that’s what I’m calling for. In the city of Trenton, we need to come together more and work together.”

Children’s Home Society of New Jersey Accelerates Learning for Preschoolers

By Neyssa Deriphonse 

The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey (CHSofNJ), established in 1894, has had a long-standing mission to connect children with loving families, safeguard them from harm and assist parents in enhancing their parenting skills to maintain family unity. 

The vision is for every child to experience the security of a nurturing family environment, enjoy good physical and mental health, and thrive cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally. 

To fulfill this vision, CHSofNJ’s comprehensive programs encompass behavioral health and mental health services, permanency planning, community and neighborhood-based support, school-based initiatives, as well as early childhood and parent education services. 

They offer a spectrum of services, one of which is the Head Start and Early Head Start Programs (HS and EHS). These programs provide free quality and comprehensive early childhood education and services to children between the ages of three to five (Head Start) and zero to three (Early Head Start) at the HS and EHS Center or at their homes in Trenton, New Jersey. 

According to a press release published by Insider NJ,  the HS and EHS programs offer indoor and outdoor play space, an office for staff and nurse of the program, a community area, conference rooms, a laundry room and a kitchen with commercial appliances to prepare nutritious food for social events designed for “infants, toddlers, preschoolers and pregnant moms” participating in the programs.

Four of the organization’s sites are located in Trenton: 715 Bellevue Avenue, 1198 Southard Street, 794 East State Street and 1746 South Clinton Avenue.

Children in HS and EHS engage in interesting, interactive classes and activities that are intended to reinforce important developmental skills. The six main domains of cognitive, social-emotional, physical, linguistic, literacy and mathematical development are all addressed in CHSofNJ research-based curriculum for young children. Through CHSofNJ’s comprehensive services and individualized support, these six areas collectively establish a robust educational groundwork, equipping children for success not only in preschool but also in their future endeavors.

CHSofNJ collaborates with the Trenton Public Schools Office of Early Childhood to deliver the program. The Trenton Board of Education contributes funds to improve the kids’ educational experiences and strengthens the credentials of teachers by obtaining NJ State certification. Children with an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) can attend inclusion classrooms.

HS and EHS embody a trauma-informed perspective on children, families and services, which is similar to the rest of CHSofNJ programs. As Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have the potential to significantly impact conduct, overall well-being, developmental growth, cognitive processes and overall life satisfaction, CHSofNJ’s dedicated staff undergoes comprehensive training to proficiently comprehend and provide essential support for children navigating through ACEs. The existence of trauma in the lives of parents, guardians, and other family members is also acknowledged by the team. In order to ensure comfortability and establish a reliable working relationship with families, every interaction is treated with respect and consideration.

“The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey Early Head Start program is proud to provide these important early childhood education services in Trenton, and we are thrilled to now expand our reach to serve families in Hamilton as well,” Isaac Dorsey, the Executive Director of CHSofNJ Head Start/Early Head Start, said in the press release. Since 2021, parents in Hamilton enroll their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to take advantage of the accelerated learning program, HS and EHS.

“We are truly grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Cities of Trenton and Hamilton in our mission of saving children’s lives and building healthy families,” Dorsey said. “Investing in the education of preschoolers will benefit families, communities, and the world.”

Fran’s Pantry Distributes Resources at HomeFront

By Tori Duym

Local Mercer County shelter and resource center HomeFront continues providing necessities to individuals experiencing homelessness. Fran’s Pantry offers ample opportunities to get supplies such as food and hygiene products for no cost. 

The pantry is located in Lawrenceville and is open on Monday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

Fran’s Pantry was opened as a result of the pandemic and is named after a major contributor and volunteer at HomeFront. It has proven to be a huge success, as it is beloved by many community members. The pantry provides countless opportunities for individuals who may lack access to food or hygiene products otherwise. 

