There is a special place in my heart for our youth in Jersey City, which is why we founded Content Creators Academy. They are our future after all, and we need to do what we can to help those in need. New City Kids is an amazing organization that has helped thousands of local kids by providing an after school program that allows them to explore music and academics. A safe space where they can be kids and learn skills that will carry them into their future.
This is actually my second visit to New City Kids and I was so happy to see all the amazing work they are doing.
What are your names and what do you do?
Hi, my name is Ashley Field and I’m the National Development Associate at New City Kids. What I do is help the national team expand the program to different cities or different states. Fundraising is a major part of my job – fundraising and development.
A very important job and very challenging.
What about you?
I’m Katie Wade. I’m the Associate Director of Development in New City Kids. I also do fundraising, but I also work with community partners in bringing them into our programming and working with universities, other non-profits in the area, churches and things like that to try and connect all of our services to be a more comprehensive organization.
My name is Folasade Alford. I’m currently a senior in the city.
What high school do you go to?
I go to Hudson Catholic High School. I’ve been here for about 3 years, this is my third year. I’m currently a team leader at one of our sites in the Lafayette area of Jersey City. As a Team Leader, I basically inspire, supervise, coach and mentor my staff and my other fellow team; provide as a leader.
Hi, I’m Tibaheam Brown. I’m a senior at Lincoln High School. I’m an Assistant Team Leader, assistant to Folasade. I help out my other teams so we could make sure we are getting our job done professionally and well-mannered.
My name is Itatis Belen and I am a senior, as well. This is my fourth year at New City and I’m a Performing Arts teacher. We basically just teach music and acting.
Awesome. For people who don’t know New City Kids, give me a brief history of the organization. What do you guys do exactly?
Katie: New City Kids has been in Jersey City making an impact since 2001, I believe. We started right here in our building in Fairmount and McGinley Square neighborhood. Started as a youth ministry and through seeing the kind of need in the community, it developed into more of an after school programming and college readiness. Our model, I think, is what makes us unique. There are three levels; we have our After School Center that serves youth age from 1st grade to 8th grade and they come classic after-school center, every day Monday through Friday. We have academic time with them, where they get to work on their homework, literacy skills, we have STEM classes for them, and things like that. We also are heavily music and performing arts focused, so we have music classes, the keyboard, bass guitar, voice, and drums. Those are the music classes that we offer, which is really fun. We have performances throughout the year that parents and community members can attend. What’s unique is our After School Center is run by our high school students, our Teen Life Interns. In Jersey City, we have 115 high school students that are fully on staff with us. They get paid, it’s a job, it’s an internship. They are running the After School Center – they are the Music teachers, they’re the Performing Arts teachers, they do it all, which is really cool because what is cooler to a 1st grader than a high school student in their area?
How do you get people into the program? Do they come to you? What is your outreach like?
Ashley: I think something that is really cool here is that the After School Center is starting to grow by legacy. We have families that have been really invested here, so they’re sending their kids and that turns into neighbors, and it’s just growing automatically now since we’ve been around. For example, now we have teenagers who have been in the program since they were kids and now their cousins go here, sort of like Monica and her story. Her family has been around New City Kids for some time now, but when it comes to recruitment, we do a lot of going into the schools and sharing about New City but it just spreads.
Is the program completely full?
For the next school year, I think that we will open that up sometime this summer. We do book up pretty fast because families who are here already know, so they put their application in this school year.
What do you guys do during the summertime? You’re open during the summer, that’s great.
We have a summer camp that goes on during the summer. It’s a 5-day program and we also offer City Sail, which is cool. We take a group of teenagers and younger kids out into the Hudson and they do the City Sail. We also have Bass Camps, like bootcamp for music, which is pretty cool.
Have you guys all started as kids and move on to being…?
We all have different stories.
Can I hear?
Folasade: I have been a kid here. My cousin, the legacy thing, she actually worked in New City. She’s a sophomore in college. When she was a freshman in high school, she worked at New City. When she was in her in junior year, I was a sophomore in high school and she recommended it and told me about it. I ended up joining and I’ve been staying here for about 3 years. She graduated and I also have another cousin who works here, which is her sister, so we all branched off from her.
Monica: For me, it’s the fact that I had neighbors. I used to go to 17th School and everyone knew about New City because they passed by the block going to school. My friends and my neighbors told me about it so when I applied, me and my group of friends, we did a pact, we all applied, we all got it. Literally, after two months I applied my Grandma, she only speaks Spanish, she said, “Oh you know what, just count my niece,” so she put my niece for the program. Starting her middle school, she’s been in New City since. Her 8th grade year is my senior year, so we’re both leaving together.
