Photos by JohnnyFoto.
Children served by the NCC Neighborhood Center, New Community’s recreation center located on Hayes Street in Newark, now have a newly renovated space filled with books to enjoy, thanks to an initiative from The Children’s Place.
New Community and The Children’s Place unveiled the learning center on Aug. 4 with a ribbon cutting. New Community’s center is the second of 10 locations nationwide that The Children’s Place is opening as part of a back-to-school campaign to empower children through reading and continued education.
New Community Chief Financial Officer/Interim Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Mbakaya said it was an honor to be chosen as part of the campaign.
“Instilling a love of reading at a young age will serve these children well as they progress through school and look toward their future careers,” she said. “Having this newly renovated and dedicated library area will get them even more excited about reading.”
New Community Chief Operating Officer Fred Hunter said in a world where electronic devices are so widely utilized, it’s nice to have a space with physical books and an area to sit and enjoy them without the distraction of screens.
“It is great to see a program that is encouraging children to read,” he said.
New Community Youth Services Director Edward Morris was excited to unveil the room and have the children start to use the space.
“We encourage the youth to read every day. We tell them reading not only stretches your mind, but it takes you places, faraway places that you can explore without leaving your home. So I can only imagine what they’re going to do in that room, where they’re going to visit, where they’re going to explore,” he said. “My dad used to always tell me young readers become leaders. So we try to instill that in our children.”
Chief Education Officer for the Office of Comprehensive Community Education for the City of Newark Dr. Sharnee Brown attended the event on behalf of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. She talked about the importance of reading and coming back together in community spaces as conditions from COVID-19 improve.
“We’re addressing issues that are so profound like books and literacy. Those are the things that we’re charged to do every day and today is really a celebration to do that in a way that makes us all happy,” she said.
Newark West Ward Councilman Dupré Kelly said that while technology provides many positive opportunities, books are still vitally important and a shared space offers additional benefits for the community.
“It’s different when you open that book and you read page to page and you get an opportunity to explore your creativity,” he said. “But you get that opportunity to do that same thing while sitting next to your peer. Next to someone who looks like you.”
The Children’s Place Vice President of Marketing Melissa Linde explained that the company had chosen 10 sites throughout the United States to place learning centers. Because The Children’s Place is based in Secaucus, leadership knew a New Jersey location would be included.
“We had to start in our backyard,” she said. “And that’s why the decision of building this learning center here in Newark was a no-brainer.”
After holding a ribbon cutting in front of the NCC Neighborhood Center, guests moved inside where children who are part of New Community’s summer camp were reading books in the new space.
New Community received a donation of 2,000 books as part of the campaign. There were 1,000 in the reading room at the unveiling and the additional books will be delivered at a later date in order to refresh the inventory.
The children were very excited to use the new room. They enjoyed exploring the space, choosing books to read and playing a giant game of Connect 4 that The Children’s Place provided. They also received backpacks, school supplies and gift cards from The Children’s Place and BIC, a partner in the initiative. ThriftBooks donated the reading material.
Among the guests in attendance were Newark Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver, Newark Council Member at Large Louise Scott-Rountree and Newark Council Member at Large C. Lawrence Crump.
New Community thanks The Children’s Place, ThriftBooks and BIC for their work and donations and to everyone who came out for the unveiling. The organization looks forward to serving many children in the space for years to come.