Neighbor Spotlight

We are Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Every day members of the Interfaith Neighbors team and over 100 volunteers come together to support our neighbors in the community.

Neighbor Spotlight | Preserving Independence with Meals on Wheels | March 2024

Marjorie Faulhaber, Meals on Wheels recipient with her delivery driver Shaneal Jones.

Marjorie Faulhaber has lived in her Asbury Park home since 1956. When we visited, it was all prepped for Valentine’s Day, with red and pink heart décor and tempting jars of candy. She is 90 years old and has been a recipient of Meals on Wheels for two years, which has helped her maintain independence.

Marjorie is retired from New Jersey Natural Gas, where she worked for 29 years. She spoke about Asbury Park warmly and recounted fond memories of her years in residence. “I’ve loved living in Asbury and being close to the beach. I used to walk the boardwalk every day from Ocean Grove to Avon. I can’t do that distance anymore, but I do still get out to walk around the block” Marjorie explained.
Two years ago, as Marjorie became more reliant on relatives to help with everyday tasks, she began receiving Meals on Wheels. When asked about how these meals help her everyday life, she stated, “I’m still able to cook unlike some other senior citizens, but the meals delivered through Meals on Wheels supplement whatever I cook and are nice to have when my relatives are unable to take me grocery shopping. They’re a huge convenience in my life.” Marjorie expressed that Meals on Wheels is extremely important for seniors across Monmouth County who are unable to cook or get out to shop without relying on family members and friends for groceries. It allows them to continue living in their own homes.

“The chili is my favorite! And I always love the vegetable sides and the cereal,” she exclaimed. However, when asked what her favorite part of receiving Meals on Wheels was, she responded, “the people. I love that they’re trustworthy, and I don’t have to worry about anything when they drop off the food. They’ve become my friends.” At this, her regular delivery driver, Shaneal, smiled and they laughed when Shaneal agreed, “we’re buddies!”
With Meals on Wheels of Monmouth County by her side, Marjorie doesn’t have to worry. Friendly faces checking in and nutritious meals delivered to her doorstep are reassurance for her and allow her to continue living her life in her own home.

Neighbor Spotlight | Monmouth County Seniors are Eating Clean, Bro! | March 2024

Since 2013, Eat Clean BRO has been providing affordable, healthy meals with quality ingredients on a mission to bring healthy eating right to their customers’ doorsteps. Founder, Jamie Giovinazzo, started making clean meals for his friends looking for nutrition to supplement their active lifestyle in the gym. Nicholas Wilkins, Eat Clean Bro’s Culinary Specialist, described the start of the business, stating, “with $300 in his pocket, Jamie started Eat Clean Bro with the intent of providing his community with affordable, healthy, prepared meals.”

Jamie Giovinazzo, Founder of Eat Clean BRO with his son in their commercial kitchen.

Wilkins explained that these always fresh, never frozen packaged meals have integrity behind the ingredients. He went on to emphasize the core values Jamie instills in their staff every day, the PRICE success model, standing for professionalism, respect, integrity, compassion, and excellence. Eat Clean Bro believes that excellence within can spread, and that taking care of your body with quality, healthy ingredients is the first step towards a better community and world.

Since starting their healthy meal delivery business eleven years ago, Eat Clean Bro has built a strong reputation and expanded their business. They now deliver and ship meals across all of New Jersey, NYC’s five boroughs, and Rockland and Westchester Counties in New York.
Interfaith Neighbors [IFN] caught on to the quality products Eat Clean Bro was producing and scheduled a meeting with the team to explore the possibility of using their meals for Interfaith Neighbors’ Meals on Wheels program. During the COVID-19 health crisis, IFN was forced to switch to outsourced meals, rather than preparing them in IFN’s kitchen. Several companies were tested and IFN still wasn’t completely satified with the quality and nutritional value of the meals being provided. IFN wanted to find the best possible option for the homebound seniors served. After a meeting with our Meals on Wheels team, Eat Clean Bro made it their goal to provide the standard quality meals they make and tailor them for the seniors’ needs. Eat Clean Bro’s dietician, Hillary Cecere, elaborated, stating, “we wanted to create a meal plan that was nutritious, comforting, and had some variety for the seniors.”

