Prevention Links’ Liberty Family Success Center, the 53rd such state-funded facility in New Jersey, has begun operating in Kearny.
The nonprofit, financed by a $240,000 grant from the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), is a “one-stop resource for families to get connected with other families, looking to get plugged into the life of the community,” said parent organizer Priscilla Machado.
Parents and children and interested parties were invited to attend the center’s grand opening at 341 Kearny Ave., just off Halstead St., this past Monday, Dec. 14, and participate in holiday activities.
On Nov. 16, the center invited the town’s elected officials, along with Health Director Ken Pincus and Fire Chief Steve Dyl, to meet the staff. Also guesting for the day was state DCF Commissioner Allison Blake, a licensed social worker, who made a point of chatting with six mothers who had come to visit.
Machado said the Kearny Ave. location was picked because its location in the heart of the town’s main business district, thereby making it easy to find, accessible by public transportation and likely to attract walk-in traffic.
Although the ground-floor commercial space, a former dry cleaners, had been empty for some time, Machada said the property owner had cleaned and refurbished the interior and helped make it a perfect fit for the new occupants.
It has been outfitted with comfy couches where visitors can relax and talk, engage in crafts, drawing or games with children at a large dining room table, sit at computer stations to create or refine resumes and/or research information on everything from job opportunities to home mortgages and confer with staff for counseling on a variety of issues.
Dominque Garrett runs the center and Melissa Arevalo, a Kearny resident, and Esther Silva, who grew up in Kearny, serve as “family partners,” interacting with parents and kids who visit. Center hours are: Monday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays, by appointment only.
Machado, who is also a parent organizer at the nonprofit’s Bayway Family Success Center in Elizabeth, said that part of the center’s mission is “affirming strengths of the family and elevating their sense of self-worth so they don’t give up.”
Families can interact, she said, through fun activities like arts and crafts projects or doing Zumba fitness routines or through working on “tangible life skills,” whether that’s investigating home ownership or nutritional guidance for pregnant moms, etc.
Another goal, Machado said, is to encourage family members “to give back to fellow residents. We want to develop parent leaders who will stay strong being connected to one another.”
Gesturing to a nearby book cabinet, Machado said that staff plan to fill those shelves with materials containing information on resources currently available in the Kearny community such as child care centers, job opportunities, basic English-language courses, etc., to which parents can be referred.
A native of Newark’s Ironbound, where she graduated from Science High School, Machado moved with her family to Harrison for several years before shifting to Kearny as an adult, so she knows the area well. (Currently, she’s studying for a master’s in social work at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and leading a woman’s Bible study class at the Christian Community Presbyterian Church in Newark.)
If there are no locally available resources, then, Machado said, the center would ask parents if any would be willing to lead a group to help other families who may be seeking guidance in a particular area.
To get a better idea of what families in the community do want to know more about, the center is in the process of forming a volunteer advisory council of six to 12 members who will work with staff to survey local families and develop a “needs assessment” and then develop programs designed to meet those needs.
Machado said she hopes to see a full-fledged program of activities evolving by spring 2016.
In the meantime, the center has scheduled a series of events as a way of interacting with the public to get the word out and give local families a better idea of what lies ahead.
Here’s what is planned so far: Tuesday, Dec. 15, the movie “Polar Express” will be screened from 4 to 6 p.m.; Wednesday, Dec. 16, arts and crafts with holiday stick puppets, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 18, meet the staff, 3 to 5 p.m.; Monday, Dec. 21, arts and crafts: make a sock snowman, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Dec. 23, a screening of “Elf,” 2 to 4 p.m.; Monday, Dec. 28, brunch with staff, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Tuesday, Dec. 29, Parent Advisory Group meets, 4 to 6 p.m.
For more information, call the center at 201-622-2210, send a fax to 201-622-2224 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.