Program Spotlight

Program Spotlight | The Power of a Knock | March 2023

A knock at the door might not seem like a big deal to many of us. But, to a homebound senior citizen, it could signal the arrival of the only person they might see all day, or all week long. It brings hope. It brings health. It brings the nutrition and care that will completely make their day. A knock from an Interfaith Neighbors Meals on Wheels representative means nourishment for the body and soul.

Every weekday Interfaith Neighbors’ employees and volunteers knock on doors and deliver meals to homebound seniors throughout Monmouth County. Many of these senior citizens would face food insecurity and/or malnutrition without our services. According to Meals on Wheels America, 7.2 million senior citizens are either food insecure or facing hunger in the US. There are layers of examples and stories behind these numbers, and Interfaith Neighbors aims to provide long-lasting positive effects on the seniors we serve through our Nutrition/ Meals on Wheels Program.

Interfaith Neighbors began operating the Monmouth County branch of Meals on Wheels in 1991. Our organization delivers over 1,100 meals every weekday. Powered by employees and hundreds of volunteers, we make sure these meals are delivered to the doorsteps of homebound seniors and six municipal congregate sites for seniors who need it most.

Senior populations are some of the most at-risk when it comes to food insecurity. About 33% of older adults admitted to the hospital may be malnourished and up to 50% of community-dwelling older adults may be malnourished (Meals on Wheels, 2020). The nation’s growing senior population, expected to double by 2050 to 112 million, will exacerbate this need. Meals on Wheels services are needed now more than ever.

COVID-19 has had lasting negative effects on senior hunger and malnutrition as well. According to Meals on Wheels America, the proportion of seniors 60 years and older who sometimes or often did not have enough to eat rose to 4.9% in 2020 from 2.8% in 2019, a 75% increase. Not only did seniors suffer more from hunger due to the pandemic, but they also reported higher rates of anxiety or depression.

Many of our Meals on Wheels recipients reported being extremely lonely during the pandemic, causing their mental well-being to decline. We continue to experience COVID spread in our communities resulting in our seniors continuing to feel isolated and fearful of exposure to the virus.

We fufill the need for social interaction and nutritious meals for homebound seniors. Frankly, our Meals on Wheels deliveries are much more than a meal, and numerous seniors have expressed how much our drivers’ friendly faces mean to them.

March marks a special time for the Meals on Wheels nationwide organization, March for Meals. The March for Meals Campaign shines a light on the need for funding to continue addressing growing isolation and hunger, through community-based programs such as the one IFN facilitates.

Approximately 350,000 meals are prepared and delivered annually by Interfaith Neighbors Meals on Wheels for seniors and disabled persons. We operate 75 routes covering the 665 square miles of Monmouth County, delivering hot lunches, and for many participants, their daily breakfast. Each day our kitchen team, drivers and up to 125 volunteers make our program work. No one is required to pay for their meals, but donations are appreciated from recipients who are able and from the broader community.

Program Spotlight | Home for the Holidays (Almost) | December 2022

Owning a home means stability, agency, and being part of a community to Carritta Cook. Carritta has recently contracted to purchase one of Interfaith Neighbors’ (IFN) Parkview AP homes. She and her son Jeremiah will be moving into the home Spring of 2023. Almost home for the holidays, and certainly looking forward to enjoying them in her new home come next year.

Parkview AP is an Interfaith Neighbors project, which will ultimately result in ten new homeowners on the West Side of Asbury Park. To date, six of the homes have been completed, sold and occupied. Two of these were purchased by qualified low- to moderate-income purchasers, and the other four, were purchased at market rate. Each property includes a three bedroom, two and a half bath home and a detached garage with a one-bedroom apartment above. The remaining four properties, all of which have contracted purchasers, are projected to be completed in the second quarter of 2023.

Originally from Trenton, Carritta came to Asbury Park because her godmother lived here, and she was hoping to find more affordable childcare for her son, Jeremiah.

“We haven’t turned back ever since. Once we settled into Asbury Park, I always said this would be our forever home” Carritta explained. Now employed at a local oral surgeon’s office and the President of the Asbury Park School Board, Carritta has certainly become ingrained in the Asbury Park community. She described that she feels more at home and part of this community than she ever did in the ones she grew up in.

“The back unit that I will be able to rent out is one of the greatest parts. Rental payments will provide me with supplemental income that will allow me to leave living paycheck-to-paycheck behind,” Carritta described when asked about her favorite features of the home. Once she becomes more financially stable, she hopes to keep the back apartment unit as an extension of her own home.