Beginning in April 2023, IFN began “taste-testing” Eat Clean Bro’s meals with our Meals on Wheels recipents. After an overwhelmingly positive response, in June 2023, IFN and Eat Clean Bro entered into a new partnership, with Interfaith Neighbors delivering Eat Clean Bro meals exclusively to home-bound seniors. Monmouth County senior recipients have shown overwhelming support for the switch in meals, sharing praise with their delivery drivers and sending notes to Interfaith Neighbors exclaiming how much they love the Eat Clean Bro food that tastes homecooked and delicious. Wilkins explained that Eat Clean Bro loves debriefing with the Meals on Wheels of Monmouth County team and hearing the feedback from the clients that is considered to make the meals the best they can possibly be for the seniors served.

Eat Clean Bro has continued to go above and beyond and is hoping to spread their work to other Meals on Wheels branches. The team recently attended a national Meals on Wheels of America conference to gain more insight into their goals and to hopefully spread the influence they’re having on the community. With Eat Clean Bro’s help, Interfaith Neighbors’ Meals on Wheels Program has been able to enhance the quality of service given to our seniors in need with healthy, fresh, nutritious meals. Here’s to eating clean, bro!

Neighbor Spotlight | Joann Fischer | December 2023

Joann Fischer

Every Wednesday Joann Fischer sits at the first desk Interfaith Neighbors’ employees see on their way in, welcoming them with her familiar face. Usually, the individuals that employees get to know are their fellow full-time/part-time employees, working daily or a few times a week for an hourly wage or salary. However, Joann Fischer, is no ordinary familiar face in the office. She is an Interfaith Neighbors volunteer, and an extremely consistent and reliable one at that. Volunteers usually come and go and give their time on their own terms. But Joann has continued to volunteer with Interfaith Neighbors (almost) every Wednesday for the past 9 years.

Joann volunteers with our Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program, which assists individuals and families with rental and mortgage payments to allow them to remain in their homes during times of financial instability. Before volunteering with IFN, Joann worked in retail for 15 years, and then moved on to work for the Department of Public Works as a Facility Management Specialist.

Joann explained how she was introduced to IFN, stating “I actually had a neighbor who volunteered here, but I started after seeing an announcement in my church’s bulletin that the organization was looking for volunteers right after I had retired.” Her volunteer work consists of entering data of clients the Rental and Mortgage Program assists into a county database that goes by the acronym HMIS, which is required by Monmouth County under grant agreements. This data not only tracks Interfaith Neighbors’ performance on the grant funding received from the county, but it also helps the county understand the level of need in the community.
Judy Nelan, Interfaith Neighbors’ Senior Manager of Homeless Prevention through Rental and Mortgage Assistance, remarked, “Joann’s volunteer work helps us tremendously. With the increased volume of calls, our team has limited time to handle other mandatory tasks, like entering HMIS data. We’re so grateful Joann is a consistent, reliable volunteer that allows us to continue our work.”

Joann described how the program makes a difference, stating, “The assistance Interfaith Neighbors’ Program provides allows people to meet their needs such as groceries, utility bills, and other financial obligations while they’re facing a difficult time.” She also highlighted the growing need, remarking, “it seems as if there are more people on the verge of homelessness than there is money to fulfill their needs.”

When asked what her favorite part of volunteering with IFN is, Joann responded emphatically, “The people! I love the people I get to work with at IFN and how everyone interacts with one another. It’s almost like one big family, and I think this dynamic helps the employees do their jobs well and assist more people in need.”

Interfaith Neighbors thanks Joann for her continued service and looks forward to seeing her next Wednesday!

