ELIZABETH, NJ – Everyone has a dream, and for eight-year-old Marlon, it is to be a professional basketball player, “like Kobe Bryant.”

Marlon was waiting with his fellow Boy Scouts from Bernice’s Place, a program of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, to perform the flag ceremony, at the 26th Annual Hoops to End Homelessness, February 6. The games pitted Elizabeth versus Roselle Catholic, ranked fourth and third statewide. Before the varsity game, Marlon marched with his troop to center court where they lead the packed house in the Pledge of Allegiance. The near-capacity crowd responded with a chorus of cheers.

Hoops to End Homelessness is an annual fundraiser to benefit the Coalition programs such as Operation Warm Heart Program, a winter shelter program for the chronically homeless. Operation Warm Heart is only one of the Coalition’s programs focused on combating homelessness and near homelessness. The non-profit operates Homeless Prevention and Emergency shelter, Hospitality Houses that have housed more than 150 working families, ESL and Community Education classes, and Bernice’s Place, an after-school and summer program for homeless and near-homeless children, the only one of its kind in the state.

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Helping to make dreams come true is a list of generous supporters. “The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless cannot continue the crucial work of serving the homeless and near homeless, a population that keeps increasing every year, without support from the community,” said Linda Flores-Tober, ECHH executive director. “Since we began 38 years ago, the Coalition has prevented homelessness for more than 15,000 households and found emergency shelter for more than 10,000 families. Last year alone, we helped more than 1,000 families throughout Union County to find affordable housing.”

For the last 26 years, the success of Hoops to End Homelessness has relied on support from the community, especially the athletic department of Elizabeth High School who circulated a robocall advertising the fundraiser, among other activities. The department worked closely with the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless ensuring the event’s success for many years. The Elizabeth Public Schools’ music department organized the appearance of the nationally recognized EHS Band that added to the festive atmosphere.

For Roselle Catholic’s varsity coach, Dave Boff, the game was a kind of homecoming. “It was great to be part of this. The team was really excited because they understand this is a great cause. For me, the majority of my family came from Elizabeth, and I grew up coming to the Dunn Center with my dad who played basketball for Thomas Jefferson High School, so I’ve come full circle.”

The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless noted the many supporters that helped to support the event includingParish Community of St. Helen, The Farmer’s Hen, Infineum, PSE&G, ShopRite, Elizabeth Rotary, Cherished Creations, ACVEnviro, Maher Terminals, Westfield Area Y Men’s Club, Mike & Betsey Fabricant, Liberty Payroll and HR, City of Elizabeth, Elizabeth PBA, Union County Sheriff Office, Assemblyman Jamel Holley, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, Elizabeth Councilwoman Patricia Perkins-Auguste, Councilman Manny Grova, Ventura, Miesowitz, Keough & Warner, P.C., Phillips 66, Maffey’s Security Group, Mike Szarek, Mary Phillips, and Mike & Sue Marcus.  

According to members from the organization, it is the supporters and their generosity that continues to ensure that children like Marlon and so many others can make their dreams a reality. 

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