The Mission of Interfaith Neighbors

Interfaith Neighbors (IFN) is a non-profit organization founded in May 1988 when local faith communities came together to address the growing problem of homelessness. Their mission is to assist those less fortunate among us to meet life’s basic necessities, while seeking to improve the quality of life for individuals and families and the communities in which they live. Through the years, their services have grown to include distinct programs for Monmouth County residents, including:  Rental & Mortgage Assistance, Nutrition and Meals on Wheels, Affordable Housing, Neighborhood Revitalization, the Business Development Center, Kula Urban Farms, MacroBites @ Kula, and SOAR.

The Impact of COVID

Executive Director Paul McEvily, remembers the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic like it was yesterday. He watched as the world started to make changes, shutting down airports and other travel. It was St. Patrick’s Day of 2020 when Paul noticed that New Jersey started to become concerned and there were rumors of travel restriction within the United States. Shortly thereafter, everything shutdown.

The first plan of action was to figure out how to keep running one of Interfaith Neighbors’ largest programs, Meals on Wheels of Monmouth County. The priority was how to continue getting food to homebound residents given the growing social restrictions. Thinking ahead to combat any roadblocks, the team proactively worked with Monmouth County officials to get volunteers the credentials needed to continue the food delivery program. Meals on Wheels would become even more vital as COVID took hold and senior centers closed, taking away the communal aspect of sharing a meal at six sites across Monmouth County. Interfaith Neighbors was able to quickly pivot to not only continue daily delivery of over 1,100 meals to seniors’ doorsteps, but added those who could no longer receive meals at the senior centers to existing routes.

Because IFN utilizes a hub-and-spoke delivery network that relies on volunteers, concerns increased on how to keep these volunteers safe; many who are seniors that were forced to take a step back to focus their own health during the pandemic. At the same time, IFN was receiving an influx of volunteer opportunity inquiries, including from college students who were temporarily unemployed. McEvily repositioned his staff to address the on-boarding of new volunteers and to plug in gaps where needed. The team doubled their drivers and never missed a day of delivery!

Another initiative heavily impacted by the pandemic was IFN’s homelessness prevention program. While the Rental & Mortgage Assistance team normally assists 300-350 families annually, the COVID shutdowns resulted in 25 to 30 daily calls from families with emergent needs. This equated to more than 400 households over a period of just six months, partly because the local economy is heavily reliant on the hospitality industry, which shut down overnight. With jobs lost and the financial need growing for so many, McEvily and the Interfaith Neighbors team did all they could to counsel clients on where to focus the money, ie for prescriptions, food, utility bills, etc. IFN was able to provide emergent rental assistance to those who qualified, with the help of local funders who stepped forward and asked how they could help. The 33 year old nonprofit quickly established a COVID-19 Emergency Financial Assistance Fund to provide support to individuals and families experiencing financial distress due to the pandemic. In all, over $500,000 was contributed to the fund by individuals, corporations and foundations. The fund continues to help families as the effects of the pandemic linger.

MacroBites @ Kula

Another part of the Interfaith Neighbors Network is MacroBites @ Kula, formerly Kula Café. In addition to being a community café and gathering place in Asbury Park’s underserved southwest neighborhood, Kula Café operated as a hospitality training and job placement program. With its shutdown due to COVID, it could no long be a viable conduit for the area’s young people entering the workforce. What seemed like a sad ending to a program that found stable employment for over 150 local youth since its 2013 inception, became a reimagining exercise that led to a worthy successor to the Café.

Childhood friends Fritz, Jarrette, and David are the founders of MacroBites @Kula, which is a ready-to-eat meal prep company. MacroBites preps, packs and ships healthy meals in the correct proportions. Fritz, Jarrette and David still had other jobs when they began this business and when they lost access to the kitchen they were using due to COVID, Paul reached out to them to talk about their goals. From that discussion, Paul knew this would be a great fit for not only the former Kula Café, but for the Asbury community. From there, MacroBites @Kula was born.

Fritz, Jarrette and David agreed to work with the young adults who were part of the Kula Café’s innovative workforce development program and are proud to be serving the community in which they grew up. In addition to shipping healthy meals, they opened up a small portion of the building for people to sit and be served meals. They’ve also contributed to the overall health of the community in other ways like hosting yoga in the park across the street from the café.

The Kula Farm

The Kula Farm is a social enterprise that provides on-site job training, educational programs, farm to table dinners and free fresh produce to neighbors in need, and has been in the community since 2015. Prior to the pandemic, the farm yield was sold to local restaurants and made available to those who were food insecure. The Asbury Park School District also collaborated with Kula Farm to provide meals to students. Any extra meals were given to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County to distribute to the community.

While the farm lost revenue generating capability from the restaurant shutdowns during COVID, it set up a commerce site so people could order fresh produce for pickup or delivery. This was a great way to ensure the farm yield didn’t go to waste and to fundraise. During the pandemic, Kula Farm collaborated with the AP Dinner Table Project, operated by local restaurant and provide fresh produce for the preparation and distribution to families in need due to the pandemic.

