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.

Make the discussion of gun safety a part of your life. It matters.

 The gun debate is exhausting and divisive. How many of us are sitting across the table from someone with opposing views and making any headway? Each of us has deeply held views on guns and no amount of debate is likely to change another person’s mind.

What if we push the issue forward on a community level by centering it on the burden of responsible gun ownership? Many parents across the country have already realized the importance of adding guns to the usual play date planning discussion that typically addresses allergies, dogs and swimming pools.

Let’s take the conversation beyond the play date. Informing a new babysitter, a cleaning service, a home health aide or house guests of the absence of a firearm or that you have firearms safely secured, has an enormous upside. By offering the information, you are modeling that people have a right to ask and a right to know.

Safe firearm storage has enormous implications. Almost 1.7 million children live in homes with unsecured firearms and more than 80 percent of suicides occur with a family member’s gun. Moreover, research estimates that roughly 200,000-400,000 guns are stolen each year.

Whether the discussion is among family members, friends or acquaintances, the topic of access to guns is often rife with conflict. Encouraging safe storage of firearms may be a smart place to start. It’s not necessarily an easy conversation, but taking it out of the shadows gives us a way to talk about gun owner responsibilities and may, hopefully, inch us forward.

The Path to Success Can Be Bumpy

 

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Recently one of my clients was offered a new position, earning double the salary of her previous job. As she shared the exciting news with me, I asked her a few questions and, to be frank, her answers surprised me. She is a single mom of three young children and her new job required her to work a late shift (11 pm – 7 am) and weekends. I couldn’t see how this was going to work out. We discussed the pros and cons of the job and she decided it was worth pursuing because of the salary increase.

Less than two weeks later it became apparent that the shifts were too much for her and her family to manage. Feeling stuck and uncertain, she left the position. In panic mode, she returned to the NCJW/Essex Center for Women where we were able to help get her back on track, provide career coaching, self-empowerment workshops, job clubs, networking and support.

Finding the right job to fit your life and its demands is no simple task. Sometimes it takes trial and error to find a work environment that is a good match, but along the way it can feel hopeless and demoralizing. The Center for Women serves as so much more than a “job placement” center. Women who seek our help not only learn new skills to help them find jobs but learn how to take control of their own lives and gain the confidence to be successful.

At the Center for Women, we help you every step of the way. Our clients know that we are there for them, they can come back to us and we give them hope. My client now has faith that the next job she finds will be the right job because she has a better understanding of what she needs and wants and how to go about finding it. The path to finding a job may be bumpy, but with skills and guidance it can lead to success.

We Are Here to Help

The dedicated group of professional staff members and trained volunteers at the Linda & Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women assists women who wish to return to the workforce with resume writing, job coaching, interview skills training, LinkedIn and computer classes. Our services are confidential and our programs are non-sectarian and open to all women, regardless of religion. Contact us. We can help.

Visit our website: www.centerforwomenNJ.org

Call: (973) 994-4994

Email: centerforwomen@ncjwessex.org

 

Activism is a Family Affair

little voterIn recent years, many of us have become more engaged in community affairs and the political process. We have learned who represents us in Congress and maybe even attended a town council meeting. We have called our elected officials, spoken up on social media or possibly attended a rally. The underlying lesson that has emerged is that our voices should be heard, our opinions are worth sharing and our votes matter.

How can we share this lesson in activism with children and teens so they know, at an early age, that their voices count too? It’s not always convenient to include children and teens in our activism. Meetings and activities might take place during school hours or in the evenings while children are otherwise occupied. These circumstances may preclude including our children in the process and so we forge ahead on our own or with friends, leaving our children behind.

Instead, we should look at activism as an opportunity to educate our children and show them that we are fighting for the issues we believe will make their lives and the lives of others better. When it is age and subject appropriate, have your children and teens accompany you to rallies and town council meetings. Make calls to legislators with your children in earshot. An added bonus of engaging our children in advocacy is the chance to model respectful assertive behavior as opposed to divisive tirades.

What is the appropriate age to engage your children and teens? That’s a decision based on what you think your children can handle without adding undue anxiety to their lives. Some issues lend themselves to youth engagement better than others, such as the environment or food insecurity.

We have the opportunity to raise a generation that understands that speaking up is just something we do because it’s the right thing to do. Let’s not squander it by leaving them behind.

 

New Year – New Volunteer!

volunteerIt’s 2018 and time to take stock. What did you resolve to do differently this year? Exercise more? Learn a new skill or hobby? Eat less sugar?  Maybe you will join a gym, sign up for a class or buy a new diet book.

But maybe your resolutions are different this year.  Perhaps you’re considering how to make your time count and be purposeful in your life. Or, maybe you’re taking stock of the time you spend with others. If so, consider volunteering as a way to help keep your resolutions. As a volunteer, you can discover new avenues to meet people and focus the coming year on things you care about.

Whether its hours, days or weeks that you volunteer, you start to feel the impact of the time you spend helping others.  At NCJW/Essex you might help a client select an interview outfit at the Career Closet, cook meals for families in need, collect feminine hygiene products for economically disadvantaged women or be present on the other end of the phone when a woman calls because she doesn’t know where to turn. When you help a woman in transition you feel the value of your time.

