Moving Forward Together – updates and information as we navigate our national health crisis

What is your “new” normal?

Into May~

We decided…SummerCamp will be virtual this year.

It was not an easy decision to make. WE MISS OUR CAMPERS AND STREETLEADERS! But for safety’s sake, in this time of national health emergency, we will host online SummerCamp 2.0 from July 6-July 30,  Monday through Thursday from 9am-12pm. We are working on virtual programming for our StreetLeaders too. It is not ideal BUT it is a realistic way to stay connected as we all figure out this “new normal”. We will let you know how you can help- because we will need help!


Straight Outta Quarantine! Congratulations Class of 2020! 

UPT hosted a ZOOM Graduation on Saturday, May 17, 2020 to celebrate our three amazing graduates! President Barack Obama was the Commencement Speaker! It was the most fun we have had on ZOOM!

 

Meet our graduates-from left to right Janique Alexander, Sabrina Williams and Kiyah Johnson!

Janique graduates from Trenton Catholic Academy and will matriculate to Mercer County Community College in the fall where he will complete standard course work before moving to a four year college to study art. Janique has been part of our UPT family since he was in 5th grade. He moved from moved from camper to StreetLeader and is now a UPT College Bound participant. The College Bound program provides resource for students in their freshman year of college. Janique loves to draw and always helped younger students master drawing skills.

Click on the picture to watch a short video celebrating the Class of 2020!

Sabrina graduates from Notre Dame High School and heads to LaSalle University this fall where she will major in Business Finance with a minor in Marketing. Sabrina is a UPT College Bound Participant and the recipient of a Trustees Scholarship which will cover the cost gap so Sabrina and her family do not incur college debt. Sabrina has been with us since she was a rising sophomore and is a natural leader and mentor.

Kiyah joined our team in the summer of 2018 as a StreetLeader. Kiyah graduated from Highland Park High School in 2019 and is enrolled at Mercer County Community College where she is doing standard course work prior to declaring a major. Kiyah works with the youngest children in our programs and is patient and kind with her class. Kiyah is also a participant in the College Bound program and is an eager learner.

At our ZOOM graduation ceremony we heard from staff, board and key volunteers who all shared their congratulations with the graduates. More importantly, the graduates shared their gratitude for all the support they have received as well as their hope for the future. Elyse Smith, our Senior StreetLeader Director said; “I was surprised at how emotional I was. I didn’t think it could happen over ZOOM, but it did! Wow, I can’t believe I am watching another class graduate!” Members of our StreetLeader Team joined in while enjoying pizza supplied by UPT and delivered to their homes. That is how you do quarantine!

Rev. Hannah Lovaglio closed us in prayer, reminding us of God’s promise as shared in Jeremiah 29:11  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” 

Students and guests then stayed on to watch a special Commencement Address by President Barack Obama. President Obama concluded with this truthful statement:  And finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me. But if we’re going to get through these difficult times; if we’re going to create a world where everybody has the opportunity to find a job, and afford college; if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path.

We are praying for these young adults as they move into their future with all the hope that God has to offer.


Here is what is happening…

Here are some highlights of the activities the staff  and volunteers have been pursuing over these last few weeks.  This is focused on Street Leader and camper activity, not all activities in which staff is currently involved.

After School Program activities are limited to a smaller number of children than when we are live, but those who are participating directly with us are having a variety of valuable experiences.  We have a number of children who are being assisted one-on-one by tutors twice a day every weekday.  We have others who are being helped twice a week.  The technology can be challenging from a logistics perspective, but once you get rolling, it can work quite well. We are continuing to work with our families to provide support to additional children with their virtual school assignments.

Almost all of the children, public and charter schools, are using Google Classroom to get and complete their assignments.  There is a great variety among schools as to how much work is assigned; how long each on-line day runs; live teachers with lessons, or printed lessons using email with teachers to answer questions, etc.  Rightfully so, these guide lines and processes vary tremendously from one grade to another.
We have three reading groups operating.  Two are reading “Harry Potter” and one is reading ‘A Wrinkle in Time’.  This last group is having an ice cream party on Tuesday at 4 PM!  Not a great time for ice cream I know, but these times call for some exceptions to the no-dessert-before-dinner rule!  There are about 14 children participating in these groups. We have created ‘live storytellers’ who can be viewed at will by anyone who goes to our website or Instagram page.  We have another group called Young Poets.  There are 5 children participating regularly in this group.  They are writing poetry about what it is like to live through the COVID-19 crisis.  They hope to publish a book as their final deliverable.  Can’t wait to see it!

A special shout out to Reed Finch, Samantha Finch, Becky Richards, Rachel Richards, JoAnn Leigh, Carly Hecht, Christina Kales, Fran O’Brien, and Nancy Hood-Boczar, for their tenacity, patience, and skill in providing help to our kids in this very difficult environment.  