Silver Linings

While the pandemic has caused so much loss around the world, there have been some silver lining moments. The drive for people to help has been stronger than ever, even if their own situations weren’t optimal. Funders proactively reached out to see how they could help families in need. Grassroots efforts were spontaneously born that helped keep revenue flowing and services continuing. And, collaboration was stronger than ever, with many individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations coming together to make a bigger impact. A great example of this is Gwen Love, Executive Director of Lunch Break, providing her Red Bank location as a pickup and drop off area for meals that Interfaith Neighbors could distribute to their clients.

Interfaith Neighbors Today

Today, Interfaith Neighbors is nearly back to full speed. The workforce development program is up and running again at the farm. And while some senior centers are still not open, Interfaith Neighbors is working to find where the gaps are and how to fill them. They have many people who are volunteering and donating to help their neighbors and the community.

The Future

To stay up-to-date with Interfaith Neighbors’ programs and how they are helping our community, visit http://www.interfaithneighbors.org.

Lunch Break’s Mission

As a caring community, Lunch Break freely provides food, clothing, life skills and fellowship to those in need in Monmouth County and beyond. They strive to break the cycle of poverty for those they serve and guide community members in need to self-sufficiency and healthier, more productive lifestyles.

While the need was great prior to the pandemic, Lunch Break’s leadership, staff, volunteers and board could never have imagined how much more critical it would become.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Gwendolyn (Gwen) Love, Executive Director of Lunch Break, recalls watching the news in the beginning of March 2020. She knew the COVID pandemic was getting closer each day, but it never occurred to her or her staff and clients that everything was about to shut down. At the time, the Lunch Break dining room was at full capacity. The Client Choice Pantry was still open and clients came in daily to shop for perishable and non-perishable items needed for themselves and their family members. It was business as usual and Lunch Break was operating at full staff with employees and volunteers.

While Lunch Break’s Board of Directors and leadership team tried to put a phased plan in place to keep things running safely, they knew they had to get ahead of the health threat and sadly, shut down. It was a very emotional decision and the biggest concern was how it would impact clients. Lunch Break is more than a place to get a meal, clothing, pantry items or take part in life skills or wellness programs, it is a place for fellowship which would become even more important once quarantine hit.

That night, as Gwen drove home, she already had a plan in place on how to continue serving the community and met with staff the next morning to start the communication process. The most important part of the messaging was the “why.” They had to let their clients know why they were deciding to shut down and how they would continue to help them get the services they needed.

Later that week, Lunch Break had already transitioned the dining room to grab and go and the Client Choice Pantry moved from in-person shopping to curbside pickup. No clients were allowed inside the building, but could walk, bike or drive up and get what they needed. While this may sound like a straight forward transition, there were many logistical challenges to ensure everything worked smoothly. Gwen and her team had to reconfigure volunteers as many decided to take some time off due to COVID health concerns. They also had to take stock of necessary items and mass purchase disposable containers and utensils.

As the pandemic progressed, it was time for the staff to work from home and they had just a few hours to gather all of the necessary items they needed from the office. This was a very quick turnaround as the employees were already in a good position technology-wise to continue working from home. If someone did not have a computer at home, Lunch Break provided it as well as any additional supplies needed.

The motivation and wellbeing of staff was crucial to making these changes work during the pandemic. In addition to employees working from home, there was an in-house operations team that took care of the kitchen and maintenance of the building. Gwen met with each of those team members individually to get an idea of their comfort level and figure out how to work together while staying healthy. They had a system of weekly check-ins and daily work flow reports to ensure everything was running safely.

Transitioning for Success

Next came modifications to the building to better serve clients. An awning was installed so pickups could comfortably continue even in inclement weather. Doors were changed so large items could easily be transported in and out. They also rented pods to have better access to necessities while they were outside.

As we moved further into 2020, some of Lunch Break’s suspended programs gradually started to come back, specifically the Clara’s Closet. While clients were still not able to come into the building, they could have volunteers shop for them. If there was something a client needed that wasn’t available, Lunch Break would ask for these items to be donated.

For Lunch Break’s Life Skills program, it was a quick transition to the virtual world and they saw an increase in participation now that classes were online. Transportation and childcare had been barriers, but the ability to access the classes from home made it much easier. Lunch Break purchased laptops and Chromebooks for those who needed them, ensuring everyone had access. Many of the classes were recorded so clients could participate on their own time.

A fun addition to the Life Skills program was a cooking class for children. Lunch Break knew that focusing on mental health, especially during a pandemic, was so important and they wanted to do something to help kids. They created a “Cooking with My Hero” YouTube series where children (Junior Chefs!) could pick a recipe and a hero in their lives, and cook together. Lunch Break did the shopping, funded the food and dropped everything off to the clients. They made a cookbook with all the recipes and sent to their donors as a gift.

Support from Donors

The support Lunch Break has received throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of amazing. Donors proactively contacted Gwen and started a COVID Emergency Fund that provided $900,000 to those in need. They also received many deliveries of supplies and other necessary items from generous donors, volunteers and community members. The community collaboration was also incredible as local restaurants provided food to Lunch Break that was paid for by other local businesses. Everyone truly came together to help those who needed it most.