Volunteering is engaging and helps you meet interesting, community-minded people. Everyone gets involved for different reasons: to attend a rally about gun safety, to teach teens about dating abuse or to lead a self-esteem workshop to help women change the way they feel about themselves… and the list goes on. At NCJW/Essex, volunteers include a rich diversity of people who share a like-minded goal – to make an impact on their communities.

Volunteering is a resolution that you can keep in 2018! It’s a resolution that will open your eyes and your hearts to people who value your time. It’s a resolution that will introduce you to new friends to involve in your life. If you want to explore volunteer opportunities with NCJW/Essex, please contact me at dstambler@ncjwessex.org. Even if it’s on a small scale, it can make an extraordinary difference in a single life.

Are You Ready To Go Back To Work?

Job readyThe Job Market is Hot!

Have you been thinking about entering or returning to the workforce? If the answer is yes, then now is one of the best times to find your next job. Some of our clients at the Center for Women have been out of the work force for over 10 years and have recently found success in this candidate-driven job market.

Are You Job-Ready?

Many women make the assumption that returning to work means doing the same thing that they did before. Some repositioning is inevitable if you’ve been out of the workforce for a year or more, but it is also a perfect time to reposition yourself for something new.

The first step to job-readiness is to figure out which of your skills are transferable and which ones you need to develop. Then, take some practical steps to be ready when a job opportunity comes along:

  • Break out your old resume to review some of the key responsibilities you have held and see how those skills have held up in the current marketplace
  • Add your volunteer experience to your resume
  • Spread the word that you want to enter or reenter the workforce — networking will help you find the hidden job openings
  • Practice interviewing so you are prepared. Rehearse the questions you know you will get – i.e. “I see you haven’t worked in a while” or “Why is this the best time for you to be looking for a job?” Determine your strengths and weaknesses so employers see you as job-ready.
  • Be ready to act – Do you have the right interview clothes? Do you have a plan for someone to watch your children, or pick up your kids at school?

We Are Here to Help

The dedicated group of professional staff members and trained volunteers at the Linda & Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women assists women who wish to return to the workforce with resume writing, job coaching, interview skills training, LinkedIn and computer classes. Our services are confidential and our programs are non-sectarian and open to all women, regardless of religion. Contact us. We can help.

Visit our website: www.centerforwomenNJ.org
Call: (973) 994-4994
Email: centerforwomen@ncjwessex.org

Education is Empowerment

E2EEducation is an essential means of empowering women with knowledge, skills and self-confidence to help them take the first steps toward success. At the Linda & Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women (CFW), we see the benefits of education time and time again. We see women who have been out of the workforce for years who are trying to enhance their lives and seek support to make ends meet. One pathway towards this success is to enroll in a certificate program.

Five years ago, with funding from the NJ Department of Children and Families, Division on Women, we created “Education 2 Empowerment,” a program we call E2E. This grant-funded program pays for all or part of the cost of a career training certificate. Recently, the state increased this grant to allow us to continue E2E and work specifically with women residing in Essex County and the surrounding communities who are separated, divorced or widowed. This is a great opportunity for women who have been unemployed or underemployed to obtain training for a new skill to succeed in today’s market. For clients who have already been through E2E, they have had great success at finding employment soon after completing their coursework.

There are many examples of certifications available, including but not limited to: Microsoft Office specialist, office and dental assistant, medical billing, computerized financial accounting, web page graphic design, culinary arts and bookkeeping. Participants are encouraged to participate in the job placement services offered by the CFW and are required to attend monthly update meetings with either a CFW staff member or an NCJW/Essex volunteer liaison.

One client who recently completed E2E said, “Thank you for providing me with the financial support to help me finish my certification to find a job in the medical field. Without the help of the CFW staff, the meetings and the connections, I would not be where I am now – back to work in the field that I love.”

The Center for Women is designed to be a resource for all women. E2E is just one of many programs offered to help women on the road to self-empowerment. Interested in learning more? Visit www.centerforwomennj.org – or call (973) 994-4994 for more information.

Reinvigorate This Fall With a Trip to the Polls!

New Jersey Election Day is almost upon us.

Nj VotesDuring this past year, you may have made your first nervous call to a legislator, shown up at a rally and promised to not keep silent about issues important to you. At NCJW/Essex, we have continued to raise our voices about some of the issues we care about: women’s access to reproductive health care, gun safety, voting rights, and economic equality for the most vulnerable — to name just a few. However, it’s easy to let our advocacy slip away as we go about our busy lives. How do we keep up the pressure?

The answer is to VOTE. Election Day is a chance to reinvigorate yourself with a trip to the polls and to exercise your most fundamental right as an American citizen — the right to vote. This November 7th, all statewide NJ elected offices, including Governor and Lt. Governor, are up for election. Unfortunately, turnout for NJ non-presidential elections is dismally low — only 20.8% of eligible voters showed up to vote in 2015.

Do you have friends and family members who aren’t registered to vote? Keep voter registration forms handy to encourage them to register — you can even offer to help fill it out and drop it in the mail! Remember — the deadline to register to vote is October 17th. Use social media in a respectful way to remind your contacts to get out on Election Day. And when you head out the door to cast your vote, call some friends and make a carpool!

Remember, November 7th is your chance to speak up with your strongest voice — your VOTE.

Visit www.njelections.org to obtain voter registration and vote by mail applications.