Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 NCS Holiday Gift Drive Wrap Party

Twas six days before Christmas and all through City Hall, NCS staff and volunteers were having a ball! With toys and games all lined up neatly in rows, we got to work wrapping with boxes, ribbons and bows! 

Ok I promise no more poorly parodied poetry, I was just moved by the holiday spirit because this past Saturday, Newark Community Solutions held its Fourth Annual Holiday Gift Drive "Wrap Party." This year's drive once again supported the Angel Tree Network, a program that facilitates holiday season gift donations to children with at least one incarcerated parent. NCS has been very proud to partner with Angel Tree to serve Newark families.  Over 125 gifts were donated by Newark City employees as well as local organizations such as the Trust for Public Land, the Greater Newark Conservancy, the GI Go Fund, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc, and Sigma Phi Rho Fraternity Inc. Volunteers and staff mingled, snacked and wrapped all morning and in the afternoon Newark families began arriving to pick up the gifts.  Youth court members invited all kids in attendance to their arts and crafts station where they decorated sugar cookies and made candy cane reindeer and glittery holiday cards.  Some adults even got in on the action!

This event keeps getting better every year thanks to our dedicated staff, amazing partners, and awesome volunteers. 

On behalf of the whole NCS team please have a happy and health holiday season. We will see you in 2015!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Young Leaders for Change Awards

On Saturday December 15th, Newark Youth Court members Kianna George and Sideeq Waziri were presented with the Young Leaders for Change Award by the All Stars Project of New Jersey. The awards are given to young people in the city of Newark or surrounding areas that are actively working to advance the quality of life for youth in the city. Kianna and Sideeq were selected because of their outstanding work during the 2014 Newark Youth Court summer session, and for consistently taking on leadership roles as Youth Court members.

The All Stars Project is a national non-profit organization that uses performance as a means of development to help young people foster success in their lives.  Last year, youth court members, respondents, and staff attended several of the All Stars Project of New Jersey's "Breakthrough Days," a Saturday workshop that gets people of all ages involved in activities based on performance.  Newark Youth Court staff are actively working with the All Stars Project to set up monthly tours for interested respondents and members.

Congratulations to Kianna and Sideeq on this wonderful accomplishment!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Graduation Day for Clean and Green

 Congratulations to the 21 Newark United against Violence participants who graduated from the Clean and Green Transitional Jobs program on Thursday 11/20/14!  The ceremony was held at the Greater Newark Conservancy and highlighted the accomplishments of the group over the last 13 weeks.  NUAV staffers and Conservancy supervisors, Carlos Hidalgo and Ronnie Lytle, all gave encouraging remarks but perhaps the most inspiring words came from the participants themselves.  Several members of the group spoke about how Clean and Green provided them with an opportunity to change their lives and, though it was sometimes a struggle, they could always rely on the support of their supervisors, case managers, outreach workers and follow crew members who they now referred to as “family.”  As with any graduation, this is not the end but rather the beginning of  a new opportunity and we are looking forward to helping these graduates meet their next challenge head on!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fall Community Advisory Board Meeting - Part 2

The next portion of our CAB evening was a review of the 2013 Newark Needs Assessment Survey led by CCI Senior Researcher Josy Hahn.   Josy and community surveyors, Cassandra Dock, Johnnie Lattner, and Jacqueline Limehouse provided a brief recap of the assessment data and then led small groups to brainstorm community-led solutions to the top problems. Here are the documented suggestions for two specific issues:

Public Safety (e.g., gang violence, drug selling and drug use):

·         Fostering a culture of accountability, changing the mindset of hopelessness to find solutions, and promoting more conversations and networking to share resources (e.g., block associations, community leaders and advocates, social services).  
·         Focusing on community policing, including building trust between the Newark community and law enforcement, encouraging more cops to walk the beat and promoting events for neighbors and police to get to know one another.
·         Creating more resources and opportunities for youth and gang-involved members, such as mentoring, job and economic development.

Health Issues (e.g., obesity, asthma, trauma and depression):
·         Improving public health education so that community members know about the causes of health issues like asthma (e.g., bus exhaust fumes), prevention and treatment.
·         Addressing obesity by investing in urban farming in Newark’s Adopt-a-lot programs to improve access to fresh foods and to promote key skills and create jobs.
·         Addressing depression and stress by investing in quality resources so that people have a place to go to talk to someone. These include individual counseling and group supports, and programs such as Newark United Against Violence (NUAV).

