Tag Archives: Neyssa Deriphonse

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.”

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.

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.”