“Owning a home means financial freedom to me,” Carritta explained. It’s the little things, like taking a day off to go to her son’s school assembly, that being more financially stable will give her the agency to do.

Carritta went on to talk about the Pathway to Home Ownership Program Interfaith Neighbors offers and how IFN helped her purchase this home. Pathway to Home Ownership provides a first time home buyer credit counseling to be sure they are ready for the transition to homeownership. Participants sign a one-year lease on a three-bedroom apartment and pay a below-market-rate monthly rental fee. IFN escrows a portion of their monthly rental payments to contribute to the down payment on the purchase of a home. Carritta said she could not imagine accomplishing owning a home without this program.

“Helping me figure out the lender process was a huge help. They advised that I could go to multiple lenders if need-be without it hurting my credit. Interfaith suggested several lending options and one of them worked out great!” Carritta explained.

When Carritta moves into her new home next spring, she is hoping to foster a child as well. Carritta has already started the process to become a licensed foster parent and has one last home study and an inspection to pass before obtaining her license. Another child who needs a home will be given a place in her Asbury Park haven.

“I’m excited I won’t always have to be on Jeremiah to be quiet when he’s playing because there will be no one living below us,” Carritta stated, chuckling a bit. Jeremiah is especially excited they can have their two cats live with them again, who have been staying at a friend’s house.

With so much to look forward to including stability, safety, and comfort, Carritta Cook and her family are grateful and excited to become new homeowners. Next year, she’ll have her first months of homeownership under her belt, and a place to call home for the holidays.

Program Spotlight | Celebrating 50 Years | March 2022

The annual March for Meals celebration commemorates the historic day in March of 1972 when President Nixon signed into law a measure that amended the Older Americans Act of 1965 to include a national nutrition program for seniors 60 years and older. This year, Meals on Wheels programs from across the country are joining forces for the awareness campaign to celebrate 50 years of success and garner the support needed to ensure these critical programs can continue to address food insecurity and malnutrition, combat social isolation, enable independence, and improve the health of seniors for years to come.

Interfaith Neighbors began operating the Monmouth County Meals on Wheels program thirty-one years ago in 1991. Every weekday, we prepare and deliver over 1,100 meals throughout Monmouth County, through the efforts of over 125 volunteers and Interfaith Neighbors’ staff, to seniors at home and municipal congregate sites across the county.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting everyone after two years, but the pandemic has highlighted just how important the Meals on Wheels program is for home bound senior citizens.

Many older adults struggled with hunger and isolation before the corona virus pandemic. These past two years have exacerbated these issues and increased the need for services like Meals on Wheels. Reporting from Meals on Wheels America shows an increase of seniors, aged 60 and older, have reported that sometimes or often they didn’t have enough to eat from 2.8% pre-pandemic to 4.9% in 2020 – a 75% increase.

Here in New Jersey, eighteen percent of senior citizens are food insecure, meaning they are at-risk for hunger. Additionally, twenty-six percent of NJ seniors have a disability. The daily home visits of the Meals on Wheels program provide opportunities to not just meet nutritional needs, but also combat social isolation, address safety hazards, and provide a daily check in.

Nationwide, one in four senior citizens live alone, and one in four report they feel lonely. Often, the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person the homebound seniors see on a given day. For a home-bound senior citizen, these daily meal deliveries and check-ins are often what allows them to stay in their homes and continue to live independently. Staying in one’s own home can make a huge difference both to one’s quality of life and financial resources.

Approximately 350,000 meals are prepared and delivered annually by Interfaith Neighbors Meals on Wheels for seniors and disabled persons. We operate 75 routes covering the 665 square miles of Monmouth County, delivering hot lunches, and for many participants, their daily breakfast. Each day our kitchen team, drivers and up to 125 volunteers make our program work. No one is required to pay for their meals, but donations are appreciated from recipients who are able and from the broader community.

Program Spotlight | We Have Lift Off | November 2021

On September 13, 2021, Interfaith Neighbors officially opened the Launch Center in the Springwood Center adjacent to MacroBites at the Kula Cafe and the IFN Business Development Center. The Launch Center’s tag line is “Launch your career – Launch your business – Launch your life,” and it represents the evolution of Interfaith Neighbors’ economic and workforce development programming. Moving into the new space also marks the launching of new programs and services that are available to the community, grouping programs and services in a way that allows Interfaith Neighbors to meet people who come to the Launch Center where they are personally in their life.

