November 14, 2012

Princetonians gathered in thankfully mild weather Monday at the All Wars Monument for the Spirit of Princeton’s Veterans Day observance. The non-partisan community committee bears a name that has special resonance given the community spirit inspired by the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, which lends the trees in the background a special survivor’s presence of their own. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

November 7, 2012

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: The Princeton Public Library more than lived up to its role as the “Community’s Living Room” for power-starved residents during Sandy’s aftermath. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

As if we didn’t know it already, Princeton Public Library proved, once again, that it is truly this community’s “living room” by serving as a haven for many during Hurricane Sandy.

“We had more than 29,360 customers last week, including the day before the storm, October 28,” reported Communications Director Tim Quinn. “That averages to about 4,200 per day.”

The library conceded to the storm by closing on Monday, October 29, but reopened around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, October 30, remaining open until 9 p.m. Some 4,788 visitors came to the library in a nine-hour period that day.

Instead of waiting until the usual 9 a.m. opening on Thursday, November 1, the library provided a warming station by opening doors to the front of the library, lobby, and community room at 7 a.m. That day saw the largest attendance of the period, with 8,028 visitors in the 14 hours between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. On Friday, November 2, 6,539 people came to the library during roughly the same period.

Mr. Quinn reported that the three-day total number of visitors to the library during the peak of the power outage was 19,355. “By comparison, our average daily door count is 2,500,” he added. Circulation of library materials during this time doubled, and “all computers were in use pretty much every hour we were open,” said Mr. Quinn. “Our Wi-Fi was operating at the maximum capacity throughout,” and intense Wi-FI use prompted frequent announcements asking visitors to turn off the Wi-Fi on 3G and 4G devices, so others could get on the internet. Other announcements kept people up-to-date on school closings, and encouraged them to attend screenings of family-friendly movies like Penguins of Madagascar in the Community Room.

When available seats ran out, library visitors took to sitting side-by-side on the floor. In addition to the usual library activities, there were card games, and impromptu meetings. At least one couple came to see what the latest issue of Consumer Reports had to say about a badly-needed appliance.

Another bright spot for area residents during the storm was McCaffrey’s Market at the Princeton Shopping Center, where a generator kept food fresh and operations humming. People stood patiently in a long line for coffee, often bringing it to the upstairs seating area where they could drink it, eat Halloween-themed pastries, and recharge electrical appliances.

Internet service at McCaffrey’s was spotty, but the lights, warmth, good smells, and happiness at seeing familiar faces more than made up for it. It didn’t feel at all surprising, at one point, to hear the theme from Cheers emanating from McCaffrey’s large screen TV.

Another bright spot was Princeton United Methodist Church (PUMC), where Pastor Jana Purkis-Brash and Music Director Hyosang Park plugged in the coffee pot and posted a sign on the lawn reading, “Come in! Get warm! Charge up and use our Wi-Fi!” On Wednesday two dozen passersby sought brief refuge from the cold, plus nearly 100 people who spent the day, charging their phones and logging onto PUMC’s Wi-Fi. On Wednesdays, PUMC usually serves free meals to all, in partnership with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and this last week was no exception. At 4 p.m. the Cornerstone Community Kitchen team converted the space into a dining room, where 73 people enjoyed salad, roast pork and mashed potatoes.

MIT Professor Emeritus of Linguistics Noam Chomsky, a speaker, writer, and advocate for peace and justice for over 50 years, will be the featured speaker at “New Paths to Peace,” the 33rd Annual Conference and Interfaith Service for Peace sponsored by the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) on Sunday, November 11, from 1:30 to 5 p.m. at Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61 Nassau Street (across from Palmer Square).

Other confirmed speakers include University of Michigan History Professor Juan Cole, an expert on relations between the West and the Muslim World who has appeared numerous times on the PBS News Hour and other media; and Amy Goodman, the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 1,100 public television and radio stations worldwide.

Fr. Pat Connor, SVD, a priest with the Divine Word Missionaries and chaplain for over 25 years at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, is scheduled to preach at the Interfaith Service at 11 a.m. at Princeton University Chapel. Faith leaders from a wide range of major world religions will co-lead the liturgy. The service is free and open to the public; a free will offering to support CFPA’s ongoing work will be received.

Doors for the afternoon program will open for seating and on-site registration at 1 p.m. The event will conclude with a Patron Reception honoring Mr. Chomsky from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. in the Assembly Room at the rear of Nassau Presbyterian Church.

Registration fees for patrons (including preferred seating, listing in program and post-conference Reception) is $125 per CFPA member; $150 per non-member. Regular seats are available at $30 per member; $50 per non-member. Students are free, but must pre-register by sending their name, email, phone, and educational institution to

Registration is available by credit card through CFPA’s secure web site,; or by telephoning (609) 924-5022.

“We are thrilled to have such an outstanding group of presenters for our 33rd Annual Conference and Interfaith Service for Peace,” said CFPA executive director, the Rev. Robert Moore. “Just after the elections will be an important time to hear major leaders and thinkers for peace and justice discuss next steps toward peace”.


The area-wide power outages produced a whole new venue for voters like those shown here at the polling station in Jadwin Gym. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

November 6, 2012

LIGHTS IN THE WINDOWS: Signs of life – pots of mums on balconies, lights glowing from within – are evidence that interest has picked up at the The Residences at Palmer Square, the cluster of townhomes and condominium apartments between Paul Robeson Place and Hulfish Street.

A strong rental market at The Residences at Palmer Square, the cluster of townhomes and condominium apartments between Paul Robeson Place and Hulfish Street, is an indicator that contracts for the homes in the complex that are for sale will pick up soon, say those involved in their marketing. Signs of life at the community – pots of mums on balconies, lights glowing from within – are evidence that interest has picked up at the development, which offers homes starting at $1.2 million.

Of the 52 units built as rentals, 46 have been leased, according to David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management. Renters have been moving in since last December. But only four of the units for purchase have been sold. “We still have a number of units left,” Mr. Newton said. “At the moment, 25 are immediately available, 11 of which are condo apartments and 14 of which are townhomes.”

Now that rentals are nearly complete, the focus is on selling the rest of the complex. “I think the rental market has been very strong in the last year,” Mr. Newton said. “We’re hopeful that with interest low and the quality of the product we’ve created that sales are going to occur in the next 12 months.”

Kimberly Rizk, an agent for Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty, which is marketing the homes, said interest in the complex has picked up in recent months. “People are over there all the time,” she said. “Two buildings are renting like crazy. Sales are slow on the townhouses and condos, no question about it. But we’re hoping that will turn around. There is a nice new amenity, a concierge service. And renters are thinking that maybe they’ll buy. So I think we’ll have some conversions.”

An open house advertised recently at the development was for a home priced at $1.855 million, offering “a minimum of three luxurious finished levels of living space, full basements and private elevators.” Mr. Newton said there are no plans to lower prices.

“There are some small incentives being offered, but prices are not being lowered,” he said. “We’ve built, we feel, to a high standard, and we have sold to certain people at one set of prices so we’re not going to change to another. We know that one way or another, they’ll sell. In three to five years, I guarantee that this will be the most popular place to live in Princeton. It’s beautiful, it’s in town, and this is the type of product people want.”

Those renting at the complex cover a wide age range. “There are empty nesters, baby boomers, not any great pattern,” Mr. Newton said. Ms. Rizk added, “We’re marketing to everybody and anybody who understands the value and the convenience of living downtown. There is no real set model of people living there. We’ve got young families, empty nesters, young professionals, from twenties to nineties. It’s anybody and everybody who wants to live in an urban environment.”

Recent additions to the retail establishments in Palmer Square are geared toward home and design. The Farmhouse Store moved last week into the space formerly occupied by The Papery at 43 Hulfish Street. The Papery has relocated to 15 Hulfish Street, a few doors down. The Farmhouse Store carries barn wood furniture, small artisan gifts, pottery, glass, and other items. Indigo by Shannon Connor Interiors opened at 45 Palmer Square West, at the former location of Spruce Connor Interiors. Owner Shannon Connor has re-launched the store to include home furnishings including custom furniture,  rugs, and gift items.

