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LOCAL PERSPECTIVE: Editorial on Homelessness

Pulling Back the Curtain: Reflections on Ending Homelessness Event

Pastor Berny with her husband, Raul

There is a well-known movie that has been around for generations called: The Wizard of Oz.  This movie is based on the first of a series of books by author L. Frank Baum. The main character, a young girl named Dorothy was caught in a tornado and knocked unconscious. When she woke up, she was in the Land of Oz. She went on a quest to meet the Wizard of Oz who appeared as an intimidating giant head in front of a closed curtain. Towards the end of the movie, the curtain was pulled back, revealing an ordinary man at a control board. The Wizard made this giant image appear with his machine.

When you pull back the curtain, it’s not always what you think. This concept goes for the YMCA and also God’s Army Ministry (founded by Pastor Bernadette Falcon-Lopez – Pastor Berny). When you pull back the curtain on these two organizations, you will see there are many more layers than what appears on the surface in front of the curtain.

On Thursday, September 21, 2017, we had the opportunity to go to a fundraiser held at Mi Tierra Restaurant, 315 State St., Perth Amboy. This fundraiser was to help God’s Army Ministry help the homeless.

It’s disheartening when some speakers at Council Meetings constantly berate and complain about the Perth Amboy YMCA. Please stop comparing it to the Community Center in Woodbridge and the South Amboy YMCA. To make a comparison between the three is nonsense.

What even bothers me more, is when they talk about the YMCA CEO & President (Steve Jobin) salary which is – in our humble opinion – not enough. First, that job is a not a 9 to 5’er and often he does a lot of work that he’s not compensated for, and people don’t know about it.

When it’s mentioned about the money the Y owes the City, you should remember money taken in also pays for the salary of the employees. As previously mentioned, remember some Perth Amboy residents pay very little or no fee at all for memberships. Eighty percent of YMCA employees are Perth Amboy Residents. What else struck us was the water safety classes for second graders. Isn’t it worth it to teach your children how to swim instead of having to risk drowning.

There is a lot more to helping the homeless than giving them a meal. The public doesn’t see the amount of work she does behind the scenes. She has often dipped into her own finances to help the homeless (both individuals and families).

The program held at Mi Tierra Restaurant was paid for by M&T Bank. A tape of the event would be a helpful tool for everyone to see, especially critics of the Y and God’s Army Ministry. It was very enlightening.

Steve Jobin and Adele from A.T. Towing
*Photos by Katherine Massopust

At many previous Perth Amboy City Council Meetings, the problem of homelessness has been discussed. Perth Amboy and New Brunswick are the only two municipalities in Middlesex County that participate in the Code Blue Programs. Other municipalities refuse to take care of their homeless population and send them to Perth Amboy and New Brunswick. As of yet, other municipalities have been reluctant to participate in the Code Blue Programs.

The proof is in the pudding. The YMCA fostered a partnership with Pastor Berny when the facilities she was using were no longer available to her. Steve Jobin had heard a lot about Pastor Berny’s efforts and decided to make a surprise visit to the facilities she was operating out of. Jobin was astonished at her volunteerism at how her team work together in serving those in need. They were committed to feeding the homeless in mind, body, and soul.

The one thing that both Pastor Berny and Steve Jobin emphasize is that they cannot do it alone. They recognize their  team of volunteers and/or employees behind them.

They were grateful to those in attendance at Mi Tierra to make contributions in their campaign to help the homeless.

Mayor Wilda Diaz was the first to speak at the event, “Pastor Berny has been helping so many men and women. How many times out of her own pocket? They’ve gone to every corner of the earth to help the homeless. On the coldest, coldest days, she has gone to help them. Steve [Jobin], I can’ thank you enough for partnering up. It’s such an important effort. Starting in October, we don’t have a men’s shelter. The homeless men are counting on Pastor Berny and Steve Jobin. We’re all in this together. It affects so many of us.”

(L to R) Bob Corrozza from M&T Bank, Perth Amboy YMCA President & CEO Steve Jobin, Pastor Bernadette Falcon-Lopez, Mary Ann Lawrence from M&T Bank, Pastor Damaris Gonzalez, Gupreet Grewal.

Diaz continued, “Pray for Puerto Rico (and for the victims of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria). So many of our families live in Puerto Rico. Pray for them.”

Pastor Berny then came up to speak, “We partnered with many organizations and individuals. How many homeless are without food? I can’ tell you how many families get permanent placement. Only God can do this – Only because of Him. We had no place to go. The YMCA then adopted us into their family. With the help of the Perth Amboy YMCA and Steve Jobin – he opened his heart. “How are you doing this?” he asked me. I answered, “By faith.” The YMCA is a nonprofit organization. You have to pay out exactly what comes in. They did so much for us. It’s about us as a community. We have to do more. Our winter is very scary, now. They all need help. It truly “takes a village.” We’ve got a lot of homeless. We lost “Sammy” (a nickname of one of Perth Amboy’s homeless who died in a fire) who was just trying to keep warm, and Chris Johnson, a Veteran who was murdered  after he moved back in with his girlfriend who stabbed him to death in a domestic violence case.”

