Eric Nieves figured that spending a week of his summer break at New Community would be similar to volunteering at a soup kitchen.
Instead, his urban immersion in Newark was an opportunity to engage with low-income residents served by NCC and involved “kind of getting into people’s lives,” he said.
Nieves, 16, was among a dozen students from St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City who volunteered at New Community for a week—lodging in apartments at New Community Commons Senior and volunteering at various NCC sites during the day.
During their first two years at St. Peter’s Prep, a private all-male high school that follows the Jesuit tradition of cultivating an attitude of service (“men for others”), students learn about social justice and are introduced to concepts such as marginalization and solidarity.
“This is the first time they are immersed in it,” Mark Doherty, one of the chaperones for the trip, said.
“Our goal overall is to break down the barrier of ‘us’ and ‘them,’” added Will Reese, who served as the other chaperone.
As a rising junior, Andrew Ferrier said his summer was busy with college visits, including trips to Georgetown and Villanova. He recognized that spending time at New Community sites, such as the Extended Care Facility, would be a distinct change of pace from his vacation and require an open mind.
“It’s a completely different environment,” Ferrier, who lives in Bayonne, said. “You don’t know what response you’re going to get.”
After each day, the teens gathered for a time of reflection facilitated by Reese and Doherty. As the week progressed, both adult leaders said they saw the teens process their experiences and emotions.
“We encourage them to feel more useless, to feel more than to think about it,” Reese said, who noted that no cell phones or internet access for the week helped cut out distractions.
“The overall goal is to broaden their view,” Doherty added. “Not everyone lives the way they do.”
Nieves recalled how answering the phones for an afternoon at the NCC Family Resource Success Center threw him into the middle of some dire situations that folks dealt with.
“I was basically going into people’s issues,” Nieves, 16, of Berkeley Heights said.
The group also met with CEO Richard Rohrman and Frances Teabout, director of Mission, for a lunchtime discussion about NCC’s economic model of community development.
Later in the week, the group cut loose for an afternoon with the Youth Services summer camp program, where the teens played basketball and other games with the campers.
Sanaiyh Grayson, a 10-year-old camper, said she appreciated meeting the students from St. Peter’s. “I had a chance to learn a lot about them and what they do,” she said.
“It was very fun. They were very nice to us,” added Lania Hannah, 10. “We gave them nicknames.”