The Future

Lunch Break never skipped a beat, even on the hardest days. As the Lunch Break staff begins to return to the office and services begin to come back to pre-pandemic levels, the drive to help the community is even stronger. Visit Lunch Break’s website to stay up-to-date on their programs.

We are so happy to introduce you to our DIAL Intern, Camryn Morrow! Camryn came to us through the Diversity in Arts Leadership Internship program and will be with us until early August. Administered by Americans for the Arts and national partners, DIAL matches undergraduate students from backgrounds underrepresented in arts leadership with dynamic communities, energetic host arts organizations, and mentors to guide students’ personal and professional growth throughout the summer. While we are sad we only get to work with Camryn for ten weeks, we are grateful to have been paired with her and built a relationship that will last long beyond her internship! Learn a little more about Camryn and all of the incredible things she has accomplished and planned for the future.  

Camryn is a fourth-year Human Development and Community Engagement major at the University of Cincinnati. A Cincinnati native, Camryn was surrounded by the arts and artists her entire life, which played a significant role in her passion for the arts and the community.   

Camryn’s education was also fully immersed in the arts. Her elementary school was a magnet school and exposed her to the arts from the very beginning. She also attended a creative and performing arts middle and high school. These experiences had so many positive impacts on her life. It made learning exciting and kept her engaged. She was also exposed to philanthropy and nonprofits in the arts. This is what really made her excited about future opportunities. Camryn said, “I realized that this is something I could do. This is in the cards for me.”   

Committed to following in the steps of people she met through service programs, Camryn was excited to give back and make a difference. As a high school graduate, her passions remained in education and the arts, and with a background in service and creative writing, she didn’t know how to blend it all to translate into a career. 

Camryn began working with Breakthrough Cincinnati, a transformative experience that came at just the right time in her life as she was contemplating her future and searching for community. Breakthrough Cincinnati pairs college students with middle school students to help put them on a path for success. Through this program, Camryn helped kids stay engaged in their coursework and build relationships. Some of the kids had to deal with challenges in their home life, but Breakthrough Cincinnati was a place full of love and support for all – students, leaders, and peers. Camryn has always loved working with kids, and this allowed her to not only help others but to create lifelong relationships.

At the University of Cincinnati, Camryn started as a Sociology major, and while she loved it, she knew it wasn’t for her. Ultimately, she found her footing with a major in Human Development and Community Engagement. In addition to her coursework, Camryn has interned for several arts organizations and has also gone back to Breakthrough Cincinnati as an intern.  

During her time in the DIAL Internship program, Camryn is working with the Grunin Foundation and the New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund (NJACRF). She is working on the NJACRF Impact Report project. She has had the opportunity to interview individual artists and arts organizations to help tell their stories of strength and resilience throughout the global pandemic. Camryn has used her knowledge and creativity to help us put procedures into place and assist in the structure of the NJACRF Impact Report. She is an incredible asset to both the Grunin Foundation and NJACRF!  

When Camryn has free time, she spends it with her friends, who empower her and allow her to be her best self. She loves reading and journaling and even started a book club at her University. Camryn also enjoys touring her city. Although she was born and raised there, she always finds something new, whether at a museum, cultural center, festival, or anywhere within the vibrant city of Cincinnati.  

Camryn plans to use her love of the arts, education, creativity, and passion for social justice to empower students and address inequities in education. We love working with her, and we know she will be highly successful in all she does! 

How MindALIGNED Began

mindALIGNED began as a collective impact initiative to create arts-engaged schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Educators, philanthropists, parents and civic leaders at the Central Jersey Shore convened to form mindALIGNED, which is modeled after the Creative Learning Initiative, a program in Austin, Texas. The Grunin Foundation was at the table for its inception, and we share the belief that when creativity and the arts are used in the classroom, students are more engaged and learning improves.

The goals of mindALIGNED are to re-invigorate learning, inspire greater engagement, and provide a brighter classroom experience for teachers, students and parents alike. By 2030, the hope is for every school district and community in Monmouth and Ocean Counties to become mindALIGNED and arts-engaged.

mindALIGNED is spearheaded by Count Basie Center for the Arts (The Basie), in partnership with leadership from the Grunin Foundation, Monmouth University, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, government and arts councils, teachers, school administrators, and the Monmouth County Department of Education. It was piloted in 2017-2018 school year with six participating schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. By the fall of the 2019-2020 school year, that number increased to 17, and the program was going strong. Today, there are 10 district partners, 19 schools participating, 690 trained teachers and nearly 12,000 students impacted!

Creative Teaching

There are many ways the arts can be used to teach lessons across all subjects. Creative Teaching refers to a set of instructional techniques drawn from the arts to teach any content area; engaging students, driving inquiry, promoting rigor, and creating personal connections to learning. One example of a creative teaching method is statue. The statue technique invites students to take what is most important about a single idea or multifaceted topic and express it as a physical representation (a statue), that the class can interpret and discuss.

Creative teaching methods are so diverse that they can be implemented to teach any subject. Statues can be used to teach vocabulary words, depict character descriptions, show energy roles in science and even express graphs, shapes or lines in math. And that’s just naming a few areas in which statues can be used within curriculum and lessons. This is also just one of many examples of creative teaching techniques.