Brooks Brothers, in the space formerly occupied by Banana Republic; and Urban Outfitters, in the store that housed Talbot’s, which has moved a few doors down on Nassau Street, will open by the end of the year.

Proximity to the shops and restaurants of Palmer Square are a major part of the marketing of The Residences. “You can’t have a better location,” said Ms. Rizk. “Sales are going to turn around.”

Area congregations, schools, businesses, and clubs are invited to join in the Crisis Ministry’s annual pre-Thanksgiving “CAN-U-Copia” food and volunteer drive. The annual fall effort helps stock the shelves of the nonprofit organization’s three food pantries and raises awareness and funds to support its Hunger Prevention initiatives. Crisis Ministry supporters have already held fall food drives of the real and virtual variety: The West Windsor Farmers Market hosted a food drive October 20, that Yes We CAN! Food Drives coordinated and farmers and shoppers contributed to. Employees from an area company collected funds through a “virtual” food drive to support the Crisis Ministry’s Hunger Prevention program.

“The spirit of giving from many congregations, businesses, and community groups is really amazing,” said Carolyn Biondi, Executive Director of the Crisis Ministry. “We are grateful to serve as the connection of these resources to the individuals and family who need them.”

The 2012 CAN-U-Copia drive continues until Thanksgiving with efforts by a variety of organizations, including: First Baptist Church of Trenton, Key Club of Ewing High School, BlackRock, Princeton United Methodist Church, Nassau Presbyterian Church through its Red Truck Food Drive, Trinity Church Princeton, Christ Congregation of Princeton, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton (through its in-gathering and shelf-stocking project), Bristol-Myers Squibb, Trinity Church Rocky Hill, and Princeton Theological Seminarians who will assist with the Crisis Ministry’s scheduled distribution of hundreds of Thanksgiving turkeys with dinner fixings. Finally, on Thanksgiving morning, the Crisis Ministry will be one of three charitable organizations supported by the annual Trinity Church Princeton 5K Turkey Trot (

For more information or to participate in the 2012 CAN-U-COPIA drive contact Mark Smith ( or Sarah Unger (

The Crisis Ministry of Mercer County, Inc., is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1980 by Nassau Presbyterian Church and Trinity Church. It partners with the community to achieve stability for neighbors in need, serving some 1,300 households each month through effective hunger prevention, homelessness prevention, and work training programs. The Hunger Prevention program serves clients through pantries at Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61 Nassau Street in Princeton; and at 117 E. Hanover St. and 400 Hamilton Ave. (the former Bethany Presbyterian Church) in Trenton. The program also offers weekly bilingual nutrition classes through a partnership with the Rutgers Extension Service and regular “Lunch and Learn” health screenings with partner Capital Health System and its Community Health Education Department. For more information on the Crisis Ministry, visit, or, or call (609) 396-5327.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Wolf, right, gave a thumbs up to Spc. Angel Fuentes, both with the 250th Brigade Support Battalion, New Jersey Army National Guard, as the unit prepared to move their medium tactical vehicles for Hurricane Sandy at the National Guard Armory in Lawrenceville. (Photo by Master Sgt. Mark Olsen)

October 24, 2012

CLASSICAL PROPORTIONS: With its graceful front portico and classical trim, this house on Mercer Street is a favorite of those who appreciate this style of late 19th century architecture. On November 3, the house will be open as part of the Historical Society of Princeton’s House Tour.

It is the house on Mercer Street that everyone seems to know. With its white pillars and graceful, symmetrical proportions, the mansion at number 200 is stately, yet somehow understated in its elegance. Its recent, two-year transformation, from a bit tired-looking back to its former glory, was closely watched by curious drivers who craned their necks to check on the progress of the renovation.

The turn-of-the-century house, originally the home of Princeton University classics professor John Howell Westcott, is the centerpiece of the Historical Society of Princeton’s House Tour on Saturday, November 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also open for viewing that day are Boxwood Cottage at 100 Quarry Lane, Guernsey Hall at 68 Lovers Lane Number 1, the Joseph Olden House at 130 Stockton Street, and a home at 28 Quarry Street.

Including the Westcott house on the tour was clearly a coup for the Historical Society. “Given the design, scale, and history of the home, as well as the recent renovations, we felt confident the general public would be interested in seeing 200 Mercer,” said Erin Dougherty, executive director. “And thanks to the generosity of the homeowners, they can. We’re grateful to Knight Architects for working with us on the interpretation of the home as well.”

Princeton architect Catherine Knight and venture capitalist John Clarke first began talking about 200 Mercer on the soccer field, where their daughters competed. When Mr. Clarke mentioned to Ms. Knight that he and his wife Melanie, who is the executive director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, were thinking of buying the house at 200 Mercer, she agreed to come take a look.

The house was built in 1896-97 and rebuilt to the same style after a fire in 1903. Its last occupant, Douglas Bushnell, died in 2007. Mr. Bushnell had an original letter dated 20 August 1896 from William E. Stone, the architect, to Mr. Westcott, regarding the style of the columns. That letter has been passed on to the current owners. Mr. Bushnell also had original elevations and plans for the main house and the playhouse, which still stands today.

Mr. Bushnell had lived in Hopewell with his wife, Betty Wold Johnson, for several years before his death. He kept the house, using it primarily to store his substantial collection of H.M.S. Titanic memorabilia, according to local lore. Though 200 Mercer was cared for, it needed substantial work.

“I knew the house, of course, since I had driven by so many times,” Ms. Knight said. “It was a beautiful property. But I could see that it would be a huge undertaking.”

On Ms. Knight’s recommendation, an early demolition permit was pulled to allow an in-depth analysis of the existing conditions. From top to bottom, the house cried out for attention. “The basement was wet, but that is typical for a stone foundation,” Ms. Knight said. “We pulled out the old slabs and put in new ones, with water remediation below. A tremendous insulation package went in.”

A chimney reconstruction — there are eight fireplaces — revealed more than 40 tons of material, all of which had to be removed. An elevator was added. Next was the mahogany staircase, which the team attempted to save. “The staircase had failed,” said Ms. Knight. “It turned out there had been a fire in the wall, and it had slipped. We couldn’t save it, which was a big disappointment. But we had a new stair built, and it is sympathetic to the old one.”

Whether the fire that resulted in that water damage was the one in 1903 that caused the owners to rebuild, Ms. Knight isn’t sure. What is curious, she said, is the fact that several of the timbers used showed some evidence of a fire, which could mean they were recycled from the ruins and used to rebuild.

Ms. Knight’s general contractor Tom Pinneo located experts and craftspeople from the central New Jersey area and Bucks County, Pa. to renovate the property. “He found these wonderful people to do work on the chimney, the millwork, to build doors, do the floors,” she said. “He was a huge part of the process. He knew how to find these people and put together a team.”

Ms. Knight and the team worked on the property for a year before actually beginning the 18-month construction process. Once the rebuilding began, the home’s two existing side wings were replaced. One became a sunroom, and the other a sequence of spaces including a mudroom, powder room, and new kitchen. The original kitchen had been in the left front of the house. In the back of the house, an elliptical window, replicating the adjacent covered porch ellipse, was added.

On the second floor, a master bath and two new baths were installed. “I tried to concentrate the new plumbing in one area, also for noise reasons,” Ms. Knight said. “I saved some of the old fixtures, including some tubs and sinks. We used as many doors as we could and as much of the old hardware trim as well. Everything in the house was custom, and we wanted to make it seamless.”

Holly Nelson created the landscape design, which included relocating the playhouse on a new foundation to the rear of the property. “It was amazing that it was in such good shape,” Ms. Knight said. “It was on old stone piers, and there were animals living underneath.”