Neighbor Spotlight | Bethel AME Church & Pat Cooper | September 2023

After moving away from her hometown of Neptune to work in other New Jersey cities, such as Camden and Newark, Pat Cooper came back to her community to serve those in need through Bethel AME Church in Asbury Park. Before returning “back home,” Pat gained a wide variety of experience. She was employed at the Department of Labor for over 25 years, then worked for the Employment and Training Commission, and finally, proceeded to open her own business focused on management and consulting.

Pat Cooper with seedlings at Kula Urban Farm.

She began working with Bethel AME Church in 1999 when she returned to the Neptune/Asbury Park area. She served as Chair of the Bethel AME Board from 1999 to around 2013. She now serves as the Director of the Bethel AME Food Pantry. When she first started with the church, she taught soft skills in career preparation and job training classes. Then, Pat wrote a grant that seeded the Bethel AME Food Pantry, allowing them to receive independent donations and connecting them to local food banks to provide food contributions for Bethel AME’s local recipients.

“The relationship with Kula Farm began when they approached us about using part of our property to grow food and proposed some of the yields be donated to our pantry in return,” Pat recounted. “We were not receiving produce from any major food bank at the time, and I thought this could be a great addition to our supply.”

Bethel AME Food Pantry not only began to receive produce from Kula Farm, but they also started to get their youth involved in Kula Farm programs. These provide education and hands-on experience in nutrition, wellness, and farming.

“It’s so important to have access to this fresh, healthy produce to create a well-rounded diet for individuals picking up food from our pantry. I love the fact that it’s also teaching our young people about nutrition, and how they should be treating their bodies” Cooper explained when asked about why this relationship is so valuable. “I’m a firm believer that organizations working together makes for the best service to the community. We are so grateful to be able to have this relationship with Kula Farm,” Cooper continued.

“The community we serve is primarily Haitian, and Kula has

Sampling of produce harvested and donated to the Bethel AME Food Pantry

adapted to their wants and needs by growing produce they request. Our clients seem to love the red spinach, radishes, and dry beans. Many of them have also started eating produce that is new to them and learned how to prepare it, ultimately making their diet more nutritious and well-rounded,” Pat explained. “The community absolutely loves the fresh produce from Kula, and many of them would not have access to it without this relationship.”

Pat went on to describe the impact our programs make in the community, stating, “We are so grateful for Kula Farm and Interfaith Neighbors for taking an active role in the community and making sure members have access to things that are critical to health, like food and housing.”

Pat expressed again how important it is for these community members to have access to this fresh healthy food because of the high cost of food and the lack of transportation to distant markets. She described how, oftentimes, when people start receiving a great resource, like the produce provided by Kula, there is fear in the back of their minds that it will suddenly go away. However, Pat expressed her confidence in Kula and IFN’s abilities, stating, “With everything Kula Farm and Interfaith Neighbors is doing now, and how they’re preparing for the future by enlarging their footprint and impact on the community, you can tell they’re in it for the long haul.”

Neighbor Spotlight | Community Connections | June 2023

Diane Shelton seems to know everyone, serving on many committees, while organizing events and initiatives all over Asbury Park. A staff member at Interfaith Neighbors for over five years, Diane is making a deep impact on the lives and communities around her.

 After growing up in Neptune and graduating from Neptune High School, Diane went on to earn her B.A. in Sociology and a Master’s in Social Work. As a social worker, she noticed there were patterns in the issues her clients were facing, and there needed to be systemic change to address their needs on a larger scale. This realization led her to macro-social work and her position as the Community Outreach Specialist at Interfaith Neighbors.

“My role at Interfaith Neighbors is to be a liaison between our organization, the West Side of Asbury Park, community partners, and stakeholders,” Diane explained. She aims to bring encouragement to the community, and act as a role model and a connector.

“Community events are so important because they allow individuals to become familiar with our organization and its incredible resources. We want to build trust in the community and give them spaces to express themselves and connect with one another,” Diane answered when asked about her initiatives and events.

