NEWARK, NJ -- More than 500 youth and families enjoyed a day of enrichment on Saturday at Speedway Academies, where the nonprofit Newark Thrives! brought back its Lights On! Afterschool event. 

Lights On!, a nationwide celebration highlighting the importance of afterschool programming, aims to recognize the role of afterschool programs in supporting student growth. Mayor Ras Baraka commended NewarkThrives! for keeping the tradition alive for the third year in a row. 

“It is important that young people and families are made aware of the multitude of out-of-school time opportunities that exist in Newark, and Newark Thrives! does a great job citywide of helping young people and their parents match interests and need with yearlong opportunities for learning and skill building,” Baraka said in a press release. 

Sign Up for Newark Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Hosted in partnership with the city, Newark Public Schools and Newark Arts Education Roundtable, the recruitment fair saw more than 50 youth afterschool and summer programs gather to educate attendees on the myriad resources available in Newark. 

Students already reaping the benefits of programming in the arts, such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Hip Hop Intensive, delivered live performances and provided DJing services. The fair also provided workshops and hands-on learning activities for students. 

Shane Fuller, program manager for Newark Thrives!, said that while the city has its challenges when it comes to its youth, the resources and initiatives available to them are in ample supply. As an intermediary, Newark Thrives! focuses on bridging the achievement gap and preventing learning loss by increasing access to programs, enrollment and provider’s awareness through the resource fair.

“People have their views on Newark, but one thing no one can say is that we don’t have resources. Newark is a very resource-rich community,” Fuller said. He added that Newark students primarily face issues with transportation and access to programs.

Speaking alongside city council member LaMonica McIver and the superintendent of Newark Public Schools about the benefits of afterschool learning opportunities, Special Assistant of Extended Learning Sarah Cruz echoed the mayor’s sentiments on Newark Thrives’ efforts to make resources more accessible to youth. 

“We love that there is an event every year that highlights the wonderful after school programs taking place in Newark. Newark Thrives’ organization of a citywide event is great for families,” Cruz said. “With 35,000 youth in our district, we are happy that a forum exists for our youth and families to see that there is an out-of-school time program for nearly every interest and need in Newark in addition to those offered by the school district.”