The New Jersey Bonner AmeriCorps Program integrates the passions of college students and community members, with resources from institutions of higher education, along with the expertise and experience of community-based organizations to address the most pressing issues of Mercer and Middlesex County.
NJ Bonner AmeriCorps's 55 Members focus on supporting seven Mercer and Middlesex County Communities in these issue areas where residents face poverty rates more than double the state of New Jersey’s at 10.4%.
The program takes pride in fostering an inclusive service culture where individuals of different backgrounds, talents, and capabilities are welcomed to be community change leaders. The NJ Bonner AmeriCorps program has extensive training for its members to help them become effective leaders of change.
Target Issue Areas
NJ Bonner AmeriCorps members supporting youth literacy programs aid K-12 students in improving their academic performance.
According to the US Department of Education in 2014-2015, 91.2% of students at Hedgepeth-Williams Elementary School, 78.6% of students at Trenton Central High School(West Campus) and 85.9% at Trenton Central High School(Main Campus) are eligible for free or reduced lunch; 86.3% of students at New Brunswick High School are eligible . Academic achievement for students living in poverty is more difficult to attain than it is for other students due to the lack of resources available to promote their educational success. A 2011 study found that income level, source of income, and the education level of a student's mother greatly influence academic achievement . In Spring 2017, the NJ Assessment of Skills and Knowledge revealed that from 2015-2017, approximately 82% of 3rd through 5th grade students in the Trenton school district were not proficient in language arts literacy and an estimated 79% of 3rd - 5th grade students in the New Brunswick School District were not proficient .
NJ Bonner AmeriCorps members supporting college access programs aid K-12 students in improving their academic engagement by applying to or assisting in the college enrollment process.
There is a need for high school students to participate in college access programs designed to help them explore postgraduate education and potential employment opportunities. Only 37.7% of 12th grade students at New Brunswick High School enrolled in 4-year postsecondary institution and only 32.2% enrolled from Trenton Central High School, Main and West Campus compared to the 69.7% of high school graduates in the US who enrolled in colleges or universities in 2016.
NJ Bonner AmeriCorps members provide support to Food Security programs through emergency food assistance in food pantries and kitchens, referrals to other aide programs, and assistance with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Applications.
A 2015 report from Feeding America revealed that Mercer County (which includes Trenton) reported an increased food insecurity rate of 11.4% compared to a previous 10.4%, with an estimated 42,110 individuals estimated as food insecure. Middlesex County's food insecurity rate was reported to be at 8.8% in 2015, compared to a previous account of 12.2%, with approximately 73,440 individuals reporting to be food insecure.
New Jersey has 25% fewer supermarkets per capita than the national average.
The 2013 study of community health needs in Trenton also found that out of 269 reported food sources in Trenton and its surrounding neighborhoods, 51% are limited service restaurants and 29% are bodegas. According to the City of Trenton's Community Health Needs Assessment, 39% of adult residents in Trenton and 49% of children in Trenton, ages 3-5, are overweight or obese. 16% of the adults in Trenton are diagnosed with some form of diabetes, almost twice as much as the surrounding 9% of Mercer County residents who have been diagnosed with diabetes.
NJ Bonner AmeriCorps members assisting job preparedness programs will help individuals of Trenton and New Brunswick receive their GED through tutoring programs, attain marketable job skills through training programs, and become proficient in the English language through ESL courses.
According to a 2016 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report produced by United Way, there exist 75% of households in Trenton and 66% in New Brunswick that live below ALICE threshold. Living below ALICE threshold means that households in Trenton and New Brunswick earn, “more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county.” Given the astounding cost of living in New Jersey, affording basic needs becomes a challenge for individuals who lack the advanced skill sets to achieve sustainable, full-time jobs that would assist in alleviating the constraints of poverty. A number of studies show that lack of higher education negatively impacts employment potential. The U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2016, "the unemployment rate for young adults with a bachelors or higher degree (5%) was lower than the rates for young adults with some college (10%), those who had completed high school (12%), and those who had not completed high school (17%)."
In the city of Trenton, 31.9% of residents ages 18-24 lack a high school diploma, and 29% of residents in Trenton over the age of 25 have less than a high school or 9th grade education.
There is also a need in New Brunswick for English as a Second Language services to help individuals improve their English skills. In New Brunswick, the latest US Census figures reveal that approximately 68.4% of residents speak English less than 'very well.’