So what do you guys like the most about working here?
Folasade: I think what I like the most about working here is more so the support. My family gives me the support that I need but I know when they lack the support, New City knows how to jump in and fill that in, and I think that’s one thing that’s definitely helped me grow as a person. It helped me realize the people that are in my life, especially in my senior year, this definitely has helped me a lot with college and everything. I’ve been stressful and frustrated. I would break down and cry, and they always pulled me up and be right there with me. They’ve jumped in multiple times to make sure that I’m going to college.
That’s amazing. It’s so important.
Ashley: Our college readiness program is one of the main parts. These guys are all seniors so they’ve all be through the process. Do you guys want to talk about College Tour?
Monica: College Tour last year for us was amazing. We all had our own different favorite moments, and that was basically a way for all of us to see what colleges we like. Do we like a big campus, small campus, do we want to go to an HBCU, do they have the major we want? Now, the fact that we all picked a college we want was based on the College Tour and our experience.
Do you want to elaborate on what College Tour is?
Folasade: Yes. College Tour is during Spring Break. Every year is the upcoming Junior that gets to go. This year, the Juniors got to go and us Seniors, we went last year. That whole week of Spring Break, they take us to either 13 or 14 colleges depending on what colleges accept us. They take us to 15 colleges for the whole entire week and we basically are going on tours every single day. We’re sleeping at churches, we’re sleeping at hotels some days. The best thing about this experience is you can literally get this experience for free. We take SAT classes during the fall. If you take the SAT classes and you attend every single one, perform well, and get the right points, and do the homework, you get to go for free. You put in a $30 deposit but you definitely get that back as long as you attended, and I think that’s what’s so amazing about college tours because a lot of people don’t see the opportunity that you get while you’re here, especially when you’re on this tour. A lot of people are first generations, they’ve never been to a college, they never experienced what college is like or have never seen what can happen in college, so by coming to New City and having been able to have that opportunity is just so amazing, especially after being a first generation, which a lot of us are.
I heard your statistics are pretty crazy for your seniors going to college, right? Can you elaborate?
Katie: 99% of our graduating seniors end up going to college, which is incredible and 90% of those who have graduated and gone on to college are either on track to graduate or have already graduated.
Wow. So being a teenager is hard. There are so many outside factors that can influence us. How do you feel this program has helped you stay focused and reach your goals?
Tibaheam: I feel like New City has helped me reach my goals because it has opened my eyes to what I want to do in the future. It narrowed my path down to what college I want to attend and what I want to major in, which is Stockton University. I feel like New City takes away time that you have that you’d be doing other stuff that’s not productive. Instead of being outside making noise or being reckless, you’re inside changing people.
How are your friends with what you guys do?
Monica: You can go to a high school now and ask, “Did you pick what college you’re in?” Nope, because the school is 2 or 3 months behind and we’re on task with everything.
I talked at a high school. It was for female empowerment thing and they weren’t seniors, but I asked, “Have you guys started to think about college?” and they were like, “no.” I was surprised at that.
They value college here.
Folasade: I always knew that I wanted to go to college, but my mom went to college. I guess you can say that it’s a generation type of thing, but I feel like New City has definitely pushed me to know exactly where I want to go. They help us with financing and figuring out exactly where you want to go, why you want to go there, why you need to go there, which place is the right fit for you. Doing all that, I’m going to give Ashley as an example, I always knew I wanted to go to Howard University and while I had outside people talking in my ear telling me, “you’re about to be in debt,” “I don’t think you should go there,” “that school isn’t for you”, “I can see you here, here, here…” One thing Ashley has definitely done was push me to believe that’s where I need to go and as long as I follow my gut and my heart. At this point, it doesn’t even matter if you’re gonna be in debt because there are ways that you can get out of it. I feel like New City has definitely supplied me with that support and has been a resource for me to follow my dream and follow exactly where I want to go. I feel like if I wasn’t at New City, I probably wouldn’t be going where I want to go, I’d probably be going somewhere I need to go.
Do the seniors who are mentors – because they are dealing with children and kids are challenging in itself – go through some sort of program to get them ready to be mentors and teachers?
Ashley: Yeah, training – absolutely. Training happens all throughout the year for them. They all have a job coach who makes sure that they are following protocol and helping them out with discipline, but in the summertime that’s when mostly all the training happens.
Kids can be like little shits, how do you have the patience?
