Networking the fight against poverty

By Thomas Albano

TRENTON, N.J. — The Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, located in Ewing, is fighting to make sure none of New Jersey’s communities combating poverty have dim futures.

The Network’s main objective is to prevent, reduce and end poverty in New Jersey by educating about the issues, as well as advocating for policy in the state to help those who are in the battle. The members of the organization hope to one day see a poverty-free New Jersey.

“The federal poverty level is leaving out a lot of people in New Jersey who are struggling because it’s sort of an outdated way of calculating poverty,” said Elizabeth “Buffy” Weill-Greenberg, the communications manager for the organization. “It doesn’t take into account many different expenses people have. It doesn’t take into account the different costs of living. It’s really an inadequate way of counting the number of people that are actually struggling to get by.”

According to Weill-Greenberg, while the organization has been around prior to 2012, it was not really official as it is today.

“For many years there were really just volunteers but not a formal nonprofit,” Weill-Greenberg said. “Then in 2012, I believe, they hired Serena Rice — the current executive director — and she’s the one who really made [it] into what it is today. She got all the paperwork done and 2012 was when [the Anti-Poverty Network] really became an active, formal organization.”

In order to fulfill the mission of eliminating poverty in the state, the Network puts its focus on three areas: housing, hunger and economic empowerment. The 2015 State of the States Report says that New Jersey ranks 49th in terms of affordable and available housing, stating “New Jersey had 40 apartments or other units that were affordable and available for every 100 renter households with very low incomes in 2014.”

The state also ranked noticeably low in the report when it came to income inequality and unemployment rate, ranking 42nd and 37th, respectively. The Network strives to improve these statistics as part of its mission.

In addition to Rice and Weill-Greenberg, the Anti-Poverty Network also consists of an executive committee and a board of trustees, as well as various other members. These members may be individuals or even organizations, such as the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and the New Jersey Education Association. Individual members, the Network’s website states, include government officials, faith-based communities and even some who have struggled with poverty themselves.

Treasurer Sheldon Presser says that those members who have experienced poverty have been a big part of the organization.

“There is an annual conference in October. Usually there is a panel, which includes people that managed to pull out of poverty with supports,” Presser said.

Presser said, however, that even though the Network has different organizations as members, these organizations could not support everything that the Anti-Poverty Network does for various reasons.

“Sometimes the objectives can be competing so every member organization doesn’t necessarily support everything,” he said. “For example, Catholic Charities is very active in [the Network], but they can never support anything that’s family planning.”

The Network has also worked with various state officials in an effort to focus more on helping provide resources to those who are in a fight with poverty, so that they hopefully will have a way out. On this matter, the Anti-Poverty Network has advocated on issues such as raising the minimum wage in New Jersey.

Weill-Greenberg says that the Network has recently worked with officials such as Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D) on poverty-related issues.

“They’ve both taken a real leadership role on these issues,” she said. “Prieto was actually our keynote speaker at the poverty summit last October.

But while Weill-Greenberg says she is happy with how conditions have improved, she also knows there is still more work to be done in combating poverty in New Jersey.

“The state is stronger when everyone has an opportunity to succeed and to have housing, food, a high-quality education, that really makes our communities much stronger, as well as being the right thing for us to strive for,” she said.

This story reported by Thomas Albano. Thomas Albano, originally from Staten Island, New York, is a senior at Rider University, graduating in May 2016. He is a journalism major with minors in business of sports and also in radio & television.

Outside of the classroom, he has been a member of Rider’s student-run newspaper (The Rider News) and student radio station (107.7 The Bronc WRRC-FM) for four years. At The Rider News, he is its in-depth editor after serving nearly two years as a sports editor. At 107.7, he has been a board-operator/engineer and is a member of the Rider Broncs baseball broadcast team.

In both April 2015 and 2016, he received Mark of Excellence Awards from Region 1 of the Society of Professional Journalists. In addition, he won second place in biography/personality profile and third place in sports writing at the 2015 New Jersey Collegiate Press Association Awards.

Twitter: @thomasjalbano
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