For the launch of our newest program, the Service Leadership Corps, 50+ veterans gathered in Newark, New Jersey to engage in innovative leadership training and community service. The weekend marked the beginning of their commitment as they embarked on our 6-month program to tackle some of our nation’s toughest challenges by partnering with community organizations on a local level.
We’d like to thank our sponsors, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Boeing, and CarMax, for making this program possible.
It was truly an energizing experience to have so many impact-minded veterans gathered in a professional setting. Conversations were productive. Connections were purposeful. Outcomes and goals were concrete.
The weekend was about the same three things that The Mission Continues is all about — connectedness, community impact, and personal growth.
Angel Gual, longtime Mission Continues volunteer and now a member of the first Service Leadership Corps class said, “It’s an exciting challenge. As a veterans, were not afraid of taking challenges.”
He really enjoys “Getting to meet new people who are part of this program where this is their first taste of The Mission Continues. Seeing their faces and their reactions when they get to see what The Mission Continues is all about is awesome.”
Community Impact in Newark with the Boys and Girls Club
Some Historical Background in a Nutshell
Newark experienced a a factory boom in WWI that led to a spark in migration to the area. The city experienced tremendous growth into the 1960’s, but with that growth came some issues. The growth also caused Newark to have the nation’s highest rate of substandard housing and the second highest rate of crime.
Growing tension and frustration around housing and other factors led to a 4-day riot in Newark that left 26 dead and caused over $10 million in damage. In addition to deaths and damage, there are residual effects of the riots that are still felt today. Since the riots, Newark still deals with decreased population, abandoned houses, increased unemployment, and a steady poverty rate of 25% (which is double the rate of the entire state of New Jersey).
Where the Newark 1st Service Platoon Comes In
The city is split into five wards, North, South, East, West, and Central. Our Newark Platoon has worked in almost all five wards in Newark, but had difficulty finding partners. We’ve worked with urban agriculture nonprofits and local schools but couldn’t find the right organization to work with for long-term operations.
Fortunately, we were connected to the Boys and Girls Club of Newark earlier this year. Central Ward faces a lot of challenges. 32% of its residents live in poverty with 45% of those residents being children. In addition to that, there was a community perception survey taken by kids from ages 13-30 and they perceive the challenges in Central Ward to be bullying, few adult role models, drug selling and usage, theft, robberies, and mental health issues.
The Boys and Girls Club is working alongside the other organizations located on the same square block as the club. This block is known as the “Campus.” This campus contains the Boys and Girls Club of Newark, Miller/Spencer School, Jesse Allen Park, and Grace West Houses.
This group also calls themselves “The Friends of Jesse Allen Park.” This friends group wants to change the neighborhood in a positive way through placemaking and everyone feels that the perception of Central Ward can change as long as community members take ownership of their neighborhood.
The Friends of Jesse Allen Park and The Mission Continues are working together to re-imagine and reinvent the public spaces around the Campus to strengthen connection between the people and places they share to support an evolution of what the community is known for.
What Newark Means to our Veteran Leaders
Raul Juarez, a Service Leadership Corps member who grew up in Newark, said when he was a boy, “I knew a lot of friends who went to the Boys and Girls Club. It was a safe haven. It was a way to escape. It offered a respite from the craziness that was sometimes going around us. You can be a kid there.”
Raul explains what the day meant to him. “For 20+ years I’ve been to different places around the country, but I never thought i’d have an opportunity to go back home in this capacity. To be from an area is that is marginalized and come back and see that there are good people doing good work, and rallying fellow veterans coming from as far as Hawaii and Puerto Rico, is super special, something I really cherish.”
Angel Gual is also a corps member who grew up in Newark. “I was born and raised in the projects–it was fun, but at the same time, it was a difficult life. I did everything I could to avoid issues of drugs and alcohol. I always focused on sports, the arts, school–doing things to keep myself busy and around people and kids that weren’t into that stuff.”
He says his local Boys and Girls Club played a big role in his teen years. “The Boys and Girls Club Ironbound pretty much saved me during the last chapters of my life in Newark before I moved into the military. It gave me purpose, and helped me continue to grow and be the man that I am.
Angel spent years at the club as a mentor to youth. “Even though I was a young teen, I was still able to mentor and guide other kids, staying out of drugs and alcohol, and showing them there is more that can be done outside of that world.”
The Service Project
Over the course of one afternoon, all corps members locked arms with the Newark 1st Service Platoon to help the Boys and Girls Club and the surrounding area with some beautification and revitalization efforts.
Together with community partners and volunteers, we painted a mural along a 2,000 square foot wall, added new mulch to playground area, did some landscaping, cleared debris and dead tree branches, and painted games on the blacktop.
Also importantly, we created a installed “drug-free zone” signage along students’ typical walk to school, while adding pleasant landscaping elements and workout equipment.
Summary of the Scope of Work
Boys & Girls Club:
- Paint mural on 2,000 square foot wall
- Paint asphalt games
- Trim & clean up trees
in lot parking
- Garden upgrade
- Build 3 picnic tables
Jesse Allen Park:
- Build signage near
- Paint 2 sets of workout equipment
- Landscaping near running track
Grace West Houses:
- Housing cleanup