According to Dylan O’Neill, HomeFront’s resource network director, the organization is on the lower end of the spectrum as far as requirements in order to receive access to the products and services. No documentation is needed; simply any type of photo ID is acceptable as a new client. Filling out a few forms to help better understand each individual’s unique needs is also requested upon first access to Fran’s Pantry. Clients are able to receive goods from the pantry starting that same day after filling out the forms. 

Fran’s Pantry reaches about 150 to 200 individuals per day, according to O’Neill, based on the data gathered by staff and volunteers. “Our pantry processes a client every five to eight minutes,” O’Neill continues. Ultimately, the pantry provides food for 5,000 to 7,000 individuals monthly.

Food is not the only resource available to those who may need to utilize Fran’s Pantry. Diapers, feminine hygiene products, backpacks, bedding, kitchen supplies and even furniture are often distributed to families or individuals as well. 

With the holidays approaching, HomeFront is kicking their efforts into high gear. Their annual Thanksgiving drive provides a turkey dinner to 300-400 families, as well as their Christmas drive to provide gifts for as many families as possible. HomeFront works with parents and provides two gifts up to $75 dollar value for each child in the family for Christmas.

While the language barrier has become a growing concern, Fran’s Pantry is equipped with several bilingual volunteers. According to O’Neill, only about 10% of clients speak English, making these staff members’ skills extremely useful. 

The pantry has received over 2.6 million dollars in donations over the past year and was able to distribute them throughout the community to those in need. HomeFront’s mission is to “pull families out of the cycle of poverty,” O’Neill said, as Fran’s Pantry has made strides toward accomplishing this goal. 

Dylan O’Neill touched upon the subject of decreasing resources as time passes and COVID-19 fades into the past. The governmental benefits are ceasing to continue, so HomeFront is working around the clock to provide all of the resources needed for individuals in the Mercer County community. Poverty has become a serious issue according to O’Neill, but they are working very hard to turn this around and support all community members.

Fran’s Pantry has grown into an extremely useful resource for the community. Contact HomeFront at homefront@homefrontnj.org or (609) 989-9417 with any questions or if you or anyone you know may benefit from their resources. 

SewingSpace to Expand Program Through Community Initiatives

By Alexus Twyman

Located in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, SewingSpace is hoping to spread awareness of their mission to “empower the underprivileged” through various initiatives they host throughout the year. Originally created as an offshoot of HomeFront’s ArtSpace, SewingSpace has grown into its own as a program over the years, serving local patrons and the wider Lawrenceville community.

Originally formed in 2013, SewingSpace gradually developed throughout the years, providing a host of experiences to patrons. SewingSpace has offered lifelong benefits, teaching participants multiple sewing techniques in addition to helping them develop their own skill sets.

The program has been refined over the years, with the addition of beginner and intermediate classes to address the needs of the growing number of participants. At the start of their sewing journey, participants undergo an eight week training course to learn the essentials of the craft.  

SewingSpace participant Marta R. models her handcrafted dress (Photo courtesy of Ruthann Traylor).

As the director of SewingSpace, Ruthann Traylor, a resident of Princeton, has overseen personal growth in many patrons over the years. She notes the “joy” in participants’ expressions after accomplishing their creative goals as a motivation for continuing her work.

Originating from a small space, the program grew over one to two days, with participation in the program “unexpected” and “life changing,” according to Traylor. Increased awareness of SewingSpace’s work allowed for the program to obtain funding from donors and grants, which has greatly benefitted the participants’ experiences.

The popularity of SewingSpace, according to Traylor, is due to the “nurturing” environment the program creates, with support from volunteers and staff members forming a “safe haven to come and create.” The development of SewingSpace’s program began through listening to the needs of clients, which “compelled [the program] to keep growing for the community,” says Traylor. 

The effects of sewing are “equally as therapeutic as art” and “empowering” to participants, Traylor said. According to the National Library of Medicine, the effects of art therapy can go beyond simply crafting a new item. In a 2018 study, researchers uncovered art therapy’s links to improved self-awareness and increased self-esteem.

