Jonah Gensler, Director of Family Services at the Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) walked me one of ICC’s new Family Success Centers in the heart of the Ironbound. He apologized for the sparse rooms as he pointed out childrens’ play areas, counselling stations, a commercial grade kitchen, and the occasional room he remarked was “room for growth”. This is the first in a two-building expansion of the publicly-funded community services organization, which has been growing by leaps and bounds in part due to new state funding.
Jonah sat me down in his office and painted the picture of the ICC as an organization that pairs community advocacy and services, and described how they are applying this model to two Ironbounds: the East and West neighborhoods. “It’s the Forgotten Ironbound,” Jonah said of the East side — an area physically and economically cut off from the bustling Ferry Street nightlife closer to Penn Station. He went on to describe the danger and neglect that residents of the Hyatt projects, for example, experience on a day-to-day basis. Regulars at TDN may recall the story of a pastor at a local church who was nearly shot in this area, and the recent article in the Times about how some Port Newark shipping companies have been using a tract of riverfront property to store empty shipping containers, obscuring the view of residents. ICC staff worked with that Times reporter. “We brought her into those projects,” he said, “she was horrified.”
The ICC, in addition to providing services such as family counseling, education, and job placement, has been advocating for Ironbound quality of life issues for years. The ICC fought City Hall’s initial placement of the Bears’ baseball stadium over Riverbank Park. Despite significant momentum from the city administration, the ICC won and preserved one of the few open spaces provided for Ironbound residents.
The holistic approach towards improving the neighborhood closely aligns with the pillars of Booker’s plan to solve the city’s ills. Given this, and the administration’s use of non-profits to catalyze community improvement programs, it should come as no surprise that the Mayor’s office has scheduled a press event at the new ICC building this week.
I asked Jonah how individuals can help the ICC and found out that nearly all of the organization’s work comes from paid staff rather than from volunteers. He did note that they are looking for help in January providing tax guidance. The 4 or 5 needed volunteers don’t necessarily need a particular skillset, but they will need mandatory training, which the ICC will host through December. If you’d like to help and want more information, please contact me at email@example.com.
I’ll be meeting up with Jonah for a podcast interview soon, so stay tuned.