Newark-based Independence: A Family of Services is taking on some of the toughest issues our city faces. Here’s how.

givenewarkIndependence: A Family of Services launched as Independence High School in 1971. Now the nonprofit works to create the pathways to success for at-risk and troubled youth and families through innovative programs and services in urban New Jersey. CEO Margaret Woods walks us through the organizations overall mission, plus its specific objectives over the next few years. Independence is one of five Newark nonprofits participating in the GAIN collective.

Andaiye Taylor: What is the primary objective of Independence: A Family of Services?

Margaret Woods: Since 1971, Independence: A Family of Services (IFS) has been at the forefront of working with youth struggling with educational and behavioral issues caused by poverty and unstable homes. Almost all of the youth and families population we serve are from single-parent households, and in foster care or residential programs. They are predominately between the ages of 16 and 18 and over 85% reside in Newark.

Taylor: What are some initiatives that Independence has been involved in within the past two or three years that have made a difference in Newark?

Woods: IFS provide the social services component for the Newark Violence Reduction Initiative aims to reduce Newark’s gang-related shootings by 25 to 30 percent, laying the groundwork for further positive change. Using an innovative approach that has cut urban crime rates across the country, this program is in partnership with IFS, the City of Newark, Newark Police Department, and Rutgers–Newark’s School of Criminal Justice (with support from the Schumann Foundation) is designed to “reconfigure” the street norms.

Specifically, at IFS works with gang members who have been convicted, charged, arrested, or identified as individuals who have committed a crime involving the use of a firearm, are associated with those who have committed these crimes, or are deemed as having the potential of committing these crimes.

The initiative requires all of the participating partners — IFS, police and prosecutors — to focus on the small number of lawbreakers responsible for some of the most violent crimes. In Newark, that’s 1,470 people, less than 1 percent of the city’s 277,000 residents.

Data collected for the project show that, in 2009–10, this tiny fraction of Newark’s population was behind the violence in 73 crime hot spots that cover less than 9 percent of the city’s square mileage—but account for half its shootings.

To reach this group, police and prosecutors summon gang members to a neighborhood meeting and deliver a firm message: the violence must stop, or the whole group—not just the individuals involved in the latest encounter—will face intense scrutiny. Then community members speak, condemning violence and encouraging gang members to choose using a variety of social services to access education, job training, and drug treatment.

 

Taylor: Ensuring that such social services are readily available to these gang members or anyone who wants them is a key element of the initiative and IFS is the lead partner providing these critical services.

Woods: Focused policing ensures that the cost of violence outweighs its perceived benefits; community pressure makes positive alternatives more attractive and appeals to gang members’ moral sense that it’s inherently wrong to be picking up guns and shooting people. This carrot-and-stick approach reduces crime without filling prisons. By targeting lawbreakers, the model also avoids antagonizing law-abiding citizens with heavy-handed police tactics that treat everyone as a suspect.

Taylor: What initiatives in the next few years will Giving Day contributions help to facilitate?

Woods: IFS uses best practices providing tools and services for gang members to recover from past emotional and psychological trauma related to living in stigmatizing environments (abusive families, underachieving schools or lack of access to productive activities). IFS works hard to create the right course of action for each gang member by breaking the generational cycle of dependency on government assistance, teaching them to be self-sufficient, and live productive lives.

The road to this goal is complex, but achievable, given the right resources and dedication by adults who care (IFS staff). The IFS outreach team coordinates services, and provides case management and supervision of each youth. Although a portion of the team’s time is used to connect with the communities and residents where the youth reside, they also work one-on-one with each youth to ensure progress is made with their plans for a better life.

In addition, IFS coordinates alternative activities to keep youth focused on the life-changing goals such as job training and placement, housing assistance, and participating in sports or recreational activities. In addition, each youth receives referrals for additional resources as needed.

Because of its successful work with NVRI, IFS was selected by PSEG Foundation to provide these services to youth 16 and younger who are involved in violent activities in Newark.

Taylor: If someone supports Independence’s mission but doesn’t have a lot of money to give, what are some meaningful ways they can contribute?

Woods: IFS has many opportunities for volunteering (after passing a background check since they would work with minors) but one of the best ways to support IFS is to spread the word about our organization. Volunteers may help organize clothing (for young adults and teens) and book drives (for children ages 0-11 years old). They can contact Celeste Moore to discuss volunteer opportunities, at 973-372-5601.

