2020 was a year like no other, bringing forth unprecedented and unforeseen challenges—but also many reasons to be hopeful.

Just a few months into 2020, we were confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenges that have long confronted Paterson—including poverty, hunger, and homelessness—were quickly exacerbated by this crisis. Many lost their jobs and struggled to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Children moved from learning in classrooms to learning online, but with many initially lacking the necessary tools (such as laptops, Chromebooks, and reliable Internet access), the “digital divide” became even more stark. Simultaneously, pain, anguish, and outright disgust enveloped our country following the murder of George Floyd.

Indeed, much of 2020 has been a dark time—but we have found reasons to be hopeful. Starting in March, our staff quickly pivoted to move all of our programming online, provide students with nearly 400 Chromebooks, give families $20,000+ in grocery gift cards, and distribute PPE to our housing residents. We have also held food giveaways, worked to make the holidays special for Paterson children and families, and celebrated our program participants’ many successes. We are enormously grateful to all donors, big and small, who have made our work possible.

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While it’s never been more clear that there is still much work to be done, we’re thankful for and proud of all we were able to accomplish this past year with the help of our friends, supporters, and devoted staff. We are confident 2021 will be a year filled with many new exciting projects, but first, let’s reflect on 2020:


We honored Paterson’s young leaders on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Our Paterson Youth Council (PYC)—a citywide youth-led and youth-driven civic leadership program organized by NJCDC that is the premier voice of Paterson youth—hosted its 14th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Youth Recognition Awards, honoring fourth youth, one adult, one elected official, and one youth-serving organization. The winners were selected for their dedication to making Paterson a better place for all through their extraordinary community service activities.

We celebrated the new Full Service Community School at JFK Educational Complex

NJCDC is proud to serve as the lead agency at the Full Service Community School at Paterson’s John F. Kennedy Educational Complex—New Jersey’s first federally-funded Full Service Community School at a high school. The Full Service Community School at JFK offers vital services such as an in-school health clinic, academic assistance, afterschool and summer programs, a laundry room, a food pantry, and much more. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on January 21st to celebrate the program, which was made possible thanks to a $2.5 million federal grant secured by the school district with the support of Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr.


We held the “I Love You” Breakfast at our preschool to say “thank you!”

Each year, we invite our Paterson Family Center Preschool (PFC) parents to join their children and the school faculty and staff for our “I Love You” Breakfast. The Breakfast has been held annually for over 10 years and allows the PFC staff to show their appreciation to the families who entrust them with educating their young children.


We celebrated Read Across America Day with community leaders

You’re never too old, too wacky, or too wild to pick up a book and read to a child! In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, NJCDC joined schools and nonprofits throughout the country for Read Across America Day, a nationwide movement celebrating the joys of reading. This year, more than 40 volunteers, including Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., Mayor Andre Sayegh and First Lady Farhanna Balgahoom Sayegh, New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way, Paterson Public Schools Superintendent Eileen Shafer, and Paterson Fire Chief Brian McDermott—read to 105 students at our preschool and more than 300 K-2 students at the Community Charter School of Paterson (CCSP).

We held a ribbon cutting ceremony at Lou Costello Park with Congressman Pascrell and Mayor Sayegh

When NJCDC received a $50,000 planning grant from the Passaic County Open Space Fund, it ignited what is now a $1.2 million project being undertaken by the City of Paterson to renovate Lou Costello Park. Dedicated in 1992, the park has since fallen into disrepair and has become a place that many do not feel comfortable frequenting. The plan calls for removing the gazebo, adding the City of Paterson’s first playground designed for children with autism and special needs, pavers, landscaping, and adding new lighting. The City will be able to renovate Lou Costello Park thanks to federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

We began our COVID-19 response

In the middle of March, things took an unprecedented turn as the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting our daily lives. NJCDC swiftly began our COVID-19 response, including pivoting to virtual programming, providing our housing residents with PPE, finding out what those we serve needed help with most, and raising well over $100,000 to distribute Chromebooks and grocery gift cards to those most in need.


