Wednesday, July 21, 2021

How School Supplies Impacts Students' Lives


Schools should be places where children feel safe, empowered, and equal -- an environment where a student’s background or home life need not determine their success or belonging. However, this kind of equitable environment is not a given in the classroom. Issues with school supplies are a significant barrier to a healthy school experience for many children.

The national average of what parents spend on school supplies per child is $696.70, with many asked to pay far higher amounts. While some families don’t think twice about the yearly routine of  rounding up binders, calculators, pencils, and pens, the cost of these items can be overwhelming for low-income parents who may need to weigh school supplies against absolute necessities, such as groceries and rent. As a result, many children do not have the option to follow these prescribed lists of supplies and come to school less prepared than their classmates. 

These students face a difficult social situation. Gail O’Connor with Teach for America writes that “teachers are in a unique position to either add to a student’s feelings of inadequacy, or be sensitive to the mental burden that comes from financial insecurity.” Upon seeing students unprepared, teachers sometimes lean towards the former. They may be less than understanding, failing to consider possible financial issues and accusing students of being forgetful or careless. “It’s often seen as a behavioral issue,” Dr. Heather Clawson from Communities in Schools reports. Such assumptions can set students up for a negative relationship with teachers, producing feelings of shame and alienation. This negatively impacts the student’s ability to learn. 

Conversely, teachers who do recognize the student’s situation often buy school supplies for them out-of-pocket -- which isn’t sustainable for those teachers who are often already underpaid. O’Connor writes, “ninety-three percent of public school teachers spend their own money on school supplies without reimbursement, and on average, teachers spend $479 on items for their classrooms.” While teachers who go above and beyond in this manner should be applauded, it is unfair for the burden to be set upon them.

Many teachers note how the lack of school supplies negatively impacts their students. One teacher, Mario Black, reported of his own students, “When scholars don’t have what is needed for school, they don’t give it their all.” (WSOC)

But beyond the negative impacts of not being prepared with adequate supplies, it is deeply empowering when students are prepared. 

If you had the chance to start each school year with new supplies, you may remember how exciting it felt to look through the different colors of your binders and carefully assign colors to school subjects, or the satisfaction of pulling out cleanly sharpened pencils as you learned how to take notes. In the turbulence of starting a new school year, the prevalent feeling was that of a fresh start, and some control. 

And the data confirms these memories -- teachers have reported in studies that students having their own school supplies seems to increase students’ self esteem, class participation, class preparedness and interest in learning. (Kids in Need Foundation) 

At Bergen Volunteers, we want to make sure children in our community are prepared to do their best -- and feel their best -- in school. That’s why we run Tools for Schools, our program focused on providing school supplies for students in northern New Jersey. We invite businesses and individuals to donate to our annual drive, which this year runs from July 22 to August 31. Then, we distribute the supplies to our agency members -- hand-selected organizations that we have history with, and pool volunteer resources with -- who pass the supplies directly on to schools and students! 

If you’re ready to get involved in this important mission, contact Melissa LaRobardier at We need your help to ensure that more and more children can enter their school year confidently, with the tools they need for success. 

“School Supply Donations Have a Positive Impact on Student's Ability to Learn.” WSOC TV, WSOC TV, 24 Nov. 2019, 

O’Connor, Gail, et al. “The School-Supply Gap.” Teach For America, Teach For America, 8 Sept. 2019, 

“Why It Matters.” Kids In Need Foundation, 19 Apr. 2021, 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

Caheri & Tammy Cloud, Intervention Specialist with Caught in the Crossfire

L to R - Cloud and Gutierrez (

Caheri didn’t even realize she had been hit when the bullet burst through her jaw.

An 18-year-old model from one of Oakland, California’s most unsafe neighborhoods, Caheri Gutierrez was shot in a drive-by while sitting in the passenger seat at the intersection of 98th Ave and San Leandro Street in November of 2008. She felt a shock but didn’t realize the damage done until she noticed the driver’s expression and reached to touch her face: it was effectively blown off. Her biggest asset for her up-and-coming modeling career was gone. 


Gutierrez stayed strong and survived through the night, waking up to find herself toothless, jawless, and deaf in one ear. After almost a month in the hospital, she returned home to East Oakland and struggled with severe nightmares, fear of her neighborhood, and growing resentment and grief for her former identity.


Soon enough, Tammy Cloud was assigned to Gutierrez’s case. Cloud worked as an Intervention Specialist in the Caught in the Crossfire program as part of Youth ALIVE!, an Oakland non-profit whose mission is to prevent urban violence and cultivate young leaders. Cloud provided emotional and practical support to victims of Oakland’s violence.


At first, Gutierrez did not want assistance, not realizing how difficult it would be to handle her emotions. But Cloud stuck by her side during her recuperation, helping her to graduate high school, start therapy, take college classes, and regain her academic and athletic strengths. Gutierrez was eternally grateful and described Cloud as her “guardian angel.” Cloud began to see an internal strength developing in Gutierrez, a power she could use for the greater good. She suggested Gutierrez speak to the youth from her community, so Gutierrez applied for and accepted a job at Youth ALIVE!, working for their Teens on Target (TNT) program, where she could share her story and confront her trauma in a new way. 