The playhouse is more of a poolhouse in its present location by the new swimming pool. The old pool, which remained in the ground, is being re-used for a storm water retention system. The project also included construction of a new, three-car garage.

While architects aren’t usually an integral part of the construction process, a historic renovation project of this complexity is different. “We were involved, all the way,” said Ms. Knight, who added many details up until the end of construction. “This was certainly different from a regular renovation project.”

Tickets to the tour are $45 or $40 for members of the Historical Society of Princeton. Visit or call (609) 921-6748 ext. 105.

The worlds of politics and entertainment are no strangers to each other. Bruce Springsteen stumping for President Obama comes to mind immediately, and former Eagles lead guitarist Don Felder entertained at the Republican National Convention this summer. Princeton’s “Rock the Vote” event, on Hinds Plaza this Saturday from 4 to 7:30 p.m., will feature local talent, with appearances by Jed Steadson & The Kumas, Chris Harford and his Band of Changes, John Witherspoon Middle School student Ben James, and Impact Winter.

In this instance the performers, like the event organizers, will be non-partisan. “It’s designed to get people engaged in the political process, and to increase voter participation, and local activism,” said Ken Soufl, who is coordinating the event with Bainy Suri. Both are local residents.

Cosponsors to date include the Princeton Public Library, the League of Women Voters, Liz Lempert for Mayor, Woodbridge 4 Mayor, Princeton Community Democratic Organization, and the Record Exchange.

Although it’s too late to register to vote this November, Mr. Soufl said that the point of “Rock the Vote” goes way beyond the presidential election. “It’s about becoming active members in the community,” he observed. “This is an independent event; we’ve reached out to both parties, and many of the businesses and organizations we approached were very happy to be a part of this.”

Mr. Soufl reported that Romney campaign representatives said that they were happy to be invited, but chose not to set up a table on Saturday.

Small World will be serving coffee, and Mr. Soufl encourages “anyone at any age who enjoys live music who wants to be part of the community” to come out for the event.

In case of rain, “Rock the Vote” will be moved inside the Princeton Public Library.

It’s not too late for local merchants and organizations to participate. For more information e-mail or

Plans for the HiTOPS half marathon on November 4, Princeton’s first half marathon in over 20 years, is, in part, a result of a collaboration between HiTOPS Teen Council alumnae Jennifer Chung, and Gloria Orellana.

Ms. Chung and Ms Orellana have been working side-by-side with HiTOPS staff for nearly two years to bring the Princeton Half Marathon to fruition.

HiTOPS developed the Princeton half Marathon as a platform for raising awareness about the importance of adolescent health to community health. Although adolescence is generally a healthy time of life, behavioral problems — such as smoking, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, eating disorders, and suicide ideation — can either begin or peak during adolescence, and can determine health status and risk for chronic diseases in adulthood. HiTOPS teaches young people the importance of making healthy decisions by weighing actions and consequences. The 2012 half marathon is highlighting the importance of early mental health screening.

The Princeton Half Marathon reached its cap at 1,000 runners three months after its announcement, and will bring runners from 18 states and three different countries. Residents along the course have offered their lawns for stationing water tables. Volunteers from all over the community are invited to assist in passing out water to runners.

“This is what it’s all about,” said Ms. Chung, “I wanted the race to be about the Princeton community and making positive changes in people’s lives. Who else but HiTOPS embodies that exact sentiment?”

Part of the attraction to the Princeton Half Marathon is the opportunity for participants to explore the town’s lesser known pockets of nature and history. “Princetonians are committed to health, fitness, and achieving goals,” Ms. Chung said. “Princeton was the perfect place to spark this health effort.”

As a Teen Council member during the 1996-1997 school year, Ms. Orellana remembers feeling that she was a part of a group that made a difference. “The Princeton Half Marathon excites me because it is an event that celebrates health and well-being in many ways,” she commented. “It celebrates its runners who run the distance, the tremendous community involvement, and the mission of bringing health education and crucial health services to the youth in the community I grew up in.”

Ms. Chung, who was in the HiTOPS Middle School Teen Council in 1999-2000, said that she “absorbed all the lessons and values she taught to fellow peers — including building confidence in one’s body and actions, and thinking for oneself.”

HiTOPS’s Teen Council is a select group of peer educators who receive 224 hours of leadership training and sexual health education, and present up to 30 peer education workshops a year. Last year, 1,200 youngsters benefitted from programs in schools, juvenile justice facilities, and community organizations.

HiTOPS is a non-profit organization located in Mercer County. For nearly 25 years, HiTOPS has provided adolescents with knowledge, risk reduction strategies, and resources to help them reduce risk behaviors and make health enhancing decisions. For more information about HiTOPS, visit


“Where are the songs of spring?” Keats asks. “Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.” In this campus scene the music is in the shadows. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

October 17, 2012

BALLET AND BARBER: Artists of the Pennsylvania Ballet in Peter Martins’s “Barber Violin Concerto,” part of the program at McCarter Theatre on October 23. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

In the unofficial hierarchy of American ballet companies, a group of troupes from around the country rank just under the two biggest organizations, American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. Right up there at the top of the regional list is the Pennsylvania Ballet. The Philadelphia-based company was started in 1963 by Barbara Weisberger, who was trained by choreographer George Balanchine and used several of his ballets to build the early repertory.

The Balanchine aesthetic remains a central focus of the 21st century Pennsylvania Ballet. His Square Dance is on the company’s Tuesday, October 23 program at McCarter Theatre, along with Jerome Robbins’s NY Export: Opus Jazz and Peter Martins’s Barber Violin Concerto. Pennsylvania Ballet is returning to McCarter for the first time in almost a decade.

To Roy Kaiser, the troupe’s artistic director, the program is as much about music as it is choreography. “Dance accompanying great music — it’s a kind of a theme on this program,” he said during a telephone interview. “Even though we’ll be dancing to taped music, which is unusual for us, each of these ballets has a great score.”

Balanchine set Square Dance to the music of Corelli and Vivaldi. The devilishly fast choreography is classical, yet it follows the forms of a traditional square dance. Originally, a square dance caller accompanied the performances, but Balanchine dispensed with the caller when he revived the work for his New York City Ballet in 1976. “Like so many Balanchine works where there is really no narrative, you just see the music so clearly,” Mr. Kaiser said. “You see every nuance in the music. The fact that it was inspired by traditional square dancing, and the patterns he employs, make it just brilliant.”

The principal ballerina role is “a tour de force,” he continued. “She has to have razor-sharp technique. There is no way you can do this ballet halfway. And for the lead male, the solo he created is extraordinary in its simplicity. It’s an unusual male variation, but it works beautifully. It’s a break. It takes the ballet in a whole different direction.”

Perhaps unwittingly, the Balanchine/Robbins/
Martins program pays tribute to New York City Ballet. It was Balanchine who co-founded the company with arts patron Lincoln Kirstein in 1948. Robbins, a dancer in the company, was soon hired as assistant artistic director, dividing his creative energies between ballet and Broadway. He died in 1998. Before Balanchine died in 1983, he named Martins as his successor in leading the company.

Robbins choreographed NY Export: Opus Jazz in 1958 for a touring company he founded, known as Ballets U.S.A., to music of the same title by Robert Prince. With Pennsylvania Ballet currently made up of very young dancers, this period piece focused on youth is especially appropriate, Mr. Kaiser says.

“I love this ballet. Robbins created it shortly after he did West Side Story, so it’s got that kind of urban tension of that time in the fifties,” he said. “It’s a ballet in sneakers. I like bringing works like this into our repertory, because it’s a great experience for the dancers. Doing a piece like this and working with that vocabulary really informs their classical work and makes them better dancers. You never know what you’re going to discover when you’re working in different types of dance, and it improves them. Plus, it’s fun. And the girls get to take off their pointe shoes.”