The Launch Center Public Computer Lab

The new space, complete with a computer lab available to the public, help desk, classroom, multiple small group meeting areas and private offices for confidential coaching sessions, offers a welcoming and accessible environment from which we can offer our full spectrum of personal, career and business development programs and services to the local community.
The Launch Center now offers Personalized Advancement Services. At the Help Desk, anyone in the community with a problem can find assistance in determining the solution. Mission Control Life Coaching is designed for individuals who are ready to take action in moving towards their deams and would benefit from guidance and support along the way. Business Development Center Coaching is for local businesses and new entrepreneurs who would benefit from personalized mentoring to launch, grow or stablize their business.

IFN’s Career Preparation Programs have been updated and include three different entry points. Lift Off Work Experience is for adults of all ages who have been disengaged from the workforce due to incarceration, addiction, homelessness, illness, etc. It provides short-term entry level employment to ease in the transition back to work and provides an employer reference in their future employment search. The Level Up Work Experience Program is designed for adults who are driven towards entry into industries in which hands on work experience outweighs academic training. This program, which replaces the Kula Cafe Hospitality Training Program, partners with area local businesses as job placement sites for participants in the program.

The SOAR program continues to be IFN’s signature career preparation program. It is the pathway for those individuals who have demonstrated their ability to maintain a job and are ready to soar into a career. This program includes intensive career specific, non-college, educational certification training and long-term mentoring and coaching.
Focusing on the broader community, the Center also offers a new service, the Launch Pad Learning Lab. The Learning Lab offers a regular schedule of workshops for community residents with a desire to enrich their lives. Workshops are offered on topics including financial wellness, conflict resolution, professional communications, computer literacy, interview skills and more.

The Launch Center is also working with local businesses to host a Jobs Board of available positions in the local job market along with a Virtual Resource Center for business owners to access tools and resources to augment their businesses.

To learn more, stop by the Launch Center located at 1201 Springwood Avenue, Asbury Park, visit or call 732-455-0519.

Program Spotlight | Kula Urban Farm | June 2021

At the Kula Urban Farm operations continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While some programming had to pause, the greenhouse and garden beds continued to produce fresh produce throughout.

During the pandemic, most of the produce grown at the farm was donated to the Asbury Park Dinner Table project, which provided free meals for local families who were struggling to purchase food due to pandemic related job loss.

The Kula Farm operates as a social enterprise, relying on the sale of produce to fund its produce donations and its workforce development programs. As the pandemic began and area restaurants were forced to close, the farm temporarily lost many of its regular restaurant customers. However, the Farm team quickly got to work on an online marketplace and began to sell produce to the general public, creating a whole new base of customers for the farm as society and our restaurant partners return to normal.

Another impact of the pandemic was a temporary halting of our Kula Farm Experience jobs program. Due to safety protocols, opportunities for non-essential workers at the Farm were limited. However, we were able to keep a core team of six working to ensure the greenhouse and beds continued to thrive. Matthais Van Oosterhout and Lisa Bagwell manage the farm. Ewelina Makowska is the assistant greenhouse manager. And, rounding out the team is Charles Ade, Chuck Thomas, and Nico Durant. This summer we are finally able to welcome back additional seasonal workers and volunteers.

The Farm continues to cultivate the “Turf” Farm Without Borders site at the intersection of Springwood and Atkins Avenues along with the undeveloped lot located between the Kula Farm and the Bethel AME pantry on Atkins Avenue. This spring, a third Farm Without Borders site was established on city-owned land located at the intersection of Springwood Avenue and Avenue A.

“The impact of the Farm on the community is often measured in pounds of produce or hours of work, but I believe the true influence lies in the physical change of a once empty lot into a dynamic growing space. Urban farms provide a place where people can connect with their food culture as well as nature. They can have a very real impact on our mental health, maybe by just offering the space to appreciate the beauty of a sunflower,” says Lisa Bagwell, farm manager.

The Kula Urban Farm produces approximately 6,000 pounds of fresh produce annually, donating up to 4,000 pounds to community members, food pantries and meal programs.
As the pandemic eases, workshops have resumed at the Kula Farm. Farm to Table Dinners are also scheduled to resume later this summer. You can sign up for the Farm newsletter or inquire about booking a Farm to Table Dinner by emailing [email protected]. If you have a knowledge of gardening and are interested in volunteering at the farm, please contact Lisa Bagwell, Farm Manager at [email protected].


Program Spotlight | Pathway to Homeownership | December 2020

Asbury Park resident Carritta Cook, 32, has dreamt of becoming a homeowner ever since her 6-year-old son Jeremiah was born.

