Making A Difference: Impact 100 Jersey Coast Members Look Back & Look Ahead to Grantee Initiatives

 In Press Releases

By Joanne Colella

As 2020 draws to a close and the promise of 2021 beckons, there is no better time for the members and supporters of Impact 100 Jersey Coast to take a look back while still looking ahead. On November 17, the philanthropic women’s volunteer organization held their much-anticipated Annual Meeting, where members voted for the four projects that would receive a 2020 Impact grant in the amount of $114,000. This year’s grantees include Aslan Youth Ministries, Fulfill of Monmouth & Ocean Counties, HABcore, and the Monmouth Museum. The transformational funds they’ve been awarded by Impact 100 Jersey Coast will allow each of these organizations to launch or grow important programs they’ve proposed to meet critical needs for underserved populations in Monmouth County in the year to come, and beyond.

Lest there be any doubt as to the tremendous impact made possible through Impact 100’s support, one needs only to review the proud updates from last year’s four grant recipients. In 2019, the Asbury Park Music Foundation, Clean Ocean Action, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Monmouth County (CASA), and St. Mark’s Center for Community Renewal received grants of $110,000 each. Despite the unique challenges of the COVID pandemic, these organizations demonstrated remarkable dedication and resilience in continuing their inspiring missions and the programs funded by Impact 100 Jersey Coast.

The Asbury Park Music Foundation’s Music Business & Technology Youth Program in Asbury Park was designed to engage low-income youth with a life-changing experience that would leverage their passion for music into an education in technology and business. When schools closed and classes went virtual, the APMF #BeatBus quickly became a mobile classroom, engaging students in remote collaborative projects that helped minimize feelings of isolation and alleviate the stress of COVID.

Their work paid off and the students received a standing ovation at the Paramount Theatre for their “We Are Rising” video/live production, reaching over 1,500 audience members. The collaboration project with the AP schools for Black History Month featured a historical lesson about the Asbury Riots, student-created musical composition across the schools, a field trip recording session at Lakehouse Recording Studio, and hands-on music video shoots, including an on-location field trip to Asbury Lanes. The students also completed a graduation video for the community as a tribute to the Class of 2020.

The project-based curriculum was developed and rapidly expanded to include new technology topics such as Virtual Reality, 3D Modeling, Augmented Reality, and Interactive Design. Audio, video, technology, and classroom equipment were purchased and the APMF space was redesigned and repainted, with modular workstations installed and ready to host classes when social distancing rules were scaled back. Professional volunteers were identified at key Asbury Park businesses to integrate into project-based lessons and local musicians were integrated into online collaboration projects. As of August, student recruitment goals had been surpassed and the Music Business & Technology Program was being offered both virtually and in-person – news that is music to the ears of the generous Impact 100 members who awarded the grant.

Clean Ocean Action’s Student Environmental Advocates and Leaders (SEAL) initiative transformed its new office in Long Branch into a center of environmental stewardship for underserved communities where, through a strategic and well-defined free program and active recruitment outreach, high school students from 11 area schools are invited to become mindful and resourceful leaders with a focus on local, current environmental issues.

The SEAL program offers a unique learning experience where students collaborate with peers across Monmouth County through bi-monthly virtual group training sessions. They learn the basics of community grassroots activism and advocacy and how it can be achieved in their own school communities, making real change through problem-based learning. Topics are presented by experts in fields that include civics and the voting system, environmental justice, water quality, environmental careers, recycling, and watershed mindfulness. In addition, guest speakers such as elected officials, educators, advocates, and activists discuss successful strategies and campaigns with the students to add real-world context to the lessons.

Clean Ocean Action uses a point-based system to award students for their activities, leadership, collaboration, cohesiveness, stewardship, and campaigns. The SEALS, in turn, help pass on their leadership and success to the community through presentations and engagement to middle schoolers and town councils. All of this was made possible through Impact 100 Jersey Coast’s first-ever environmental grant.

