NEWARK, NJ — Newark city council members pushed for transparency and fair competition when awarding funds to nonprofits on Wednesday after GlassRoots won a $500,000 grant.

GlassRoots is a nonprofit that provides glass-making programs for Newark's underserved residents. The nonprofit has reached 41 out of Newark's 59 public schools for students grades five through twelve. GlassRoots was established in 2001 and has reached an estimated 25,000 youth since its inception. 

The organization plans to relocate to a landmark hospital building no longer used by Saint Michael’s Medical Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. A developer is transforming the space into a mixed-use housing and commercial property.

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

The city's grant is expected to assist GlassRoots in the build out of its new space. GlassRoots will occupy over 18,000 square feet on the building’s lower levels. Its facility will include expanded studios for glassblowing, flameworking and glass fusing, as well as an artist WorkerSpace which will provide access and technical support to artist entrepreneurs, allowing them to earn income from the sale of their work. The total project costs nearly $2.3 million.

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. questioned how the nonprofit was afforded such an opportunity and level of support.

"A lot of organizations around the city are doing incredible work for our community but very few are ever going to be afforded this level of support from the city," Ramos said. "In this situation, there are some unique circumstances that the administration feels are important for us to provide this level of support. Some of that has to be made a bit clearer."

Allison Ladd, Economic and Housing Development acting director, echoed the councilman's sentiments of transparency and competition.

"It is something you will see in 2020 from EHD (Economic and Housing Development)," Ladd said. "There are limited funds, whether federal or local...we need to be transparent in order to be good stewards of our resources."

Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver asked Barbara Heisler, GlassRoots CEO, to elaborate on the nonprofit's free programs benefiting the city's youth. McIver also requested a list of such programs to help make the opportunities better known around the city.

Heisler said GlassRoots has provided programming to students in 41 of the 59 Newark Public schools in grades 5 through 12 through its after-school youth entrepreneurial program, long-term in-school art residencies, summer youth leadership programs, summer extended learning workshops, craft school fellowships, and through STEAM-based educational field trips and workshops.

Additionally, GlassRoots enjoys longstanding partnerships with several charter and private schools and community organizations, such as Philips Academy, North Star Academny and the City’s Recreation Department. With a policy of ensuring that every Newark student is able to benefit from its programs, GlassRoots actively engages in both fundraising and entrepreneurial activities to subsidize its programs for secondary school students. 

"For us glass is a vehicle, at least at the secondary school level, it’s not the end result," Heisler said. "We’re not trying to get our students to all be glass artists... (but instead have students) learn persistence, resilience, collaboration, cooperation and communication."

Heisler said the organization is grateful that the Mayor and the Council see the immense value it brings to the city.

"We look forward to increasing our impact in our new space later this year,” Heisler said.