“I want a ‘forever home,’ somewhere he can grow up,” she said. “I want him to have the stability of knowing he will always have a home to come to.”

Her dream is on its way to becoming a reality due to Interfaith Neighbor’s (IFN) Pathway to Home Ownership (Pathway) program, which offers an affordable three-bedroom, two bath rental, while she prepares for purchasing a home. A percentage of Cook’s monthly rent will be placed in escrow by IFN, to be used towards her down payment, IFN’s Director of Real Estate Development Patrick Durkin said.

Carritta Cook tours her new apartment in the Pathway to Homeownership house.

IFN recently completed construction of a new Pathway home on Borden Avenue. The home features two 3-bedroom apartments. Tenants generally occupy the home for a year to eighteen months to save for their downpayment, improve their credit, secure mortgage pre-approvals and find a suitable home for purchase.

Cook moved to Asbury Park from Union County after being ‘sold’ on the area and the local school district during visits to her godmother’s home. She is a single mother who is also fostering 18-year-old I’jhanae Silas, an Asbury Park High School senior, while balancing work at an oral surgeon’s office and the pursuit of a college degree.

Cook with her family in front of the new IFN Pathway to Homeownership home.

Prior to participation in the program, Cook lived in a costlier apartment complex that offered little privacy and less square footage. She was astounded by how much IFN’s program offers – a way to accumulate a down payment, affordable rent, and pleasant and safe living conditions.

“This is more than I envisioned,” said Silas, who dreams of becoming a pediatrician. “This is the first time I will have my very own room.”

Cook loves the Asbury Park community and has IFN’s Parkview AP in mind or similar two-family home to purchase with a friend. She expressed gratitude for the opportunity to create a forever home for her son and Silas through the Pathway to Home Ownership program.

Program Spotlight | SOAR – Seizing Opportunity & Maximizing Potential | September 2019

Nashiem Frasier receives his ACI diploma.

On August 21, 2019, Nashiem Frazier and McKayla Carpenter walked across the graduation stage at Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre in Long Branch.

The pair, through support from Interfaith Neighbors’ SOAR program, were among over 120 graduates who completed the Eatontown-based Advantage Career Institute [ACI] Medical & Dental School certification program.

SOAR is Interfaith’s intensive personal and professional development program that works with high school graduates and/or those who have obtained their high school diploma via the GED to maximize their potential by launching beyond entry-level employment into a career path.

Frazier, a 22-year-old Asbury Park native, who now lives in Neptune, said SOAR was an opportunity he could not turn down.
“It was a chance for me to elevate and strive for something great,” he said. “What I got out of [participating in] the SOAR program is that anything you put your mind to, you can really do it, and that it doesn’t stop at one level – just keep pushing.”

SOAR launched in the Spring of 2019 as a pilot with four participants. Led by our Business Development Center Associate Director Gillian Edgar & Program Director, Semaj Vanzant Sr., SOAR Colleagues participated in an 8-week curriculum focused on building professional and life skills that prepare them to be successful from day one of their new careers.

Edgar and Vanzant carefully designed training tutorials, with the assistance of Interfaith’s Education Specialist, Kerwin Webb, that address everything from professionalism and networking, to life skills and financial literacy.

“We are not looking to replicate existing industry training but to make the area’s apprenticeship, certification and training programs accessible to SOAR participants,” Vanzant said.

SOAR is designed to eliminate the barriers that typically keep driven and talented individuals who are not college bound from achieving success. Upon completion, colleagues can earn a full Interfaith Neighbors scholarship for certification training in their selected career pathway. When applicable, a stipend is given to help with living costs, transportation, and daycare assistance, as well as expungement services.

For the ACI medical training additional barrier-busting financial support is given for necessary physical exams, school supplies, scrubs and/or medical shoes.

“The cost of these vital things alone would likely prohibit most of our colleagues from being able to attend this type of certification school,” Edgar said.

All career pathways offered through SOAR will be in ‘high growth’ local industries identified to have more jobs available than qualified people to fill them.

SOAR certified training partnerships include the aforementioned ACI, which features a medical and a dental assistant certification as well as a medical and dental administrative assistant program. Each program incorporates a 100-hour internship.

The SOAR program leaders have also worked with Brookdale Community College to design an Information Technology training program, are in discussions to design an auto technician training program, and are designing a solar installation training pathway. Once the industry certification process is complete, our SOAR team, which includes career coaches who serve as mentors for at least two years, works to connect colleagues with one of our end-point employers, such as Hackensack Meridian Health and RWJBarnabas’ Monmouth Medical Center.