Gutierrez bravely returned to Oakland, but she was afraid she would frighten the children with her story and physical scars. However, not only were the TNT students drawn to her warm personality, but they were also enlightened by her experience, as they too were growing up under the cloud of violence in East Oakland. Gutierrez went on to initiate many necessary conversations of how to cope with and avoid a life of violence even if it’s all one has ever known (O’Brien).


With the help of Youth ALIVE! and the support of her community, Gutierrez established herself as an effective speaker and community leader who took steps to prevent incidents like hers from happening again. 


We are born from our experiences; they shape us into who we are, fostering our passions, character, and capabilities. With patience and guidance, we can use resilience and courage to take our history to make history.


Here at Bergen Volunteers, our Bergen LEADS program transforms individuals into ones who use their experience and knowledge to take action for the common good. We cultivate leaders just like Gutierrez who learn about the challenges facing their communities and develop the skills needed to address them and effect change. Over the past 15 years, more than 400 leaders have completed our 10-month extensive program involving project development, topical debates, site visits, alumni networking, and more. They learn about a vast number of issues ranging from mental health to environmental concerns to local government.


We would like to congratulate the Bergen LEADS Class of 2020-21! They most recently presented their project “Need a Hand, Lend a Hand - The Halt Hunger Project” where they discussed how their community can connect to food resources in Bergen County. Now we welcome the incoming class of 2021-22, and we are so excited to see how this program will transform them into the next generation of community leaders!


We encourage you to get involved in Bergen LEADS to make a difference in our community. If you’d like to contribute to our scholarships or become a sponsor, contact Nina Bachrach at or 201.489.9454 x201 for more information.


We need both the Caheri Gutierrezes and the Tammy Clouds in this world: those who utilize their challenges and experiences to make a difference, and those who help pave their path. And at Bergen LEADS, you can accomplish both.

O'Brien, James. Until You Bleed: The Caheri Gutierrez Story. 2013. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

One Key to a Longer, Healthier Life


What comes to mind when you think about how to increase your life expectancy? The first things that most of us think of are exercise, healthy food, and good genes. And that makes sense -- these are some of the baseline factors that keep our bodies running and give us a fighting chance to live longer.

But there’s another deeply important factor in living longer: social and community life. This is a core piece of what makes a healthy life for many seniors, and is scientifically proven to increase life spans.


In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of how this discovery first took place within the science community. He sets the scene of a 1950s town in Pennsylvania called Roseto, built and inhabited by southern Italian immigrants. A physician named Stewart Wolf was drawn to study Roseto’s inhabitants after finding that hardly any of them ever died of heart disease or other causes besides natural old age. Ruling out the typical causes of good health -- genetic factors (the townspeople’s relatives living in other communities were not nearly as healthy), good diet (these folks admittedly ate fatty foods), and good exercise (they weren’t particularly inclined to this either), Wolf was stumped as to what made Rosetans able to live so long. 

He continued to seek answers as to what made this group of people different, and found answers in their community life. He took note of the little social interactions everyone experienced throughout the day, the friendliness with which people treated one another, and the way that elders were connected to the greater community, receiving respect and help from younger generations. It turns out that this feeling of community and companionship was actually extending people’s lives. 

Since this revelation, it has become widely known that social life and community is crucial in the upkeep of mental and physical health for seniors. Scientists have observed strong links between healthy social lives and decreased risk of physical health issues -- such as inflammation and hypertension -- as well as a link to longer lives in general (Yang et al.). Naturally, healthy social interactions result in increased mental health as well -- this is especially crucial in old age, when mental health controls not just mood but also cognitive sharpness. 

We certainly can’t all live in a situation like that of 1950’s Roseto, and social isolation presents a significant problem to seniors across our country today. But there are many actions we can take here and now to make Bergen County a community where our elders can live longer, continue to thrive, and feel socially connected. 

The Bergen Volunteers CHEER program has been working in this spirit for 65 years. This program is more than just assistance with errands, and deliveries of food and prescriptions -- it’s a crucial way for us to connect with our elders, bringing friendship and socialization into their lives. 

With CHEER, Seniors enjoy the companionship and conversation they deserve and are able to feel more plugged in to their community. Sometimes just reading the newspaper with a volunteer and processing the goings-on of the world together can make a world of difference for our clients. A wellness check where a client knows they have a friend looking out for their long-term wellbeing can be similarly comforting. These small instances of companionship and community can undoubtedly improve our seniors’ health, life expectancy, and quality of life. 

Do you want in on this cause? We encourage you to join us at CHEER, and take part in creating better lives for our elders in Bergen County! If you are interested in joining CHEER as a volunteer or to recommend someone to receive the program’s services, please visit: or contact Michele at

  • Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Co., 2008.

