PATERSON, NJ- One of NJCDC's newest programs, YouthCares, gives Paterson youth the opportunity to participate in an intensive service learning curriculum that is helping them to identify and address critical health issues in their community. The program is generously funded by New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI), the statewide grantmaking¬ program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

NJHI: Next Generation Community Leaders supports 11 community-focused, youth-serving organizations, which are working hard to harness the energy, knowledge, and idealism of young people ages 14-21 across the state to prepare them as future leaders, while ensuring they learn to address barriers to health in their own communities.

Last month, NJHI held a two-day retreat at Rutgers University-Camden for all 11 Next Generation Community Leaders programs. Along with their peers, YouthCares students enthusiastically participated in several seminars--including one on civic engagement and another on setting goals--that will help them as they do their summer projects. They also learned about the importance of voting in elections at the federal, state, and local levels and greatly enjoyed a session on slam poetry!

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In addition, each of the 11 NJHI: Next Generation Community Leaders programs presented on their summer projects. YouthCares member Nader Ahmed said, "My experience in Camden was really inspiring because I got to see youth from other cities in New Jersey sharing their visions for their communities. This helped me come up with more ideas on how I can make a difference in Paterson." Fellow YouthCares member Sharif Hassan said, "It was inspiring to see neighboring cities endeavor to enhance their communities."

YouthCares participants eagerly shared their summer project with their peers, Camden Mayor Francisco "Frank" Moran, and Patrick J. Keating, the Director of the Camden Department of Public Works. The youth were proud to announce that they're performing maintenance activities and beautification projects at Paterson's Lou Costello Park to draw people back to the Park and reduce crime.

Another highlight of the trip was the students' Big Bus Tour of Philadelphia, during which they explored the city's sights, while also connecting with youth from other Next Generation Community Leaders programs. They saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and numerous sculptures and outdoor art installations. They even got to run up the 72 stone steps before the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a la Rocky Balboa!

When they weren't being inspired by seminars, or mingling with their peers (including during a game of kickball), the YouthCares students further explored Philadelphia. They indulged in long walks throughout the City of Brotherly Love, as well as the city's famous cheesesteaks! As YouthCares member Zaire Wilson said, "Our trip to Camden and Philadelphia was a great experience! I've made a lot of new friends and learned how important our role is in helping our community."

Bob Guarasci, NJCDC's CEO expressed gratitude to the program's funder: "The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's New Jersey Health Initiative is providing young people in Paterson and throughout the state with an important opportunity to learn about public health issues in their own communities, and in so doing building their civic capacity to make a difference in their own backyards."


This story is shared with permission from NJCDC.