McKayla Carpenter on the graduation stage.

Carpenter, a 26-year-old mother from Asbury Park, said she’d been struggling to find work. Since giving birth to her daughter Nori [soon to be 2], Carpenter’s goal was to find a career direction in order to earn a living wage. Prior to walking the stage and taking her certification exam, she obtained a job in her selected medical billing and coding career pathway.

“With the help of Mr. Semaj and Miss Gillian and the whole Interfaith neighborhood, they came together with an awesome program named SOAR,” she said. “I’m very appreciative.”

The SOAR career pathway trainings are subject to industry certification training schedules, and not all pathways are offered at all times. To learn more about SOAR, visit

Program Spotlight | Kula Urban Farm – Rooted in Community | June 2019

On a Friday afternoon in May, Gail Dixson, her neice Myleah, 8, and nephews Shamar, 10, and Isaan, 12, joined Kula Farm manager Lisa Bagwell in planting radishes, collard greens, and a rainbow garden of orange and yellow marigolds and red salvia in the back yard of Bethel AME Church’s Community Center on Atkins Avenue.

Bethel and Kula Farm are in their first season of transforming the land adjacent to the farm into a garden to grow produce for the church to give out to the community. The Dixson cousins and other children in the church’s Young People Department have made working in the garden a youth project centered on learning and giving back.

For a number of years, Interfaith Neighbors has been actively engaged in offering programs to help Asbury Park’s West Side community residents develop a healthy, hopeful community. The Kula Urban Farm and Farm Without Borders delivers community programming directed at nutrition, healthier living, as well as helping to develop jobs for area residents.

Now in its fourth full season, the Kula Farm can still come as a surprise to many coming upon its greenhouse at 115 Atkins Avenue, across from Springwood Park. Few expect to see such a farm in the city of Asbury Park. But like its sister, Kula Café, which opened in April 2013, the state-of-the-art greenhouse, seasonal beds and community gardens have taken hold in Asbury Park, providing fresh produce for the café, selling produce to local restaurants and the public, and providing harvested free vegetables for the community. The farm sells plants to those who can afford it and gives plants to those who can’t. It invites all to visit and encourages guests to grow food for their households.

But, what still might not be well known is the day in, day out progress Kula Farm has made in a most essential mission–providing job training and actual paid jobs for residents, some of whom have gone on to supervisory positions at the farm. Those jobs are the result of generous philanthropic support allowing Interfaith Neighbors to reach across Springwood Avenue and use vacant land to grow food for the community. As of May of this year, 32 residents have worked in the 60 hour paid program and five have been hired to longer-term positions.

Ewelina Makowska, Asst. Greenhouse Manager with Neptune Resident Naomi Paynter

Ewelina Makowska is the assistant greenhouse manager, and Doni Gray is the assistant hydroponic grower. Elizabeth Cao is the supervisor and community liaison in charge at the Farm Without Borders. Robert Beatty and Charles Ade also have held the long-term positions.

Elizabeth Cao, Farm Without Borders Supervisor & Community Liaison

For Ewelina Makowska , the greenhouse is her terrain where she’s an expert in managing the micro-green growing system and the vertical hydroponic towers. “The farm’s taken root in the community,” Ewelina said. “Anyone who lives around here and has a garden comes by to talk. Engaging the community, I think that’s most important.’’
Liz Cao has become the face of the Farm Without Borders, maintaining the community gardens where people can come and take what they need and also participate in planting. Liz had no previous experience in gardening but has taken to it.
Doni Gray, works 15 hours a week and takes three buses to get to work. “The thing I like about the job is the life cycle, going from seeds to growing up and turning into food,” he said. “It helps me to see the transference in life.”
The continued growth and success at the farm can be attributed to Farm Managers Lisa Bagwell and Thijs van Oosterhout. They’ve built a farm business next to the café that each season brings fresh ideas, new knowledge, and new ideas to attract new visitors and benefit area residents.

“I like to be able to engage with as many residents in the neighborhood as I can,” Lisa said. “And, I like to be able to transform unused land into a productive garden and grow vegetables.” Lisa came to the farm with community garden and farm experience and is also known for her popular trash assemblage artwork. Her passion for gardening, art, and people are on display at the farm.
Thijs is part of a farming family from the Netherlands. He is an environmental scientist, aquatic ecologist and a professor at Georgian Court University. He focuses on the science and the details of the greenhouse operations. He spoke of adding Epsom salt to provide more magnesium for the plants and increasing CO2 to speed plant growth. The greenhouse seems at times to be his laboratory. “Our goal is to make the farm self- sustainable,” he says.