The Street Leaders gather together on-line each day at 3 PM.  It has been a real blessing to them I think.  Elyse and Shaquise, our two Street Leader Directors, are doing a great job of keeping the vast majority of them involved and engaged on a consistent basis. They have taken three or four virtual college tours, discussed the challenges they face each day to do all of their school work on-line, and viewed and discussed several TED Talks on very appropriate subjects.
We have offered help to many of our families with regard to food.  We have distributed not only the Easter meals from Woodside Church that I reported on previously, but also on a more regular basis, we are distributing $50 gift cards to ShopRite.  They are often accompanied by fresh bagels donated by a bakery in Yardley.  I’ll send the name next time, so that you can thank them should you be a patron at some point in time.

On Saturday night, May 16, we are holding a virtual Graduation Party for two of our Street Leaders who graduate from high school this year.   Sabrina Williams and Janique Alexander have both been with us for four years.  They are both planning to enter college in the fall.  Sabrina will attend LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and Janique will begin at Mercer County Community College and transfer to a four year institution to complete his degree. We are extremely proud of them. The program begins at 7:15 and will include an introduction of the graduates.  The graduation speaker is President Obama.  He is doing this for all 2020 high school graduates.  We will have pizza delivered to each of their homes for them to enjoy with their immediate families.  If you would like to attend this party, please let me know and I will send you the invitation!

We have begun to seriously consider our Summer Camp options as well. Sadly, we do not believe as of this writing, that any kind of live camp will be possible, until perhaps a week or two in August.  We will keep you updated on this as we move forward.  We are working on a format and curriculum for virtual camp, that will include Magic School Bus (reading primarily), Bible, and a third segment that would be academically oriented, but fun.

We are working with the Trenton YMCA to become a Grab and Go site (meals for children) for the West Ward of Trenton.  More on that as plans solidify. If all goes as planned, this will operate for the remainder of the school year and into the summer months.  Please be in touch if you have any questions or ideas you think we could use going forward for the end of the school year or summer camp.
Take care. Be safe.  Stay in touch, we love hearing from you all!


 

Dr. Main shares a message with UP all over the world. Photo courtesy of Dionte Grey, UPLA.

On Friday, May 1st, all of the ministries that make up the whole of UrbanPromise joined together on ZOOM to worship together in the midst of this world wide health crisis.  All 26 ministries were there, representing nine countries with 121 folks joining in on the ZOOM. Dr. Bruce Main, founder of UrbanPromise, shared the story of how UrbanPromise was named and it was a “holy” moment for everyone present.

Dr. Main reminded us all that the “Promise” in UrbanPromise comes from the teachings of Jesus as found in Luke 24:49. Jesus has been resurrected and has broken bread with the disciples. His friends are mystified and confused. What do they need to do? Where do they need to go? What is next? How do they carry the message? Jesus replies:  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Jesus told his friends to go BACK to Jerusalem, to the city and people that had just brutally punished him and that God would do as promised. The UrbanPromise ministries have kept that “promise” front and center for all these years. Now, in this time of challenge, all 24 ministries remain open and continue to “stay here in the city” to meet our missions. “Not because of what we do,” Bruce said, “but because of what GOD can do. Now is the time to lean into the promise.”

At UPT, we will continue “lean into the promise” and do the work, knowing God will do as promised. And we will continue as part of a greater whole, a wider world, a mission that stands on the words of a risen Jesus and the faith of the God we serve. We will do all this with love and support from a compassionate community determined to make a difference for the children and teens in Trenton. Those who walk beside us year after year have shown us that, if we lean into each other, change does happen and a child can step into the future with confidence and hope. Together we can do what we cannot do alone.


We learned that school will be closed for the rest of the year…

Anthony H. and Carly H. share a smile during tutoring.

Our Bonner Scholar Team wrapped up a phenomenal year of service with UPT! Our partnership began “normally” in September with our Bonner students stepping in to serve as expert tutors for our students of all ages. It is always great to watch the students and Bonners get to know each other and form relationships. The new year began but then…well you know what happened!

As soon as the schools closed in March, our Bonner Scholar team from TCNJ jumped into action to provide virtual tutoring for our students! Using ZOOM and Google hangouts, they were able to connect and tutor UPT students on a regular basis. We are very grateful to all of the TCNJ Bonner & CEL students who made such a difference for the kids and teens at UPT. TCNJ is wrapping up for the summer and we look forward to September and continuing our great partnership with TCNJ and the hardworking Bonner Scholars!

April brings more adjustments and changes…

Ms. JoAnn loves to read!

Check out Ms. JoAnn reading “The Pagemaster” on our Instagram TV platform. Ms. JoAnn, a former librarian in the Trenton school system, is a NATURAL! She makes every story jump off the page. We have to admit that we would have not thought about having an Instagram TV channel, but challenges give us opportunity to respond in new ways. Our Academic and Program Director AND Harry Potter aficionado is reading “The Sorcerer’s Stone” via video. This is for our students to watch or just listen to-do you love Harry Potter? Visit our Vimeo Channel here.