Under a grant from the Regional Foundation, Diane facilitates Springwood Avenue Rising, Asbury Park’s Got Talent, and annual mural projects. Springwood Avenue Rising was created while preparing for the 50th Anniversary of the civil unrest that took place on Springwood Avenue in Asbury Park. Diane explained that the community wanted to find ways to emphasize commemorating the black-owned businesses and the vibrant community of the West Side of Asbury Park, instead of focusing on the unrest. Events, including a Springwood Avenue History Tour, along iwth other initiatives were planned, but were interrupted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. With public events now coming back, they have engaged in speeches at libraries and have had two Roundtable Discussions centered around Community History and Involvement of Men in the Community.

 Asbury Park’s Got Talent is an annual community event Diane also facilitates. She explained that this is a “youth-led, adult-guided” event that was born out of kids expressing their desire to have space to display their talents. Each year, try-outs are held with reputable judges, and those who make it go on to the Final Showcase. This year, the showcase was held on May 6th and it was an overwhelming success with incredible performances and community bonding.

Diane also oversees yearly mural projects in Asbury Park, funded by the Regional Foundation. She strives to have each mural embody a different story and neighborhood collaborations. For instance, the most recent mural project was a collaboration between a local artist and kids from the Boys and Girls Club, while the upcoming project is planned to be a woman-centric mural to promote awareness around women’s rights. “It’s essential for Interfaith Neighbors to be connected to the community we serve because only then can we know how to best be of service. We need to understand their needs, hopes, and struggles to know which programs to implement,” Diane explained. “I hope my work increases awareness about Interfaith and the services we provide, promotes community involvement, and assures community members’ voices are involved in planning and decision-making conversations regarding their community,” Diane shared.

Diane is the embodiment of our founding principal of ‘neighbors helping neighbors.” Through her connections, organizing, and leading by example, our community and organization get better every day.

Neighbor Spotlight | A Family Affair | March 2023

Dee Selheim, Patti Brown, and Jim Walsh are three siblings who were raised in Manasquan with volunteering and giving at the forefront of their family values. Each of them described how their family grew up volunteering and that giving back to their community came naturally to them.

Interfaith Neighbors is lucky to have all three as faithful and valued volunteers for our Senior Nutrition/Meals on Wheels Program. Dee started in the Spring of 2022 after retiring from her job as the Associate Director of Brookdale Community College, Wall Campus. She currently assists the program by coming in twice a week to answer phone call inquiries for Meals on Wheels and clear the voicemail box. The calls from clients vary, ranging from questions or concerns, to newcomers hoping to sign up for the delivery program. Dee described that one of the best parts of volunteering with IFN is feeling good when she leaves knowing that she helped a senior in need. “So much of the communication can be an endless loop, and it feels good to actually get in contact with the clients and address their needs” she explained.

Dee was introduced to Interfaith Neighbors and Meals on Wheels by her sister Patti. She and Patti, as well as their brother Jim, spoke about how Meals on Wheels is much more than the meals—it is a wellness check for the seniors they service as well. Patti started delivering meals in 2018 after retiring from teaching Kindergarten. Her brother Jim introduced her to Meals on Wheels and after riding along on his delivery route with him, she was drawn towards volunteering. Since 2021, she has been the site coordinator at Manasquan, helping facilitate delivery routes and delivering meals on an as-needed basis. Patti said her favorite part is chatting with the clients upon delivery and giving them a friendly face. Patti has been a jack-of-all-trades, and has also assisted with answering phones, like her sister Dee. She and Dee both agree that one of the most challenging parts of the job is dealing with those who don’t qualify due to living with family members or not being completely homebound.

The starting point of this family volunteer chain reaction was Jim Walsh, Dee and Patti’s brother, who has been volunteering, delivering meals, with Meals on Wheels for about 20 years. He is still employed full-time in sales, and with his job requiring more travel as of late, he volunteers when he can. “There is so much need in the world. I do what I can, and I feel that if everyone pitched in even just a little it could really create change,” Jim described.
Interfaith Neighbors is extremely grateful to have this wonderful family dedicated to helping those in need. Dee, Patti, and Jim are “three of a kind”, and we thank their parents for raising them to give back to their community.