Folasade: It’s different per year. For example, there are new people that are coming in. For us, who have been here for multiple years, we are training those people. We aren’t necessarily getting the training but as we are training them, we are refreshing yourself with what exactly the training is. We train on discipline, professionalism, how to manage each kid that has disabilities. We have a couple of kids that have disabilities, so we have to manage those children and know what to do when they get angry or when they get frustrated.
Monica: In New City, we have not only one training, but it’s also multiple training. Everyone comes together from all sites for about 3 days, go on a retreat, and we all mingle with new staff and old staff and help each other out.
This is mindblowing. Not only do you guys help them with college and their application, but they are also gaining invaluable experience.
Absolutely, and they also get evaluated.
Yes, but also they can put it in their resumes that they were teachers and mentors, which is huge.
Ashley: It’s a huge thing when you’re trying to get a job. You want that experience to get a job. They make lesson plans. They know how to do all this stuff.
Monica: Teachers have their own training, tutors have their own training, and when you’ve been promoted , you’ll have your own separate training too.
Itatis: For musicians, we have a 2 week long bootcamp.
Are you guys done after this year?
Yup – we’ve got 10 days left.
We’re gonna be sad.
Monica: At the end of the day it’s not over because when you think about it, we still have something to honor seniors. We have a senior luncheon next week and we have senior dinner, which is when we get to say goodbye to everybody. But after our first year of college if we want to come back as an adult staff, like Ashley here, then we are able to do that.
Were you also?
Ashley: Yes, I was a teen here and I graduated in 2012. I went to college, I got my masters. This is my first full-time job after college. Working back here.
Monica: Because their goal is to get some of the teens to come back as adult staff.
Katie: We have 5 current staff members that were alumni in the program.
Folasade: I think I am mainly going to be sad because I feel like going to college, I won’t have the same type of family environment. I’m going to be on my own going to college. When I came here I already knew I wasn’t on my own, I already knew I had so many people who will back me up, I already knew I had so many people who love me. We always remind ourselves that we are only a phone call or email away. So I think that’s the best part because this is a forever thing not just an internship anymore.
Monica: I’m gonna miss the kids because I have field experience and it’s funny because they give walking groups. When I come in at 1 and I go pick up the kids around 2:45, they give me the list and it turns out I have kids that I met my freshman year who are still here. They are the ones that say, “you’re like my big sister,” “you’re like my mom.” Now that there only 10 days left, they’re counting down the days, “Oh no, we only have 8 more days with you!” So that moment when their final performance comes they’re not happy for it, they don’t want it to happen.
I’m very excited for you. Is there anything else we didn’t cover?
Folasade: I’m going to Howard, people!
Good for you for sticking with your gut. That’s so important.
Monica: Yes, I’m just glad I’m going for Computer Science.
Itatis: I’m going to William Paterson for Child Psychology.
Tibaheam: I’m going to Stockton University for Criminal Justice and Psychology.
Monica: At the end of the day, we all stood with the majors we wanted.
Do you guy know who Haytham is? Go ahead.
Haytham: I was born and raised in Jersey City. Over here, I own a clothing boutique in McGinley Square and a print shop. I do a bunch of events. I have my hands on a bunch of stuff. Just like you guys, started out right here in the city.
Let’s talk a little bit about Jersey City and how things are changing. How do you guys feel about the changes? How is it affecting your peers? And just your general thoughts.
Tibaheam: I feel like change is good in Jersey City. Jersey City has a reputation of being broken down and just not being a good neighborhood. I think change can bring a different aspect that people don’t know about Jersey City, especially for teenagers. A lot of my friends and associates didn’t make it to their senior year. It’s kind of sad to see them fall down the wrong path. I feel like with the changes, it can make people do more.
And try harder.
Monica: I mean, I live in Downtown now, but I can say the changes they made to Grove St. and Newark Ave., has been beneficial because they make a whole area where you cannot drive your car and you can walk by foot and admire the scenery around you and for the kids to ride their bikes and play. So it’s sort of a way with the community events that we get to meet people around there and make new friends and bond with your community so it’s beneficial.
Folasade: I feel like Jersey City has definitely changed, but a lot of people are applauding it for changing and not really saying that we still got some work to do. There are still a lot of areas where especially in Greenville and on Martin Luther King. There are some changes that need to happen, and sometimes a lot of people are focused on the fact that it’s changing but we need to see that there’s work that needs to be done. Places like New City or your mentorship, those are things that are meant to be put out there. People need to see exactly what Jersey City is doing or what New City Kids is doing or what these types of organizations are doing. They need to be multiplying. They need to be all over the place. They need to be on Greenville, MLK. These places need to be in every single where because I feel like a lot of children in Jersey City don’t have the resources and don’t have a place to go to when they need that type of support. If you’re in Greenville, there’s nowhere in Greenville for you to get that support. You got your family, but a lot of people out there don’t have a family so there’s no way for you to get that type of support at all. So I feel like there needs to be a place like this every single where in Jersey City, not just Downtown because when people think of Jersey City, that’s the first thing they think about – Downtown. You need to think of up here, we need the help, we need change and yeah, it’s emotional for me, honestly.