How COVID Changed Education

Without knowing that COVID was about to transform education as we knew it, Professional Development had already been ramping up. During the second week of March in 2020, schools were holding mindALIGNED family nights, where parents learned how to use creative learning techniques with their children at home. While this was very important to both the parents and children, no one realized just how valuable this would become, as the shutdown of the schools was impending.

When COVID finally caused schools to close, the mindALIGNED program had to be incorporated in different ways. The Basie team supported the schools but also gave them space to carry out the program in a way that worked for them. There have been many virtual trainings, Professional Development sessions, coaching time and even virtual field trips over the past fifteen months.

Mental health was also a key factor in rethinking how mindALIGNED programs would be implemented virtually. The mental health of the students was important prior to COVID and now it was extremely crucial. Teachers included mindfulness moments in their lessons, relationship building exercises and focused on social-emotional learning.

The new, fully virtual world was creating many opportunities, some that would continue to be beneficial even when schools fully open. It allowed the teachers to go more in depth with virtual Professional Development, which is something they wanted to do for a while. Different school communities were finally able to come together to learn virtually. And there were more workshop requests than usual – teachers could simply turn on their computer and the teaching artist was right there.

mindALIGNED Impact

Measuring impact can be challenging (especially during a global pandemic), but it is critical to ensure programs are achieving goals, to use for future funding and to assess if any changes need to be made. Dr. Deborah E. Ward has been working with the mindALIGNED initiative to provide external research and evaluation. Dr. Ward’s research has found that 100% of teachers responded that the program and creative teaching strategies improve student engagement, the visibility of the arts in schools, and students’ creative expression, while 89% of teachers said the professional development training provided them effective teaching tools. Samantha Giustiniani, Senior Director of Education & Outreach at Count Basie Center for the Arts and Director of the mindALIGNED program along with her team, were able to use some of the downtime during COVID to utilize UpMetrics, an impact visualization tool. Utilizing data collected by Dr. Ward, this has been very helpful with fundraising activities, storytelling to the community and shaping the teacher and student experience in the classroom.

The Future

Next year will be a recovery year for administrators, teachers, students and parents. The mindALIGNED team will continue to help teachers finish the necessary Professional Development and get incorporated safely back into the schools. While the virtual world has certainly presented some great opportunities, everyone is looking forward to forging ahead and being in the classroom again!

Visit https://thebasie.org/mindaligned/ for more in-depth information and to stay up-to-date on the mind ALIGNED program.

by: Michael Orey & Sonia Semienchuk, NYU School of Law

NEW YORK, June 10—The 2021 Grunin Prize for Law and Social Entrepreneurship was announced on Wednesday, June 9. This prize recognizes lawyers’ participation in the ways in which business is increasingly advancing the goals of sustainability and human development, and rewards the innovation and potential impact of projects and solutions developed by lawyers to advance the fields of social entrepreneurship and impact investing.

The 2021 Grunin Prize was awarded to the Argentine law firm Beccar Varela in recognition of the support the firm provided to the RAMCC Trust, a versatile contractual vehicle structured by the Argentine Network of Municipalities against Climate Change (RAMCC) for the purpose of financing and investing in projects that generate positive environmental, economic and social impacts for the direct benefit of the municipality that are members of the Trust. This vehicle is the first of its kind in Latin America. It was designed to enable multiple public municipalities of different sizes and regions of Argentina the opportunity to jointly pursue and finance significant sustainability projects in a transparent, scalable and cost‐efficient way. Members of the Grunin Prize‐winning team at Beccar Varela are Daniel Levi (Partner); Carolina Serra (Partner); Dorothea Garff (Senior Associate); Santiago Barbarán (Senior Associate); Constanza Connolly (Counsel); Evangelina Petrizza (Head of Sustainability Department); Diana Warszawski (Junior Associate); and Agostina Coniglio (Junior Associate). More information about the project is available on RAMCC’s website (www.ramcc.net).

“We are deeply honored and grateful for being awarded the Grunin Prize, which is not only a wonderful recognition for our team, but also for the hundreds of Argentine municipalities that believed from the beginning that the RAMCC Trust could become a powerful tool in their mission to protect the environment, creating a better place to live for their citizens. As lawyers, we are confident that we can be game‐changers for helping impact projects to succeed, and this acknowledgment strengthens our enthusiasm to keep driving sustainability initiatives forward,” said Daniel Levi, Partner, Beccar Varela.

Established in 2017 with a generous endowment from NYU Law graduates Jay Grunin ’67 and Linda Kalmanowitz Grunin ’67, and the Grunin Foundation, the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship, the first center of its kind at a law school, is dedicated to enhancing the community of lawyers and legal institutions engaged in social entrepreneurship and impact investing and accelerating its effective participation in these fields. The Grunin Center does this through education, knowledge dissemination, and field‐building collaborations.

“In a year that has caused so much hardship and loss for the world, the 2021 Grunin Prize finalists worked tirelessly to drive impact, advance equity and solve challenges to improve the quality of life for all. Their commitment to creating lasting change through their innovative contributions in the legal field of social entrepreneurship and impact investing is inspiring. I am humbled to be a part of their journey,” said Jay Grunin, co‐founder and chairman of the Grunin Foundation.