Back on a Friday in May, Alan Powell visited the farm and took home some okra, peppers and tomato plants to join the collard greens, kale, strawberries, cabbage, butter lettuce, melons and pumpkins he has planted this year. Alan, a retiree from Neptune, comes each season to get some growing tips, seeds and plants for his garden.

The farm is open and operating Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Program Spotlight | Come Join Us on the March for Meals! | March 2019

Statistics warning of the consequences of malnutrition on the lives of America’s seniors are very real and sometimes overwhelming.

Our country’s senior population is set to double from 58 million to 114 million over the next four decades, outpacing current resources that serve vulnerable older adults. Here in New Jersey, 21% of our residents are seniors.

Nine million seniors face the threat of hunger now. And 6.9 million elders live in poverty, creating a reality that after paying for housing, utilities and medical expenses, leaves very little money for food. There are 237,839 New Jersey seniors threatened by hunger.

Each March, the national advocacy organization Meals on Wheels America shines a light on both the need for funding and also the great work that community-based Meals on Wheels organizations are doing to address that risk of hunger and isolation for America’s seniors through the March for Meals Advocacy Campaign.

“People need help, and not everyone can do it for themselves. That’s what we’re here to do,” says Dante Agresti, the new director of Interfaith’s Meals on Wheels program.

According to Meals on Wheels America, local programs “have delivered more than just nutritious meals to homebound seniors in virtually every community across the country…The staff and volunteers delivering those meals provide a vital lifeline and connection to the community which are sometimes all it takes to keep our senior neighbors at home where they want to be.”

Approximately 300,000 meals are prepared and delivered by Interfaith Neighbors to seniors and disabled persons annually, preparing approximately 1,100 meals each day.

We operate 70 routes to deliver hot lunches and, for some participants, their breakfasts. Each day, our kitchen staff, our paid drivers and those of the approximately 500 volunteers who have a shift that day make our program work.

No one is required to pay for their lunches, but donations of $2.50 a meal or $12.50 a week are gratefully appreciated. And, although impoverished recipients are especially susceptible to not getting the nutrition they need, income level is not a factor in the requirements for receiving Meals on Wheels. Rather, one needs to be at least 60 years old, not able to cook or shop, and basically be homebound.

Interfaith’s program is funded by Monmouth County, U.S. Department of Agriculture, donations from meal participants, and generous donors.

We welcome new volunteers who typically deliver one day a week on stops that take about an hour. “Often volunteers sign up because they’ve known someone who received meals,” says Margaret McGinn, site manager at the Red Bank Senior Center.

“The people we deliver to let us into their lives in a kind of personal way,” she said. “We see them on days when they’re struggling and days when they’re good.’ One trait of volunteers McGinn especially admires is being flexible with the weather.

“I’ve had volunteers who come back soaking wet, or bundled up from the cold, or so hot from the heat of summer,” she said. “But almost always they put their hands up and say: ‘I’m happy—everyone’s fed.”

Program Spotlight | SOAR: Training for Careers, Not Just Jobs | November 2018

The goal that binds all of Interfaith Neighbors’ programs together is seeing families and individuals attain and maintain the economic well-being and independence everyone wants in life. It is also the goal of a new and promising employment program known as SOAR, now under development by Interfaith Neighbors. SOAR is an intensive, long-term employment and career readiness program for young adults from economically challenged communities in Monmouth County.

“SOAR is serious about providing the necessary skills, education and a trusted support network to facilitate entry into meaningful career tracks,” said Roger Boyce, director of Interfaith’s Business Development Center.

The program looks to connect an individual’s natural abilities with meaningful careers in area industries that have a high demand for workers in today’s economy. Examples are healthcare, information technology, telecommunications, banking and finance, and hospitality.

SOAR will provide skill development and training specific to a certain job and industry. Interfaith Neighbors, through partnerships with local providers, will assist those being trained to overcome personal challenges that have restricted their employability in the past. Those obstacles can include childcare, lack of a driver’s license, or a criminal record that can be expunged.

Interfaith Neighbors is not looking to replicate existing industry training but rather make area apprenticeship, certification and training programs accessible to participants. SOAR will support them as they go through the application and financing process, and tutor participants during certification training.

“We’re not trying to duplicate anything,” said Semaj Vanzant, Sr., program manager for SOAR. “We’re just trying to fill in that missing component.”

