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Township's Michelle Tuck-Ponder Is Named to 'NJ After 3' Board

Candace Braun

Princeton Township's former mayor and committeewoman Michelle Tuck-Ponder was recently named to the board of directors for "NJ After 3," a program initiated by Gov. Jim McGreevey to strengthen and expand the quality of after-school programs.

Ms. Tuck-Ponder will serve on the board as the acting executive director of the Girl Scouts of Delaware Raritan, Inc. A six-year volunteer with the organization, Ms. Tuck-Ponder has served on the board of directors for Girl Scouts, and was also the board president. She accepted her current position when the previous director, Dianne Fairbanks, stepped down because of family commitments.

"I'm very glad I inherited this position," said Ms. Tuck-Ponder. "I'm hoping to contribute in a very positive way."

The NJ After 3 program was launched on May 26 during Gov. McGreevey's State of the State address. It is the nation's first state-sponsored, non-profit corporation to expand quality after-school programs.

"After 3 seeks to secure a safe environment for children," said Ms. Tuck-Ponder. "It's very exciting that we have the state on board."

The program seeks to not only give working mothers peace of mind, but also looks to help older students get more involved with extracurricular activities at school, rather than spending each afternoon babysitting their younger siblings.

"Most kids need something to do after school before their parents get home," said Ms. Tuck-Ponder. "The most dangerous time for kids to be on their own is between 3 and 6 p.m."

Drugs, mischief, premature sexual relations, and sexual assault are some of the problems students begin having when they are left to take care of themselves after school, said Ms. Tuck-Ponder.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the percentage of working mothers with children under the age of 18 grew from 27 to 72 percent between 1995 and 2001. In addition, the rate of juvenile violence is four times greater from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. than it is from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., when most parents are home to watch their children.

NJ Girl Scouts

When it comes to after-school programs, Girl Scouts, a 92-year-old organization, is the group that reaches the most girls in the state, said Ms. Tuck-Ponder.

"We're certainly the pre-eminent organization for girls," she said. "If you walk into a room and ask the women how many have been involved in Girl Scouts at some point in their lives, 90 percent will raise their hands."

In the Girl Scouts of Delaware Raritan, Inc., there are almost 13,000 girls and 5,000 adult volunteers currently involved with the organization.

Girl Scouts has remained important in the lives of so many women because the organization has changed as the needs of those involved have changed, said Ms. Tuck-Ponder. Troops offer support for the varying needs of girls, such as pregnant teens or girls whose mothers are incarcerated.

"If we don't change to serve those [in our community] we will lose our purpose," said Ms. Tuck-Ponder. "We're providing services to kids who really need it."

She said the organization is also looking to target girls who come from low income families, those who are disabled, and those who are recent immigrants.

The mother of a 5-year-old, Ms. Tuck-Ponder said she is currently looking for someone to head a Daisy Troop at Community Park Elementary School next year so that her daughter, Jamaica, can become a Girl Scout, as well.

A 13-year Princeton resident, Ms. Tuck-Ponder served as Township mayor from 1995 to 1998. She is a board member for several organizations, including the Association for Children of New Jersey and the Board of Non-Profits. She is also the vice president of the Board of Sharing Network, and vice chairman of the Township Democratic Committee.

Currently Ms. Tuck-Ponder owns a consulting firm in Princeton, Ponder Solutions, where she serves as a consultant for organizations such as the Center for Non-Profits, PSE&G, and the Arts Council of Princeton.

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