By Lauren Wanko
Together they’re pulling weeds around garden beds and painting over the white wood with bright, cheerful colors. AmeriCorps members are getting to know these young students for the first time.
“When I was a child, there were certain things that I wasn’t given and I feel like there’s somehow I can impact people’s lives who were once in my shoes,” said Titilayo Majoyeogbe.
The recent college grads are part of the Paterson Community Schools Corps — a program run through the New Jersey Community Development Corporation — a Paterson based non-profit that focuses on community and economic development, education, youth programing and affordable housing.
“The Paterson School Community Corps is NJCDC’s Americorps program. It’s our oldest program, we’ve been running it for 21 years. We’ve had over the years close to 500 members come through here working in the community,” said NJ Community Develpment Corporation Chief Program Officer Vicky Hernandez.
The AmeriCorps team works primarily within five neighborhood schools in Paterson.
“The primary emphasis is really on working with students to help, help them in every aspect of their life,” said Hernandez.
From tutoring, to classroom support, after school activities and community and family outreach.
“Not only do we want to ensure that students are academically prepared for going to college, we want to ensure parents are involved as well so we host parent, family engagement workshops,” said NJ Community Development Corporation AmeriCorps Program Director Nicole Sweeney.
Today’s event is part of the NJCDC’s National Day of Service to honor and remember those we lost on 9/11. The AmeriCorps members will start working in the classroom next week. Each member is assigned a school. The team works with students K through 12th grade for the entire year.
“If you can open somebody’s mind to different perspectives, to putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, you can really accomplish anything and do whatever you want to do later down the road in life,” said Zachary Howard.
“I grew up in an urban community similar to Paterson and it gets a bad reputation and it’s just a lot of people who were dealt a bad hand in life. If you just take the time to get to know them, talk and work with them, you’ll see they are not that different from us,” said Jose Dominguez.
NJCDC requires members have a bachelor’s degree. Some benefits include a $12,000 annual stipend, health coverage, childcare benefits and an education grant after their service. Over the course of the year they must complete 1,700 hours of service — something Kamari Harrington is looking forward to.
“When we’re focusing on the youth, we can change the world, cause that’s where it starts,” she said.
NJCDC hopes to recruit another 15 AmeriCorps members by Sept. 30.