All posts by Rebecca Heath

Art on the Move: HomeFront’s New Mobile Initiative Fosters Creativity in Underserved Communities

By Rebecca Heath

In an effort to engage and enrich children and families living in under-resourced Mercer County communities, HomeFront recently unveiled “Artie the ArtSpace Mobile.”

HomeFront’s ArtSpace fosters a safe environment for individuals who have experienced homelessness to express creativity, according to the organization’s website.

The nonprofit, which is based in Ewing and managed by Ruthann Traylor, facilitates therapeutic art programs and seeks to empower clients by offering a number of opportunities throughout the year to showcase their skills.

ArtSpace’s new mobile initiative was developed to educate potential clients about the organization’s programs and support services. Chock-full of supplies and clients’ artwork, the vibrant truck will also host hands-on activities for children while serving as a pop-up shop to benefit HomeFront artists.

The journey of bringing Artie to life involved collaborative efforts, said Traylor, who worked alongside local graphic designers Barbara DiLorenzo and Kim Moulder, in addition to Leigh Visual Imaging, to make her vision a reality.

“The process for creating Artie was brewing for a few years,” Traylor said. “Once we received the grant and the truck was donated we worked with a few local designers to help us create our vision.”

The innovative art truck currently partners with community-minded businesses to collect art supplies, and hosts company team-building workshops as part of ArtSpace’s corporate engagement efforts.

Artie is also slated to travel to HomeFront properties and motels to serve families experiencing homelessness, in addition to arts and music festivals, community events, summer camps, craft fairs, schools, day care centers and after-school programs for disadvantaged youth, according to the organization’s website.

The Shop Reopens to Provide Aid to TCNJ Students, Members of the Mercer County Community

By Jahsaun Blackshear

In the modern world, countless people are experiencing hardships. There are students facing a lack of resources that are not being properly fulfilled. The U.S. fights against hunger and for the fulfillment of the needs of communities. In New Jersey, various volunteers, donation centers and fundraising organizations are dedicated to ending hunger. The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) has stepped up to create a way for students and community members who are struggling to afford sufficient food.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, TCNJ reopened its food pantry, The Shop, which provides for the surrounding neighborhoods in Ewing and TCNJ students by offering food, utility assistance, TCNJ Student Emergency Fund and other necessities.

When asked what inspired her to be a part of The Shop, Case Manager Alexa Horvath said, “providing food to the campus and local community and helping to address at least one basic need.”

Because students’ main focus is on their academics, The Shop helps alleviate some students’ concerns surrounding food insecurity by providing basic necessities. The Shop’s mission of serving the community takes it one step closer to eradicating food insecurity on campus. According to The Shop’s website, nearly 30% to 40% of college students face some level of food insecurity. When asked about the impact The Shop has on the community, Horvath said, “Whether this is something that our community uses to help through a difficult time, or more regularly to help support their access to food, the amount of visitors that we have seen over a relatively short period of time seems to indicate that this has been a valuable resource.”

The Shop helps students on campus both academically and personally. It also helps with networking, meeting new people and gaining access to better resources.

Through providing food to the campus and local community, The Shop addresses at least one of their basic needs. The Shop’s staff wants everyone to know that “you can make a difference and help keep our shelves stocked by donating non-perishable items.”

Anyone wishing to donate to The Shop can do so by visiting give.tcnj.edu. Click “give now,” select fund: “The SHOP@TCNJ.” The Shop also has an Amazon registry where people can donate items to them.

The Shop is located at 700 Campus Town Drive, which is at TCNJ’s campus. Those seeking to connect with The Shop can also contact them at care@tcnj.edu and follow them on Instagram @theshop__tcnj.

WIC Works to Fulfill One of the Basic Needs of Children Up to Five Years Old in Mercer County

By Neyssa Deriphonse

Healthy food is one of the basic needs in life for a child to properly develop physically, mentally and emotionally.

Dr. Natasha Patterson, a public health faculty member at The College of New Jersey, participated in a project at the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office in Ewing Township, which focused on mothers and breastfeeding. Part of the project was to educate mothers about the importance of breastfeeding with respect to malnutrition and food security.

WIC is a nutritional supplement program for mothers and children up to five years of age. Patterson said WIC assists parents in getting supplements for necessary nutrients for their kids.

“While they do not provide all of the food and nutrition for families, they provide a supplement…If the parents are not breastfeeding, they will provide formula. If the parents are breastfeeding, they will provide food for those parents to ensure that they have the nutrients needed to pass on to their infants,” Patterson said.

Women who become pregnant can immediately go to the WIC office to gain more insight on pregnancy. If the income guideline requirements are met, parents get the nutritional support needed for their health as well as their children.

“As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, you will meet with a nutritionist, and they will talk to you about your nutrition, give you funding in the form of checks or cards, and you go to the grocery store and there are approved items you can purchase,” Patterson said. Once the baby is born, the nutritionist also regulates the baby’s food intake.

