Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 19
 
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
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Celebrate Mother's Day With a Gift That Will Last Well Beyond Sunday

Linda Arntzenius

While this Sunday, May 13, will provide an occasion for the entire nation to celebrate the special attributes of mothers, Mother's Day is but a single day in the year. What of the other 364?

HomeFront, the Mercer County non-profit that battles homelessness, offers a way to make the warm wishes for mothers last well beyond Sunday.

Besides sending a card, the agency, which last year helped 4,623 families — most of them headed by single working mothers — will accept donations to its Mother's Day Fund after May 13.

As in past years, the agency sends a specially designed Mother's Day card, hand-colored by homeless children, in exchange for a tax-deductible donation to its Mother's Day Fund. But there's no need to send a card in order to benefit HomeFront's moms and their kids.

Donations to HomeFront's Mother's Day Fund enable homeless moms to buy small "luxury" items for their kids, such as a school trip, school photographs, a movie outing, or Little League sign-up — the sort of normal family activities that most of us take for granted.

"These are items that feature as luxuries for single mothers struggling to keep their families together, activities that foster a close relationship between parent and child and give both a sense of worth," said founder and Executive Director Connie Mercer.

According to Ms. Mercer, some 300 people are homeless in Mercer County on any given night. "Before HomeFront, families with children were housed in motels along Route 1. Now, thanks to HomeFront, there are no homeless children living in those motels."

Located on Princeton Avenue in Lawrenceville for the last four years, the organization began over 16 years ago in response to a challenge Ms. Mercer received from a pediatrician friend that she "do something" about the fact that there were homeless families with children living in motels.

The organization started delivering meals to these families, and eventually began providing transitional housing and then permanent housing.

Now, in addition to providing emergency food and shelter, the organization runs programs that enrich the lives of its clients, who receive a continuum of care that includes intensive case management, life skills and self-advocacy training for adults, and tutoring and enrichment programs for children.

"Almost all of the homeless families we work with are headed by single mothers working at minimum-wage jobs and desperately trying to keep their families together," said Ms. Mercer.

HomeFront works to break the cycle of poverty and to foster independence. Its goal is to end homelessness in Central New Jersey by "harnessing the caring, resources, and expertise of the community." To this end, it runs a free store on Clinton Avenue in Trenton supplying clothing and household items at no charge to clients, as well as a food pantry, serving 800 families every month.

Margaret Mead

Inside the entrance to Homefront's building, next to the giving tree, is a quote from the pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead, who was born in Doylestown, Pa.: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed that's the only thing that ever has."

"We take seriously our opportunity to change the system," said Ms. Mercer. "We're not just applying band-aids and we've moved from charity to change; giving skills to institute self changes." Ms. Mercer describes the HomeFront approach to combating homelessness as holistic, operating on many fronts for the rent-burdened section of the community, some of whom pay 80 or 90 percent of their income in rent.

In recent years, the agency has moved to include literacy programs alongside its focus on food and shelter.

One client, a young mother of three, engaged in an agency art program, wrote these words to express her feelings about finding a new beginning with HomeFront: "Married and no place to be. Not a home of my own but a place to rest. Why? Because [I] became sick and tired. To be calm and understand life made me a grown women. My strength for art gave me a new talent."

The agency works in concert with local organizations to provide support for its clients. "At our basis is collaboration and chanelling the resources of the community to make a difference," said Ms. Mercer.

"Mother's Day gives caring members of our community an opportunity to bring some joy to the homeless mothers and children HomeFront serves," she said.

For information, call (609) 989-9417. Or visit www.homefrontnj.org.

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