Last but certainly not least, the Newark United Against Violence team provided an update on the program’s progress over the last year.  Clinical Coordinator Colleen Smith, along with Outreach Workers Ramid Brown, Demetrius Carroll and Cassandra Dock, highlighted clinical programming such as onsite Cognitive Behavioral Therapy groups as well as Clean and Green graduations and various mentoring events.  Staff also provided a few case studies of the initiative’s impact including stories about participants supporting one another in groups and on their transitional employment sites.   As with past Community Advisory Board meetings, we left feeling encouraged and reenergized by the supportive input from our neighbors, community partners and colleagues.

Our Next CAB meeting will be in the spring of 2015 and we hope to see you there!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fall Community Advisory Board Meeting –Part 1

On October 23rd Newark Community Solutions held its fall 2014 Community Advisory Board meeting.  With almost a full year passing since the last CAB there was quite a bit to talk about (so much so that our CAB blog post will be in two parts). With a helping hand from a terrific partner we had the pleasure of hosting the meeting at the New Hope Baptist Soup Kitchen.  New Hope Baptist Church has been one of our best community partners for several years providing social service and community service options for our participants. So it was especially exciting for our staff, advisory board members and for me personally, to hold our meeting in the same space our participants fulfill their community service obligations, working side-by-side with the New Hope community preparing and serving food to some of their most vulnerable neighbors.

The meeting began with some inspiring words from the Honorable Victoria Pratt, chief judge of the Newark Municipal Court.  After the introductions and a word from our host, we moved to the first agenda item.  Newark Youth Court Coordinator, Awinna Martinez, provided an update on the second annual Newark Youth Court “Empowerment through Service” program.  Over the summer, staff from the Newark Youth Court collaborated with Carol Harris, of Newark’s Adopt-a-Lot program, to identify gardeners who would work with the teen members to create two community service projects. The youth court members were then divided into two teams. The first team worked with NCS staff and brainstormed a theme for a mural to be painted on the wall of a garden that NCS maintains on Fairmount Ave in Newark’s West Ward. Because the garden is so close  to the office of our violence reduction initiative, Newark United against Violence, on South Orange Avenue, the youth court members selected an anti-violence theme for the mural. The youth court members described their plans for the mural highlighted by a photo presentation.   

The second team, of youth court members presented the results of their collaboration with Tobias Fox, a local gardener and founder of Science and Sustainability Inc.  SAS is a Newark based nonprofit that aims to assist citizens in the exploration and utilization of sustainable science through educational programs and hands-on training in areas of wellness and nutrition education, urban farming/community gardening, environmental art, ecological building, and renewable energy. Newark Youth Court members worked with Mr. Fox on a “Blend Healthy” event in his community garden that focused on sharing smoothie recipes with the community, and actually making the drinks by using a blender attached to a bicycle and a solar panel. The presentation included a short video, scripted by Newark Youth Court members and filmed by the Essex County Community College’s Communications Department.  Both teams did an outstanding job of conveying the planning and hard work that went into their projects.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our CAB evening!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Community Service Diary:
Water Conservation in the West Ward

The best community service projects are those that are both visible and meaningful to the community, and at the same time have a positive impact on the participants involved.  I think what took place at the Al'Maidah Organic Community Garden on Saturday October 11th was a perfect example of that formula.  The garden, located in Newark’s West Ward, is run by Ms. Latifa Abd-Hamid as part of Newark’s Adopt-A-Lot program.   NCS has worked with Ms. Latifa for years but on this date, working collaboratively with the City’s Office of Sustainability, the Al'Maidah Organic Community Garden hosted a workshop given by The Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, the research and outreach arm of Rutgers University.  The goal of the program, titled Water Conservation: Save Water & Money, is to teach urban gardeners to save and conserve water by using a cistern system.  After some garden clean-up and maintenance (followed by some of Ms. Latifa’s home brewed cinnamon mint herbal tea) participants were given a lesson in the mechanics of the system.  Next, participants took part in a hands-on learning session where they were instructed on how to create and operate a cistern in an urban garden setting.  Despite the rain and chilly temperatures the group remained engaged and asked a number of great questions. Ms. Latifa summed up the day with her sentiments, “I enjoyed myself immensely at our gathering in the garden and I just hope we have many many more.”