Clients create a variety of bags, pillows, outfits and other items, with the ability to keep them afterwards. Traylor recognizes that “pillows can be a luxury item” for many clients at SewingSpace and encourages patrons to decide whether to keep or sell their pieces on their own terms.  

An important aspect of SewingSpace’s program is to enable patrons to discover their own confidence and strength through art, creating tangible expressions of emotion. Throughout the crafting process, participants have the opportunity to sell their items if they choose, receiving a portion of the proceeds from the sale.  

Since the establishment of the program, SewingSpace has increased in scale over the years, growing from owning six sewing machines in 2013 to handling over eighteen machines today. According to Traylor, one of the highlights of managing the program has been witnessing the personal growth and  “pride of sewing students when they walk down the runway” at SewingSpace’s fashion shows.

Recently, SewingSpace has begun hosting events to garner more community-wide support, such as their Saturday Summer Series and Camp Mercer Teen Sewing Program last summer. Events run by SewingSpace strengthen community bonds, alongside the program’s dedication to “upcycling and recycling” materials when crafting new products, says Traylor.  

Ultimately, SewingSpace’s program serves to encourage patrons to develop sewing skills and self-confidence along their journey. The program provides a safe space for self-expression through art, enabling clients to discover themselves and their passions to create art. Most of all, Traylor encourages clients to stop by SewingSpace and “come learn about us” through the program’s frequent open houses, and to explore their limitless possibilities. 

Anchor House Provides a Safe Space for Adolescents, Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness

By Rebecca Heath

Ever since its 1978 establishment, Trenton-based nonprofit Anchor House has strived to serve as a community safe haven for children and young adults experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.

Though it began as just a shelter, the organization has since grown to encompass a wide range of programs and services, from trauma-informed counseling to life skills and education assistance.

To fulfill its mission of supporting more than 1,000 youth and families each year, Outreach Services Director Ben Thornton said the nonprofit relies heavily on collaborative, community efforts.

“We have to incorporate intelligent partnering,” Thornton said. “We have to bring the resources of the community together and learn to work within the community to raise awareness for youth experiencing homelessness…and to make sure that the young people themselves know where to find resources.”

Though a majority of the organization’s services are designed for local youth, Thornton said the stigma surrounding homelessness often discourages displaced young people from seeking essential resources.

In order to combat this systemic obstacle, Anchor House assembled an outreach team that aims to inform this population about “what they are experiencing and where those resources are for them to get back on the right path,” Thornton said.

For temporary housing crises, Anchor House provides a 30-day shelter placement to young people who have been removed from or have voluntarily left their homes.

The shelter, which is located on Centre Street in Trenton, lies next door to their transitional living program. This residential facility houses individuals facing homelessness who have recently entered adulthood and are no longer eligible for foster care, yet still require support as they transition to independent living.

“They all live in the same home but they have their individual rooms, and there they learn some really critical life skills,” Thornton explained. “They get therapeutic services, mental health services, and they start to basically stabilize in a program like that and start learning life skills and everything that will take them forward.”

To accommodate young adults who have outgrown the supervised living model, Anchor House launched their “Anchor Line” program, which provides each participant with their own apartment — without the burden of paying rent.

“This is where they are learning to live alone,” Thornton said. “They’re learning to incorporate those life skills, running their daily lives, and getting ready to be able to pay rent and to handle leases and work with landlords.”

At each stage of housing support, Thornton said counselors are tasked with helping their residents achieve self-sufficiency through building their support network and teaching them how to access resources within their communities.

In an effort to create a platform for their clients to provide input and share their experiences as they navigate their path to self-sufficiency, the organization established a youth advisory council in 2014. This empowering initiative offers opportunities to build leadership skills, network with other individuals facing similar struggles and invoke meaningful community change.

“This is where we give the young people in our services a chance to tell their story if they choose to,” Thornton said. “And to build community with other young people from other programs so they can understand the diversity of placements and the trajectory of where they may want to go.”

Shining a light on homelessness in and around Trenton, New Jersey.