What Newark’s Aljira gallery is doing to continue incubating artist careers in town, 30 years after its grassroots founding

givenewarkAljira, A Center for Contemporary Art was founded more than 30 years ago by a group of young artists here in Newark. Since that time, the gallery has helped dozens of artists form their careers by exhibiting their work and, through their Emerge program, has provided artist business training as well. Aljira has also turned itself into a bona fide cultural space by hosting events in the performing arts.

Executive Director Victor Davson discusses what’s at stake for Newark in Aljira’s continued success, and why community-based support is necessary now than ever before. Aljira is a member of the GAIN collective, and will be hosting a free kickoff party at the gallery on #GivingTuesday, December 1st. (RSVP)

Andaiye Taylor: What is Aljira’s primary objective, and what is distinctive about Aljira’s approach to art and arts programming in Newark?

Something in the Way of Things by Michael Paul Britto

Something in the Way of Things by Michael Paul Britto

Victor Davson: Aljira is a nonprofit organization, co-founded over 30 years ago by a group of young artists in search of inexpensive work space. It evolved as an alternative space in the 80’s presenting memorable, innovative exhibitions, educational programs and artists’ talks by both celebrated and under-recognized artists. The Aljira Fine Art Auction attracts patrons and art collectors whose purchases of cutting-edge paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints by artists from diverse backgrounds provide earned revenues to support our programs for the public.

As many as 150 to 200 artists benefit from opportunities to present their work in solo and group exhibitions throughout the year. Aljira also fulfills its public mission by bringing to Newark exhibitions and programs that the community would not otherwise have access to, and draws a network of supporters and donors from the surrounding communities into Newark’s downtown arts district.

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts has designated Aljira a Major Arts Institution for nine consecutive years since 2006. Also, Aljira is the only organization in the state of New Jersey invited to participate in the national Warhol Foundation Initiative during the initiative’s history.

Our current exhibitions, curated by visiting curator Dexter Wimberly, feature insightful works by artists Michael Paul Britto and Tom Nussbaum. Aljira regards its work as a modest but solid contribution to Newark as the city gathers its strength to accomplish the profound rejuvenation already underway.

Taylor: What is at stake in Aljira fulfilling its mission?

Davson: Small to mid-size non-profit institutions like Aljira, which give Newark a distinctive profile, are experiencing a decline in funding from stakeholder grantmakers such as Prudential — grantmakers who support excellence in their community — who have announced they will only fund major art institutions and programs like the Newark Museum, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. As a result, smaller institutions like ours, already woefully underfunded, must work creatively and collectively to use opportunities like #GivingTuesday to advocate for the arts.

Aljira’s professional development programs have supported the work and careers of artists, helping them to thrive and become successful by teaching them to be entrepreneurial and develop clear financial objectives and goals.

As a destination in Newark’s downtown arts district, Aljira welcomes over three thousand visitors locally and throughout the tri-state area each year.

aljira events wembly

Taylor: What are some initiatives that Aljira has been involved in through its long history that have made a difference in Newark?

Davson: One of the most successful Aljira programs has been Emerge, a career development and exhibition program started in 1999 for emerging artists. Graduates of the program include some of the best and brightest artists, curators, and art professionals working in the field today. Under the tutelage of experienced professionals, Emerge fellows learn how to manage their careers and develop a personal multi-year plan.

Over the years, the program has provided artists with the resources to overcome obstacles, focus on goals, and move forward in their creative practice. Emerge addresses practical areas of concern to artists, such as legal and financial issues, gallery representation, exhibition and public art opportunities, and marketing. The program has positively impacted the careers of over 240 fellows since its inception.

Last year, Aljira also had a major survey exhibition, “Aljira at 30: Dream and Reality” at the New Jersey State Museum curated by Margaret O’Reilly, Director of Fine Arts. The exhibition was a lively historical overview which celebrated Aljira’s 30th anniversary and included work by a representative selection of artists from the hundreds who have passed through and made Aljira the vital, far-reaching enterprise it has become. It included ephemera which told the story of the Aljira’s evolution decade by decade, and artworks by 41 of the roughly 1,800 artists and cultural workers affiliated with Aljira over the years, all of whose names were featured on a special wall of names.

Victor Davson poses in front of an Aljira 30th anniversary banner.

Victor Davson poses in front of an Aljira 30th anniversary banner.

Taylor: What initiatives in the next few years will #GivingTuesday Day contributions help to facilitate?

