For an operation that began in a garage in 1995, Hoboken’s Jubilee Center has a lot to be proud of. It has grown into one of the largest non-profit afterschool summer programs in Hudson County, serving Hoboken residents from seven schools. Initially designed as a homework-assistance club for the city’s inner city youth, it’s grown to include cooking classes, science clubs, dance recitals, and art.
“Having this building has allowed us to triple in size since we moved in here,” said Armstead Johnson, the Center’s executive director. “And we haven’t only seen a growth in kids, but also in programming.”
That growth was reflected last Friday when the Center celebrated its 10th anniversary in its current location, on the corner of Sixth and Jackson Streets. As part of the celebration, bricks purchased by various local businesses, charities, and public figures were laid outside the Center’s entrance.
“We try to teach life skills, but we’re very careful to blanket everything in fun, because its afterschool, it’s not school.” - Sandra Huff
Kaija Torres, 11, a 5th grader at Connors Elementary School, described the Center as a safe haven.
“I come in here and all the things I’ve been worrying about all day just wash away,” she said. “It’s nice. I get to spend a few hours not worrying about anything and just enjoying myself.”
The Center is utilized by about 100 kids, many who are residents of the low-income Hoboken Housing Authority apartments, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day. It also operates a full-day summer camp, open to any child in Hudson County. It is owned and operated by the All Saints Community Service and Development Corporation, a non-profit run in conjunction with Hoboken’s All Saints Episcopal Church.
A typical day
Johnson and his counterparts, Director of Operations Craig Mainor and Educational Director Sandra Huff, explained last week that the center strives to complement what students are learning in school, rather than simply replace it.
“We try really hard to not be an extension of the school day,” said Mainor. “We want to reinforce what’s happening there but we don’t want them to feel like they’re still in school.”
Huff reinforced the idea.
“We try to teach life skills, but we’re very careful to blanket everything in fun, because it’s after school; it’s not school,” she said.
Torres, who said she enjoyed the recreational activities more than the educational activities, said that she had noticed efforts to make studying more fun.
“There have been a lot of changes that are making our day more educational, but not like in school,” she said. “We’ve got the brain train, plus Drop Everything and Read, which means whatever you’re doing you have to grab a book and read for 15 minutes.”
A typical afternoon at the Center begins with a nutritious snack, followed by an hour of study time, which the students refer to as “hopping on the brain train.” Following the their ride on the train, the kids break off into various recreational activities, each taught by a volunteer with some expertise in that topic. In addition to dance, science, and cooking, there are various arts and crafts activities as well as a public speaking course.
“Also, sometimes we have pizza parties, which is pretty fun,” said Geony Mainor, 12, a fifth grader at Wallace Elementary School.
The Center also has a library equipped with a Smartboard, 25 laptop computers, and over 1,000 donated books. At 5:30, every student who hasn’t yet been picked up by a parent or guardian is served dinner, donated by a Hoboken restaurant. Participating restaurants include: Zylo Restaurant, Zack's Oak Bar and Restaurant, Madison Bar & Grill, Blackbear Bar, 10th & Willow Bar & Grill and Margherita's Restaurant.
Program with a mission
Johnson explained that the Center’s philosophy revolves around the idea that the larger variety of things a child is exposed to, the more successful of a citizen he or she will become.
“But obviously children from low income backgrounds face lots of difficulties and obstacles, and can’t always do those types of things,” he said. “These are the types of experiences we try to provide.”
The Center has taken field trips to the Franklin Mint, the Camden Aquarium, and the American Museum of Natural History, among others.
He also noted the Center tries to assist some of the older kids in the transition into young adulthood, especially in terms of asking them to mentor younger children. Mia Gilyard, 11, a fifth grader at Wallace School, said working with the younger kids is a learning experience.
“I feel like sometimes we mess up and it makes us seem like a bad influence on the younger kids, but we’re learning a lot of new responsibilities and figuring out how to act like a grown up, which is important,” she said.
Johnson said that the greatest challenges facing the Center currently have to do with funding and space. Despite having 9,000 sq. feet, the Center was forced to turn away a handful of applicants to its summer program, something Johnson said the Center always tries to avoid. Additionally, the Center lost some of its funding for upcoming years, and is currently exploring the possibility of applying for new, more substantial grants.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org