Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Imagine the difference an extra $2,300 can make for a struggling family. That is the amount of the average Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) earned by families in New Jersey. Now consider the fact that NJ has the 8th lowest EITC participation rate among the 50 states in the United States, with nearly 23% of eligible families leaving money on the table by forgoing EITC.  You can help low-income families claim EITC and other eligible tax returns as a volunteer tax preparer through the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

You don’t have to be a math whiz, a computer genius, or have any prior accounting experience to become a VITA volunteer.  The Bergen Volunteer Center will provide you with the training you’ll need to have a rewarding experience, as you work one on one with people in our community.  Free income tax preparation is available through the VITA program to ensure hardworking families take advantage of all Earned Income and Child Tax Credits, leading to larger refunds and nearly immediate extra cash.  Not only will you be making a difference in our community, you will also obtain a valuable life skill while gaining a resume building experience.

In January, we will hold free training sessions to help you become certified VITA preparers.  Training's will take place over two Saturdays, January 21st and 28th, from 9 am to 4 pm.  Tax preparation sessions will occur across four Saturdays- 2/11, 2/18, 2/25, and 3/4- from 9 am to 1 pm.  All training's and preparation sessions will be held at the Bergen Volunteer Center (64 Passaic Street, Hackensack).

For more information on how you can become a VITA volunteer, contact Soojin Son at 201-489-9456 or sson@bergenvolunteers.org.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In Our Hearts

The Bergen Volunteer Center and Bergen LEADS lost a great friend last week with the passing of Kevin Wright.

Kevin had a wonderful way of making Bergen County's history so relevant and so immediate.  The first time I heard him speak, he read random headlines from Bergen County newspapers.  The headlines from 1870 and 1890 were so similar to the ones in 2009.  As we tried to guess the era, Kevin had that delightful, impish smile on his face, as we got it wrong every time.

After the Arab Spring, Kevin urged us to remember that the very notion of representative democracy would not exist had George Washington not saved the bridge at New Bridge Landing. As we stood looking at the little bridge, he drew pictures of the hopes and dreams of people the world over--to live in a government for the people, by the people.

Whenever I think about the local economy, I remember Kevin describing Bergen County as the "Saudi Arabia" of New York--as our forests fueled the industrial revolution.  And local debates about growth, development and education were waged between the "pumpkin dusters" and the "city folk."

Kevin reminded us always that our history is rich, relevant and just below the surface of so much of what we do and experience today.

We have lost a good friend and a masterful teacher. He will be sorely missed, but I will delight in quoting his wonderful turns of phrase.

Lynne Algrant

Monday, August 29, 2016

A BIG Thank You to BCB - Your Community Bank

On behalf of the Board of Directors, the staff and most especially, the Mentors of the Bergen Volunteer Center, we want to thank BCB-Your Community Bank for establishing the BCB Community Bank Mentor Support Fund.  

Bergen Mentors, which is both Mentoring Youth and Mentoring Moms does such outstanding work to support some of our most vulnerable neighbors.  It is hard to describe the generosity of spirit Mentors bring to their mentees.  For them to know that the Bergen Volunteer Center is now has a fund to help in an emergency and to provide more and more exciting strengthening activities to help build trust, friendship, joy and love is so comforting to those who already give so much of themselves.

In 2015, we used the BCB Community Back Mentor Support Fund in the following ways:
  •      To reimburse mentors for expenses they incurred meeting with their mentees.  While many mentors never seek reimbursement, we are committee to having it available so that anyone with the will can be a mentor. With your support, we have increased the Mentoring reimbursement level to $35 a month.
  •      To help mentoring families in an emergency. We replaced a broken refrigerator and provide grocery store gift cards to restock it for a Mom in August. We purchased bunk beds for a family moving out of the shelter into their own apartment. When we discovered that some mentors were using their reimbursement money to buy groceries for their mentees, we started to keep grocery store gift cards on hand for that purpose. 

These examples are extremely important; they give mentors peace of mind as they advise their mentees. However, the best part of your support is the number and variety of experiences we were able to organize for mentors and mentees and for mentoring Moms, their children and their mentor.  These family strengthening activities are essential to building lasting relationships and lasting change in lives that have been fractured.

In 2015, Bergen Mentors organized the following activities:
  •          A trip to Gravity Vault for wall-climbing;
  •          A trip to the Bronx Zoo;
  •          A Thank You brunch for Mentoring Youth Mentors;
  •          A Mentoring Moms and Mentors Mother’s Day Brunch;
  •          The Bergen Mentors Picnic;
  •          A Halloween  party;
  •          Two Holiday parties; and
  •          A trip to the Botanical Garden.