Davson: Our public programming has recently expanded to include free performances by dance companies, such as Nai-Ni Chen and Carolyn Dorfman. In 2015 and 2016, master musician Oliver Lake is curating a jazz series at Aljira, and founding director of The Dodge Poetry Festival, Jim Haba, is organizing readings and workshops by a roster of emerging and renowned poets. In partnership with organizations such as La Casa de Don Pedro, #GivingTuesday contributions to Aljira will also help support upcoming arts enrichment initiatives we are planning for Newark youth.

Taylor: If someone supports Aljira’s mission but doesn’t have a lot of money to give, what are some meaningful ways they can contribute?

Davson: There’s always a way to support Aljira, even for those who don’t have money to give. Attend Aljira’s exhibitions and programs with a young person to expose them to the arts, sign up to become an Aljira ambassador, or volunteer your time or services. We also offer internships to college and university students who acquire a range of practical arts and management skills. You can also support us through sharing our information with your networks and friends.

No amount is too small. Donations to Aljira can be made at the GAIN-Newark #GivingTuesday kick-off celebration at Aljira on December 1st from 6 to 8 p.m., or online at www.newarkgives.org. (RSVP for the free celebration on Eventbrite.)

How La Casa de Don Pedro plans to continue a legacy of community-based organizing and transform a Newark neighborhood

La Casa de Don Pedro is one of five top-tier Newark non-profits that is a member organization in GAIN, a new collective of charitable organizations in the city. The grassroots organization has been a change agent in Newark for more than four decades.

Below, La Casa Executive Director Raymond Ocasio discusses his organization’s objectives, including getting underserved members of the area’s diverse immigrant community to self-sufficiency, and providing the comprehensive planning, services and capacity that will help transform Newark’s Lower Broadway neighborhood.

givenewarkAndaiye Taylor: What is the primary objective of La Casa de Don Pedro?

Raymond Ocasio: Since its founding 43 years ago, La Casa de Don Pedro seeks to improve the quality of life for Greater Newark residents by providing a range of comprehensive programs and services that foster self-sufficiency and empowerment. These efforts are combined with our work in neighborhood revitalization in Newark’s Lower Broadway neighborhood.

Taylor: What are some initiatives that La Casa has been involved in within the past two or three years that have made a difference in Newark?

Ocasio: We offer so many programs and services – on any given day, more than 1,000 people participate in our 30 programs ranging from bilingual pre-kindergarten, counseling services for people living with HIV/AIDS, and foreclosure prevention support to job development and home energy conservation services.

We are especially proud of the work we have undertaken with the Lower Broadway Neighborhood Association (LBNA). The LBNA was formed after La Casa led a two year-long neighborhood planning effort that prioritized needs and created a roadmap to transform the Lower Broadway neighborhood into a cohesive and desirable community. Working with the LBNA, we are making the community a more desirable place to live, work, and play by addressing quality-of-life issues. Together, we partner with business and government to invest in the neighborhood and support the revitalization efforts.

la casa ladies

Taylor: In what specific ways does your organization do this type of community building?

Ocasio: Building community means fostering and supporting local leadership. We are pleased that we’ve been able to support the LBNA to advocate and take action on a number of priorities, such as improved tenant protection, parking, and transforming blighted vacant lots into vibrant community spaces, among other issues. We are grateful to the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) for partnering on and supporting these efforts.

We have also been pleased about the impact of our nine-month long, intensive parenting program offered from 2012 to 2015, called the Parent-Child Academy (PCA), thanks to support from AVANCE, Inc. and The Kellogg Foundation. Children have a much better shot at success when their parents are informed, active, and educated, and for this reason this program was especially meaningful. We had 133 mothers and fathers learn how to be better parents by gaining a range of parenting knowledge and skills. With the end of PCA, we are thrilled to be able to say we have taken the lessons learned from [the program] and now offer the Legacy Program, a three-year long parenting program for expecting mothers and fathers.

Another proud achievement is our work with Greater Newark’s most recent immigrants. Last year we oriented and educated approximately two thousand people about legal immigration concerns, helped people apply and received temporary status under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and other benefits, complete their U.S. citizenship course, and study English. While La Casa was founded by Newark Puerto Ricans, our organization embraces all ethnic groups, and is known within the diverse immigrant community as a resource for orientation and support.

la casa kids read

Taylor: What initiatives in the next few years will Giving Day contributions help to facilitate?