Maybe a future in politics?
Itatis: I feel like there should be more educational opportunities for people because some people don’t see themselves doing anything else after high school. If people had something like New City everywhere where they don’t necessarily have to be doing something faith-based, they could get somewhere.
So I’ll tell you about my challenge. I have this program and it’s going on its third year. The first 2 years it was like pulling teeth. I thought we were gonna get a line out the door because we are basically teaching content creation, how to run your own business, branding, and it’s fun stuff. The kids are now making music videos for hip-hop artists – it’s fun. There could be worse things you’re doing after school but it’s very hard getting some youth motivated to actually do something and go out there. Because there are a lot of mentorship programs, actually. Just getting local people interested and engaging in it. That is my personal challenge. I can fundraise all I want, but if I don’t have the people and the interest in the community then it’s not gonna go anywhere.
Some people think of New City that it’s just a job; you come in, you clock in, you clock out. When we all came in here, we ended up seeing multiple things. The discipleship and ways to grow in worship and your faith. We have a whole band that is made up of just teens and we make our own music and we get to perform. We also get to create the shows for the kids and teach them what they want to perform. So it’s a lot of compromising and getting to know your fellow team, so it’s a mix of things.
It’s hard to even convince people to come to New City because the first thing is that this is a job or they don’t pay enough or overtime.
I think it’s just a mentality thing in the world that we live in is generally that people want something in return for everything. For any effort, there needs to be a tangible thing. Everything is so like, “I’m gonna go buy this” or “I’m gonna get followers on Instagram,” they want something tangible as opposed to just an experience or thinking ahead like, “I’m gonna have this on my resume” or “I’m gonna get into the college I want to” or “maybe I can start my own business and be successful.” How do you break that mentality?
Folasade: Something tells me it’s not necessarily a mentality but more so how you are raised. I was raised in a civil household so with mom going to college, that’s all she drilled into my head; you’re gonna go to college, you need to find resources. I went to school in Elizabeth, all white school to be honest, so it really depends on how you were raised. There’s a lot of people in the city who don’t have any family members, don’t have a mom or are forced to live with an aunt or uncle who barely cares about themselves. When you’re raised like that, then it’s like you don’t even want to try. It feels like your life is already figured out for itself. If your aunt is not drilling it into your head, where do you go from there? That is the challenge. There’s no real way you could break that. It’s just something that’s real.
So what’s happening now, are we gonna see a performance?
Divinity Roxx is a local musician, she used to be the bassist for Beyonce, that’s her own band. She is coming for Musicians Day. Like I said, we are Performance Arts based so once a month maybe, we’ll bring a local musician.
Friday Showcase, so the kids will perform every other Friday. They’ll take turns with their classes and then a musician comes in.
So it’s meant to inspire them to stick with music. See what else you can do with a career in music, like Itatis is going into Music Education. Just inspiring them to continue with that, so Divinity is going to talk about that and also share her talent with us.
I love it. So the last question, for people reading this. What can they do to help you guys?
There are so many different ways. You can definitely support us financially, that is one way to give. But there are other ways to get us involved; spread the word. As you said, you can fundraise all you want but you have to get the kids there, so spread the word about what is happening in our communities.
What if you’re not religious? Like I’m Jewish. I was a Jewish kid, would I be okay, can I do this?
Absolutely. We are a Christian based organizatio, but we are open to people of all faiths. A lot of the youth that we serve aren’t necessarily Christian or don’t come in Christian. It’s an invitation, it’s not pushed on anyone. No one has to participate in that stuff. It’s all optional and isn’t necessarily built into it.
They don’t force it all. They’ll invite you, but they won’t force it on you.
I think that’s so welcoming to know that they don’t force this all on you. There’s no pressure. The day of the internship, they don’t even bring that to mind. Yes, they will make it known that they are a Christian organization, but they don’t make it known that you have to push it to work here, so I think that’s the most beneficial.
They’re not judgmental at all. You can be many backgrounds.
Because I know it’s something that people will probably ask.
Our doors are open. We are welcome to everyone.