WESTFIELD, NJ — The Westfield Neighborhood Council (WNC) has been a staple on Cacciola Place since its founding in 1969. This community center provides low-cost and free educational and cultural services to members of the Westfield community. The WNC creates an opportunity to unify all Westfield residents, by providing opportunities to participate in programs, volunteer or just socialize.
Among the programs offered by the WNC are dance and modeling classes for kids, film screenings, social gatherings (like an annual Super Bowl party) and their free weekly after-school Homework Assistance Program.
The Thursday afternoon Homework Assistance Program has been successfully running each week at the WNC for the last several years, under the direction of Westfield resident Amy Kover. On a recent afternoon, Kover wore several different hats when everyone started arriving at 4 p.m. – matching up volunteers with kids who need help (usually about 10 at each session), helping a student with a reading assignment, writing a recommendation for another student applying for a summer job and finding someone a quiet place to study. She could be overheard encouraging a high schooler who was concerned about his readiness for an upcoming test.
Kover also spends time seeking grants and donations on behalf of the program, which is in great need of technology like laptops and a printer. She also hopes to add in a weekly evening session for kids who have sports and other commitments after school.
She stressed that the WNC Homework Assistance Program is thriving with volunteers rather than professional tutors.
“Kids sometimes respond better to people other than parents. We’ve also created volunteer opportunities for Westfield High School students to tutor their peers and younger students. There’s a lot of mentoring happening here, which goes hand-in-hand with academic success,” Kover said.
Some students take on dual roles in an afternoon at the WNC. A 10th grader named Ryjon started coming to the Homework Assistance Program at the recommendation of a family member. On a recent afternoon, Ryjon didn’t have any of his own homework, so he was paired with a second grader named Sophia. Ryjon, who is strong in math, worked with Sophia on counting by 10s, gently correcting her when she made a mistake and explaining the process to her.
Sophia, who admitted math is her least favorite subject, prefers art, and proudly said, “I’m also the best singer in my class.” She comes to the Homework Assistance Program most weeks and gets the help she needs.
The program provides homework help and assistance with study skills to kids from first grade and up.
Rajita Nair, a Westfield mom, was initially recruited by Kover to help tutor kids in biology. Without a current need for a biology tutor, she instead spends each session with Jayden, a second grader. It’s easy to see the rapport that the two have developed, as Nair quizzes Jayden with flash cards and encourages him to stay focused after a long day at school.
When asked his favorite subject, Jayden enthusiastically answered, “All of them!”
Jordan Lipkind, a Westfield High School senior, has been volunteering with the Homework Assistance Program since last year. She was seen working with fourth grader Micaila on some math problems. The two laughed together, and Jordan encouraged Micaila by telling her, “Let’s do one more problem just for fun, so we make sure that you’ve got it,” and followed with, “See? That wasn’t very painful.”
“My grandmother volunteers here and told me to come, since I was having trouble with math,” Macaila said. “The people are very nice and I always get the help I need. I started to like it, so now I come every week. It’s just honestly fun.”
Micaila excitedly talked about her favorite subjects – writing and reading, and about “A Wrinkle in Time,” the book she’s currently reading.
Lipkind has been volunteering to help students since last year. She works mostly with the high schoolers.
“I like seeing the success afterwards, when they come back the next week and show me that they’ve gotten a good grade,” she said. “I help with whatever they need – homework or studying, in whatever subject.”
Finished with homework, Macaila and Jordan started talking about after-school activities and sports. This is what the Homework Assistance Program is all about – Westfield residents coming together to share their strengths, lend a hand and encourage each other and to connect with new friends they might not otherwise have met.