If you are interested in volunteering for the Meals on Wheels program, please contact Jennifer at [email protected] or 732-637-2146.

Neighbor Spotlight | Meet Sade Mills | March 2023

Employed by Interfaith Neighbors for just over a year, Sade Mills has already risen above and beyond, and exceeded her own expectations. Sade started in the Meals on Wheels program as a part-time meal delivery driver in January 2022. In that role, she delivered meals to congregate sites in Middletown and Keyport, where senior citizens can come to the Senior Centers for lunch. After returning from delivering meals, she would assemble meal bags to be distributed on door-to-door home routes.

Her role has since changed, and changed again! After showing her dedication and abilities, she took up the position as the Howell Senior Center Site Manager, which entailed managing the kitchen and serving the meals to seniors who came to the center. She began to learn the Meals on Wheels software system in her role as site manager at Howell, adding new clients and managing the home delivery routes. This led to her next role, another promotion, working in the main Interfaith Neighbors office assisting the Nutrition Program Director, Beth Paterno. Sade enters client information into the system and coordinates delivery routes for the county-wide program, while also delivering meals on an as needed basis.

“It means a lot for me to be employed by an organization that many people are even just excited to volunteer for,” Sade explained. She described how great a feeling it is to help people, and that she is so grateful for the Interfaith Neighbors leadership team for believing in her and allowing her role to grow.

“My favorite part is getting to tell people that I am helping to make a change in people’s lives when they ask what I do for a living,” Sade stated with a smile on her face. She went on to explain how delivering meals gives seniors not only nourishment, but also social interaction and a friendly face.

Sade’s dream is to acquire her degree in Sociology and to become a social worker and/or to open her own daycare. She loves children and helping people, and feels like Meals on Wheels and Interfaith Neighbors is a great fit for her.

Neighbor Spotlight | Twelve Years of Assisting Neighbors In Need| December 2022

With twelve years of service at Interfaith Neighbors, Maura Comer reminisces on rewarding times, hard work, and unexpected challenges as she moves on to her next chapter. Maura and her family moved back to the Jersey Shore from Virginia in 2010 and, with all her children in school full-time, began searching for somewhere to build a fulfilling career. It was in November 2010 when she was hired at IFN as the Director of the Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program, the program the organization was founded on almost 35 years ago. The Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program is designed to help prevent homelessness and provide financial stability to those living in Monmouth County. As Director, Maura oversaw the process of screening hundreds of clients each year and assisting those who qualified with rent arrears, mortgage payments or security deposits.

When asked what her favorite part of working for Interfaith Neighbors has been, Maura didn’t hesitate, disclosing, “knowing we made a difference in peoples’ lives every day is what I loved most about this job.” She explained the stories that stood out to her most over the years were families referred by medical professionals who had sick children, stating, “being a mother myself, I really felt for struggling families and parents over the years.” In her role, she realized that one family member having a serious health issue could change the entire family dynamic, with parents having to endure taking time off work to care for them, skyrocketing medical bills, and emotional challenges. “It’s truly an unexpected expense that families aren’t prepared to deal with. That’s why these stories stick out to me—they really need the help,” Maura expressed.

Maura described Sandy and the COVID-19 Pandemic as two of the biggest challenges Rental and Mortgage Assistance faced during her time at Interfaith, due to the increase of families and individuals in need. “I am hopeful that the program will soon see an end to the effects COVID-19 has had on struggling families because we are still seeing that today” Maura described. After twelve years of service at Interfaith Neighbors, Maura’s children have all completed college, and she’s ready to move on to a new stage in her life. She’s confident the time is right and is leaving the Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program in the hands of her hard-working colleagues, Judy Nelan and Emma Hess. “I know they’ll continue to make such a tremendous impact on the lives of those we serve because of the time and effort they dedicate” Maura stated. Thank you to Maura Comer for twelve amazing years of dedication to Interfaith Neighbors. We wish you the best of luck in your next chapter!

