SUMMIT, NJ - Nearly 100 members of the community, from government, schools, non-profits and faith based organizations, recently gathered for a Community Leadership Forum, entitled “When Working Isn’t Working,” to learn more and exchange ideas

The event, sponsored by The Connection for Women and Families and The Junior League of Summit, was hosted by Rabbi Avi Friedman of Congregation Ohr Shalom, and featured guest speakers Dr. Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, National Director, United Way ALICE Project, and James Horne, President and CEO, United Way of Greater Union County.
Halpin offered statistics, along with specific insights, on the Summit community, including the assertion that 22% of Summit households cannot afford basic necessities. These families have limited food in the house, not enough warm clothing, cramped living and study space, little to no health care, and few transportation options.

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ALICE, which stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” is a grassroots movement among United Ways to stimulate a fresh, nonpartisan dialog about the growing population of families living paycheck to paycheck.

Summit Chief of Police, Robert Weck said, “We are a village that has to work together.” He explained, for example, The Safe Homes Program helps make sure families and children are in a healthy environment, but sometimes finds there is a difficulty building trust.

Pastor Denison D. Harrield, Jr. of Wallace Chapel AME Zion Church pointed out transportation issues for people who would like to take a job but cannot get to it. Expanded services and realigned mass transportation routes could help.

Lois Bhatt of Bridges Outreach told the audience that they distribute 500 backpacks to children in Summit. Ron Poles, Principal of Jefferson School said that 45%-50% of Jefferson students are part of the Free and Reduced Lunch Program.

A member of Congregation Ohr Shalom, Mimi Zukoff, inquired about volunteer tutors and learned that several facilities offer after school programs where tutors are needed including The Connection, The Summit Community Center and The Summit YMCA.  Allison Grill of CAAP links at-risk students with volunteers to help with college applications. 

Carole Brotspies of PEP explained that the PEP program recruits Summit students from the Free and Reduced Lunch Program from grades 5-8. Teachers work with the students 3-4 times a week with homework, continuing through with college readiness, college tours, and assistance with securing financial aid for college.    

Luz Bazalar, from the Shrine of St. Joseph, urged the audience to offer to help Summit immigrants, work with them “one by one," and become advocates, not opponents.

Speaker Halpin offered the following recommendations:

Short Term - Food pantry, emergency shelter and childcare services.
Long Term - Affordable housing, more medium skilled jobs, public transportation, healthcare coverage, reliable power and higher paid jobs.

The Connection, the Junior League of Summit, and the United Way of Greater Union County have agreed to facilitate any ongoing discussions and strategies with these members of the Summit community.