Peter Martins created Barber Violin Concerto for two couples – one classical, the other contemporary, in 1988. At the first performance, David Parsons and Kate Johnson of the Paul Taylor Dance Company took the roles of the modern dancers. Each pair first dances alone, and then the couples meet, ultimately exchanging partners and integrating styles. A 2010 New York Times review by Roslyn Sulcas said of the ballet, “The heart of the work is the pas de deux by the ballerina and the modern dance man, in which his faunlike primitivism is tamed by, but also incorporated into, her fluid expansiveness.”

Since its last visit to Princeton, the Pennsylvania Ballet has acquired a new home on Philadelphia’s North Broad Street, currently under construction and preparing for an opening early next year. The company comes to McCarter in the midst of its opening run, at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, of the Romantic-era classic, Giselle.

“We love McCarter because it’s an easy trip, and there is a wonderful audience,” said Mr. Kaiser. “Last time we were there, we felt like we were dancing in front of an audience that sees a lot of dance and was very appreciative. What more can you ask for?”

The Pennsylvania Ballet Company’s performance is on Tuesday October, 23. Tickets to the McCarter Theatre program, which starts at 7:30 p.m. are $20-$62. For information visit or call (609) 258-2787.

When it comes to talking to children about sex, waiting until they reach puberty is waiting too long. The chats need to begin in elementary school, according to Elizabeth Schroeder, the executive director of Answer, the national organization dedicated to providing sexuality education for young people.

This approach is a principal element of Answer’s five-year strategic plan, Ms. Schroeder said in a talk last week at the organization’s annual fall fundraising breakfast. Representative Rush Holt and Senators Shirley Turner and Barbara Buono were among those attending the event at Jasna Polana. Also on hand was Princeton resident Susie Wilson, who served 23 years on the Network for Family Life, Answer’s predecessor, and is now its advisor. Answer is based in New Brunswick.

“As you’ve heard me and others doing this work say, starting sexuality education in the teen years is far too little, too late,” Ms. Schroeder said. “… early childhood sexuality education, like early childhood education, establishes the invaluable foundation on which we adults can all continue to build so that the more explicit sex education that is provided in the teen years and beyond doesn’t feel like it is coming out of left field.”

Ms. Schroeder’s talk followed a presentation by nine members of Answer’s “teen staff” about how withholding information about sex can negatively affect their lives. “I asked my parents what ‘gay’ meant, and they told me it was a sin,” said one. “We need you, the people we trust the most, to be open and honest with us,” said another.

A serious challenge faces Answer this year, according to Ms. Schroeder. “It’s about a formerly stealth, and now quite open, campaign against sexuality education in this country,” she said. “It’s about the calculated, non-stop attacks on the work we do, attacks that are right there with the attacks on women’s health and rights, that have grown stronger and more vociferous in nature over the past few years in particular. It’s about a focused, determined effort to keep young people in the dark, to justify misleading and lying to teens as keeping them ‘innocent’ about the more adult issues people face in today’s world with regard to sexuality.”

Citing the “abstinence until marriage” approach being implemented in some New Jersey public schools, Ms. Schroeder praised a local organization. “Why don’t adults in these school districts care that their children are being lied to?” she asked. “Why are we letting misinformation be provided, when we have wonderful organizations right here in New Jersey — HiTOPS being one of them — that work with schools to provide high quality sexuality education?”

Sexuality education is about more than preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Young girls in particular are made to feel worthless for having sexual feelings in the first place, Ms. Schroeder said. “What is the impact of that? Research shows that the worse a person feels about her or himself, the poorer the decisions they tend to make about sexuality.”

Answer wants to shift the way parents and others throughout the country see sexuality education. “People are ignorant about sexuality education. Ignorance breeds fear; fear knows no bounds,” Ms. Schroeder said. Advocating young people’s need for age-appropriate sexuality information in schools and at home is the focus of the organization’s nationwide campaign to get across the message that sexuality is as important as any other social issue. “Does a young person stop going through puberty just because he is homeless? Does a parent living below the poverty line not need to talk with her children about sexuality?” she asked.

Answer has made progress over the past few decades, but there is much work left to be done, according to Susie Wilson, whose pioneering work at Rutgers University formed the foundation for what Answer is today. “There have been real advances. Certainly New Jersey, since we were the second state in the nation to do this, got a head start on everybody,” she said after the program. “But we still don’t treat this as a subject equal with all the other subjects in school. It’s still on the periphery, because it’s not tested. Health and sexuality education don’t ever get tested. That’s very important. I don’t think we can get parity on this until we test on it.”

Resistance to educating young children about sexuality centers around the belief that it will encourage them to have sex, Ms. Wilson believes. “But look at Penn State,” she said, referring to the recent conviction of the University’s retired football coach Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period. “What happened there is that these kids didn’t know [how to recognize] what was going on, because they weren’t taught it earlier.”

REACHING OUT: “I like talking with people, spending time with them, listening to their stories, and I like to help them. I especially enjoy being with senior citizens. They have a history.” April McElroy, a mainstay at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, plans to retire at the end of October.

“It is hard to imagine the Senior Resource Center without April’s smiling face. She always has that smile, and in addition, a little air of mischief. She’s our cheerleader!”

Princeton Senior Resource Center volunteer and former president of the Board of Trustees Barbara Purnell is not alone in her assessment of April McElroy’s contribution to this important organization. Those who have known and worked with April McElroy at the Princeton Senior Resource Center (PRSC) all emphasize how much she will be missed when she retires at the end of October.

After 31 years as office assistant — although that title does not begin to describe or encompass her myriad responsibilities and contributions — Ms. McElroy has decided to explore new possibilities and opportunities.

“The time is right,” she explains. “I’m at a point now when I can pursue other avenues, and there are enough people to run the center very well. There are many opportunities out there. I have a lot of interests. I love to travel; I love antiques. I’m looking forward to discovering all kinds of new adventures.”

Customary Post

No consolation, though, for all those who will miss her at her customary post at PSRC.

The desire to be of service and help others was instilled in April from her earliest years. Born in Princeton in 1944, she was the second child of Willie and Barbara Hill. Older brother Billy, twin sisters Michael and Johnnie, and youngest sister Denise completed the family.

April attended Princeton Nursery School, Nassau Street Elementary School, John Witherspoon Junior High School (now the site of the Waxwood apartments on Quarry Street), and Princeton High School. She enjoyed playing with friends in the neighborhood. “We played outside, rode bikes, jumped rope, and played sports,” she remembers. “At that time, we could play in the recreation area, a big field, where the Community Park School is now located. We played there all the time. We also liked to ice skate on Lake Carnegie and Baker Rink at the University — that is until I fell and hit my head. Then, it wasn’t as much fun!”

Ms. McElroy’s friend of more than 50 years, Penney Edwards-Carter, former Borough Council Clerk, recalls those childhood days in the John Witherspoon neighborhood and the sense of community that existed. “I grew up with April’s twin sisters, Michael and Johnnie, and we were in and out of April’s house all the time. Their mother and my mother were friends too. Everyone knew each other then, and we had good times.”

Arts and Crafts

Music was also important to the Hill family. April went to Sunday School at the First Baptist Church, and later sang in the church choir. “I preferred to sing in a chorus than alone,” she says, “but in first grade I did sing a duet with a classmate. We all sang in the family. My brother Billy went on to establish the Billy Hill Band, and he still sings professionally. Michael and Johnnie are accomplished singers as well as champion athletes.”

Family was very important to April, and it was a blow when her father died when she was seven. “My mother then worked as a domestic, and my grandmother Wilma helped raise us. I enjoyed being with the family. I liked it on rainy days, when my mother would spread newspapers on the table, and my sisters and I would paint and do arts and crafts. Sometimes, too, we went on family vacations to see relatives in South Carolina.

“I really admired my grandmother. She was a stately woman; she always dressed nicely. I liked it when she did my hair, and we would name the Books of the Bible.”

Although Nassau Street School was integrated, there were still difficulties for African-American children in the 1950s. When April’s fourth grade class planned a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, April had reason to expect to be chosen for a leading role because of her excellent singing voice. “I tried out for the lead, and many in the class thought I would get it. But I didn’t. The teacher told me I couldn’t be the lead because I was ‘colored.’”

