Many afternoons, kids at Morristown High School in Morristown, New Jersey, walk over to Morristown Neighborhood House, affectionately known as Nabe.
The four-story brick structure is a home away from home to many kids. There’s basketball in the gym, karate class and guitar and violin lessons.
There’s also a two-pronged professional development program for teens. It offers them a job working with younger kids as well as formal workforce training through local professionals.
Each year six teenage applicants are chosen to work in the Nabe elementary after-school program as tutors and mentors. They undergo regular staff training and work 15 hours a week.
At the outset the teens “may not typically be your ideal candidates,” said Jackie Looby, director of volunteer services at Cornerstone Family Programs & Morristown Neighborhood House. “They need some polishing up.”
But the adult staff members “take these kids under their wing,” she said.
The younger kids gravitate to the teen helpers and look up to them, Looby said. The younger kids revel in the extra attention.
“It’s really a win-win for everybody,” she said.
Equally important for the teenagers is the direct professional development they receive. In workshops, they learn how to write resumes, handle interviews and manage a paycheck.
Community businesses that partner with Morristown Neighborhood House come in to teach the kids financial literacy. Bankers, lawyers and architects volunteer their time.
As the teens connect with professionals in the community, they gain the skills that help them navigate the workforce.
At the end of the school year, the teens are placed in summer internships that range from working in a local law firm to a hospital neonatal unit.
“It’s amazing to see them change,” Looby said.
Six additional teens are hired during the summer to work as counselors in the Nabe summer camp. They also attend workshops that teach professional skills. During the school year, Morristown Neighborhood House offers a college prep program preparing students for the SAT and ACT.
Roots in the past
Morristown Neighborhood House began as a settlement house in 1898. “It was always friendly and welcoming to immigrants,” said David Haggerty, director of the neighborhood center.
At the start it served a largely Italian population. Later, the neighborhood became predominantly African American and today is mainly Hispanic, including many Honduran Americans.
The town of 19,000 may appear to be relatively affluent.
“Everybody thinks everybody is well-to-do here, but there’s an extremely large number of families under the poverty line,” Haggerty said.
The neighborhood house itself suffered a decline and in 2013 merged with Cornerstone Family Services, a nonprofit with a variety of community services.
The combined organization serves all ages, from a preschool program to a senior adult day center. The K-5 after-school program serves 175 kids a day.
The Neighborhood House provides adult recreation, including a soccer league with 450 participants, and classes including GED preparation and English as a foreign language.
Services for military veterans include counseling and Operation Sisterhood, which supports and advocates for female veterans.