To make this work, Interfaith is establishing relationships with specific local area employers in industries where demand for skilled employees is more than the existing availability of qualified applicants. Once a participant is placed in a specific job, SOAR will continue providing case management and career development assistance to both the participant and employer.

One innovative and key component will see each participant have his or her own success coach, a person in the industry who will commit to a relationship of at least 24 months to ensure the employee has sustained success and professional growth in the new career.

Interfaith Neighbors believes this new approach can provide successful targeted employment training, job placement and career growth. The first participants will enter the program during the first half of 2019. The program is expected to be fully operational by 2020 and see 30 to 50 participants graduate each year.

Program Spotlight | Interfaith Neighbors Business Development Center Food Entrepreneur Program | September  2018

Entrepreneur Ryan Nelson was about as strong a candidate as they come to be successful once he set out to bring a family concept for an organic and vegan energy bar to market.

Nelson, 26, of Ocean Township, thrives on the hard work that it has  taken to  get his Viva Energy Bar on the shelves of over 100 retailers in the tristate area since launching his business a year ago. He has since brought on two associates who continue to work with him tirelessly as they bake, package, and deliver bars by the thousands.

Nelson was in Interfaith Neighbors Business Development Center’s (BDC) first group of potential entrepreneurs in a program that is partnering with Rutgers University’s Food Innovation Center to help teams or individuals create a product and bring it to market.

“I grew up in and around the organic retail industry and learned at an early age the values of entrepreneurship and the enjoyment that comes from building a company based around a fun culture,” Nelson said.

His family owns Dean’s Natural  Market in Ocean Township, Shrewsbury, Basking Ridge and Chester, and has been a supporter of youth development programs in Asbury Park and of other nonprofits.

Ryan’s entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic have helped him in launching his successful business. Instilling those values and skills is a big part of the Interfaith BDC program.

“A lesson that we try to teach is there’s a lot more to getting a product to market than just having a great concept,” said Gillian Edgar, Business Development Center Associate.  “We give all of the teams the same guidance that we gave Ryan, and Ryan was able to capitalize on that because of his work ethic and what he could bring to the table.”

Of his time in the program, Nelson says, “It was a stimulating four months where I was able to build the brand and different flavor profiles. If you have a product that you want to bring to life, the Food Entrepreneur Program can be the stepping stone to take your product from idea to fruition.”

The organic energy bars come in three flavors: Oats, Nuts & Chocolate; Peanut Butter & Chocolate; and Coffee. Viva Bar’s mission is to bring the highest quality ingredients together to provide their consumers with an awesome-tasting clean product.

Program Spotlight | The Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Program is transforming the West Side of Asbury Park | May 2018

Interfaith Neighbors learned early this year that its West Side Neighborhood Revitalization Plan has been funded for a seventh round of state Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit (NRTC) funding. The targeted projects funded in this round total $985,000.

Over the past eleven years, Interfaith Neighbors has participated in the NRTC program receiving a total of $6.7 million to carry out its own projects and fund initiatives in the plan led by community partners. The funding supports housing, economic development, employment, recreation and family stabilization projects for the West Side community.

“NRTC funding has made it possible for us to have  a real impact on rebuilding the West Side,” says Patrick Durkin, Interfaith’s Director of Real Estate, who came on staff in 2007 to administer the program.

Interfaith had already begun building affordable homes in a partnership with New Jersey Natural Gas. When the NRTC program was launched, it allowed Interfaith to expand its construction programs. To date, 44 for sale, affordable housing units have been built.  In 2012, Interfaith Neighbors cut the ribbon, opening the three-story Springwood Center. NRTC funding would also help make the Interfaith operations of the Business Development Center, the Kula Café and the Kula Urban Farm a reality.

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Parkview AP Development Concept

Durkin said the state program came at a good time because Asbury Park had many vacant parcels in a scattered site plan that the city conveyed at a nominal fee for the development of affordable housing.

“Having this money allowed us to increase our production of houses and focus at times on micro neighborhoods,’’ Durkin said. “We built five houses on vacant lots on Borden Avenue. On DeWitt Avenue, south of Springwood, we built six single family homes and a two-family house.  It changed the landscape.”

The NRTC Program, administered by the NJ Department of Community Affairs, gives corporations a 100 percent credit against state taxes for funds the entities invest in the NRTC program. In the most recent award, Interfaith’s corporate investors are: AmerigroupNJ, M&T Bank and Wells Fargo Bank.