April faced other challenges in school as well. “I had a reading problem. Because I didn’t read correctly, it was always hard for me, and I also didn’t test well. I’d always have anxiety because I knew there would be reading. I didn’t realize I was dyslexic until years later, when I was at PSRC.”

She did have a favorite teacher, however. “I really liked and admired Miss Stecchini, my high school English teacher. She was a good teacher, and I liked her a lot. Many years later, she was in Merwick and bed-ridden, and I went to see her. It was a good visit, and she remembered me.”

“Imperial Debs”

Visually adept, April was very good in art and drawing, and enjoyed that opportunity in school. She also played field hockey and basketball, and sang in the choir. Often, after school and on weekends, she had jobs baby-sitting.

When April was in high school, she and her sisters, Michael and Johnnie established and performed in “The Imperial Debs”, a precision drill team. “This was fun, and they appointed me captain,” says Ms. McElroy. “We performed in a lot of parades and entered competitions in Princeton and elsewhere. We even went to Boston to compete, and we beat the Cavaliers, the long-time champions.”

After graduating from high school in 1963, April made an effort to audit a variety of courses in college in the area. “I was interested in continuing to learn,” she explains, “and also, it didn’t involve taking a test, which relieved my anxiety.”

She also worked for the Acme Market in the Princeton Shopping Center, and as she reports, “I was the first black cashier at Acme.”

In addition, while at Acme, she found an opportunity to take computer classes, which was to make a difference in her life. “When I had the computer instruction, I found a niche I was comfortable with. It gave me a lot of confidence. It made me see that I was smarter than I realized.”

This computer experience later led to a position with the Mathematica Company on Alexander Road. “I worked with computers in the research department and did surveys. It was an excellent experience.”

Two Daughters

Another opportunity she was happy to accept was a position at Jet Magazine in New York City. “I worked with Mrs. John H. Johnson (who also published Ebony). “I commuted to New York, and this was an exciting time.”

Previously, in 1964, April was married to Lawson McElroy, who was from Pennington, and also had been director of the Imperial Debs. Eventually, they had two daughters, DeLaine and Dellice. In fact, prior to her marriage, April had briefly considered another career. “I really thought of becoming a race car driver! I loved to drive, and I used to race on the back roads with my cousins.”

The arrival of DeLaine, however, nipped that career in the bud, and as Ms. McElroy says, jokingly, “My daughter kept me from having a career as a race car driver!”

As it turned out, Ms. McElroy wore many hats over a series of years: working at Acme, Jet, Mathematica, also a stint at the Princeton Consignment Shop (“I love vintage clothes. I really enjoyed that experience”), Princeton Furs By Marvin on Witherspoon Street, Landau, modeling for the Soroptomist Club for 15 years and a member for three years. And she balanced much of this as a single mother after a divorce in the 1970s.

In 1981, she turned to what always had seemed her calling: helping others and making a difference in their lives.

“My mother always wanted to help people, and she set this example for us,” points out Ms. McElroy.

The Senior Resource Center’s first location was at Spruce Circle, she notes. “It had been founded by Jocelyn Helm and Karin Slaby, and in the beginning, there were just three of us: Jocelyn, Sue Tillett, and myself, and a few volunteers. For 15 years, I ran the Senior Resource Rummage Sale at Spruce Circle, and it was wonderful.

Special Events

“I was also in charge of special events and coordinated a lot of programs, including the Landau Picnic, the Salvation Army camp, the Princeton Nursery School Christmas program, and the Housing Authority of the Borough of Princeton’s government food distribution program in the community. I also had discussions with former Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed about the PSRC.

“I don’t have a college degree,” she continues. “My PhD is people. l have always spent a lot of time with people, and later, in my work at PSRC, I have found that in talking with people when they come in, spending time with them, they feel welcome and comfortable. You know, you don’t have to know someone to say hello.”

In 1994, Ms. McElroy moved to PSRC’s new location in the Suzanne Patterson Building adjacent to Borough Hall. Her responsibilities grew as the program grew, and she was involved in a series of new initiatives.

“I worked with Jan Marmor, who was the second director of PSRC, and I continued a monthly senior theme newsletter and a monthly calender that had been established. For 25 years, I have maintained the data base mailing list for 3300 recipients in the community and beyond.

“In my earlier years, I was a guide, a group leader for senior trips to Colonial Williamsburg and to upstate New York, among other places. Now, we are doing day trips to the Philadelphia Flower Show, to the theater, etc. These are very popular.”

At one point during her tenure at PSRC, Ms. McElroy also served as office assistant at Elm Court, part of the Princeton Community Affordable Housing program for seniors. “I worked with Libby Ranney, the office manager, and met a lot of people there,” she recalls. “I had an open door policy and said, ‘Come on in and talk’. I tried to let people know how important it is to talk with one another, no matter who they are. A woman I got to know there had had a bout with cancer, and we talked a lot. She got better, and then unfortunately it came back later, and she was on hospice. I went to see her, and it was a moving experience for me.”

Inviting Presence

Making a difference has been a big part of Ms. McElroy’s work. Princeton resident Rhona Porter, formerly the social worker at Elm Court, comments on Ms. McElroy’s unique ability to draw people out and make them comfortable.

“April was a delight to work with, and the residents all loved her extroverted personality. She was the first person people saw when they came into the office. She was always a warm, inviting presence.”

Current PSRC executive director Susan Hoskins LCSW echoes that view of Ms. McElroy’s contribution and character. “April’s title is office assistant, but her true gift is connecting with people of all kinds. She has welcomed so many people to PRSC, and they tell us that is why they come in. She is the personality that greets people when they come into the Suzanne Patterson Building that makes us the friendly, welcoming place to be in Princeton. She will approach anyone and start a conversation, quickly finding some interesting fact that she zooms in on, making a connection for why they must start coming to PSRC.

“April has an uncanny ability to know who is hurting, and she’ll come stand by my desk and say ‘You must come talk to this person NOW.’ I’ve learned to put down what I am doing because she is always right. I’ve learned to stop being surprised when a person says they are volunteering or coming in to a class because April told them they had to (she doesn’t accept a no answer). April believes deeply in what PSRC is all about, and she will be the first to tell others how we change lives. Over the 10 years I have known her, we have become good friends, and I expect that to continue going forward. I think she is very special.”

Anything and Everything

Adds Penney Edwards-Carter: “I believe April has done anything and everything she possibly can to help make life better for senior citizens.”

Ms. McElroy’s efforts to help those in the community have also extended to acting as chair of the Borough’s Affordable Housing program, and for the the past 25 years, serving on the Board of Elections.

Outreach has clearly been a major part of her modus operandi. “I have done a lot of outreach, including going to people’s homes to see if they need assistance. People often need help in our community. Also, I am always pulling someone into PSRC. This is important. I see situations all the time where seniors may be lonely and are not aware of all the opportunities we have here, or they are hesitant to come in and participate. They might be immigrants and not know what we offer. I see them become happier when they are involved.

“PSRC is helpful in so many ways,” she continues. “It provides opportunities for physical and mental activities and stimulation, including a lot of special seminars and classes. The number of programs has really grown over time. We also provide a lot of informational and referral material.”

Ms. McElroy has also become a photographer of note, carefully recording events and activities at PSRC on film or digitally. As one PSRC member notes: “April is a wonderful photographer. She captures the spirit of the occasion of all the events and parties, and then shares the photos with all of us.”

New Direction

Now that she is on the verge of a new direction in her life, Ms. McElroy looks forward both to changes and also to continuity. While enjoying many of the opportunities that living in Princeton brings to residents, she notes a certain loss of communal mindfulness that existed in the Princeton of her past.

“I observe what is going on around me. I think it is important to be aware of this. One of the biggest changes is in housing, all the big houses being built. And the traffic congestion. Some people can’t afford to live here anymore. There are also so many changes with the stores and the turnovers. We’ve lost a sense of continuity and community.”