Ocasio: We have a few initiatives that are just getting started that we’re really excited about.

We’ve been working closely with Newark Public Schools and other groups to offer a nine-month long alternative high school for youth who simply did not find Newark’s public high school system conducive for their needs. Newark’s high school graduation rate is just over 67 percent – that means one-third of high school seniors do not graduate, and our neighborhood has greatest number of dropouts in the city. Without a proper education, young people are simply ill-prepared for work, which doesn’t benefit anyone – not themselves, their families, their future, our community, or our economy. We are hopeful that our alternative program that couples education with counseling and job preparation will offer the supportive environment youth need in order to be successful.

We also continue our efforts to deal with foreclosure. On the front end, we provide foreclosure counseling. On the back end, we hope to renovate foreclosed buildings we acquired and provide attractive and affordable housing in Lower Broadway. Last year, the City of East Orange reached out to us to help them build affordable homes. The project, called Eaton Place Townhomes is slated to be completed in 2016. We’re excited to be working with East Orange to offer our expertise in building quality homes people can afford. (View La Casa’s full strategic plan here.)

Why Invest In La Casa_111615_V2

Taylor: Some people think they can’t help an organization if they have relatively little money to give. What do you say to that, and what are some meaningful ways people can contribute in addition to giving donations?

Ocasio: Every dollar donated to La Casa is meaningful. We value and appreciate any financial contribution, no matter the size. In fact, counting on people with humble means is testament to our grassroots identity. And, when we pool our resources together, so much more can be accomplished. When we depend on hundreds of donors, compared with just a few high-end donors, that only makes us more accountable to our constituents and partners.

Another simple, yet powerful way to support La Casa is helping to raise awareness of the work we do. We are active on Facebook (facebook.com/lacasadedonpedro) and Twitter (twitter.com/lacasanwk). People can also visit our website at www.lacasanwk.org, read up on us, and share information about us to people who could benefit from our services or those who may want to support us. Follow us, like us, and help us spread the word to others!

La Casa also counts on the generosity of people in so many other ways. This month we are holding a holiday food and toy drive to support our kids and families during the holidays. We occasionally offer volunteer opportunities, such as helping out at our annual Festival de la Familia as well.

Another way to contribute in a meaningful way is to establish an affinity group. If you have like-minded colleagues who want to contribute to a greater cause, together, a group of people can be so much more impactful. Contact us at info@lacasanwk.org or 973.482.8312, and we’d be happy to arrange a tour and discuss different ways to get involved.


BrickCityLive.com is GAIN’s media sponsor for #GivingTuesday. To attend GAIN’s free community event at Aljira on Tuesday, December 2nd, RSVP on Eventbrite

Learn more about La Casa at www.lacasanwk.org, and donate to La Casa or other members of the GAIN collaborative at networkforgood.org/newarkgives.

 

Newark non-profits band together to make local giving easier, and local businesses join in to help

givenewarkFive top-tier Newark non-profits representing a cross-section of causes have come together to make giving back to the city a lot easier for community members and local businesses.

Aljira, A Center for Community Art, Greater Newark Conservancy, Independence: A Family of Service, Inc., La Casa de Don Pedro, and Newark Gay Pride have formed GAIN, which stands for Giving And Inspiring Newark. The organizations will officially launch on Giving Tuesday, December 1st this year, with a free community celebration at Aljira’s art gallery, located at 591 Broad Street, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m (RSVP for the free event here).

To kick off the partnership, the collective has enlisted help from three restaurants in Newark that are recognized as “Give and GAIN partners”: Chipotle Mexican Grill and Hotel Indigo’s Skylab lounge and Alva Tavern restaurant will donate proceeds from sales on Giving Tuesday to the GAIN organizations. Chipotle has committed half of all proceeds from sales rung up between 4:30 and 8 p.m. (patrons are asked to show this flyer, or simply tell their cashier that they’re supporting GAIN), and both Skylab and Alva Tavern will donate 10 percent of sales rung up between 9 p.m. and midnight, and ordered from a special GAIN menu.

The Hotel Indigo establishments will also be hosting an after party for the community celebration from 9 p.m. until midnight.

Taken together, the five GAIN non-profits touch more than a quarter of Newark residents, and represent more than 150 years of collective service to the community.


To learn more about GAIN, visit their website at NewarkGives.org. BrickCityLive.com is a GAIN media sponsor.