PATERSON, NJ- Developer Charles Florio is known for having deep pockets when it comes to nonprofits and charities in Paterson. That’s why Jamie Bland, founder and executive director of Jumpstart Paterson, approached him about funding for her program. A little over a year after she first reached out, Florio has pledged to donate $60,000 to help fund a number of initiatives that will benefit Paterson residents.
Jamie created Jumpstart in 2000 as a program to counsel Paterson youth. She developed a series of skits that she brought to schools in the city to teach them about staying away from drugs and violence. Over the past 18 years, it has evolved from those skits into a comprehensive nonprofit that continues to expand and develop.
Breathing new life into the Buckley Park Recreation Center, which has often been referred to as a “trailer park,” Jumpstart now offers a wide array of programs not only for young people, but for all Paterson residents who may need assistance. This includes the skits, a food pantry, a summer recreation program, homework and after school services, in-home counseling, recreation classes, ESL and GED education for individuals 16 and over, and more.
Though Florio’s money will go to all of those, Jamie is also creating a new construction job training program specifically thanks to the partnership with the developer.
Florio was skeptical when Bland first approached him about sponsoring Jumpstart. “I didn’t know Jamie, but I did know she was very persistent,” he says. After asking around Paterson, he was pleased to discover that he couldn’t find anybody who had a bad word to say about her. Finally, he agreed to hear her out.
“I saw the things, and how she genuinely loves these kids,” says Florio. “What I do is the easy part. She’s the one actually going out there, rolling up her sleeves, and keeping the kids occupied.”
He gave her $5,000 following the first meeting but didn’t feel that was enough. He called her back about two weeks later to offer her an additional $60,000. He says he liked the way she has taken “what everyone calls a negative and a trailer park and turned it into a positive,” So far he has given her $10,000, and is paying the rest of his commitment in monthly increments of $5,000.
“That’s going to be worth a lot to this community,” says Bland of Florio’s sponsorship. She is excited about the chance to keep her other programs running while launching the new construction school.
The training program was her idea. She loved Florio’s practice of hiring Paterson residents, particularly from vulnerable communities, but she saw an issue with the skills of some of the workers, which she called a “very shallow working ability.” She asked if he would allow her to train people in construction.
Once he agreed, she developed a program that partners with community members to create a comprehensive jobs training school for adults. She believes that having Patersonians training their peers will help them succeed. “It’s better for us to screen these people because we know them better,” says Bland.
Florio’s company, JCM Investors, currently employees about 120 Paterson residents, but he believes that number could be far greater. “I could probably right now hire 1000 people,” he says. He believes that this education program will “pick the kids off the street, take the men and the women, and teach them a trade and put them to work.”
All of this work is of great interest to Bland, who says she comes from the proud tradition of the 4th Ward Alliance, which sought to bring economic development to the neighborhood. She says a top priority was to find developers to “build affordable housing and hire our community to work on the construction sites,” something she believes she has found in Florio.
Detractors often attempt to characterize Florio’s charitable giving a selfish way to benefit his own company, something he doesn’t completely deny. “It’s mutually beneficial. It’s a win/win if I help out the community and the community becomes safer,” he says.
The giving isn’t limited to Jumpstart. He has also pledged $20,000 the Hoop Kings program, $20,000 for a basketball tournament being held by Reverend Allen Boyer of Bethel AME Church, $20,000 to the “Princess to Queens” program, and about $40,000 to Save the Village. All this is in addition to the $300 million he reported to TAPinto Paterson his company has invested in Paterson, and the 400 properties it has rehabbed.
Bland doesn’t worry about whether the donations help the developer. “If we’re going to collaborate, it better help Florio as well. It’s not about me, me, me. It’s we, we, we,” she says.
She now plans to make a documentary film about Florio and the training program. This is nothing new, as Jumpstart has been involved in a number of video projects over the years. Back in 2007, she worked on a movie called “Before I Self Destruct” starring Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson. After that, she combined her skits into a film. Currently, she is working on a cable TV show called “Jumpstart: Take It Into The Streets.” Bland describes herself as “film crazy.”
Her goal of all of these projects is to “empower the young people and redirect the mind of the youth of America today.” Jumpstart uses the arts and media to challenge young people to choose positive directions and to build their confidence.
Bland sees Florio as someone who wants to help in this mission. “He wants to be part of the Paterson family,” she says. “The guy has a good heart.”
The training program will give Patersonians a chance to go to work not only for Florio, but any developers once they’ve been trained. “We’re excited about him hiring some of our family members,” says Bland.
The initial pilot stage of the Construction Training School will run Monday through Friday from 6pm to 9pm from July to August. For more information, contact the Jumpstart office at 862-232-8653 and ask for Reverend Robinson.