NJCDC staff and youth leaders urged census participation on Census Day

Census data impacts our daily lives in more ways than most people realize. Not only does it affect the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, it also determines how more than $675 billion per year in federal funds is allocated through communities across the country. To raise awareness of the 2020 Census, on April 1—Census Day—NJCDC staff and our PYC members eagerly shared their Census Selfies and why they and their families filled out the census. It may have been April Fools’ Day, but this was no joke!

PYC held virtual forum on COVID-19

With everyone’s daily lives dramatically changed by the global pandemic, we quickly recognized the importance of safely staying connected. Led by our Paterson Youth Council (PYC), an hour-long virtual COVID-19 forum was held on NJCDC’s Instagram Live on Thursday, April 16th. PYC President Mohammed Uddin moderated the forum and brought people together to discuss the Coronavirus and how it has impacted them. Participants were able to ask him and other PYC members questions, post responses and comments, and join the live video.

NJCDC provided groceries to 100 families-in-need

As a result of COVID-19, the rate of food insecurity in Paterson quickly rose. To aid in feeding the hungry, NJCDC partnered with the Peruvian Important Company, La Chata restaurant, and the U.S. Census Bureau to provide groceries to 100 Paterson families in-need. Thanks to the help of our Neighborhood Help Center staff and volunteers, we were able to safely deliver 100 bags of food to neighborhood families.


We gave Chromebooks and grocery gift cards to 200 families

After surveying 1,000 neighborhood residents, we found their two biggest needs were food and access to technological devices for learning. Once we discovered this, we safely provided 200 Chromebooks and $20,000+ in grocery gift cards to 200 Paterson families.

NJCDC launched the Great Falls Steering Committee

In 2008, NJCDC began our place-based approach to services through the resident-led and resident-driven Greater Spruce Street Neighborhood Plan. Since then, many things have been accomplished in our neighborhood, but there is more work to be done! Thanks to a planning grant from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, we will create a new 10-year plan of initiatives to further improve this area of Paterson. To guide that work, we formed a Steering Committee made up of more than 20 neighborhood stakeholders who have been meeting (on Zoom) since May.


PYC held a virtual forum on civil unrest in America

On Friday, June 5th the PYC held its second virtual forum, this time focused on civil unrest and racial injustice. 75 participants, including students, PYC alumni, staff, parents, educators, and friends of NJCDC, gathered on Zoom to join in this vital discussion.

We celebrated our graduates

Every June, we at NJCDC look forward to celebrating our graduates of all ages, including those who attend our Paterson Family Center preschool. This year’s graduation looked a bit different, but was just as special, with virtual moving-up ceremonies on Zoom and drive-by visits from teachers. Other programs, including the PYC, also held virtual ceremonies to safely celebrate our graduates! The PYC Class of 2020 was accepted to a wide range of prestigious institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, Barnard College, Johns Hopkins University, Swarthmore College, and Parsons School of Design.


We distributed an additional 165 Chromebooks to Paterson youth

We worked to prepare students for the upcoming school year by distributing another 165 Chromebooks on July 17th. In total, we gave Paterson students nearly 400 Chromebooks over the spring and summer.

We unveiled the Great Falls Gateway Murals

As part of our strategic efforts to beautify Spruce Street—home to our headquarters, preschool, and CCSP, and the gateway to the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park—we commissioned several large outdoor murals for the exterior of the building we own at 59 Spruce Street. We unveiled the colorful murals—conceived by NJCDC’s Mike Cassidy, designed by Chris Drury of Brightwell Design, and painted by the local arts nonprofit Halls That Inspire—on July 24th with the help of Mayor Andre Sayegh. The murals celebrate the lives of Paterson native sons Larry Doby and Lou Costello and pay homage to Alexander Hamilton and Paterson’s former silk mills and locomotive manufacturing factories.


We virtually said “Thank You” to our Casino Night sponsors

Uncertainty regarding COVID-19 made planning NJCDC’s events unpredictable—to say the least! Originally scheduled for March 20th and then tentatively moved to two later dates, we ultimately canceled Casino Night due to the pandemic. However, we could not move forward without thanking our generous supporters who asked us to keep their Casino Night donations so that we could continue our work! To thank our donors, we held a short Zoom event where guests heard from CEO Bob Guarasci and three PYC alumni.


