Corner House Seeks To Bridge The Racial Gap in Princeton
With recent reports of bias crime in Princeton, it might appear that there is a lack of community effort in bridging the gap between the races in town. However, that's not the whole story, thanks to Princeton's Corner House, a counseling center for adolescents, young adults, and their families, which is constantly working to help the troubled youth in the area, said Gary DeBlasio, executive director of the organization.
GAIA, or Growing-Up Accepted As An Individual In America, is one of Corner House's programs that was brainstormed by Mr. DeBlasio shortly after he began working at the organization four years ago. After noticing that there was segregation even within Corner House organization, the director wanted to form a group that would bring everyone together to focus on the issues of race in the community.
"We noticed that a lot of our prevention groups attracted white kids or kids of color, and we wanted to have a group where all the kids of all different backgrounds came together," he said.
After outside facilitators were brought in to teach the students about racial differences, GAIA was formed. Today it exists as a group of peer leaders who are dedicated to multiculturalism, working with prevention specialists to develop school and community workshops promoting harmony among those of different races, sexual preferences, and disabilities.
Following recent police reports of gang violence in the area, Mr. DeBlasio and Cynthia Mendez of the Princeton Human Services Commission are working together with GAIA to create a youth forum to reach as many students as possible in the community and talk to them about their feelings on race relations and how they can work together to combat the racial problems in Princeton.
Mr. DeBlasio said that the forum will most likely be held after the holidays, and may include a half day visit to area schools, including John Witherspoon Middle School and Princeton High School.
"There's definitely been racial issues in the community, just like any other community. Our goal is to bring people together, rather than focus on their differences," said the executive director, adding that all the programs at Corner House are based on Princeton's current community needs.
In addition to the forum, GAIA held a conference last week for John Witherspoon students, "Rising Above," which focused on how students can work together to face the current problems in Princeton.
"We help kids see the potential they have in themselves and help them change the mores of the community," said Mr. DeBlasio.
Corner House also offers an outreach program for Latino immigrants attending high school in the community, as well as their families and has bilingual counselors on hand to help Spanish-speaking individuals.
Facing Teen Issues
Recognizing that adolescents face difficult decisions as they transition through different phases in their lives, Corner House strives to turn their challenges into opportunities for growth, said Mr. DeBlasio. The organization's prevention programs stress positive self image, strategies for dealing with peer pressure, effective decision-making and coping techniques, and substance-abuse refusal skills.
"This agency is in the forefront of providing alternatives for kids and helping them see what other opportunities exist besides alcohol and drug use," said Mr. DeBlasio, adding that by joining Corner House, students not only help out a good cause, they help change the face of the community.
Corner House's peer leadership programs offer students the opportunity to become positive role models for their peers, said Mr. DeBlasio. One of the organization's key peer groups is the Student Board, made up of high school students from Princeton's public and private schools.
The group, which was named last year's Mercer County's Volunteers of the Year, helps keep Princeton students alcohol and drug free by pledging to keep to the path themselves and steer their friends in a similar direction.
Other programs offered specifically for PHS students include WOWY, or the World of Work for Youth, a peer-modeling program which teaches job preparation strategies and practical life skills; and Corner House on Campus, a student counseling service at PHS.
In addition, Academic Success Today (AST), matches up John Witherspoon students with adult mentors from the community, University, or local corporations; and STAR, Super Teens Acting Responsibly, is a program for middle school girls to discuss peer and parent-teen relationships, and how to develop skills in decision-making, conflict resolution, and substance abuse relief.
Corner House treats approximately 130 different individuals each week from the ages of 11 to 35 years. Either through self-referral or through referral from schools, local government or the religious community, they are treated for many different issues, including alcohol and drug abuse, depression, suicide, grief and loss, domestic violence, and school-related concerns.
For information on Corner House programs or to
make a donation, visit their facilities across from the Township
Municipal Building at 369 Witherspoon Street, or call (609) 924-8018.