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Sak pase? N'ap boule*: New Jersey’s Haitian Community Celebrates National Service

by Erin McGrath

I woke up one morning last week with the joyful cadence of Creole still playing in my head, having spent the night before celebrating the Foster Grandparents and AmeriCorps Members who serve with Jefferson Park Ministries (JPM).

JPM’s 2nd Annual Volunteer Recognition Awards celebrated the contributions of 31 AmeriCorps members and 50 Foster Grandparents who helped JPM expand its reach to more than 450 Haitian families in New Jersey.

Deep Community Support

JPM is a cornerstone of the large Haitian community of Union County. Thanks to the tremendous support of its volunteers – a workforce that outnumbers staff 12 to 1 – JPM is able to provide a range of culturally-sensitive services ranging from after-school programming to health and wellness workshops, GED and ESL classes, vocational training and food and clothing distribution. Its programming is open to the broader community, as well.

Volunteers also made it possible for JPM, following the earthquake in 2010, to take on an additional caseload of 200households of Haitian evacuees. Comprehensive services including food, housing, support groups, and administrative assistance went to families who desperately needed them.

Service Fosters Unity

Haitian community members created a lively program to celebrate these volunteers. Local high school students played music and community leaders offered uplifting remarks.

CNCS CEO Patrick A. Corvington, the highest-ranking U.S. public official of Haitian decent, was presented with the 2011 Haitian Leadership award in recognition of his contribution to the world of national service and for the way in which he serves as a role model for Haitian Americans.

Corvington called the crowded ballroom to a lifetime of service. His remarks, peppered with Creole, encouraged the young people to not get distracted or discouraged and to work hard to exceed expectations. He reminded them not to miss out on opportunities to support and invest in other young people so that they, too, will have something to draw on when the road becomes difficult

Corvington shared his own story of immigrating to the United States from Haiti and the lasting impact his third-grade teacher, Ms. Wilson, had on him. Ms. Wilson spent a summer teaching Corvington to read English and instilled in him the sense of curiosity, engagement, and confidence he needed to succeed.

"At the Corporation for National and Community Service we support some of the best data-driven solutions out there, supporting organizations like Jefferson Park Ministries. Giving people the structure and the assistance to create conditions for tens of thousands of Ms. Wilsons to support millions of kids who are on the path to failure, who deserve a chance, who deserve a shot at the future that we want for our own children. A future we can envision for our own kids. We, as parents, we know what we want for our children. We’ve always known. And we know that we are stronger together. That Unity creates Strength."

Perhaps most significantly, he reminded us all that there is so much more of our stories yet to be written, that service helps to foster unity, that unity creates strength, and that together, we are family.

*How're you doing? Fine!

Erin McGrath is the New Jersey State Program Specialist for the Corporation for National and Community Service

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