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Shining a Light on the Stigma of Addiction

Many communities struggle to establish effective responses to drug and alcohol addiction. Last week I attended “The Many Faces of Addiction: Ending the Stigma” at Newark's New Hope Baptist Church. The summit brought together local organizations, advocacy groups, medical professionals, families and individuals in recovery from across New Jersey and New York. The afternoon began with a conversation between Governor Chris Christie and Pastor Joe Carter from New Hope Baptist Church. The discussion centered on addiction as a disease that can strike anyone without regard for race, religion, age or socioeconomic status. Governor Christie also commented that the war on drugs, through well-intentioned, has untimely failed, and that when we look at addiction from the standpoint of the criminal justice system, "it's not always about the criminal act, it's about the disease."

In 2013, 84% of NCS clients had a positive screen for substance abuse issues at intake and, in the same year, almost half of the cases resolved through NCS were drug related.  But that is only part of the story.  The shame and sense of hopelessness that effects not only the individual struggling with the disease, but his family and friends as well, is what often feeds the cycle of addiction and arrest and makes change so challenging.

I found it especially encouraging to hear political and community leaders coming together to focus on this critical issue. There is clearly more work to be done but this felt like a step in the right direction.

Change Minds.  Tell Your Story. #BeAFace.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

National Night Out

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Maybe I'm just biased. I think Newark Community Solutions first National Night Out celebration was pretty awesome! On Tuesday 8/5 the staff of Newark Community Solutions, the Newark Youth Court, and Newark United Against Violence (NUAV), our community violence reduction program in Newark's West Ward, and our neighbors celebrated the National Night Out Against Crime with a block party, BBQ and community garden dedication. The events were held in the parking lot of the NUAV office and the adjoining street.  The parking lot had plenty of room for grilling, jumping rope and yes even some dancing! The night also served as an open house of sorts for our neighbors and anyone else who stopped by the event and wanted to learn a bit more about what we do. 
The National Night Out was first introduced in 1984 as the brain child of the National Association of Town Watch. In its original iteration, the event was meant to heighten awareness and strengthen participation in local anti-crime efforts. Since then, the program has grown to involve millions of people in thousands of communities in all 50 states. And, the typical expression of a community’s participation in the program has moved beyond keeping porch lights lit to include block parties, parades, rallies and meetings with local law enforcement.

Our National Night Out celebration included a presentation by the Newark Youth Court. Youth Court is our program at the Newark Municipal Court where teenagers serve as jurors, judges and advocates, handling real- life cases involving their peers. On this occasion the youth court members presented their plans for a vacant lot Newark Community Solutions had recently adopted through Newark’s Adopt-A-Lot program. The lot (soon to be garden) is located just two blocks from the NUAV office. In front of a group of NCS staffers, partner organizations and local residents, the teens, who are all Newark high school students, described their theme for the garden which included the layout for a mural.  

The evening closed with a very special and unexpected visit from our newly elected mayor! Mayor Ras Baraka chatted with residents, toured the NUAV office and posed for pictures with staff, NUAV participants and Newark Youth Court members! It was a perfect end to a wonderful summer evening.

Special thanks to the NUAV team, the Newark Police Department and our awesome neighbors at 298 S. Orange Ave. The evening was a big success and a true collaborative effort that certainly epitomized the spirit of National Night Out! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

New Research: Community Perceptions of Newark Report

Our community partners play such an important role in helping us shape the focus of Newark Community Solutions. Last summer, seventeen surveyors from Newark and researchers from the Center for Court Innovation fanned out across the city and asked Newark residents what they felt about public safety, the courts, the police and other issues.  The surveys were conducted on city streets, on college campuses and in public and private housing complexes. Last week the Center for Court Innovation released the report “Community Perceptions ofNewark”.

So, what did Newarkers say?
  • Though 70 percent of respondents had not heard of Newark Community Solutions prior to the survey, 75 percent of all respondents viewed alternative sentencing for low-level offenses as positive, in principle.
  • Over 47 percent of respondents reported that police would treat them individually with respect, but only 25 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the police treat “everyone” fairly.
  •  Over three-quarters of Newark residents reported feeling safe in their homes, but less than half reported feeling safe in public spaces, including on the street and in local parks.
  • Nearly a third (31 percent) of respondents cited “the people of Newark” as the greatest strength of the city.

Download and read the entire report here.