NEWARK, NJ - When Erin Sweeney picked up an award from GlassRoots, a Newark-based nonprofit, she was happy. But holding her prize, she longed to have an even more hands-on experience.
"I sneak in the back entrance just to show up and hear about all the wonderful things that are happening there," said Sweeney, the executive director of the Newark office of Schools That Can, an education-focused nonprofit. "GlassRoots means the world to me. This is a real honor."
Sweeney, 36, a Rutgers Law student and Newark resident, was honored by an organization that has a similar mission to her own. Schools That Can's work centers on bringing real-world learning into schools to better prepare students for the future. Schools That Can works out of four regional offices around the U.S., including in Newark, New York City, Chicago and Pittsburgh. The organization's network goes beyond these cities to include more than 190 schools across the country.
GlassRoots uses the art of glass-making as both an educational and artistic medium, as well as a way to encourage entrepreneurship in a revitalizing Newark. Now based on Bleeker Street, the organization will soon move to a renovated space on the ground floor of the old St. Michael's Hospital in Newark.
Vera Truesdale, a GlassRoots board member, explained why they picked Sweeney to be recognized for her work along with several others.
"She's done so much for the Newark community. Her work has helped us diversify the membership of our board and increase the visibility of our organization as it serves youth," said Truesdale, noting that Sweeney has served as a member of the GlassRoots board. "With Schools That Can, she's deeply embedded in the community, working on the issues that affect young people in Newark. That's our mission, too."
Robert Steinbaum, associate dean for advancement at Rutgers Law, noted what Sweeney does for the city where she just bought a home.
"Erin is an exemplar of giving back to Newark par excellence. When she came into Newark, she dove into it," said Steinbaum during GlassRoots's annual fall soirée and auction, held at the home of prominent attorney Ted Wells in Livingston on Thursday. "Everyday, she's committed to this city. She'll use the legal skills she's learning to add to everything she's done."
Working full time and going to law school at night is certainly demanding. But Sweeney is making it work so she can do even more impactful work for Newark.
"When I worked for the State Department, I did a lot of work on immigration. There is a lot of work that needs to be done involving immigration here," said Sweeney. "I thought it was time to go back to school to find a way to help them."
No matter where the future takes her, Sweeney is committed to staying involved.
"When I was growing up in rural Sussex County, my dad, who is from Brooklyn, always called New York City his city," Sweeney said. "Well, New Jersey is my state. Newark is the center of our state. And Newark is my city."