  • Yang, Yang Claire et al. “Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 113,3 (2016): 578-83. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Bergen Volunteers Announces First In-Person Friday Forum of 2021

Bergen Volunteers announces their first in-person Friday Forum of 2021 to take place on Friday, June 18 at 11:30 am at the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack. The Friday Forum is a powerful networking and learning event that attracts 200+ leaders from every sector of Bergen County for high-profile speakers, networking, and stimulating conversation. 

“As more individuals are receiving vaccinations and the general public begins resuming activities and outings, we are thrilled to be able to host an in-person Friday Forum after nearly 16 months,” said Nina Bachrach, Chief Executive Officer at Bergen Volunteers. “This Friday Forum will be particularly nostalgic, as we will also take the opportunity to say goodbye to our Friday Forum home, the Stony Hill Inn, which is closing this year.”

The Friday Forum, entitled, “Women and COVID,” will feature a panel of esteemed women-leaders, who will explore the effects the pandemic has had on women in the workforce. The event will provide an outlet for attendees to network with 150+ professionals, learn from experts, ask questions, and enjoy a delicious lunch. 

The discussion will be led by Lori Grifa, Partner at Archer Law and Friday Forum veteran. Lori has led numerous Friday Forum panels, engaging the speakers and audience to connect about ‘ripped from the headlines’ topics. The Friday Forum panel includes: Helen Archontou - CEO of YWCA, Julia Orlando - Director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center, and Laura Troy - President of Displaced Homemakers Network of NJ, Inc. Each of these speakers will offer the audience a perspective about women in leadership, breaking the glass ceiling, and mental health effects on women in the workforce.

Investor’s Bank, NJM Insurance Group, Rockland Electric, Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, and the Mahwah Chamber of Commerce are proud sponsors of the event. Additional sponsorship opportunities are available that give individuals, businesses and corporations exposure before, during, and after the event. If you are interested in attending the Friday Forum or sponsoring the event please visit: or contact Elizabeth at

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Bergen READS and US Standard Products: Helping Students Thrive

 It is estimated that 40% of United States fourth graders lack proficiency in reading. 

Bergen Volunteers aims to combat this staggering statistic through the Bergen READS program, which trains adult Reading Buddies to work with students in Kindergarten through fourth grade to help them achieve academic success and improve their literacy skills. 

Bergen READS specifically helps:

  • Low-income students
  • English-language learners
  • Students identified as in need of extra support

Since 1966, Bergen Volunteers has been working with local volunteers to provide vital services to those in need. In our mission to build a better community through the power of volunteer service we have partnered with thousands of community groups, civic leaders, nonprofit organizations, and businesses. While the work would not be possible without the time and effort of our volunteers, we also depend on the generosity of the many donors who recognize the importance of the work we do. A business that has been pivotal in helping Bergen READS sustain itself throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been US Standard Products. With the help of businesses like US Standard Products, we are able to continue serving the community through outreach, volunteerism, and civic leadership. 

Josh Rubach of US Standard Products initially reached out to Bergen Volunteers looking for a way to give back. He felt an instant connection to the Bergen READS program, as his late mother was an educator during a greater part of her life. He knew Bergen READS was the right program for him to support based on his mother’s love for reading and his current connection to his young children that are the same age as many Bergen READS students. 

Rubach shared, “My kids are lucky enough to have a support system around them to reinforce their confidence, creativity, and motivation. I know that is not the case for everyone. I donate because I want to help other children achieve academic success and reach reading milestones. I want to have a positive impact on another life and be the catalyst that will help them move forward.”

Rubach understands that the fundamentals of literacy need to be taught to children at a young age.  “I am happy to work with Bergen Volunteers and support the Bergen READS program that helps 200+ students annually receive literary tutoring, support, and guidance” noted Josh. "My hope is that these students will pay it forward in their futures and continue the cycle of giving.”

Support from Josh Rubach and US Standard Products helps these students beyond their classroom learning. Bergen READS promotes academic success overall by helping students with comprehension, fluency, speech, and vocabulary expansion. Additionally, students become more apt critical thinkers, with the ability to self-monitor and retain information. These important skills help students become better communicators, with increased self-confidence, self-esteem, and social skills.

Do you want to help more students connect with reading buddies and improve their literacy skills? Adopt a student today by reaching out to Elizabeth at

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"I have nothing but time!"

The average person spends 79 years on Earth, which equates to over 690,000 hours of time spent breathing, talking, laughing, living, and so much more!

Friday, April 23, 2021

Exploring Group-Leadership Development at the Local Level

Leadership is a social process that involves influencing others. The systematic development of leaders is fundamental for personal and professional success. 

Oftentimes individualized leadership programs teach participants how to work towards abstract goals. Individual classes provide technical training and seldom offer participants transferable skills to apply in their everyday lives. Group leadership programs go beyond these parameters, teaching individuals how to navigate cross-cultural relationships and build a community ready to take on any new endeavor. Combining group-leadership training with local level issues teaches individuals how they can hone new skills across a variety of personal and professional landscapes.