Can Jersey City youth learn a thing or two from a 33-year-old New Yorker?
Local residents and activists think they can and they are taking preliminary steps to bring a model youth program started by the Guardian Angels west of the Hudson River. Specifically, they hope the Angels’ youth program will help keep Jersey City kids safe and off the streets by offering them a range of activities that will enhance their academic achievement and keep them out of trouble.
Known for their red berets and matching red jackets – yes, they still wear them – the Guardian Angels were started in 1979 by a small crew of volunteers who were fed up with crime in New York City and decided to help lower it by doing civilian foot patrols on subways and in dangerous neighborhoods at night. Thirty-three years later the organization still exists, though it is a bit more institutionalized than it was in the past.
Jersey City takes a tour
On the invitation of Jersey City activist Esther Wintner, a few Guardian Angels attended the February anti-crime rally at Jersey City Hall. They later invited local residents to their neck of the woods to learn more about their programs, their youth-oriented programs in particular.
Three weeks ago Wintner, Ward C City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, and other residents took a field trip to New York City to visit the Guardian Angels’ Community Service Center so they could see the organization’s youth program for teens. The all-volunteer program, which was started in 2003, incorporates tutoring and homework assistance, martial arts training, mentoring, personal safety training, nutrition, arts and crafts, games, and periodic field trips.
‘We made it our business to make something out of nothing.’ – Dennis Torres
“I think it would be wonderful to duplicate this in Jersey City,” said Lopez. “I think it would keep a lot of the youngsters that get themselves in trouble off the streets. There’s a lot of discipline training in the programs that they offer. They also do a lot with gang prevention. And in Jersey City we have a growing problem with gangs.”
During the field trip that the Jersey City residents took to the Guardian Angels’ Community Service Center one little girl who is learning Japanese showed off some of her dual language skills.
If all this sounds expensive Dennis Torres, the community center’s director, insists it isn’t.
“We made it our business to make something out of nothing. All you need is an idea, the will to get it done, and few people in the community who are willing to make it happen,” said Torres. “You don’t need a lot of money. Almost everything we have we get donated. People in the community just have to step up.”
The center, he added, is able to offer regular programs for kids ages five and older, six days a week, 50 weeks out of the year. They also offer a summer camp.
“One thing I want to emphasize is, we’re not the cops,” said Torres. “We’re not trying to take the cops’ jobs. We work with the community and with the police.”
Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey has publically said in the past that he is willing to work with the Guardian Angels and is not opposed to having them start a youth program in Jersey City.
A meeting between Comey, Torres, Lopez, and some of the residents who recently met with the Angels is tentatively scheduled for later this month.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.