Join our diverse force of leaders shaping the course of our nation.
Changing the Newark Narrative
Lee opened BRICK’s first school, BRICK Avon, in fall 2010 and has continued to grow the nonprofit in the years since. In an effort to assist many of the BRICK Avon families with issues they face outside of school, Lee created SWCA in 2014. It’s envisioned as the “cradle-to-career” division of BRICK, providing a continuum of services to families and students.
SWCA provides some services in-house, such as its “Family College,” which develops skills of caregivers for young children. Yet a large portion of its work is coordinating with local and national agencies to address families’ specific needs. From nutritional support and medical help to school readiness and neighborhood safety, SWCA’s “Family Hub” serves as the case management division for families and finds solutions in partnership with other organizations in the area.
“Our big thing is family support,” Dixon-Neal says, noting that SWCA often works to stabilize families facing transition or crisis. The primary motivation of its services is to improve the academic outcomes of students in the South Ward.
SWCA has exclusively relied on private donations since 2014. With a full-time staff of just three, the organization has been able to serve the South Ward in many ways, yet not nearly to the extent that the community needs. The Promise Neighborhood grant will allow SWCA to grow its staff and case workload, while also enabling it to become a more permanent fixture in the community.
A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR THE SOUTH WARD
Established in 2010, the Promise Neighborhood program has given dozens of communities large grants totaling more than $500 million to improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children. The application process requires applicants to develop several strategies, detail the community partnerships they will establish, and describe their methods of evaluation.
Dixon-Neal says the process was rigorous and demanding. But reflecting on previous grant recipients and the other three Promise Neighborhood recipients this year—two of whom are colleges—makes Dixon-Neal especially proud. As a young organization that’s just starting to get its footing in the community, she’s overjoyed to be in such great company and to be able to serve the community where she’s worked since graduating college.
As an example of SWCA’s new partnerships, Dixon-Neal said the organization recently started working with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice of NJ, a legal aid service. With this partnership, it can bring lawyers to community events to help families get legal assistance they might not otherwise receive.
Early childhood centers, healthcare and drug abuse services, after-school and mentorship programs, and financial assistance organizations are also among SWCA’s planned partnerships. TFA–NJ will also continue to partner with SWCA, and it’ll work to place corps member in South Ward schools in the coming years.
As the gravity of the $30 million is just starting to become real for SWCA, Dixon-Neal has wasted no time getting to work. In a community like the South Ward, she knows that students and families don’t have time to wait.
SWCA gathered its partners for an official launch of the Promise Neighborhood this month. With community leaders from more than 20 organizations around Newark, Dixon-Neal and Lee rallied attendees with inspirational and emotional statements. “You could feel the energy. Barbara and Dominique were mobilizing and organizing our community in a way I’ve never seen,” Perez said about the kick-off.
While the grant will by no means address all of the South Ward’s needs at once, it will hopefully start to rewrite the narrative of a distressed community. With more educational opportunities for thousands of young students and better resources for caregivers, the effects of the Promise Neighborhood grant could be seen in future generations. And Dixon-Neal hopes that SWCA will be there to witness it. “We want to be with them for long term,” she says. “I want to know where the babies I’m working with now are in 20 years.”