Strengthening community is the foundation of the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County (The Y). They believe that lasting personal and social change can only come about when we all work together to invest in our kids, our health and our neighbors. That’s why they focus their work in three areas: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

In September of 2019, the Community YMCA and YMCA of Western Monmouth County, united to become the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County. While everyone was excited for the new synergy that would enable both Ys to benefit from shared resources and enhance their ability to respond to the community’s most pressing needs, merging organizations still presents many challenges.

Laurie Goganzer, former president and CEO of The Community YMCA, was appointed to lead the newly formed YMCA of Greater Monmouth County in the same role. Laurie was fairly new to this Y, and began here in 2017 after holding leadership roles for 25 years at Ys across New York and California. She was now tasked with one of her career’s biggest challenges – building trust with the staff and board across two organizations, now joined as one.

With this strategic alliance, the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County became the 2nd largest Y in New Jersey. Now it was time to create a shared vision and strategic plan. In January 2020, the process began and soon after, COVID hit. While the pandemic had changed life as we knew it for everyone across the world, the global pause created the perfect conditions for the Y to work on its strategic planning. They had more time to focus and were very successful at creating a shared vision for their future.

Sadly, the financial impact of COVID on their non-profit organization resulted in a layoff of 85% of her workforce, the majority of which were frontline employees in direct service roles. Layoffs are difficult to begin with, but after just building trust with her combined staff and board, this was emotionally and physically draining for Laurie and the team. “We had already gone into the pandemic both inspired and tired,” Laurie said. Still, they had to move forward so they leveraged the strategic planning process to help.

Prior to COVID, the facilities at the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County were considered  health and wellness centers. Once COVID hit, they shifted gears, changed their business model and became community care centers. Collaboration had already set up the Y for success, as they worked with 70 partners before the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it was crucial to work together.

Community care was the top priority, so Laurie and the team took a step back and assessed what the critical needs were for both the members and community. They started focusing on food insecurity and worked with Fulfill to become food distribution centers. The Y held food drives, collecting and distributing donations at their locations to give back to those in need. They also served over 30,000 meals. Additionally, they quickly began emergency childcare for children of essential employees.

The Y also held blood drives where community residents, Y staff and members could conveniently donate. They received over 1,000 pints of blood on location, saving over 2,500 lives. Their Red Bank location also became a testing site for COVID in May of 2020, and they were one of the first YMCA vaccination sites in the country. Partnering with VNA Health Group, they provided over 15,000 vaccinations!

If you ask Laurie what the silver lining is from the last fourteen months, she would say communication, which has definitely ramped up for the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County. They became closer with stakeholders, volunteers and donors. They consistently stayed in touch with Y members and board members. They even raised more money during these tough times because people could truly see the good work being done for the community, and understand that the Y is so much more than just a place to exercise.

Moving Forward

As things begin to open and we move towards physically healthier days, we will be facing our next collective challenge – the mental health crisis that is arising from the pandemic. The Y never stopped their mental health services and quickly shifted to virtual offerings. From stress management and anxiety relief webinars to traumatic loss, addiction recovery and therapeutic counseling for all individuals and families, the Y is now offering a hybrid model of mental health options.

Laurie and her team are now looking into what to continue doing to stay successful as community care centers as well as what to stop doing so they can focus on what matters most. She continues to do everything she can to motivate her staff, board and Y members, as well as show the community what the Y really is. While most hear “YMCA” and think of fitness and swimming, they now know that the Y is a charity, with a core mission to strengthen the community.

Laurie said, “We are not just IN the community, we are FOR the community. We are working with our partners to do more and we are using our strengths to give back.”

Visit https://ymcanj.org/ to keep up-to-date with all that the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County plans to do for our community!

The Count Basie Center for the Arts (The Basie) is New Jersey’s premier center for the cultural arts, dedicated to fostering powerful, inclusive artistic experiences and creative exchange of ideas. The Basie’s mission is to inspire, educate and entertain through its distinct and engaging cultural and artistic offerings that reflect the diversity of the region. 

When most people hear the name Count Basie Center for the Arts, they envision the beautiful, historic theater, but it is so much more. As a nonprofit organization, The Basie is committed to enriching the community’s quality of life by generating opportunities for participation in the arts, partnering with schools, collaborating with other mission-based organizations and driving regional economic prosperity.

Serving the Community During a Pandemic

It was Friday the 13th in March of 2020 and Tony Bennett took the stage at The Basie. All was right inside the theater that night. Even as the COVID-19 news was getting worse and hitting closer to home, no one thought that this could be the last concert for the year. The next day, an artist who was scheduled for a 5pm concert had cancelled. One by one, cancellations were coming in for the rest of March and April…then May and June. As the team looked into the fall schedule, they knew it wasn’t going to happen in the traditional sense. With guidelines changing by the minute, it wasn’t easy to shift plans on a dime as there was so much involved in setting up performances.

At a somber board meeting last May, future possibilities were discussed but one thing was certain – the doors were not going to remain closed permanently. Adam Philipson, CEO and President of Count Basie Center for the Arts said, “We know the power the arts have on mental health and now, more than ever, we need the arts for long-term healing. ” The show must go on, and it did.