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Monmouth County (CASA) in Freehold expanded their services to reach additional at-risk foster youth, with plans for an average of at least 55 first-time foster children to be assigned to CASA advocates each year for the next five years. Their goal is to have all children in the Monmouth County foster care system assigned to CASA volunteers, who are appointed by a judge to advocate for abused and neglected children in foster care to ensure they don’t get lost in an overburdened legal and social service system, receive the services they need, and find safe, permanent homes.

CASA has benefited greatly from a new development hire that was funded by Impact 100 and is creating a new virtual fundraising campaign, using personalized webpages to solicit donations for special fundraising challenges. They are on schedule with volunteer training, which is being done virtually. The sheriff’s office also implemented socially distant measures to accommodate the fingerprinting process during COVID so that volunteers could be fingerprinted, matched with a child, and supervised by CASA team leaders. CASA advocates have maintained frequent contact with their assigned kids through video conferencing in lieu of in-person visits and have become adept at finding creative ways to establish relationships and keep the children engaged and motivated, including using puppets for the younger ones, reading books, and tutoring with flashcards.

Due to the COVID-19 state budget crisis, funding for the CASA program has been cut from the State of New Jersey’s supplemental budget, forcing CASA to cut staff and services while continuing to be a voice to speak on behalf of New Jersey’s most vulnerable children – and making the funds provided through the Impact 100 grant even more vital than ever before.

At St. Mark’s Center for Community Renewal in Keansburg, a project to expand and modernize its existing kitchen allows the center to better serve its guests and provide additional opportunities for volunteers. The center offers meals, pantry services, crisis counseling, health screenings, and more to individuals and families in need throughout the Bayshore community. The new facilities will also provide a variety of nutritional educational initiatives for the community, expanded hours, and increased delivery services. 

With help from Impact 100 grant funds, the initial phase of the center’s kitchen expansion was completed and supplemental food was provided for guests on the one day it was closed. The first meal to mark the grand reopening of the new, modernized kitchen and equipment was served the day before the COVID shutdown. Since the feeding ministry is considered an essential service, steps were taken to change its short-term operations in response to the pandemic. The social breakfast service was eliminated and takeout meals were implemented seven days a week, all served outdoors. The number of volunteers was reduced significantly from more than 100 to less than 10 to create a safe “CCR Bubble” and delivery service to senior and low-income housing helped reduce the number of visitors, even as the number of lunches served increased by nearly 75%. Initially, the food pantry moved to prepackaged items before returning to offering choices with outdoor service. The county food bank arranged for local area restaurants to keep staff employed by preparing meals for the ministry, allowing the Saint Mark’s small crew to focus on essentials.

The next phase of utilizing the grant funds has been focused on redesigning the center’s outside facilities to create a safe dining space for everyone. A group of Impact 100 volunteers built well-spaced outdoor picnic tables, most pantry distribution was moved outside, and canopy tents were purchased to create shelter from sun, rain, and snow. Other grant-supported work at the facility includes enhancements such as replacing the old window air-conditioning units with a new HVAC system and installing new windows that open to allow fresh air and adequate circulation, which is critical for reopening. Local contractors, who are also center guests with families to support, have been hired to do needed outside maintenance and repairs. In addition to the structural work being done, the center staff is also discussing programs and services for adults and children, both short-term and long-term, that the community will need during and after the pandemic.

All these accomplishments were made possible with the collective efforts of Impact 100 Jersey Coast members, combining their contributions to maximize their reach into the community. The organization’s mission is to award transformational grants to local nonprofit organizations, enabling them to strengthen or expand their services, while empowering women to improve lives through philanthropy. Since its founding in 2015, the organization has awarded more than $1.6 million to 14 Monmouth County nonprofits to help them address unmet needs and reach underserved populations. Updates are given throughout the year about the progress of the recipients’ programs made possible through the grant funding.

Impact 100 Jersey Coast membership for the 2021 Class is open now and upcoming recruitment events can be found online. Members pledge $1,100 each, with funds pooled to award annual grants of at least $100,000. Women throughout the area who would like to learn more about how they can make an impact in their community are invited to join this collective of dynamic women. For more information, please visit https://www.impact100jerseycoast.org/ or email membership@impact100jerseycoast.org.

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