It is impossible to quantify the impact of your investment, except to say thank you and to show you the transformation and joy your generosity has created.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Showtime for Mentoring Youth

Recently mentees from our Mentoring Youth program had the chance to see Les Miserables through an amazing arts program at the bergenPAC called Arts Access.

The Arts Access Program is an initiative developed by bergenPAC to further its mission of making the live performing arts accessible to all. bergenPAC is providing free tickets to organizations who serve individuals who would otherwise be unable to experience the live performing arts in an effort to enhance the quality of life of the residents in our diverse community.

Mentor, Christine, took her mentee, Destiny, to see her first show a few weekends ago.

“The show was great! I was really impressed by the cast, staging and orchestra. The production value was excellent. My mentee enjoyed it as well. This was her first show EVER, and she seemed to have really liked it,” said Christine.

Without programs like Arts Access children in our Mentoring Youth program would not have had exposure to a basic life experience many of us take for granted every day.

Thank you bergenPAC!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Bergen County Companies to Collect School Supplies for Children in Need

Business Volunteer Council (BVC), a program of the Bergen Volunteer Center, is sponsoring a collection to provide school supplies for hundreds of children who are from low-income families, in foster care, or who are homeless. Community-minded companies are invited to participate in the “Tools for Schools” initiative which runs until August 26th. Because of the generosity of our corporate sponsors; Suez, Five Star Premier Residences, PSEG, and BD, employee volunteers will collect school supplies and deliver them to non-profit organizations including Bergen Volunteer Center, Center for Food Action, Children’s Aid and Family Services, and Youth Consultation Services.

This September starts a new school year for the children in our community. However, not all of these children will have the supplies they need to be successful. One in five children do not have access to basic school supplies because of their family’s economic circumstances. “It’s hard to imagine as a parent, having to tell your children that we don’t have the funds to go school shopping. But this is the reality for many families in Bergen County” says Erica West, Director of Corporate Engagement. “Attending class without the required materials is anxiety provoking for children and it sends a message that their education isn’t valued. I believe as a community we are responsible for ensuring every child feels their success is not only possible but important. By providing basic school supplies to these students, they have one less obstacle in their way of succeeding in school.”

The BVC will coordinate the drive with companies to collect the school supplies based on lists that have been developed in coordination with the social service agencies. Any company wishing to participate can contact Erica West at the Bergen Volunteer Center at (201) 489-9454 Ext. 205 to receive an organizational packet with complete instructions on how to organize and conduct the campaign.

The Volunteer Center’s Business Volunteer Council gives businesses a platform to successfully engage employees through volunteer service and workplace giving. The BVC provides customized volunteer projects including skills-based volunteering and support for corporate social responsibility initiatives. The BVC makes doing good a good part of doing business by building high-impact employee-led programs that are locally significant and socially relevant. Companies with the right engagement tools and guidance can create incredible social change while having a fun, memorable team building experience!

The Bergen Volunteer Center is celebrating 50 years of service in our community. We are redefining volunteerism by inspiring and developing the members of our Community to make an impact. The Bergen Volunteer Center turns caring into meaningful action by engaging volunteers to meet community needs.

Our core mission has remained constant but our ability to stay current and adapt in an ever changing economic and social environment has been the key to our enduring success. The Bergen Volunteer Center will continue to serve Bergen with strength and a robust, ever expanding purpose: Look Forward. Get Involved. Give Back.

For more information on membership in the BVC, call Erica West at 201-489-9454 Ext.205; e-mail ewest@bergenvolunteers.org, or visit www.bergenvolunteers.org/BVC.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hearts of Bergen - Chloe Fernandez

Meet Chloe,

Diagnosed at age 6 with a severe breathing and lung disorder known as PCD – Chloe Fernandez, now 9, of Ridgewood spent most of the next three years going in and out of the hospital dealing with this rare genetic condition.

PCD, or primary ciliary dyskinesia, is an inherited disorder that prevents the lining of the lungs, or cilia, from removing mucus and foreign material that enters the lungs through the airways and often leads to restricted breathing or severe difficulties with breathing.

During those three years of hospitalizations, at her mom’s urging, she kept a journal of her thoughts, feelings, dreams, and hopes. Although she is a student now in fourth grade in Ridgewood’s Somerville School, much of the last few years have been spent being home-schooled and away from her peers to reduce her exposure to germs.

To see what other kids were going through who had PCD, Chloe and her mom, Leslie, searched through the children’s hospital library at Hackensack University Medical Center looking for a book that could help her to know what to expect and how to manage the condition.

Both came up empty-handed, surprised that nothing was available. Then Chloe had an idea: She could write a book for children with PCD and help them. A few years before, Chloe had been inspired by an author who visited her school and talked about writing and books.