Adam, the staff and board members knew they had to go all virtual with as many offerings as possible. Classes, shows, award ceremonies, talent searches – all happened virtually and gave the community a space to enjoy creativity, feel safe and most importantly, feel like they were collectively a part of something again.

As the months went on and the guidelines for indoor gatherings were not changing, The Basie team sat in the trenches and wrote their own playbook on how they could continue living their mission while staying and keeping others healthy.

The Basie isn’t a stranger to tough times and learning how to adapt. When Superstorm Sandy hit, The Basie’s first question was, “how can we be an asset to the community?” They used their space as a charging and warming station and offered free movies to bring some relief in a time of crisis. And today, during the global pandemic, it is no different except now, The Basie is suffering right along with the rest of the world. They decided to change the narrative and used their marquee to showcase inspirational messages, quickly becoming a beacon of hope.

The Basie team stayed on top of the CDC instructions and found ways to creatively host events while adhering to the guidelines. They safely staged the largest drive-in concert in the country with over 900 cars of people in attendance! They also began an outdoor summer concert series that together with the Drive Ins saw nearly 40,000 people come through by the end of the season. It was clear – people were hungry to have a moment of normalcy again.

Adam was inspired by all who continued to show up to the concerts. He knew that if they could keep bringing the arts and entertainment safely to the community while staying within the CDC guidelines, people would be there time and time again.

In October, Adam and his crew figured out how to open a new venue in the Grunin Education building called The Vogel, using part of the Count Basie Center for the Arts campus. The Vogel held 150 people who could safely sit 6 feet apart at tables. They hosted more than 70 sold out shows. Nothing seemed to stop The Basie team from finding new ways to bring the arts to the community. They created a second, 150-seat venue with more sold-out shows. As Adam said, “If you do it right and do it safely, people will come back and stay healthy.”

Summer Plans

Last summer, The Basie opened an outdoor venue but they were constantly fighting the weather. This year, they have a beautiful, outdoor, but covered, concert space at Suneagles Golf Course  in Monmouth County. So far, they have booked 70 shows and sold almost 20,000 tickets. They hope to have 100 shows this summer.

Today, they are thinking about taking down the pop-up stage in the historic theater to make more room as restrictions ease up. As we move towards the days of zero capacity limits, Adam and his team will continue to work on sustainability and keeping the arts alive at The Basie. Adam is so proud of his team and board of directors who are always strategically thinking and working to figure out the next steps and how to get to the next level. As Adam said, “Whatever comes our way, we will be ready to inspire, entertain and educate.”

The Future

We look forward to the day when The Basie can be back to full capacity; however, they have done an incredible job pushing through the challenges and getting creative to make it work. Visit the Count Basie Center for the Arts website to learn more and stay up-to-date on their shows and programs!

The Ocean County YMCA (OCYMCA/the Y) is committed to helping everyone reach their full potential, with a focus on Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility. With programming for youth and seniors spanning across aquatics, health and fitness, day camp, sports and virtual sessions, there is something for everyone at the Y.

Last year, OCYMCA celebrated 50 years of being a hub for health in Ocean County. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the year did not go quite as planned. Just like the rest of the world, they were forced to temporarily close their physical doors in March of 2020; however, they continued to step up to serve our community’s most compelling needs.

Throughout the shutdown, OCYMA ensured that social distancing did not turn into social isolation. They used Zoom to get important news out to members and the community, and to safely continue running their programs. Here are some ways OCYMCA has shifted their services to keep members connected.

Warm Up America

Ocean County has the largest population of seniors in the state and senior isolation was an issue well before COVID hit. OCYMA found creative ways to keep seniors safely engaged. In addition to a virtual book club, the Y also hosted its Crochet Club over Zoom. Participating members could pick up the necessary supplies at the Y and meet virtually with their friends to crochet. They then donated the hats, blankets and other items they made through Warm Up America, a charity that motivates, trains and coordinates volunteers to knit and crochet afghans and clothing for people in need.

Remote Learning Facility

The OCYMCA has been using part of their space as a remote learning facility for all essential workers who need childcare for their kids. Children have a safe place to set up for their virtual school day and have access to any necessary assistance. They receive lunch and snacks daily and participate in fun activities outside of their school work.

Watching the children adapt to the circumstances and flow with the daily changes was inspiring. One of the parents noted that it was hard to imagine the kids wearing masks or consistently washing their hands but now it’s the kids who are teaching the adults how to be healthy and safe!

Summer Meals Program

In 2020, OCYMCA launched a Grab n’ Go Summer Meals Program. The Y, in partnership with Toms River Regional Schools, has been working to keep children healthy and well-nourished. The Y began serving meals on May 26, 2020 and continued to do so each weekday until the end of August. Participating youth received nutritious lunches and snacks daily.

This program is the first of its kind in Toms River and is being operated in partnership with the Capital Area YMCA. OCYMCA began serving 150 meals per day last May and increased to 700 to 900 per day by the end of last August. This summer, the Y plans to operate the Summer Meals Program on four sites.

