A group of 13 students from Saint Peter’s Prep School in Jersey City spent a week at New Community as part of a program designed to expose them to the challenges found in an inner-city environment and what the organization is doing to help combat problems like poverty.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience…New Community is holding Newark together,” said Keillor Beckwith, 16, of Montclair, as he paused from some computer work he was doing at the New Community Family Resource Center.
The Newark Urban Immersion Program also sought to show these students, the majority of whom reside in the suburbs, a more realistic view of the city than what they might receive from the media.
“I wanted to interact with people I don’t get to see everyday and also thought it was a good way to give back to the community,” said Justin Scherzo, 16, of Clifton, who along with his schoolmates, will all be juniors at Saint Peter’s this fall.
New Community Associates, a senior building at 180 South Orange Ave. in Newark, is where the students lodged during the week with their two chaperones, including John Dougherty, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at the all-male prep school.
From there, they fanned out to visit New Community program sites each day, whether it was working with preschoolers at the two early learning centers or playing games and talking with residents and medical day care clients at the Extended Care Center.
“It’s fun talking to some of them,” said Nick Cozzarelli, 16, of Nutley, as he joined in a game of throwing a beach ball to some residents who had gathered in a circle in the third floor community room. “They are like a family and this is like their home.”
“This is fun,” said Marie Creegan, one of the seniors who was playing with the beach ball. On another floor, a group of students was enjoying a bowling game with some seniors.
During the week, the students also worked with adult learners studying for their GED at New Community’s Workforce Development Center, helped out in the food pantry run by Social Services and assisted the staff running the summer camp based at the New Community Neighborhood Center.
They also had lunch at NCC headquarters with New Community founder, Monsignor William J. Linder, and Executive Director, Richard Rohrman, which is where they received a history lesson in the organization’s founding after the 1967 civil unrest. Monsignor stressed how NCC was out to improve quality of life by providing a comprehensive array of programming addressing areas from housing to education. In addition, he said the organization also values the dignity of every human being.
“We believe everyone has something to contribute and what they have in their heart is significant and important here,” he told the students.