On the other hand, Princeton offers so much. It is intriguing to Ms. McElroy that one may encounter any number of engaging individuals at any time. “In Princeton, you never know who you will be talking to. I like talking to interesting people, people who I may not even know, or listening to a debate. I’m getting information from that person or that event. I like what I get from this, and it is something I can incorporate into my own person.”

Ms. McElroy seems able to look back and ahead at the same time, remembering past moments, and looking forward to future opportunities, “My proudest achievement is being able to help people and sharing information, and this includes with young people as well as seniors. To be successful in life, you must have kindness and understanding.

“There have been challenges, of course,” she acknowledges. “Accepting constructive criticism has been a big part of my moving forward. And I’ve had guardian angels along the way. I like to be able to give back to others. No matter what I do in the future, whatever adventures I encounter, I want to continue to be a person who reaches out to connect with people and to help them.”

If you’re old enough to have American roadside memories, you may read this row of signs from last weekend’s Friends of the Princeton Public Library Book Sale this way: Book Sale/Saturday/Prices Low/Sure to Save/Burma-Shave. In fact, this table of History and Americana is being browsed during the Saturday afternoon calm following Friday’s tumultuous opening. Co-chairs Sherri Garber and Eve Niedergang report that this year’s sale broke last year’s record. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

October 10, 2012

CELEBRATING 15 YEARS: The Princeton Charter School community gathered on Monday to ­celebrate the school’s 15th anniversary.

It all began 15 years ago with 72 children, about a dozen-and-half determined parents, and a meager one-and-one-half floors of space. Now the Princeton Charter School (PCS) is recognized as “one of the best schools in the state of New Jersey,” according to Assistant Commissioner of Education Evo Popoff, who spoke on Monday at a celebration of the school’s anniversary.

The parents who signed the original charter application and are referred to by PCS’ers as the “founders,” were cited for their vision and tenacity more than once during the program. “This is the most democratic form of education we have in this country,” noted Mr. Popoff. “It’s based on a parent’s decision.” He praised the over 5,000 current charter schools across the country for “creating opportunities for innovation,” and pointed to the fact that PCS was open on Monday, when other schools were closed for Columbus Day, as evidence of PCS’s rigorous philosophy of education.

“The founders said, ‘we are going to focus on students,” said Mr. Popoff. The result, he added, is that PCS isn’t “pulled back by the things that often pull back schools across the state.”

The original mission of Princeton Charter School was premised on the belief that a “thorough and efficient education is best accomplished through a rigorous curriculum that requires mastery of core knowledge and skills.”

Unlike non-charter public schools, PCS, which is now a kindergarten through eighth grade school with 350 students, must acquire and renovate its facilities within its operating budget. In 2010, the school, without using any taxpayer money, opened an environmentally-friendly, 17,000 square foot multi-use facility that houses a black-box theater, a gymnasium, and an art studio. Before the school received any public funding, the costs for student outreach and teacher recruitment were funded solely by an association of Friends of PCS. The first phase of the renovations of the facility at 575 Ewing Street (now 100 Bunn Drive) was donated to the school by Friends of PCS, and they have continued to provide major funding and support for both events and facilities.

In his comments on Monday, physical and health education teacher Mark Papp recounted the dramatic evolution of the school’s facilities. After his job interview with Head of School Charles Marsee and board member Herman Tull 12 years ago, Mr. Papp asked where the school’s gym was. “Herman Tull was laughing so hard he almost fell on the floor,” said Mr. Papp. Mr. Marsee informed him that there was no gym, but on a tour of the school’s modest facilities later that day, Mr. Papp noted that there already was a science lab. “‘These people care about education,’” he recalled thinking.

This ability to make do with a limited amount of resources has also characterized PCS faculty. Another speaker on Monday, science teacher Mark Schlawin, described teachers who taught four and five classes a term; proctored study halls; and substituted for one another when necessary. “The test scores began high and have been climbing ever since,” he said of the award-winning school.

A video, “Founding Principals, Founding Principles of the Princeton Charter School,” can be seen on YouTube.

For more information on the Princeton Charter School, visit

Springboard, an after school tutoring and homework help center once housed in the Princeton Public Library, has moved. Its new location is room C-104 at the Walnut Lane entrance of John Witherspoon Middle School.

“For the last five years or so, the library has been underwriting the cost of Springboard, but many of those sources have dried up,” said Executive Director Leslie Burger. Springboard usage statistics, she added, were not encouraging. She expressed delight, however, in the fact that the “Princeton Public Schools found a new home for Springboard.”

“The quality program that you have come to expect and rely on will be the same,” Springboard spokeswoman Joyce Turner reported in a letter to the community announcing Springboard’s new location. The free drop-in program, which does not require appointments, will continue every Monday through Thursday from 3:30 to 6 p.m. when the Princeton Public Schools are open.

In the meantime, the library has created other on-site after-school options, including a new tutoring program, for youngsters. These include a chess club, a Mac lab where students work on collaborative projects, and the addition of laptops to the third-floor teen area. All of these activities, said Ms. Burger, are either subsidized by outside funds, and/or staffed by volunteers.

More traditional after-school homework help from adult community volunteers and college level students is also now available at the library from 4 to 6 p.m. every Monday through Thursday when Princeton Public Schools are in session. Students in all grades from all Princeton schools are welcome, and, like Springboard, registration is not required.

In the past, Springboard estimated that it helped between 10 and 35 students per day. In 2000, the American Library Association honored Springboard with an award for excellence in after-school programming for young adults.

“For over 20 years we loved working with the library,” said Ms. Turner. “The collaboration was just wonderful; the library provided books, and Springboard provided instruction.

“It won’t be the same,” Ms. Turner added. “We’ve sent a letter to the youth services staff at the library, telling them how much we’ll miss them.” The new middle school location now being used was felt to provide the “best balance” for students in all grades.

Ms. Turner said that she was grateful for continued support from the F.I.S.H. Foundation, to staff who took a pay cut, and to the school district for offering a space. “We’re not going to let the program die. Many of the kids who come in have special education needs and come from low-income families.”

A NEW BREW: Eric Nutt, left, and Tom Stevenson, both of Triumph Brewing Company, are ready to dispense the Black Squirrel Ale that brewmaster Stevenson has concocted after a suggestion from Steve Omiecinski, co-owner of Princeton Black Squirrel Company. The brew will be on tap Monday, October 15 starting at 6 p.m.

At Communiversity last spring, Steve Omiecinski, co-owner of Princeton Black Squirrel Company, ran into Tom Stevenson, the brewmaster for Triumph Brewing Company on Nassau Street. The talk, about business, inevitably turned to beer.

“I said to Tom, ‘Wouldn’t it be kind of neat if we had a black squirrel beer?’, Mr. Omiecinski recalls. “He started scratching his chin. I think he was building a recipe on the spot.”

A few months later, Eric M. Nutt, Triumph’s sales and public relations manager, called Mr. Omiecinski to say Mr. Stevenson had come up with a brew. The result, Black Squirrel Ale, will debut at a barrel-tapping, to which the public is invited, on Monday, October 15 starting at 6 p.m. The nutty brew will remain available at Triumph for the next two or three weeks.

Mr. Omiecinski and his wife Mimi, who owns Princeton Tour Company, founded Princeton Black Squirrel Company two years ago with partner Rob Green, to promote all things Princeton and encourage collaborations
between businesses, residents, Princeton University, and community organizations. The name refers to the town’s unique population of black squirrels, which legend has it were imported to Princeton by 19th century philanthropist Moses Taylor Pyne.

“The company’s message is increasingly well understood,” says Mr. Omiecinski, whose day job is running the North American marketing organization for Terumo, a Japanese medical device firm. “I think everything about the Black Squirrel brand is celebrating everything about this town, and how businesses and the University and the residents can all contribute to making this a better place.”