Not having a working phone number or a fixed address can deter certain parents from taking advantage of these resources.

It is hard to get in contact with clients “if their phones get cut off or if there’s no phone number or an address for them,” Patterson said.

The application process can also pose a challenge to this community. “Most of the time the application is online. Some people use the library if they can,” she said.

And sometimes filling out applications on one’s phone is challenging. “It may not support the software program. Or if there’s an app, it may not support the app,” Patterson added.

Another challenge for Mercer County families is the increase in rent payments. Some parents can “no longer afford where they live.”

Patterson explained that the rising costs impact children’s education and their parents’ choices.

“Now, I’m choosing between my rent and groceries, I’m choosing between my rent and my health” she said.

Parents have to make tough decisions because they are choosing between necessities when their money is already limited.

Feeding America reported that 11.9% of children under 18 years of age faced food insecurity in Mercer County in 2020.

According to an article by North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), food insecurity is also a form of trauma that can cause a child to develop an anxious relationship with food.

Some of the traumatic behaviors include eating quickly, hiding food, eating secretly or alone, eating large quantities of food and eating only familiar food.

“Ways to help children and teens self-regulate, and connect with their bodies and tune in to hunger and fullness cues include: Singing, making music, or music therapy, dancing, yoga, making art or art therapy,” the article states.

Patterson urges people to continue to raise awareness about WIC because so many children are food insecure.

“Schools are also filling the gaps by providing those free breakfast and free lunch programs as well as the summer breakfast and summer lunch programs,” she said.

She explained that food gets wasted because people are not aware of those programs.

“The word is not getting out about what’s available…we want people to take advantage of it…we want the solution to be systemic,” Patterson said.

The goal is to spread the news about resources available to eliminate systems that cause food insecurity among kids.

According to Patterson, raising awareness on resources accessible to mothers in the community will greatly benefit both mothers and children by embracing those advantages for a more adequate lifestyle.

Trenton Through the Lens of Alternative Art

By Brie Wells

Tyrese Douglass and Gia Richardson, two young local artists, have chosen to share their vision for alternative art in Trenton through the medium of sketches. Tyrese, also known as “Reese,” was a born and raised in Trenton, and has been using art as a way to express himself since his childhood. Gianna Richardson, also known as “Gia,” developed her love for art when she was eight years old after moving from her hometown of Wilmington, Del. to Trenton, N.J.

The two met in elementary school and later developed a relationship in high school, where they began to collaborate on pieces while sharing a deep passion for art. The pair chooses to create art in their home, allowing their creative process to develop in the space in which they inhabit.

In settling on their art style, Reese developed the pen name “Starboy” and Gia penned herself “Stargirl TD.” The inspiration for both names sparked from personal values and experiences from their lives, which have led them to where they are today. A pen name is a descriptor that marks the designs of an artist; Both artists feel that their pen name is a perfect representation of who they are.

“It represents my name and my favorite number,” Richardson said. “The ‘G’ represents my first name and the ‘S’ represents my family name, and my favorite number is two.” Inspiration for the focus of their art often comes from their surroundings, the internet and whatever they can think of. Coming from a large family, four brothers and three sisters, Reese hopes to one day follow in his older brother’s footsteps and work in a museum as an art curator.

Both find solace in creating art to different types of music, with Reese preferring smooth jazz and Gia preferring rap music. As they prepare to create their own works, they both lean toward pens, mechanical pencils and markers to translate their ideas onto the page.

Both plan to go to art school and hone their craft as they continue to experiment with different mediums. Gia hopes to channel her creativity into tattoo artistry. With their hopes, both have become passionate about framing and showing their art to the world. “We want to show people how much we love art and all the different art genres we can do,” Richardson said.

Both artists continue to reside in Trenton and hope to share that the city brings so much joy to their hearts. They urge other aspiring artists “to never to give up.” Although only 19 and 20 years old, the two artists hope to continue to bring their art all over the world while paying homage to where their journeys began: Trenton, N.J.

Mercer County Library System provides free books to children in the community

By Neyssa Deriphonse

The Mercer County Library System is investing in future generations of their community as they provide free books and other assistance to youth.

Eboni Love, a supervising library assistant for the Youth Services Department at the Trenton Free Public Library, said they organize literature events, free book drives, stem projects and crafts, as well as host a variety of summer camps and after school programs. They also have computers and tablets for the children to use.

Although the library receives large donations, Love aims to purchase over ten thousand books for the Trenton community.

“First, I would distribute them to the daycares that I partner with, so each of the babies get two to three books to take home with them,” Love said.

The Trenton librarians also distribute books during community events and while hosting book fairs. Though they would “carry around two hundred to three hundred books” for those events, their goal is to provide more books to the community.

Why is there such a large push to provide books to the youth?