The IFN Rental & Mortgage Assistance Program provided assistance to approximately 400 families in 2021 providing $798,613 in direct assistance in the form of rent, security deposits or mortgage payments.

Neighbor Spotlight | It’s a Family Affair | March 2022

Beth Paterno, Director of Senior Nutrition/Meals on Wheels Program & Mike Paterno, Volunteer

In 2019, Beth Paterno joined the Interfaith Neighbors Senior Nutrition/Meals on Wheels team. A retired schoolteacher and daughter of Interfaith Neighbors founder, Joe Marmora, Beth wanted to follow her father’s lead and help to support the mission of Interfaith Neighbors. She initially thought she would be helping out part-time, but she soon became engaged in the work and is now the full-time Director of the Senior Nutrition/Meals on Wheels program.

It’s been challenging since Beth became Director of the program. Shortly after starting, we were faced with the start of the COVID-19 health pandemic. Beth and the rest of the Senior Nutrition team came together to update safety protocols, recruit and train new volunteers, as many of our senior citizen volunteers understandably stayed home in the early days of the pandemic, and worked tirelessly to keep the program up and running on a daily basis. Those that relied on the home-delivered meals needed the program’s support more than ever. Many days Beth was on the road delivering meals herself, filling in for an absent delivery person.  She brings to the program dedication and a passion that is infectious.

“I work with an incredible staff every day.  It has become a happy place to work and volunteer for everyone who is part of the program. Since coming to the program I have reflected how in moving from being a teacher to director of Meals on Wheels, the two roles are both service and family oriented. In my role as a teacher, I connected with parents to help ensure their children’s success. Now, there’s a bit of a role reversal. I connect with children to talk about their parents’ needs for living healthy, successful lives,” says Beth.

In October 2020, the program was facing some staffing shortages in the kitchen due to normal attrition and the impact of the health pandemic. Each day, the Interfaith Neighbors kitchen prepares the 1,100 plus meals that are delivered to seniors across the county. Beth’s husband Michael (Mike) Paterno saw the need for help and volunteered to help out in the kitchen for a few weeks. After a few weeks, he was hooked on the program too, arriving each day at 4:00AM, helping the kitchen run a little more effectively and with a lot more excitement. Music and singing can now often be heard coming from the Meals on Wheels kitchen in the early morning hours.

“Getting up early, knowing I am helping people who wouldn’t necessarily eat if they didn’t get their meals is a really rewarding way to start each day,” says Mike about his volunteer service.

Over a year and a half later, Mike still arrives in the early hours of the morning and works for four hours preparing meals before heading out to his job in pharmaceutical packaging. He rarely misses a morning and has become a real mentor to the younger members of the kitchen staff. He loves to joke that his wife Beth is now his boss!

Neighbor Spotlight | Meet the Launch Center Team | November 2021

Meet the team that is helping people change their lives. The Launch Center is designed to help anyone from the community find solutions to problems, discover their passions and potential, and map the way to one’s dreams for the future. And, the special people that make up the Launch Center team are truly inspirational.

Gillian Edgar, Launch Center Director and Certified Life Coach leads the team and manages both the Launch Center and the adjacent Business Development Center. As a Certified Life Coach, Gillian provides one-on-one coaching to Launch Center clients and is a long-term Success Coach for SOAR Program graduates. With business development expertise, she also provides the business coaching services for Business Development Center clients. For the Launch Center’s Career Preparation Programs, Gillian oversees all program enrollment and engagement.