OCYMA will host a Food Summit in May of 2021 to convene partners, community members, schools and other Y’s to develop the landscape of how the Summer Meals Program will look this year and how to get more meals out. Peter Rosario, President and CEO of OCYMCA said, “This year, we are focused on making the Summer Meals Program bigger and better with even more partnerships. The goal is to help make our community more food secure by providing 2,000 to 3,000 meals per day to those in need.”

Town Hall Meetings

The OCYMCA has always been a trusted voice in the community. They have utilized Zoom to continue pushing out real-time, valuable information from the census and meal programs to day camp and fitness center updates. They also held info sessions to ensure that members would be comfortable coming back when the Y was safely able to open. Discussions took place virtually with swim parents, athletes, kids and seniors who had questions about what the return to the Y would look like.

In-person programming started up again in July of 2020 and all at the Y are following the necessary safety protocols to keep staff and members safe, healthy and happy! In addition to fitness classes and other programs on site, the Y also has an archive of virtual fitness classes for those who feel more comfortable working out from home.

The Future

The Ocean County YMCA will always remain committed to providing everyone with the opportunity to reach their full potential. While hours and classes are limited, Peter and his staff are excited to have their members back inside the Y. With the help and support of the staff, members and community, the Y will come back stronger than ever.

Visit Ocean County YMCA’s website to learn more and stay tuned for updates on the Summer Meals Program and other future initiatives!

The Grunin Foundation had the pleasure of meeting Doug Eagles, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County, in 2018 to learn about the organization and Project LEAD. We wanted to share the story about this incredible organization and how Doug and his staff are impacting the lives of youth in Asbury Park and Red Bank.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County (BGCM) empowers all young people—especially those who need it most—to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens.There has never been a day when BGCM wasn’t there for its kids. Then, COVID hit and they were forced to shut their doors temporarily. At the time, they (like the rest of the world) thought it would only be for two weeks. Even without knowing we were all in this for the long haul, they immediately sprang into action and migrated most of their programs to an online platform called BGCM Boundless. While it wasn’t what they were used to, it was a way for kids to safely see their counselors and friends, especially during a time of uncertainty.

When summer 2020 hit, it was clear COVID wasn’t going away any time soon. As they waited to get the word that they could reopen, BGCM continued helping the community and rolled out a food program across Asbury Park and Red Bank. By the end of summer, they had given out almost 20,000 meals to anyone who needed them. In the meantime, they were able to launch their in-person summer camp in July. Doug Eagles, Executive Director of BGCM said, “Although camp had to be run at dramatically reduced capacity, it was inspiring to see the kids go through this experience together.”

As the year went on, Doug and his team started to think about what BGCM could do during the school year and how they could use their space to help the school district and the families of their Club kids. They decided to open up their facilities in Red Bank and Asbury Park during school hours, creating Remote Learning Centers. The day began at 7:45 AM, when parents could drop their kids off for the virtual school day. BGCM was equipped with the necessary technology, including tablets and computers for those who needed them. Many of the parents did not have the flexibility to work from home, so this allowed them to continue to work while their kids stayed on top of their school work.

The team at BGCM was constantly realigning to fill in gaps as they emerged. They began to notice the isolation and anxiety created by the pandemic. It opened their eyes to how trauma plays a role in the lives of the kids they serve. Many of the kids had already been exposed to trauma before COVID hit. The health crisis added another challenging layer to this, and Doug knew they had to position the Club to better address trauma not only in the kids, but also the parents and the staff. He worked with the staff to provide trauma-informed care and eliminate stressful, toxic environments as much as possible. BGCM has always prioritized wellness, families, and resilience, and now the Club is even better prepared to handle unexpected situations, like the pandemic. Their goal is to create and foster a positive experience that allows kids to flourish in spite of trauma.

Project LEAD

In 2018, the Grunin Foundation met with Doug to discuss Project LEAD, a teen employment and empowerment program. Employment opportunities in Asbury Park are limited, and for those opportunities that do exist, teens in the community are often unprepared to succeed in a professional environment. In BGCM’s effort to improve the overall quality of teen programming, they modeled Project LEAD after the highly successful Teen Life Internship program at New City Kids, a nonprofit youth development agency in Jersey City.

Everyone at the Grunin Foundation was so impressed with Doug and his team and we knew Project LEAD was a great fit with our mission and pillars. We were happy to help fund Project LEAD and with that, the pilot was launched in the summer of 2018. Ten teens were selected for an eight-week Project LEAD summer camp where they gained employment and had access to professional development workshops and life coach meetings. Eight of the ten teens successfully completed all ten weeks of the program, and some stayed on to mentor others.

In the spring of 2019, Project LEAD was relaunched to better meet the needs of the participating teens. BGCM began surveying the teens to see what they wanted to get out of the program. From there, they focused on four key areas:

  1. Resume workshop – Everyone who completes the program leaves with a resume. They also work on interview skills and complete courses online (such as new-hire orientation and courses related to BCGM culture).
  2. Community engagement – The teens attend community events to help with event logistics but also to meet and network with community members.
  3. College/career readiness – Participants are guided along the path from a diploma to a degree. Or, if college isn’t the right option, teens will learn alternate pathways to successful careers.
  4. Keystone Club – As part of BGCM’s leadership and service club, teens complete a project where they learn leadership skills like creating program calendars, planning meetings and trips, matching incoming kids with services they need, and mentoring others.