There was a musical interlude performed by Marguette Feliciano and Pastor Berny’s husband, Raul Lopez.

A video entitled, “Ending Homelessness” was shown. The video featured families who were helped out by Pastor Berny.

Gupreet Grewal came up to speak about her experience as a homeless person. “My husband and I were living in a car with our kids. We finally had to give the kids to family members to live with. We called social services. No one came to help us. We called the Salvation Army. The woman on the phone gave me Pastor Berny’s cell phone number. Pastor Berny put us up in a hotel. She got us vouchers and permanent placement. I can’t thank them enough. I’m now one of her Church’s volunteers.” Tears of gratitude began to flow as she finished her presentation. She then hugged Pastor Berny

Steve Jobin spoke next. “Part of my job is fundraising. Our Y is a bunch of doers. People give to what they really care about. I’m was tired of walking by that guy by Dunkin Donuts and giving him a dollar. I said to myself, this time, I’m not going to give the guy a dollar. I’m going to ask the guy, “Can I help you?”

I asked myself.“Why all this effort for Pastor Berny?” They trust her. It was the “aha” moment for me. The Board (of the YMCA) invested in a place on Smith Street for a Case Management Center. This is to make sure that these folks can get the help they need in a system that is too bureaucratic. Our goal is for November 15, 2017 to get our people warm this winter. Pastor Berny always says, “A cup of coffee means something.” It’s important to talk to them and get that “aha” moment. Generosity is from the heart, and it goes a long way. We need donations to make it happen.”

Jobin spoke about the rickety old van that Pastor Berny used to help the homeless. “This van was bad news. That was the day someone walked into the Y and said they needed the Board of Social Services. He was told Pastor Berny could help him.

Jobin said he asked Adele from A.T. Towing if he could fix Pastor Berny’s van. In order to do the proper repairs to the van, Adele put in $1500 worth of parts (which he paid for himself) and did the work for free. The Men’s Guild gave the other $1000 for parts. That’s a total of around $2500 to fix the van. “That’s what makes our city so special. You are a part of the solution.”

Jobin later told the Guardian that Auto Dealer John Lohman had a fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. For every car sold on that Saturday, he donated $100 to God’s Army Ministry.”

Jobin concluded, “The Y offers a lot more than just a gym and swim. We offer childcare and aftercare. We offer classes to educate 2nd Graders in water safety. Our summer camp is such a great experience for the kids.”

Archangel Raphael’s Mission, John El-Maraghy (2nd Left) with his parents, Mary Ann Lawrence from M &T Bank, Rosemary Oarsley, Geri Barcheski, Steve Jobin. *Photo by Katherine Massopust

YMCA Board Member Dot Daniel came up to speak, “Steve is a blessing. Everyday our Y is open. We are blessed to see people who work for us.”

Jobin concluded, “Thank you to all of our partners and for your donations.”

The Amboy Guardian took some time and asked Pastor Berny a few questions:

AG: What made you decide to help the homeless?

PB: I used to feed the homeless once a week at a building on  New Brunswick Ave. (on the 2nd Floor). I sat down and ate with the homeless and asked them how they felt. They answered, “It’s not that we’re homeless – it’s how people ignore us.”

But the problem does exist. I said to my husband, “We have to do something for them.”

AG: What services do you offer?

PB: Food, housing, case management, placement from the county, getting them shelter, vouchers, benefits and getting the right medical needs. It’s so much more than people think. It’s a case by case effort. Some of the homeless suffer from mental illness and need medical assistance. We work towards getting them self sufficiency.

AG: What are the reasons that people become homeless?

PB: For statistics on the homeless go to: https://monarchhousing.org/endinghomelessness/njcounts/

AG: Are there more men or women that are homeless?

PB: A few years ago it was almost all men, but now more and more women and their families are homeless. They are sleeping in cars. We placed a family of 9 just a few months ago.

AG: How many of the homeless that you help are from Perth Amboy?

PB: Many of the homeless are from Perth Amboy. You just don’t notice them. There are other people that come from out of town.

AG: How have you managed to do this financially?

PB: By the Grace of God.

AG: What support do you have from Middlesex County?

PB: We brought up these issues at the Freeholders Meeting in November 2016. They agree that Perth Amboy and New Brunswick take the brunt of the homeless. Many other municipalities in Middlesex County refuse to accept they have homeless. We work with the County to house folks. We’re all a part of a coalition. Senator Joe Vitale is a big supporter. Assemblyman Craig Coughlin sees there’s a need. I’m afraid how the hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico are going to affect us all. We’re going to get people from all over. What’s going to happen to them?

For more information on God’s Army Ministry, contact 848- 203-3544. If you wish to help Pastor Berny end homelessness: Text 91999 to make a donation.

C.M. & K.M.

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