Black Squirrel donates a portion of its profits to the Princeton Public Library. The company sells its mugs, tee-shirts, and decals at Landau on Nassau Street and Luxaby Baby and Child in Palmer Square. “We’re exploring other opportunities to partner with other small businesses,” Mr. Omiecinski says. “The idea is to have ways to promote and
celebrate the town.”

Mr. Omiecinski, Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Nutt are hoping to attract a sizable crowd to the barrel-tasting. Describing the brew, Mr. Stevenson said, “The beer is basically a Porter, or dark brown ale. It’s brewed with American-grown chestnuts, and will have some hazelnut flavor. Between the two, we hope it’s nutty enough to be appealing to a squirrel.”

All joking aside, this is Mr. Stevenson’s first venture into making a nutty beer. At Triumph, he has created more than 100 different styles of beer. “They can be trying to emulate an existing style, or revive an old one,” says Mr. Nutt. “Some have legitimate stylistic roots. Others are made up.”

Bar patrons who show up at the barrel-tapping wearing Princeton Black Squirrel apparel will get their first Black Squirrel Ale for free, courtesy of Triumph. Mr. Omiecinski says he is waiting until the barrel-tapping to get his first taste of the brew. “I’m refraining until then,” he says. “I want to be surprised.”

Witherspoon Grill’s Fourth Annual Harvest & Music Festival for Trenton Area Soup Kitchen prevailed Sunday in spite of the chilly turn taken by the weather.

October 3, 2012

SAFE HOUSE: Crawford House in Skillman provides shelter and treatment to women in the early stages of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The organization will honor several local businesses that have employed residents at its annual Harvest Dinner on Thursday, October 18.

Erin was a student and a part-time lifeguard when she became addicted to alcohol, and then heroin. Last year, the Wayne native made a decision which she says changed her life. She came to Crawford House, the 34-year-old residential treatment center in Skillman for women in the early stages of recovery.

“I felt really safe while I was there,” says Erin, 23, who declined to provide her last name. “I felt like I could open up and just work on my issues, without the influence of the drug world. I could get honest about everything that went on in my life and get it all out in the open. And I could get a job, which taught me a lot of responsibility.”

A year later, Erin still holds the position that has been key to her successful recovery. She is a cashier and floor-worker at Smith’s Ace Hardware in Princeton Shopping Center, one of several local businesses that have hired Crawford House residents who are in the process of recovering. The organization will honor the hardware store along with McCaffrey’s Market, Jordan’s Stationery and Gifts, and Chez Alice of Princeton; Chartwell’s Dining Services and the Red Oak Diner of Montgomery; and Wendy’s, Shop-Rite, and Nelson’s Corner Pizza of Hillsborough; at its annual benefit on October 18, to be held at the Marriott at Forrestal.

“We try to honor someone from the community every year who is a good partner of ours,” says Crawford House Executive Director Linda M. Leyhane. “This year we decided on small businesses in the community, which have been so helpful to us. There are a lot more businesses that choose not to be recognized, for whatever reason.”

The women who come to Crawford House are unemployed, uninsured, homeless, or indigent. They go through a 12-step recovery program based on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous. They have individual and group counseling sessions, and get training in independent living skills. They don’t pay for Crawford House’s services. Funding comes from a variety of sources including the United Way of Northern New Jersey, the Mercer, Somerset, and Middlesex boards of chosen freeholders, foundations, corporations, and individual donors.

“These are women who might have started using drugs at age eight or nine,” says Ms. Leyhane. “They come from families in which drug use is part of their background, their culture. They have usually had multiple treatment failures in the past. It’s not rehabilitation, it’s habilitation. They don’t have the skills that you and I take for granted, like doing laundry, changing sheets, boiling water. We start will all kinds of life skill training.”

With addiction often comes a social aspect. “It’s a very isolating disease,” Ms. Leyhane continues. “You don’t know how to interact socially. If you started using young, you’ve missed out.”

There are about 180 halfway house beds in New Jersey, 22 of which are at Crawford House. Women are referred to the program from rehabilitation and detox centers, physicians, the Intensive Supervisory Program, the New Jersey Substance Abuse Initiative, and the Drug Court Initiative. Crawford House is the only program in the state that also admits clients who refer themselves.

Residents sign up for six months of treatment, but many stay longer. They must be residents of New Jersey, aged 18 or older, free of substance abuse for at least two weeks, and free from communicable diseases like tuberculosis. They must also be employable, because a major part of the Crawford House program is geared to getting and keeping a job. After 30 days of orientation, the women obtain 30 hours a week part-time employment, and contribute a portion of their salary to room and board. The idea is to foster self-worth, economic independence, and self-sufficiency.

“After orientation and two educational groups a day, meetings with a counselor, and attendance at 12-step program meetings in the community, [a resident] develops a good network that will take her out to meetings on her own,” says Ms. Leyhane. “Then she gets a job in the community.”

Lewis Wildman, who owns Jordan’s in Princeton Shopping Center, has been employing Crawford House residents for several years. “Generally speaking, it’s worked out pretty well,” he says. “It’s a great source of employees to be found here, because in general, who is looking for an entry level job in a retail store in Princeton? Nobody. So it’s good for us. Mostly, these are people who are anxious to work. It’s been successful for us and them. I think it’s a terrific program.”

McCaffrey’s Market is another frequent employer of women from Crawford House. “We’re the kind of organization that likes to help out people and give them a second chance, so we do our best,” says Ken Toth, the store’s lead meat merchandiser. “We’ve had quite a few good people from Crawford House. We still have one excellent person who started with us when she was there, and she’s been with us for several years.”

Crawford House teaches residents to fill out job applications and handle themselves in an interview. “It’s how to present yourself, how to dress,” says Ms. Leyhane. “We talk a lot about what takes place in the workplace. Then they go out and get their own positions. That means when they transition out, they have a job, a place to live, and after-care.”

The goal is for clients in treatment to maintain a substance-free lifestyle, learn how to avoid communicable diseases or manage them if already infected, stay employed, have healthy relationships, and transition to independent living.

Success stories vary. “We measure success in a lot of different ways,” Ms. Leyhane says. “If a woman has never worked, has no social security number, and we can get that, then that’s success. If she is reunited with her family, or gets her medical issues attended to, that’s success, too.”

For information about the 2012 Harvest Dinner on October 18, email

“Most people don’t know there’s a lieutenant governor,” said Kim Guadagno at a recent meeting of The Present Day Club. She was referring to the newly-created job she has held since 2010.

“There’s no job description; no salary; and no office,” she reported. “Every day I go to work and do something new and different. The rule is that there are no rules.”

At least two aspects of Ms. Guadagno’s job delight her. One is driving into New Jersey and seeing her name at the bottom of the “Welcome to New Jersey” sign. The other is working for Governor Chris Christie.

“I’m lucky,” she said. “This is a really conservative governor who didn’t want to create more government, add more space, or pay another staff member.” As a result, she and Mr. Christie “looked around the State House” and concluded that Ms. Guadagno should also serve as Secretary of State. In that capacity, she acquired an existing office and has responsibilities related to “culture, arts, history, travel, and tourism.”

“The governor is never wrong,” said Ms. Guadagno, “I do anything the governor tells me to do.” Her job as second-in-command is a “reactive office,” she said, except when Mr. Christie is out of state and she becomes acting governor. She made light of the instance last year when both she and Mr. Christie were out of state at the same time and heavy snow fell in New Jersey. “We’re now very careful to check each other’s schedules,” she noted.

Ms. Guadagno said that she had not followed “your traditional trajectory to public office.” After graduating from American University Law School in 1983, she began her public career as a federal prosecutor, working in Brooklyn for the Organized Crime and Racketeering Strike Force. When she and her husband, Mike, moved to New Jersey, she joined the United States Attorney’s office in Newark, and later went on to serve as assistant attorney general and deputy director of the Division of Criminal Justice. In 2007, Ms. Guadagno became the first female sheriff of Monmouth County. She does not rule out a second term as lieutenant governor if Mr. Christie is reelected. Either way, she plans to return to private practice when her stint in office is over.