Our StreetLeader Team began meeting daily at the end of March and have continued to meet daily through April. This has allowed our StreetLeader Directors to stay in touch and connected with all these great teens whose lives have been upended by Covid -19. Each day starts with prayer and meditation led by one of our StreetLeaders. On April 22, former UP Camden alumni, Dominic Bowman shared his journey with the teens. It was a rousing meeting. On April 29, our good friend, Beth Fitzgerald jumped on the ZOOM to bring a message of positivity even in the midst of tremendous challenge. Thanks to Dominic and Beth!

Feel Good Story: Volunteers continue to reach out and on April 14, volunteer Christina Kales began a ZOOM reading group. Well, there were some technical glitches, but in the end, five students joined in to read a “Wrinkle in Time”. We hope to continue this through the end of the school year.

Our friends at nj.com reached out to us and shared our story with their subscribers-in fact, we were on the front page of the Trenton Times! Many thanks to Rich Greco for the wonderful coverage.  We can share that there are MANY Trenton organizations hard at work every day making sure children and families receive food, homeless people and families have shelter and making medical assistance available. It is true that together you can do what you cannot do alone. You can read the article here.

Settling into a new way of living is challenging. But UPT is blessed by those who see a time such as this as the BEST TIME to give back into the community. Thanks to Woodside Church for sharing Easter Blessings with all of our families. This faith family donated food and gift cards and LOVE to our the families, teens and kids at UPT. We are so grateful to Woodside Church. They have walked with us each and every year since our first Summer Camp in 2011. #blessed

Our theme is gratitude as March ends and we embrace of our “new normal”.  We are settling into a routine-of sorts! We are finalizing tutoring partnerships for all of our students. from first grade on up. We are thrilled to be able to give Chromebooks to students thanks to Central Church and L.I.N.K.S.! We are so grateful to have these friends walking with us through this national health crisis.

As we shared, due to social distancing guidelines, we made the decision to postpone our spring gala. It was the right decision to make, but the funds we raised at the gala were significant and the loss of that revenue puts a strain on our bottom line. We decided to share that UPT Update with you, our friends, who have supported our mission over the years, and we were bowled over at the response- the generosity we witnessed was astounding! In just 24 hours we raised $16,290! We are well on our way to our goal thanks to your kind generosity. If you wish to support this effort- you are invited to join us! The door is open!

We want to share some wisdom from Dionté Grey, Executive Director of UrbanPromise LAHe encourages us to witness to God’s love and choose joy, hope and gratitude even in this time of great uncertainty. It is there, says Dionté, where we will find peace that restores our soul. 

Be well, friends, we are praying for you every day!

We just learned that Princeton Area Community Foundaton (PACF ) has a special Covid-19 fund that they are opening for grant requests! We really appreciate the rapid and generous response to our community needs. But that is how PACF  and their partners work!

We also received word from Central Church that there is funding available to help some of our children receive digital devices!

We are all living through a time that most of us never anticipated. But what continues to encourage us is the loving and generous response of the community. Not just for us, but for all the great organizations out there meeting essential needs. Folks like HomeFront, Arm in Arm , TASK and Capital City YMCA who are making sure people have access to food. Not just for the kids, but for everyone. You can click the links to find out about their feeding programs.

Staying mentally healthy as we move through this crisis is important. You can check in with Urban Mental Health Alliance on the website or the Facebook page, for some tips on how to protect your mental health, too. (Key Tip: Be Gentle With Yourself)

Feel Good Story: UPT is blessed with wonderful volunteers. And one of those volunteers in JoAnn. JoAnn used to be a school librarian in Trenton. Just recently she and one our StreetLeaders, David, began reading a book together. They were meeting twice a week, enjoying the time spent reading a good book. Well, they just connected today and are going to read over the phone! How great is that?! Thank you to  our faithful volunteer, JoAnn, and her reading companion, David, for adjusting to this health crisis in such a positive way!

We had a great staff ZOOM yesterday and will touch base again on Friday. We are also blessed to be part of the larger UP family so we will ZOOM with folks from all over the US, Canada and Central America on Friday. It is good to witness God at work through the commitment and service of these friends! Our Board of Trustees met using ZOOM and are behind our efforts 100%! Together we can do what we cannot do alone.

We are following all official directives. That means that Camp Grace, Camp Truth, and our StreetLeader Programs are being offered remotely. 

Working with the students who are part of our TCNJ Bonner partnership we have set up Virtual Academic Support for our StreetLeaders and college students. We are also partnering with area faith families to fund Chromebooks for many of our UPT students who do not have computers in their homes. 

We have set up ZOOM Academy for the StreetLeaders who meet daily to check in with StreetLeader Directors. They use this time to maintain important connections for the teens who, without the structure of school, will need positive motivation and much prayer.

Our Camp Leaders have called every family to assess their needs and to find out how we can help. So much is uncertain, but one thing we know for sure is that the families we serve will be the hardest hit of all. They struggle to pay rent and to feed their children on a regular basis, and without exaggeration, it will get worse, which makes it more important than ever UPT is there for them.

We are partnering with area organizations to find and share resources. The schools are providing Grab & Go Breakfast and Lunch for the children and Capital City YMCA is also feeding kids. TASK remains open with Grab & Go Meals. 

Check back soon for updates.