Congratulations to Cambridge School in Pennington, NJ, winner of the 2016 Governor’s Cup! This is the second time that Cambridge School has won this prestigious service award, given to the school that collects the most food for its local food bank throughout the competition.
In addition to collecting food, students are required to educate their peers and community about hunger and create their own marketing campaign to support the food drive.
Mercer Street Friends is grateful to all the schools in Mercer County that participated in Students Change Hunger and proud that once again one of our local schools has won this prestigious statewide award.
The Mercer Street Friends Board of Trustees is pleased to announce the selection of Armstead G. Johnson to be executive director of the organization. Mr. Johnson takes the helm of the community-based, Quaker-affiliated organization on Monday, June 6th, succeeding Dr. Shannon M. Mason.
Mr. Johnson has a strong record of leadership at non-profits similar to Mercer Street Friends (MSF) in mission, and a wealth of experience in youth development and anti-poverty programming. He comes to MSF from the United Community Corporation (UCC) in Newark, where he was executive director. Like MSF, the UCC is an anti-poverty organization that has been a cornerstone of its community for over 50 years.
Before leading the UCC, he was executive director of All Saints Community Service and Development Corporation, which serves at-risk youth in Hoboken and Union City. His professional experience includes working with the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Urban League, and advocating for people with disabilities. Mr. Johnson also served social service agencies in Plainfield, Orange, West Orange, and Clifton.
Mr. Johnson received his B.A. degree in Political Science from Howard University and an M.A. Degree in Public Administration from Rutgers University-Newark. He also received a certificate in Executive Non-Profit Leadership from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Dr. Delia Pitts, Vice-Chair of MSF’s Board and Chair of the Search Committee, noted that the committee members were especially impressed with Mr. Johnson’s fundraising experience, his engaging personality, his extensive supervisory experience in a variety of leadership roles, and his optimism about the future of Mercer Street Friends.
Dr. Shannon Mason welcomed her successor, saying, “I have loved and labored for Mercer Street Friends for almost fourteen years, and I could not be happier about the choice of Armstead. He has proven to be an innovative leader who can make the hard decisions and build from challenging places. He is smart, experienced, charismatic, and compelling; he will be good for Mercer Street Friends and for the City of Trenton.”
“I am excited to join the Mercer Street Friends team,” said Mr. Johnson, “Together we will continue the good work MSF has been providing those most in need in the Trenton Community.”
The Honorable Bonnie Watson-Coleman, Representative of the 12th Congressional District, was the Guest of Honor at the official ribbon cutting ceremony for Trenton’s first community school on Tuesday, February 16. Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson attended the event as well, along with other elected officials from Mercer County and Trenton and representatives from the Trenton Public Schools.
Mercer Street Friends was recently awarded a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to pilot a community school model at Luis Rivera Middle School, now officially known as the Luis Rivera Community Middle School.
The community school model expands the traditional concept of a school house and transforms the school into a place where the educational, as well the physical and emotional needs of the students and their families are addressed. This model also brings the assets of the community into the school, involving parents, teachers, students and community organizations equally. Community schools buzz with activities, providing support services for students and their families after school, on weekends and during the summer.
“Our schools should provide every resource to allow students to meet their potential,” said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman. “The community school model steps outside of the traditional classroom experience to give students access to counseling, to engage parents, and to offer after hours and weekend opportunities to ensure every student stays on the right track.”
The U.S. Department of Education Full Service Community Schools Implementation Grant is a highly competitive award which targets five core services: assistance to students who have been chronically absent, truant, suspended, or expelled; family engagement, including parent training and activities; mental health services; mentoring and other youth development programs; and access to other community-based supports and services.
Dr. Shannon Mason, executive director of Mercer Street Friends, spent the past three years laying the ground work for the success of the Trenton Community Schools Initiative. An advocate for strength-based integrative approaches to capacity building, Dr. Mason stated that, “One of the unique features of this approach is that we didn’t start off by simply asking ‘What is absent?’ We started by asking, ‘What is present?’ That always changes the conversation.”
Mercer Street Friends’ Director of Youth Services and Clinical Initiatives, Anniesha Walker, and her staff moved into the Rivera school at the beginning of the school year. They are working with students, getting to know families, listening to and learning from all the school’s stakeholders.
“I’m thrilled to see this model start a pilot run in my District, and I look forward to the positive impact it’s sure to make in our community,” said Representative Watson-Coleman. “There is nothing more important to me than making sure that the next generation of young minds can reach the bright future that they deserve.”
TRENTON — Trenton’s Rivera Middle School will soon become a place that goes beyond textbooks to focus on the whole child, thanks to a new $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
The five-year grant will help the recipient Mercer Street Friends make Rivera a full-service community school for children and parents alike by moving a variety of resources into the school itself. The nonprofit will offer after-school programs, health screenings, family counseling and parent classes, among other things.
“It’s not just about instruction,” Mercer Street Friends executive director Shannon Mason said. “It’s how do we engage families, how do we address issues and concerns of the whole child in order to give them the greatest opportunity to be successful.”
A community school, she said, connects families whose problems might be crippling their children’s ability to learn with the social services they need.
“It frees up teachers to teach and students to learn because so much of what teachers have to do is really trying to complement or provide these auxiliary services that they’re not trained and/or don’t have time to provide,” she said.
The federal grant targets five core services: assistance to students who have been chronically absent, truant, suspended or expelled, family engagement, mental health services, mentoring and youth development programs and access to community-based support and services.
After hearing about the initiative from a supporter of Mercer Street Friends, the nonprofit spent the better part of the past three years laying the groundwork.
“We talked to people in the superintendent’s office, in the community, other social service providers just to get a sense from the community whether this was something that would be effective and whether they were willing to be a part of,” Mason said.
Rivera was chosen in large part because it had a principal — Bernadette Trapp — who was willing to work closely with them.
“It’s not just services being dropped into the school, but the school and organization working together,” Mason said.
Though the grant began on Oct. 1, Mercer Street Friends began familiarizing itself with the school last year. Now, four staff members and two interns work there full-time.
Licensed clinicians have begun providing individual and group counseling to both students and families. Over the last year, a vision screening was held and free glasses were given out, fresh produce was sent home and computers were distributed as part of its Trenton Digital Initiative.
A stress-reduction group for parents will also start up soon. Mason said that building parents’ involvement with the school and with their children’s education is critical.
“If we want our kids to be successful in school, we have to identify meaningful ways to engage their families, their parents,” she said.
Mason said the nonprofit plans to gradually roll out programs so they can see what’s working and what’s not.
“It’s a great opportunity for our community and organizations like Mercer Street Friends who are wrestling how to continue and increase our impact in challenging fiscal environments,” she said. “I see this as a way to pull together the strength of our community to have a positive impact on children and families.”