Our ‘Fore the Kids’ Golf Tournament raised nearly $90,000

Thanks to our event supporters, we raised nearly $90,000 at our 12th Annual ‘Fore the Kids’ Golf Tournament! Held at the prestigious and historic Glen Ridge Country Club, the money we raised will further our vision that all 8,000 children living or going to school in Paterson’s Great Falls Promise Neighborhood will graduate from high school—ready for college and a career.

We graduated our 26th class of AmeriCorps members

On Thursday, September 3rd, we proudly celebrated our 26th graduating class of AmeriCorps members with an outdoor, socially-distanced event at our Great Falls Youth Center. This year’s graduating class consisted of 15 individuals who each made a selfless commitment to dedicate 1,700 hours of services to children and families in Paterson during the 2019-2020 school-year.


We held a clean-up event at the Great Falls

On Saturday, October 10th, 174 volunteers gathered at the Great Falls for our cleanup of the Falls and the surrounding area. Volunteers spent hours at the sites, picking up litter to make our community a cleaner place to live and work. By the end of the cleanup event, they’d picked up even more trash than they’d anticipated, and filled dozens of garbage bags!

PYC hosted virtual Presidential election forums

Before every election—big and small—our PYC holds a “Vote for Me Because I Can’t” Rally to encourage eligible adults to vote. Because of the pandemic, the PYC decided to not hold the rally this year, and to instead host a virtual forum on the election. On October 20th, more than 60 participants gathered on Zoom to share their thoughts on the 2020 presidential election and what they felt our next president should focus on. Two weeks later, on November 3rd—Election Day—the PYC held a second forum to continue this important dialogue.

We made Halloween special for Paterson youth

To help Paterson children have a fun Halloween during this difficult year, we held virtual and outdoor, socially-distanced events to celebrate the holiday. These “spooktacular” events started on Friday, October 30th and included an outdoor Drive-Thru Trick-or-Treat event, where boxes of candy and chips were handed out by mask-wearing volunteers; a virtual costume contest; and an outdoor Fall Festival, where families enjoyed fun activities like painting pumpkins, dancing, and arts and crafts.


We helped small businesses in our neighborhood

Recognizing the challenges small businesses in our neighborhood face in overcoming the devastation caused by the COIVD-19 pandemic, NJCDC was proud to launch our Small Business Relief Grants program. This program supported 30 local businesses by giving them grants of up to $5,000 each, thanks to CARES Act funds we received through the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit (NRTC) program.

NJCDC made Thanksgiving special for 500 Paterson families

At an outdoor event held at our Great Falls Youth Center, we gave out 500 turkeys and 500 boxes with all the trimmings—including cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, corn muffin mix, corn, and desserts. The funding for this event was made possible thanks to generous donors, as well as by a grant of CARES Act funds which we received from the State of New Jersey.


NJCDC held our Virtual 26th Anniversary Celebration

On Thursday, December 3rd, 175 guests gathered on Zoom for our hour-long Virtual 26th Anniversary Celebration honoring St. Joseph’s Health. While it wasn’t a long event, it was a powerful one. Participants heard from NJCDC CEO Bob Guarasci, program participants and alumni, and community leaders, and enjoyed a special violin performance from CCSP alum Hector Otero. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to raise over $200,000 so that we can continue our work of creating opportunities to transform lives.

We held a Christmas Food Basket giveaway for 500 Paterson families

In these trying times, we wanted to make sure the holidays were still special for those we serve. On Tuesday, December 22nd, we held an outdoor Christmas Food Basket giveaway event at our Great Falls Youth Center. NJCDC staff and volunteers, including Mayor Andre Sayegh, gave 500 Paterson families turkeys and boxes with all the trimmings, as well as PPE kits containing masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes to help them stay healthy.

We gave 1,400 Paterson children toys for the holidays

After many weeks of soliciting, collecting, and organizing toy donations for Paterson children in need, our AmeriCorps program hosted NJCDC’s 27th Annual Holiday Party outdoors on December 23rd and 24th. At the event, our staff and volunteers—including Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver and Mayor Sayegh—gave holiday gifts to 1,400 Paterson children. In total, we were able to collect and distribute more than 6,000 toys for Paterson kids—a true Christmas miracle, this year more than ever. We are grateful to our good friends and benefactors, The Daleo Family, for underwriting this annual event.


Published with permission from the NJCDC

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