With the help of Make-A-Wish New Jersey, Chloe became the first-ever Make-A-Wish recipient to write a book. Titled “PCD Has Nothing On Me,” the 47-page illustrated book chronicles Chloe’s young journey through diagnosis, treatment, and hospitalizations in 13 chapters such as “Mommy, Why Me?” “No Playdates,” “Swimming Will Help,” and “Fancy Without Perfume.”

Her introduction includes four pages of thanks and appreciation to her doctors, nurses, medical staff, Make-A-Wish, teachers, friends, family and dog, Abby. “This book is dedicated to all the kids with chronic illness: Stay strong, stay positive, keep the faith and never stop believing in miracles,” she writes.

Following surgery last year, Chloe is on a regimen of seven medications, including steroids and antibiotics, a “mostly” vegan diet, and uses a nebulizer and airway clearance vest to help her breathe.

She recently did two book signings: in June at Barnes & Noble in Paramus and in July at Little Skye Children’s Boutique in Ridgewood. She said that Make-A-Wish surprised her before the Barnes & Noble book signing by providing a white stretch limousine to chauffer her to the event. It was the first time she rode in a limousine. She said almost 100 people were at the event and 60 books were sold.

Chloe equally splits all proceeds from her book sales to Make-A-Wish New Jersey, and Josephine’s Garden at the HUMC Children’s Hospital. She spent hours enjoying the garden as a pediatric patient and wants her book to “give back” to both organizations, and especially the children’s garden.

“That place was very special to me … I forgot about my IVs, and my worries when I was up there,” said Chloe. The garden was named after another pediatric patient, Josephine Rispoli, who, with her mother Heidi, dreamed of a garden for children at the hospital. Though Josephine succumbed to a malignant brain tumor in 2011, Josephine’s Garden opened at HUMC in 2012.

Chloe said that a book signing is anticipated at HUMC’s solarium in August or September.

For now, Chloe said that she is “feeling good” and enjoying the summer. She said it’s been “about a year” since she was last hospitalized for her condition. Upon mom’s advice, she said she is following a vegan diet except for an infrequent bacon and eggs breakfast. The vegan diet – basically a no meat, eggs and dairy diet - helps reduce build-up of mucus in her lungs.

In addition, her doctor advised her to take up swimming and she herself has joined a harmonica-playing group that meets Wednesdays at Holy Name Hospital. She also plays piano. Both swimming and harmonica-playing boost lung capacity and help assist lung function. Chloe said she plays and swims weekly to help her lungs.

In 2015, Chloe and her mom participated in Bergen Volunteer Center’s “All Wrapped Up” holiday giving program and learned about the many activities that volunteers perform daily throughout the county. She said she wanted to do something to support the center and its work.Chloe has decided to donate 100% of the proceeds of her book to the Bergen Volunteer Center now through the end of the year when the book is purchased through this link for the BVC to get create. Purchase PCD Has Nothing On Me today

In addition to being an author, Chloe has modeled and been featured in Ultra Style and Talent Magazine. “I’m very, very stylish,” she said with a smile. Currently she has another book in the works, and her mom, who monitors her social media accounts, said she has a few hundred Twitter and Instagram followers.

“I think it takes braveness and strongness to volunteer. Stay strong and stay awesome,” wrote Chloe in a copy of her book she donated to BVC’s library.

By Michael Olohan, BVC Volunteer

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Expert Exchange Series - Will You Wait A Moment?

Wednesday, August 17 
1:00 - 2:00 PM 

Bergen Volunteer Center is offering a variety of free live webinars on various topics. These one-hour online sessions are for anyone who wants to continually learn or get more information on a topic. While they are FREE, you do need to register to participate. Click here to register.

August's panel is about learning how the practice of Mindfulness can create space to transform from an over-reactive frame of mind to one of non judgement and peaceful awareness. In today's fast-paced, technology laden world, learning how to take a moment, offers boundless rewards. Experience how simple techniques can become a daily practice to open the mind to imagination, awareness, compassion and transparency that will ultimately benefit you, your organization, customers, shareholders and community. Come join 2WallStreetChicks in this interactive webinar that will lead you to more joy and balance in your life.

At the end of the webinar participants will know: 
  • What is Mindfulness and why it's critical in today's constantly changing world. 
  • Why Mindfulness will make you a better leader and person, and some practical strategies to have in your leadership toolkit. 
  • How Mindfulness strengthens your ability to be Resilient.
 All sessions will be recorded and can be accessed at www.bergenvolunteers.org. To view our previous Expert Exchange webinars click here.