By Lauren Wanko
“I’m so thankful and grateful and it’s amazing that there are people who truly care. Without their help I would not be able to be here and my kids wouldn’t be in a safe place,” said Kalihqa Brown.
Brown is talking about HomeFront, a social service agency that serves the working poor and homeless families and the many donors who helped support HomeFront’s new family campus. The decommissioned military base in Ewing has been transformed into a safe haven for families in need.
When asked if this was a dream come true for her, Connie Mercer the CEO & Founder of HomeFront, replied, “This is what I’ve always known for an awful lot of years was really needed in order to help families claw their way out of poverty.”
The are three floors and rooms for 38 families. A library is upstairs, and nearby colorful nail polish adorns the wall next to a station for a new hairstyle.
“By the time you finally become homeless you’re looking pretty awful, and our message to our women is transformation. Transformation of your life skills, of your life attitudes of your life prospects and also the way you present yourself to the world,” Mercer said.
On the main level is an art space filled with inspiring pieces that were created by clients, and down the hall are rooms for community partner agencies. Kalihqa and her two young children moved in last month.
“I had nowhere else to go, if it wasn’t at HomeFront I’d probably be living in my car or on the street,” she said.
There’s a 24-hour daycare while parents work, a health center, classrooms and computer rooms and an after school center for kids.
“Our kids are behind in school by the time they come to us they’re just behind in school. Bright kids but they’ve missed so much by the process of being homeless,” said Mercer.
This is HomeFront’s teaching kitchen where clients will learn how to cook nutritious, convenient, low-budget meals. A combination of professional chefs and home cooks will start running programs here in October.
“It’s not just about teaching recipes, it’s about what goes on in the kitchen. The kitchen is the heart of the home and we all know how important is to be a family to be nurtured and that’s where it happens,” said June Pecora.
Most clients stay for about 45 days, or until they’ve found a safe, secure home.
“In addition to those 38 families we have another 50 or so heads of households who come in on a daily basis for skill enhancement,” Mercer said.
The new Family Campus costs $6 million and was built with the help of individual, public and private grants and donations. HomeFront raised $4.5 million, then the David Tepper Charitable Foundation presented the agency with their largest gift to-date — a $1 million two-for-one challenge. HomeFront secured the $500,000 needed to get the $1 million match gift from the foundation.
“Back in 2008 we realized with the coming recession, organizations like HomeFront were going to have an issue because donations were gonna dry up and supply was going to get even worse,” said Larry Rogers from the David Tepper Charitable Foundation.
“Just to know that people think that I’m worth it, and that my kids are worth it, that’s an amazing feeling,” said Brown.
Brown is already looking for a new home for her family and hopes to go back to college.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.