Gillian Edgar, Launch Center Director, Kerwin Webb, Launch Center Education Specialist, Semaj Vanzant, Sr., Launch Center Development Manager, and Nashiem Frasier, SOAR Graduate (clockwise from bottom left)

Semaj Vanzant, Sr. serves as the Development Manager for the Launch Center in addition to his other significant role of Senior Pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Asbury Park. Semaj represents the Launch Center in the community, both sharing programming offerings to residents, but also building relationships with end-point employers, community organizations and local businesses that can host work experience clients in the Level Up program. He is the Program Manager for the SOAR Program and also serves as a long-term Success Coach for SOAR grads.

Kerwin Webb is the Launch Center’s Education Specialist and also a Certified Life Coach. In his role, he serves as the lead instructor for the SOAR Program. Kerwin is also responsible for the Launch Pad community workshop program, both directly teaching workshops, but also developing partnerships with organizations who also provide the workshop content. Kerwin is also a Certified Life Coach and provides one-on-one coaching services to Launch Center clients and as a long-term Success Coach for SOAR graduates.

Meg Flores, Launch Center Solutions Administrator

Meg Flores hardly needs an introduction to those readers who have been a part of the Interfaith Neighbors family for years. Meg serves as the Solutions Adminstrator for the Launch Center, which is a very apt title. Meg has been with Interfaith Neighbors for 30 years. She ran IFN’s Youth Corps program for ten years and most recently the Kula Cafe Hospitality Training Program. At the Launch Center, Meg oversees the Help Desk, providing guidance, support and referrals to Launch Center clients. She also builds relationships with other area service providers to ensure quality referrals. In her role, Meg is the first point of contact for all Launch Center clients, coordinating intakes, conducting needs assessments and tracking data for the Center to ensure outcomes can be tracked.

Neighbor Spotlight | Nico Durant: Soaring to New Heights | June 2021

Nico Durant connected with Interfaith Neighbors in early 2020, when he applied to enroll in IFN’s SOAR program’s newest career track – solar technician. Having just established a partnership with a local solar and roofing company, Solar Landscape, to initiate a training program for solar installation, Nico was selected from a pool of candidates to join in the training program when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

IFN worked with Solar Landscape to design an online, shortened version of the training program to ensure we kept Nico and his peers in the program as we waited to see when the pandemic would ease. Nico participated in a three-week virtual program with Kerwin Webb, SOAR’s Education Specialist focused on developing a growth mindset, professional behavior, and positioning oneself for success on the job. He then moved on to a two-week online training program with Solar Landscapes, which he passed with flying colors. Unfortunately, due to the set backs caused by the pandemic, Solar Landscape was then not hiring.

Nico Durant preparing beds for cucumber planting at the “Turf” Farm Without Borders site.

However, during Nico’s time with Interfaith Neighbors, he had expressed in interest in working outdoors and was intrigued by our Kula Urban Farm. The SOAR team was so impressed by his drive and attitude that they recommended the Farm bring him on as a part-time employee. This was a perfect fit as the Farm had been forced to temporarily halt its jobs program due to the pandemic and they needed the extra help. Turns out, it was a perfect fit for Nico too. Nico is still working at the Farm this summer. He also used the skills he learned in the SOAR program to leverage his position to land a second part-time job at Good Feeling Farms, another local grower.

This spring, as Solar Landscape began to restaff, they reached out to SOAR and asked if we would like to refer a SOAR colleague for a position they had open. Nico was the first on the list. During the spring months, Nico participated in a 5-days a week hands on training program with Solar Landscape, which he successfully completed. His first on the job project will begin in July.

Nico is just one example of the many individuals who have come to Interfaith Neighbors for help in finding a job or advancing their career.

Interfaith Neighbors has three employment programs along with the Business Development Center that help area residents position themselves for success. After discussion on how the agency might best position these programs for the community’s use, the programs have been consolidated under one heading entitled The Launch Center.

“The Launch Center is a collection of programs and services that meet area residents where they are in their personal development, helping to address barriers that are unique to each person and help them identify their goals and pathways forward to achieve success,” says Gillian Edgar, Launch Center Director. Over the years, Interfaith Neighbors has learned that not everyone fits into the boxes of the workforce programs we have established. The Launch Center is designed to flex in response to their needs.