The teens also complete a service project, which includes raising the funds needed to attend the Boys & Girls Club annual Keystone conference, where over 1,500 members from across the world meet. Since COVID hit, the conference has been virtual, but the teens are looking forward to the day when they can be back together again to network with peers, discuss important issues, and strategize on how to increase efforts in their local Clubs.

Looking ahead

Project LEAD is already making such wonderful impact in the lives of the teens it serves. One of the most inspiring outcomes of Project LEAD is seeing the teens grow – some even stay on as mentors or run different aspects of the program. While the impact has been great, there is still more to be done. Doug is hoping to use Project LEAD as a vehicle to empower youth to gain employment across all of Asbury Park. He hopes this will bring about an economic regeneration of the city. Doug and his staff will continue to find ways to cater the program to the teens’ needs, ensuring they are getting as much knowledge and experience as possible to succeed in a professional environment.

We look forward to seeing what Doug has in store for Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County, Project LEAD, and the youth of Asbury! You can learn more about BGCM by visiting https://bgcmonmouth.org.

The clocks have been turned ahead, the sun is shining past 5pm and warmer weather is finally in sight. Springtime seems to sneak up on us each year, but always bringing a sense of hope as it arrives. The birds are singing and the trees are blooming once again. The air is fresher, the grass is greener and the feeling of renewal is upon us.  

As Spring began last year, none of us realized the word normal would become unfamiliar. Our new vocabulary included quarantine, two weeks, social distancing, stay home, we are all in this together, new normal and the one we love to hate – PIVOT. And who would have thought toilet paper would become the most sought after item in the world? This past year ironically feels like it has been an eternity that has gone by in the blink of an eye.

Throughout the unknown, fear and loss, we saw strength, collaboration and hope. We have never been more proud to be a part of the Central Jersey Shore Community. Going along with the theme of Spring revival, we wanted to share some of the silver lining moments and positivity we’ve experienced over the last year.

We gained insight – We’ve all had the thought, “What would we have done differently if we could have seen this coming?” Although we can’t go back, we do have the insight to move forward. As part of our Catapult Institute Workshops, we’ve held many virtual sessions for our nonprofit partners on COVID-related topics that were impacting their operations. We talked about keeping employees engaged while virtual, fundraising during COVID, using Zoom to its fullest and planning for the future. We also facilitated Virtual Lunch Hours where nonprofits could stay connected to their peers but most importantly, have candid talks about the successes and challenges they’ve faced throughout the pandemic, among other valuable topics. Through these open discussions, we’ve shared tools, resources and have learned from one another. While we hope we never have to face anything like this again, we are all better equipped to handle future challenges.

We collaborated more –One of our Foundation’s core values is collaboration and we are inspired when people work together to increase impact. We have seen so much collaboration throughout the pandemic with the goal of serving more people in need. The selflessness in this sector makes us proud. No one was concerned about their own piece of the pie, but rather how can we make MORE pie and make sure everyone gets a piece. Local businesses stepped up and also played an important role in helping during the COVID crisis. As the saying goes, “alone we are strong, together we are stronger.”

We found new ways of operating – It took a while for all of us to adjust to the new ways of doing things. We all thought Zoom meetings, drive through services and virtual appointments would be temporary, but some have been working out so well, we may be seeing a hybrid model moving forward. Without the commute, board and other meeting attendance has certainly increased. We’ve had a chance to feature guest speakers from around the globe at virtual events. And, even though in-person fundraising events were forced to cancel, organizations found ways to make it happen online and raise funds while cutting out some of the typical event expenses.

We felt a great sense of community – When disaster or tragedy strikes, it tends to bring people together as we all look for ways to help and heal. The Central Jersey Shore is no exception. We are grateful and proud to live, work and play in such an incredible community.

Necessary DEI work is being done – We have all learned a lot about social justice issues across our nation over the past year. At the Grunin Foundation, we have been doing the work internally – both individually and as a team – to become an antiracist organization. We are working with partners to identify obstacles to DEI in our region as well as finding effective strategies or solutions to address them. We are committed to making essential changes to facilitate continuing development and dialogue in our DEI journey and we are proud of our nonprofit partners who are doing the same.

Time to spring forward

2020 has given us some of the most trying times we’ve ever been through. It’s also strengthened our partnerships, our passion to serve and our community. We will take and apply all of the lessons learned with us as we move forward.

We have some exciting partnership and program announcements to come in 2021 – all with the goal of driving economic excellence, increasing the quality of life for all residents of the Central Jersey Shore and championing a just and equitable society. As always, we are grateful to our nonprofit partners for being on this journey with us and making our community healthier, stronger, safer and more inclusive.

And before we sign off, we’d like to give a HUGE shoutout to our hospital systems, doctors, nurses and all the healthcare workers who kept our community as healthy and safe as possible. None of us could do what we do each day without having a strong healthcare system as our backbone – THANK YOU!

Here’s to brighter days…

Jay Grunin Jeremy Grunin