"Look at those chubby cheeks," said seventh grader Gabrielle Povolotsky, 12. "I just want to take him home with me."
Povolotsky and her classmates came to Hudson Cradle, a non-profit group home for neglected and disadvantaged infants, to work on a video project for school.
But they went home with a message about what it really means to give back to the community.
Hudson Cradle's mission
Hudson Cradle was established in 1991 to help alleviate the "boarder baby" crisis. Boarder babies are infants that may be healthy enough to be discharged from the hospital, but may not have a safe place to call home, due to domestic environments plagued by drug addiction, child abuse and general neglect.
Babies aged birth to 18 months are placed at Hudson Cradle by the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). Then, the Hudson Cradle staff works tirelessly to provide care for the children and counseling for the parents.
The ultimate goal is to have children and parents live together happily and healthily.
Sallie Porter, the executive director of Hudson Cradle, explained to the Secaucus students what her organization is trying to do.
"We've had about 525 kids come through Hudson Cradle, the main reason being that the state decided that it wasn't safe for the babies to live with their families right now," she said. "Maybe their moms used drugs, didn't have a place to stay, or both."
She added, "Many of the children who come here have been in the hospital since they were born because they are withdrawing from drugs that maybe their moms took while they were pregnant, or getting over being born premature. The babies usually stay for about four to six months, then go on to foster homes or back to family."
Think globally, act locally
Debra Gerbasio is the Secaucus Middle School language arts teacher who moderates the award-winning Kids Witness News program at the school. The Panasonic-sponsored program teaches schoolchildren hands-on news, fiction, and documentary filmmaking skills. Last May, Secaucus Middle School kids in the program won an award for their film featuring Secaucus resident Bill Sheehan, the head of the Hackensack Riverkeeper organization.
This time around, Gerbasio purposely chose Hudson Cradle in order to focus on a particular theme.
"When were trying to decide what to do our video on this year, we tried to find something than can be helpful globally," she said. "Based on my own experiences as a teacher, if something's not right with a child, there may be something not right at home. I thought that we should get the message out about child abuse. We decided to try to help someone in our own county. Kids need to know that not everything is so nice all the time for everyone."
Lots of love in the room
The students went downstairs to interact with and film kids and caregivers, careful not to film their faces for security reasons. They found a group of seven babies being attended to by staff members.
One staffer, Diane Colley, has been working at Hudson Cradle for 16 years.
"These kids come here with a lot of problems," she explained. "When they leave here, they are in good shape. We hope they continue that way. I love doing this."
Nachelle Searvance has been working at Hudson Cradle for six years.
"These are my hearts right now," she said. "I don't have any kids, so I consider all these babies my kids. I love them."
After working with babies up close, seventh grader Laura Eisler, 12, spoke about what she had seen.
"I think this is a really good place for the kids to grow up, because the people here care about the kids a lot," she said. "They'll do anything for them. The kids look great. This is one of the best places for kids in Hudson County."
John Shinnick, the Secaucus 3rd Ward Councilman-elect who serves on the Hudson Cradle Board of Trustees, noted that the organization is dependent on donations in order to keep doing good work in the community.
"We really depend on private and corporate donations to keep the organization going," he said. "We couldn't run this place on the money we get from the state. We can take care of seven babies now, and we hope to expand to be able to take care of 12. People can donate $10 or $10,000. There is a definite need in Hudson County for this organization."
Kelly Motley, 12, is also in the seventh grade at Secaucus Middle School. Her observations of Hudson Cradle went even deeper.
"The people here are really helping these babies become normal kids," she said. "I think that I'm very lucky that I have such nice parents who take care of me and who don't do drugs. I think that the people who work here are like parents to these kids. More and more people should donate so that they can help more babies. I want to work here when I grow up."
For more information about Hudson Cradle and to inquire about donations, please call (201) 332-7879 or go to www.hudsoncradle.org.
"I want to work here when I grow up." - Kelly Motley