June 17, 2020

Major League Baseball Awards HomeFront $50,000 to Support Healthy Relationships

CANINE COMPETITOR: This was one of more than 1,200 participants, human and canine, in HomeFront’s Virtual Run/Walk for Hope on June 7 to support its Joy, Hopes, and Dreams children’s program.HomeFront was recently chosen as one of only 10 nonprofits across the country to receive a Healthy Relationships Community Grant from Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. (Photo courtesy of HomeFront)

By Donald Gilpin

HomeFront has been selected as one of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) first 10 picks for its new Healthy Relationships Community Grant with an award of $50,000. The Mercer County nonprofit organization based in Ewing and Lawrenceville, helping homeless families since 1991 to build lives of self-respect, stability, and independence, will use the grant from the MLB and Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) to help teach children how to develop healthy relationships and build mental health resiliency.

MLB officials emphasized the importance of HomeFront’s work with children in the current environment of crisis.  “Players remain committed to supporting and promoting healthy relationships, especially during these unprecedented times,” said Senior Director of International and Domestic Player Operations Leonor Colon.

MLB Vice President of Social Responsibility Melanie LeGrande added, “We are grateful for the opportunity to assist these extraordinary organizations doing critical work to support vulnerable communities, especially in this time of crisis.”

Chris Marchetti, director of the HomeFront Joy, Hopes, and Dreams children’s program, stated that HomeFront would use the grant to support programming and staff training to help the more than 400 local children served by the organization in developing social-emotional resiliency. “This is a basic life skill needed for healthy relationships in general,” he said.

More than 1,200 people, individually or with families or dogs or virtual teams, came out for HomeFront’s Virtual Run/Walk/Dog Walk on June 7 to support its children’s programming. Littlebrook Elementary School fielded a team of 27. 

The Joy, Hopes, and Dreams program provides school-age children with new experiences, life skills, tutoring, and nurturing to ensure a healthy future. Each summer for the last 30 years HomeFront has run an educationally-enriched summer camp.

“This year we have to do it differently to keep everybody safe,” said Connie Mercer, founder and executive director of HomeFront. “We’ll be doing academics and enrichment activities virtually for three hours every day, and on good sunny days we will be doing pop-up camp at six area motels where we will be doing physical activities outside.   We’ll make it happen.”

She added that there would be a “full summer experience” for the children who live at the HomeFront shelter. 

An avid baseball fan herself, Mercer expressed her gratification at receiving the MLB grant. “I’m thrilled that HomeFront is being recognized on a national stage by MLB and MLBPA for the work we are doing to improve the quality of relationships in our community. We know having a place to call home only feels right if you feel safe and happy while you’re there.”

She noted that developing resiliency is a  priority in HomeFront’s work with children. “You don’t become a HomeFront kid unless the world has been very cruel to you,” she said, “and we’re always helping the kids become resilient. This grant allows us to do that in a more dramatic and more effective way.”

The purpose of the Joy, Hopes, and Dreams program, Mercer pointed out, is to give kids exactly what the title says. “I used to think my job was to make sure all the kids had a roof over their heads, but now the job is harder — to make sure that all of our kids have dreams for a different future,” Mercer said. “Then we can give them tools to get there, but they’ve got to have the dream. That’s what this program is about.”