The Launch Center brings the training curriculum designed initially for the SOAR program to more people. Not just those looking to move on from entry-level positions, but young adults just starting their work lives can now benefit from this training. The Launch Center will also allow Interfaith to reach those that had been left out of our earlier programs by including older individuals looking to re-tool for the modern workplace or those coming out of incarceration or recovering from substance abuse.

Beginning this summer, the Launch Center will be moving into the storefront adjacent to Interfaith Neighbors’ Business Development Center on Springwood Avenue in Asbury Park. The new space will have classrooms, computers for local residents to use in their job searches, a job positing board for local employment opportunities, and a staffed “Help Desk” that will connect residents to needed programs and resources.

Interfaith Neighbors’ SOAR program will operate out of the Launch Center. It currently has six career tracks including Business Office Support Specialist, Commercial Driver’s License, Computer Service Technician, Solar and Roofing Technician, Automotive Technician and Health Care specialty paths. The SOAR program includes an eight-week training program followed by career-path certification education and credentialing. Interfaith Neighbors also offers two workplace experience programs for those just entering the workforce or returning after an extended absence. The Farm Experience Program provides short-term employment and references. The Level Up program provides paid work placements at local employers with the opportunity to convert to permanent employment.

“The way that Interfaith Neighbors helped me realize my potential and guide me to pursue jobs I was interested in has led me to a whole new place in my life. I enjoy going to work at the farm and my new role at Solar Landscape is the start of a new career,” says Nico.

Neighbor Spotlight | Johnny Vacchiano | December 2020

Johnny Vacchiano on the Parkview AP construction site.

“You’re late!” Johnny will say with an endearing smirk on his face if you walk into a 1:15 pm meeting at 1:17 pm. Most of the Interfaith Neighbors’ team knows a conversation with John Vacchiano comes with a healthy dose of witticisms; after all this man has been the brains and source of laughter behind our construction work for the past 18 years.

Johnny Vacc, as he’s affectionately called, was born and raised in Asbury Park; his mother delivering him in their Pine Street home. He was drawn to carpentry at a young age and by age 14 was assisting his father, a mason contractor.

“I built a tree house when I was 11 years old,” he said. “I built an underground fort at 11-years-old and covered it with grass; no one knew it was there.”

At age 19, he launched a brief house framing venture with his brother Frank. And through the years, Johnny garnered experience in numerous fields, including working under the tutelage of Mason H Marshall, doing bridge construction, and installing a pumping station.

“I had a lot of lucky breaks with qualified people,” he said. “I have never regretted doing what I am doing.”

Recruited by Bevin Irvin and founder Joe Marmora as a subcontractor, Johnny Vacc is multifaceted and was the perfect man to be IFN’s hands on the ground. While he has left an imprint on each of the over 55 affordable homes IFN has constructed, he’s served as the field superintendent on nine single-family homes, our two ‘Rights of Passage’ houses for homeless young adults, and the recently completed ‘Pathway to Homeownership’ residence – a two-unit rental that facilitates our rent-to-own program.

Johnny Vacc’s current project is Parkview AP – a homeownership program along Springwood Avenue. Each of the 10 lots features a three bedroom, two and one-half bathroom home and a one-bedroom apartment above the detached garage.

“It’s different from my usual projects,” he said. “Day to day, it is interesting because of the type of work. I’m used to doing single family construction. The project is under my control but there’s a lot of other people involved.”

Johnny said this project is important because of its size, which will enable a significant number of families and people to become homeowners. Although new obstacles come with a larger-scale project, he says overseeing it from start to finish and walking away marveling at what they built is his favorite aspect of this work.

“I have been in love with my business,” he said. “It was just something that intrigued me. It was in my blood and I knew more about building at (age) 17 than most.”

We at Interfaith Neighbors are lucky to have his knowledge and experience. We’re looking forward to more laughs and successful projects with Johnny Vacc.

The Interfaith Neighbors Network