On Thursday, March 28, Paterson’s Oasis- A Haven for Women and Children, hosted their annual Easter meal and Easter Basket giveaway. More than 600 members of the greater Paterson community enjoyed brunch donated by The Market Basket in Franklin Lakes, and received an Easter basket donated by several individuals and organizations, including Don Bosco Preparatory High School students, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Confirmation Class, and Maria Koukoularis and her team of volunteers from Easter Basket Drive of Northern New Jersey. A group of volunteers from KPMG in Montvale also helped make the day a success.
Lifelong Paterson resident, and TAPinto Paterson contributor, Paula McDonald attended. This is her report:
Anyone spending any amount of time at Oasis- A Haven for Women and Children on Thursday March 29 would have witnessed the staff working, what looked to be effortlessly, in their element. Easter is one of the special holidays on which Oasis lays out the red carpet for their students and the community by doing what they do on a regular day only on steroids.
You would never know by the appearance of the front entrance and the line of women and children formed outside waiting to get in, that for the next hour and a half every person walking through the glass door was important and special to each staff member and volunteer. You would not guess that the atmosphere would be so welcoming or that the decorations would be so warm.
The first smile that greeted everyone at the desk was Wanda Cuebas. On any other day, Wanda Cuebas would be hard at work as the In-Kind Donations Coordinator, but on Thursday she was at the front door greeting everyone that entered with a bright smile.
Once in the dining area, you couldn’t help but to feel welcomed because at Oasis, everyone is treated as a human being. There is no separation of class, race, or issue. It’s as if the Oasis staff members and volunteers remembered how this great city would greet you in decades past.
A full-service organization, Oasis- A Haven for Women and Children, serves those needing assistance in many areas of day-to-day life. Whether that assistance is job training, GED or ESL classes, help with food, clothing, or anything else that would fall under the category of life assistance. It is important that every woman walking through the front door, experiences genuine compassion. There is no judgement passed, ever!
The women ate and they talked and laughed with one another like old friends or even family. Since the dining area is not large enough to hold all of the women being served all at once, they had to be brought in by groups. The first two groups were the students that are enrolled and participate in the program daily, with the third group being open to the entire community.
More than 600 women and children sat and dined and were served by leaders in the community such as Mayor Jane Williams-Warren, Councilwoman Maritza Davila, and Rev. Douglas Maven.
Of course the day wouldn’t be complete without a visit from the Easter Bunny and the baskets he passed out to all of the children.
Currently 96% of the Oasis’ funds come from private donations, with staff always look forward ways to keep costs to a minimum. Among these cost-saving measures are partnering with other organizations with their day care services, and visiting the YMCA in Wyckoff so that children have an opportunity to learn to swim.Services are provided on a daily basis, and lunch is served every day, so planning and coordination is key!
Two students were gracious in sharing their story.
Ms. Yolanda Stephenson, 36, and the mother of one daughter, first came to Oasis after being in an abusive relationship. Just six months later, after counseling, training classes, and allowing herself to open up to the other students, she holds five certificates: Bank Teller w/ Customer Service, Customer Service, Advanced Customer Services, and Oasis Works. Understanding that she has to work to live, her goal is to one day be able to help others. She finds that she is happiest when she is helping someone “get to their happy place.” She, eventually, would like to go college and get a degree in social work.
Susan Gonzalez, 31, has two sons. Her journey began in Florida where she was born and lived for 15 years before moving to New York. She landed in New Jersey about a year and a half ago by reference after seeking help from an abusive relationship which landed her ex-husband in prison. Determined to be “whole,” Susan, despite calling it home for 15 years, left New York for New Jersey, calling it “the best thing she has ever done.” She said that she would rather be at Oasis than home and if she could stay all the time, she would. Susan is enrolled in a GED and Domestic Violence class, and also participates in an internship at the Center. Determined to make it, Susan said that even if it takes her years to finish and get her GED, then she is willing to do it. She knows that in order to have a good life and provide for her children, the first thing she needs is her GED. Like Yolanda, her goal is to be able to help others reach their best self.
Like everyone else working at Oasis, Chief Development & Marketing Officer Kathleen Long does work at that extends well beyond her job title, yet still found time on Thursday to speak of their overarching strategy of making those they serve complete. If you’re hungry, you can’t think properly; if you don’t have the right clothes, you can’t go on a job interview; if you don’t have childcare, you can’t go to work. Oasis seeks to tackle all of these obstacles.
For me, once the Easter Bunny gave out the last basket and last egg on Thursday, the hard work and commitment of Oasis, to make the women and children that visit them every day whole, was as admirable and meaningful as when the morning started, and also much more appreciated!