“Through the life of the program, there have been a number of investors led by New Jersey Natural Gas, which had been our partner in building affordable houses before NRTC and then supported the NRTC program from the beginning” Durkin said.

The other companies that have invested over the years include JCP&L, PNC Bank, Selective Insurance, Horizon BCBS, NJ American Water and TD Bank.

“NRTC allows public minded corporations who want to make a commitment and make a difference in communities they operate in to make an investment in those communities, and get a tax credit, ” Durkin said.

The newest round of funding is designated to support 11 projects on the West Side of Asbury Park.  Interfaith is poised to start construction on a new homeownership project called Parkview AP homes on Springwood Avenue.  Funding is also designated for construction of a new two-family home for Interfaith’s Pathway to Homeownership Program. Once constructed, two families will save for homeownership by having part of their monthly rent go into an escrow account, which they can use to purchase their own home. Funding also will be used to build a second Rights of Passage home on Prospect Avenue for Covenant House to operate its transitional housing program for young women. The first Rights of Passage home for five young men, built and owned by Interfaith, opened this year.

The NRTC program is also funding the launch of a new Interfaith Neighbors program called Career Corp, which will provide employment paths for local residents to work in area industries and businesses.

Included in this year’s funding is continued support for Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs, the Junior Entrepreneur Program run by KYDS and the Boys & Girls Club, Community Affairs Resource Center job placement programs, and Second Baptist Church’s Fine Arts and Technology summer camp.  A newly funded project will be offered by the Showroom, teaching film and editing. Funding is also designated for continuation of the free Monday night Asbury Park Music Foundation concerts at Springwood Avenue Park.

Over the years, other projects funded  by the program included lights for the Asbury Park Little League field, repairs to restore the Boys and Girls Club swimming pool, a new boxing and fitness center on the second floor of the city’s public works building and a pilot police department video surveillance program.

Program Spotlight | Aging is Not for the Faint of Heart – That’s Why We Need Meals on Wheels | February 2018

The month of March marks the national Meals on Wheels advocacy event, March for Meals. As a member of Meals on Wheels America and serving all of Monmouth County with the Meals on Wheels program, we hope you will join us.

Advocate because right now, nearly one in every six seniors in this country may not know where their next meal is coming from.

Volunteer and reduce isolation and hunger among your senior neighbors.

Give to ensure that we have the resources we need to serve all that are in need of meals and companionship.

Even the most independent among us, if fortunate to live long enough, may experience a decline in mobility or health that can strip away our independence.  And, it is predicted that seniors as a percentage of the population will grow from 18% to 26% by 2050. Without programs like Meals on Wheels, many seniors can be forced to prematurely trade their homes for nursing facilities.  We can provide a senior Meals on Wheels for an entire year for roughly the same cost as spending one day in the hospital or ten days in a nursing home.

Some deliveries are heartrending: bringing a meal to a man paralyzed from an accident and bound in bed watching movies or an ailing mother in a small apartment with only television for company and a cell phone that is her lifeline to a son at work.

Many recipients are up and about at home but no longer able to do their own shopping or cooking. Others are able to leave their home and go to one of our group congregate sites for their lunch meal.

What they all share is what the Meals on Wheels program offers: balanced nutrition, independence and daily interaction that breaks through the loneliness that can set in for many in the later years of their lives.

“Meals on Wheels matters because it keeps elders in their home and out of institutional care,” Sandi Silber, Interfaith’s Director of Nutrition, said. “We also provide daily checks, and sometimes we’re the only people they see on a given day. These elders are not statistics, but are our parents and grandparents.”

Paul McEvily, Co-Executive Director, once said that everyone who works for Interfaith Neighbors in its different programs should take the opportunity once a year to deliver meals to homebound seniors and gain understanding on why Meals on Wheels matters so much.

Nationally, more than 2 million volunteers deliver Meals on Wheels. At Interfaith Neighbors, we have a force of approximately 500 volunteers, kitchen staff and paid drivers who operate the Monmouth County program.

Interfaith Neighbors serves 900 to 1,000 meals a day and an additional 500 breakfasts in areas that need it most to home bound seniors and at seven senior center congregate sites in Asbury Park, Neptune, Howell, Red Bank, Middletown, Keansburg and Keyport.

Interfaith Neighbors has operated the Meals on Wheels Program in Monmouth County since 1991. The program is supported by federal funding through the Monmouth County Office on Aging and through individual, corporate and private foundation support.

Together, we stand and

Together, we deliver.

The Interfaith Neighbors Network