Make Every Woman’s Voice Count!

This has been the year of women’s voices. If we’ve learned anything from the #MeToo movement and the onslaught of news, it’s that not only should we be listening to women but we should heed their call.

In so many arenas, women’s voices are rising up – from fighting sexual assault and harassment, to getting engaged in politics; from demanding equal pay for equal work to advocating for menstrual equity. The list goes on.

So this year we hope to amplify those voices and provide ways for NCJW/Essex to give life to their messages. Whether it is the struggling woman who shows up at the Center for Women, diminished from her life’s circumstances, or the volunteer who has seen first-hand how she was able to help a child at the Back 2 School Store, each narrative is worth listening to.

Our NCJW/Essex Opening Event, kicking off our year-long activities that begin in the fall, celebrates this theme. #WomensVoices: Adventures in Life, Love & Writing will feature the acclaimed author, Jennifer Weiner (Oct 23). Weiner, who has a wide fan base, uses her social media platform to encourage women’s voices, self-esteem, reproductive justice, sex education and body positivity. Soon to follow is a special Lunch and Learn, #MeToo: What’s Next? (Nov 7). According to a national study on sexual assault and harassment conducted earlier this year, 81 percent of women have experienced sexual assault or harassment in their lifetimes. This program will feature a panel of experts discussing the #MeToo movement which has ignited a revolution of women’s voices. How did we get here and how do we move forward?

Women’s voices are caring. Women’s voices are strong. Women’s voices are daring. As we confront today’s most urgent social and economic challenges facing society, let’s make sure that every woman’s voice is heard. We encourage you to join the conversation: speak up, speak out and share your message to improve the lives of women, children and families. And watch for our Special Gifts mailing to see how you can help make every woman’s voice count. Together we can make a meaningful difference in the world.

Addressing Unmet Needs Through the Gaelen Family Resource Center

The smiling faces of children at the Back 2 School Store never fail to capture our hearts. But what sometimes gets overshadowed in the excitement and bustle of the day is one very special aspect of the Back 2 School Store — the Gaelen Family Resource Center.

Audrey Gaelen
Audrey Gaelen

While children are busy in the Back 2 School Store “shopping” for free to select brand new clothing, sneakers, school supplies, backpacks and personal care items with the help of volunteer personal shoppers, the Gaelen Family Resource Center (GFRC) provides an opportunity for parents, caregivers and families to receive important health screenings, health information and community resources, all at no cost. With the growth of the Back 2 School Store, the GFRC has also grown as NCJW/Essex has increased its partnerships with numerous service providers and community organizations which are on-site on the day of the event.

NCJW/Essex is grateful to Audrey Gaelen and her late husband, Norbert, whose generosity sustains this critical component of the Back 2 School Store. “We spearheaded the GFRC as a way of giving parents and caregivers attending the Back 2 School Store an opportunity to receive services that aren’t always readily available to them,” explains Audrey Gaelen, a long-time member and supporter of NCJW/Essex. “It answers some of the needs that may not otherwise get addressed.” On occasion, the availability of such screenings leads to the detection of health problems that necessitate attention, and in those cases attendees are connected with health care providers for follow up.

“It makes me feel good to know that I am touching the community,” reflects Audrey on the evolution of the GFRC. “When I walk in I want to cry. I can see and feel the difference it is making.”

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store

A truly successful event involves expert planning and coordination. The National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section exemplifies this process with the annual Back 2 School Store (B2SS), celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Every summer, NCJW/Essex creates a ‘pop up” one-day store that outfits economically disadvantaged children in Essex County with brand new clothing, school supplies and personal care items to start school on a positive note. A look behind the scenes explains why this event is so successful.

 

Each year the B2SS is chaired by three capable and detail-oriented volunteers who oversee the massive undertaking, enabling hundreds of children to attend the store. This year’s co-chairs, Karen Cherins of West Orange, and Stacey Laken and Andrea Mintz, both of Livingston, have been holding monthly planning meetings since Fall 2017. They oversee 30 active volunteers who work on more than 10 subcommittees year-round including clothing, school supplies, child recruitment and site management. “We already have over 1,000 backpacks in storage for this summer’s event,” said Andrea Mintz, who explained that as of March, 2018, all the clothing, including coats, packages of socks and underwear, school supplies and personal care items, have already been purchased.

Purchasing for the B2SS is accomplished through a combination of grants and generous donations from members, supporters and foundations. Volunteers purchase new, popular brands of sneakers, coats, clothes and backpacks in a variety of styles and colors, either online or at in-store sales. To understand the scale of this effort, Karen Cherins explained, “We will purchase 1,100 sneakers for 800 children so that each child has a choice, whether they enter at 9:00 am or 3:00 pm. Our local storage facility is currently overflowing with new merchandise and supplies as we prepare for this summer’s event.” This year, thanks to a generous donation from a longtime NCJW/Essex member, each child will receive two books, one fiction and one non-fiction, from Scholastic. Spanish language books will also be available for bilingual children.

Throughout the year, a Child Recruitment subcommittee works in partnership with 35 local social service agencies to carefully select children who will participate in the B2SS. Forms are prepared for each child indicating their age and sizing for clothing and sneakers. This year’s goal is to prepare 800 children (K-5) to start the school year with confidence, style and a smile.

The growth of the B2SS has necessitated the biggest change to occur in 10 years – a move to a new location, the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, NJ, which will afford access to the gym, library, multipurpose and computer rooms, cafeteria, and classroom storage. The extra space will present new logistical challenges but the volunteers are up to the task, making sure that every aspect of the event runs smoothly.

As each child enters the B2SS, they will be registered and matched with a volunteer to help them select the items they want. “It’s all about the child making his or her own choices,” explains Cherins. “Part of the success of the B2SS is to empower children. If a little girl wants a purple coat, a pink hat and blue gloves, she can choose them.” While the children shop, parents and caregivers are able to visit the Gaelen Family Resource Center which offers health screenings and other community services.

When the B2SS opens its doors this summer, it will be the culmination of the year-long behind-the-scenes effort of planning, buying and coordinating which is necessary to ensure its success. “This is such a rewarding experience for our volunteers, especially when they see the children’s smiling faces,” said co-chair Stacey Laken. “The Back 2 School Store gives children a great start to the school year and a little boost to their self-esteem in the process.”

This year the NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store is seeking 500 volunteers to make it a success. Bilingual volunteers are encouraged. All registration is online. To register, please visit www.ncjwessex.org and click on Back 2 School Store.

NCJW/Essex ‘Education to Empowerment’ Program Continues to Assist Women

Livingston, NJ, April 2, 2015 – Grace De La Forterie of Caldwell was among the first applicants to the NCJW/Essex ‘Education to Empowerment’ program, known as E2E in the fall of 2013. The E2E program has the goal of providing women with an educational certificate leading to employment. NCJW/Essex pays a portion of the fees through a generous grant from the State of New Jersey Division on Women so that participants may enroll in an educational opportunity of their choice.

Ms. De La Forterie pursued a certification to become a licensed massage therapist. She attended the Anthem Institute in Parsippany which offers career-focused education and training programs in healthcare and technology fields. She passed her certification test with flying colors and within a day she started full-time employment in her field.

The E2E program is administered by the Linda and Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women.  To be eligible, participants must be women residing in Essex County who are either widowed, divorced, separated, or have a husband with a disability or in the military. Women in the program have pursued education in medical billing, accounting, bookkeeping, project management, and allied health professions among other fields. Participants are also entitled to receive career services offered by the Center.

For more information about the E2E program, please call the Linda and Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women, (973) 994-4994 or visit www.centerforwomenNJ.org.