“It’s about the next generation,” said Ms. Guadagno in her comments about economic development in New Jersey. She prides herself on having spoken with “thousands of business people” and cutting through “red tape” by freely circulating her email address and cell phone number. Responding to a question about why the governor chose not to participate in the tunnel project known as ARC (Access to the Region’s Core), Ms. Guadagno said that as it was planned, this “train to nowhere” stood to benefit only New York City. “If they stepped up to the table to pick up more of the cost we’d have done it,” she added.

The Present Day Club is a private women’s club established in 1898 as “an intellectual and social center of thought and action among the women of Princeton.” Located at 72 Stockton Street, membership in the club, which is by invitation only, includes a Wednesday luncheon and invited speaker; bridge tournaments; theater trips, guided day trips, and a book club. The facilities and food service are available for private parties and business functions.

For more information call (609) 924-1014 or write to

In keeping with Superintendent Judy Wilson’s recent advice not take the measure of students and schools with test scores alone, the public schools will present “Healthy State of Mind,” a panel discussion with behavioral health specialists from around the region on Monday, October 8, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Black Box Theater at Princeton High School (PHS).

PHS Principal Gary Snyder will help facilitate the discussion. He will be joined by Trinity Counseling Service Clinical Psychologist Molly Palmer; Rider University Professor Karen Gischlar; Princeton House Counselor Nicole Orro; therapist Julie Neufeld; and Traumatic Loss Coalition coordinator George Scott. PHS Guidance Supervisor Angela Cecil will also be on hand for the program.

The October 8 event is the first in the public schools’ Princeton Balance Speakers Series for 2012-13. Intended primarily for parents of middle- and high school-age children, the talk will provide information and support in promoting good mental health and a sense of balance in the lives of pre-teens and teens as they negotiate life transitions, relationship challenges, and academic and social issues.

“Judy wanted the first program to have something that would acknowledge that we want a sense of balance in our children’s lives,” said public school spokeswoman
Assenka Oksiloff. The Princeton Balance Series was launched last year; it is intended to offer three events each year that “address issues that span all the grades,” Ms. Oksiloff noted.

In addition to working at Trinity Counseling Service, panelist Molly Palmer and her colleague, Melinda Noel, run a leadership class for eighth graders at John Witherspoon Middle School. The focus of the once-a-week meetings, she said, is on “leadership skills, self-esteem, self-awareness, and positive inter-personal skills.”

“My specific part is going to be about transitions and the risk factors that are associated with transitions,” reported Julie Neufeld describing her role in the October 8 discussion. “Some of the transitions that preteens and teens go through are obvious and clear cut, like moving from middle school to high school. Some of them are a little bit more obscure.” More nuanced problems occur, she said, when a student goes from being first in his or her middle school class to something lower than number one in high school. Being moved from a varsity athletic team to a less competitive one can be similarly problematic. “Sometimes a kid’s identity is so centered around being at the top of the class or being a great athlete,” said Ms. Neufeld. A change that they perceive as a kind of demotion can have a negative affect. She plans, she said, to highlight different types of transitions, “and help parents know what kinds of things might cause an increase in insecurity and a decrease in self-esteem.”

Rider University Professor Karen Gischlar specializes in “behavioral principles,” with a particular focus on the hard-to-manage child. Her other areas of interest are school psychology, and behavioral and academic assessment.

The Princeton Balance Speaker program is scheduled for February 13. The topic will be “Leading healthier lives Through Nutrition and Exercise.”

A domestic moment Saturday on the Princeton Battlefield circa 1770-something — if you air-brush out the cars and the phone lines. The occasion was “Colonial Days Revisited,” which featured tours of the Clarke House and the battlefield, a horseshoe challenge for kids, Colonial domestic and Revolutionary War demonstrations, and a children’s scavenger hunt. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

September 26, 2012

NO JUNK FOOD: Pallets of canned foods await delivery in the sprawling warehouse of Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, where director Phyllis Stoolmacher keeps a close eye on nutritional content. The organization will celebrate its 25th anniversary of serving those in need with a party at the warehouse on Friday, October 5. (Photo by Andrew Wilkinson)

It’s Thursday at the Mercer Street Friends’ Food Bank facility in Ewing Township, and the 10,000-square-foot warehouse is bustling with activity. As is customary each week, local charities are loading their trucks with fresh produce, canned vegetables, and packaged foods to feed the hungry of Mercer County.

In one corner of the sprawling space, volunteers repack bulk bags of pasta into smaller, family-size packages. Another group nearby assembles boxes of Parmalat milk, plastic containers of fruit cups, and other foods for the “Send Hunger Packing” boxes that go home with children who get free breakfasts and lunches at school, but might not have access to adequate food over the weekends.

There is significant hunger in Mercer County. Most local residents are unaware of how widespread a problem exists. The statistics are sobering: More than 25,000 here are “food insecure,” meaning they lack consistent access to adequate food. A large proportion of them are children. The Food Bank, which will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary with a festive fundraiser in the warehouse on October 5, moves about 50,000 pounds of food a week, to some 60 organizations including the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Homefront, the Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton, and the Princeton Deliverance Center.

Phyllis Stoolmacher, the Food Bank’s energetic director, knows the numbers by heart. She has been shepherding the program since its inception. “Our role is to garner resources and ensure that hungry people have a steady and reliable source of food,” she says, during a briskly paced tour through the warehouse. “There’s a lot of excess food out there. We secure it and redirect it to other non-profits – shelters, meal sites, day care centers. People just don’t realize the extent of hunger in Mercer County.”

The donations come from the food industry, retail stores, the USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program, the State Food Purchase Program, farmers, and community food drives, among other sources. And Ms. Stoolmacher is picky about what she accepts – no junk food. “We have high standards,” she says. “No soda, no candy, no Ramen noodles. About 50 percent of what we have is fruit and vegetables. It has to be nutritionally sound. We’re the second smallest food bank in the state, but we certainly have the highest standards.”

Ms. Stoolmacher likes to think of the Food Bank as not just a food distribution program, but a hunger prevention program. Through its member organizations, the Food Bank holds nutrition workshops and outreach to make healthy food more available to those in need. The federal program formerly known as food stamps is now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and the Food Bank initiated a SNAP Outreach in 2010. “People might not realize that they qualify for this, and we help them break down barriers,” Ms. Stoolmacher says. “I’m disturbed by the rhetoric of putting a negative view of food programs for the poor. This is not an entitlement program. It enables people to put food on their tables, and the money that is spent in the local community, in local supermarkets, is revenue.”

Middle class people who live in the suburbs are the fastest growing segment of those the organization serves. “Most people understand that hunger is a result of poverty,” Ms. Stoolmacher says. “But they assume that it is an inner city problem. That’s not true. Since the recession, it has spread to the suburbs. People have lost their jobs, and they are just not finding work. We’re seeing more food pantries opening in Hamilton Township than in the city of Trenton. We work with several groups in Princeton. There isn’t a community in Mercer County, or America, that doesn’t have hunger.”

A program of the Trenton-based, Quaker-affiliated Mercer Street Friends, the Food Bank was initially housed in the city’s Rescue Mission. The spacious warehouse in Ewing Township’s West Trenton section is outfitted with refrigeration and freezer areas. It is the logical spot for the gala party that will mark the organization’s twenty-fifth birthday. “We’re a Quaker-based organization, so we’re not going to do this at the Hilton,” Ms. Stoolmacher says. “We wanted to note the anniversary and use it as a way to raise funds and awareness. So what better place than our warehouse?”

Food, wine, music, and a silent auction are part of the festivities. Auction items range from a Michael Graves signed drawing to a week in France, with much in between. Tickets are $75.

“We’re celebrating and we’re thanking our volunteers, because we couldn’t function without them,” Ms. Stoolmacher says. “They do the physical work. They make things happen. And we really believe in engaging the community.”