Love emphasized that those books “promote literacy at home, make reading normal, especially when there’s different books being read to them which are readily available at home.” She added that the books help children with reading comprehension, particularly when they match their interests, which makes them more willing to read.

Despite all these efforts, there are some lurking obstacles that prevent children from fully benefiting from those resources. Love explained that the lack of transportation can prevent parents from obtaining books for their children.

“Our obstacle that we face with getting the books out to the community is that numerous parents do not have transportation and we only have one library here in [Trenton],” she said. “So, if two or three people that are in my department cannot get out into the community to share the books, there’s no other way for these parents to get these resources that we have to offer.”

Though many people take advantage of the book fairs, Love said they could have reached many more if some parents had the means of transportation to get to their central location.

Parents being illiterate or lacking the time to read to their children are also barriers.

“You could work with your child at whatever level you are at because there’s always a book that could cater to whatever reading level that you’re on,” Love said.

She offered other options such as traditional audiobooks, DVD books and Youtube audiobooks.

“Even if you are not reading to the kids, other people reading to them are just as effective,” she said.

Regardless of the method, Love advised parents to read to their children whenever possible during the day.

“Even during a nap time or when you are cooking, read to them,” she said.

“At least try to make time, even if it is short, you do not have to spend thirty to forty minutes a day on literature. You could definitely read a five-minute quick book and it is still just as effective.”

To stress the importance of reading, Love shared her favorite quote by Dr. Seuss.

“The more that you read, the more things you’ll know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Post Covid-19: Trenton Area Soup Kitchen is successfully managing Adult Education, Work Preparedness Program

By Neyssa Deriphonse

The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK)’s main objective is to provide fresh meals to patrons. It also runs the Adult Education and Work Preparedness program.

Adult Education provides literacy courses such as English as a Second Language (ESL), high school equivalency preparation and digital literacy. The digital literacy curriculum offers basic computer skills to patrons and enrolled students. TASK also has two labs which are used for recreational purposes.

The Work Preparedness Program readies students for job positions. It includes job search and resume writing training in addition to interview, time management, conflict and resolution workshops that benefit students’ career development.

TASK also connects with employers to host hiring drives each week. Mia Hart, who serves as the manager of the Adult Education and Work Preparedness program, shared that “companies such as Amazon and Fedex, UPS, Wayfare and various other agencies come in and hire on the spot.” Some other companies walk those interested through initial steps that would prepare them for job applications.

Hart explained that tutoring program volunteers are not required to have a background in teaching. “All volunteers are asked to be open minded, compassionate, patient, non-judgmental, flexible and adaptable,” she said. The patrons must be treated with care and feel safe during their learning experience so that they can celebrate every small step on their journey.

During the pandemic, the program transitioned to a virtual format. They acquired Google Workspace, which contains Google Classroom and Google Meet, in order to facilitate online classes.

It was a learning curve for the staff, tutors and students. Hart said they lost tutors given that some volunteers did not have the capacity to shift to a virtual platform. Existing students and those newly enrolled are paired with a tutor to complete their assignments virtually. Due to the convenience, some pairs remain one hundred percent virtual even today. TASK currently has options for in-person and hybrid tutoring services.

“It’s just an amazing program,” Hart said. “The peers and the way they encourage each other. The support of our volunteer tutors, donating their time and their hearts. Many of the pairings between tutors and students really evolve into friendships.”

Emilio’s Culinary Academy at TASK feeds the minds, stomachs of Trenton residents

By Brie Wells

At the Heart of the Trenton community lies the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK), which has been serving the city for over 40 years. With the mission of feeding those who are hungry in the local community, TASK provides thousands of meals to clients facing food insecurity and homelessness each week.

In addition to serving hot meals, TASK offers adult self-sufficiency programs to help improve clients’ quality of life. One of their most popular programs is Emilio’s Culinary Academy.

The academy was founded in February 2020 in conjunction with the Catalyst Kitchen Impact grant, which provides funding for culinary programs and soup kitchens that aid underserved communities. The purpose of the academy is to reach out to a population who may have difficulty entering the workforce and give members the opportunity to gain education and access to skills that will help them secure a better future.

The program is designed to equip students with culinary skills and other soft skills including resume writing, job preparation and the ability to access resources such as social work or case management.

With the recent renovation of the kitchen, the brand new practice space at TASK allows up to four students to receive hands-on training from seasoned chefs who work tirelessly to run the program. The program consists of eight weeks of practical culinary education. This includes food safety certification and two weeks of internship working in the TASK kitchen putting their new skills to use. Regarding the success of the program, Co-Director Adam Livow said, “Within 10 weeks of time we have students graduating the program and being lined up with job offers….They are going from being unemployed to being self-sufficient and having a steady paycheck which gets them that much closer to self-sufficiency.”

The program has previously graduated a number of cohorts of students successfully and the staff are looking forward to graduating the next class. Alumni have found major success working for companies and institutions such as UPS, Wayfair and Rider University.