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.

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

 

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.