Monday, February 27, 2017

Volunteers in Tax Assistance—Giving back through expertise

Saturday February 18th was the first of 5 Saturdays of our new VITA program.  The first client who arrived said that last year she used a “free” commercial software program, only to discover it would cost $80 to file when she got to the end. On our first Saturday, we processed 16 tax returns and clients qualified for over $30,000 in federal and state refunds. We expect to help bring over $100,000 back to area families through the VITA program this year.

VITA volunteers are so dedicated!  They have trained for 8 hours and took several tests to get their certification, and yet they are just delighted to help others.  Englewood resident, Angela (right) is a VITA volunteer for the second year.  Last year she volunteered in Montclair, but is thrilled to help out closer to home.  Sanjukta is a first time VITA volunteer from Ridgewood.

Yaoyuan (left) moved to Hackensack from DC 4 months ago.  This talented CPA is delighted to help others.

Daniel (right) from Maywood is a first time volunteer, but is already committed to returning next year.  Tim is an experienced VITA volunteer from Lyndhurst.

And Bergen Volunteer Center Board Member, Rosemary Ervin might be a retired CPA, but she is staying active and involved by giving back to others.  She and Craig Eccles, VITA site coordinator, are helping a client bright and early on a Saturday.

VITA services will be offered every Saturday through March 18th.  Call NJ211 for an appointment.

Learn more ways the Bergen Volunteer Center is giving back at

Sunday, February 12, 2017

CollegeLEADS Kicks Off the Semester

CollegeLEADS at Bergen Community College is a partnership with the Bergen Volunteer Center, established to ignite the spirit of civic engagement and the exploration of issues facing Bergen County.  Twenty (20) Bergen Community College students began a semester-long look at the issues surrounding heroin addiction and abuse in Bergen County.  Four seminars, legal and criminal, mental health, physical health and education will be the focus of the students’ program.   

On Friday, February 3rd, the students visited the Bergen County Jail and the Housing, Health and Human Services Center.  They toured the jail, met with corrections officers, inmates, and a rehabilitation counselor to take an in-depth look at the corrections process.  Visiting the shelter brought light to the Housing First approach to dealing with homelessness.  The goal is to place individuals who are homeless in housing and provide the support services to ensure that the placement is permanent.

One student reflected on her visit, “Before we had time to feel shocked or express criticism towards those officials, they explain that the job is rather frustrating, allowing us to step into the shoes of the younger officials. I find this rather rare, having always seen a spirit of criticism in the workplace. Here, it is as if the older officials take care of both the younger ones and the inmates. It wasn't in a showy way, but every step they took was calculated and done with great compassion.”

To learn more about youth engagement click here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

“I have to learn to read local news differently.”

“I have to learn to read local news differently.”
By Lynne Algrant

These were my thoughts after hearing Nancy Meyer, President and CEO of North Jersey Media Group at the Fifth Friday Forum on January 27, 2017.

Ms. Meyer was warm, gracious and clear about the future of media. “Digital transformation” is happening and I realized that I better get on board. For while she promised that a physical newspaper will be printed as long as people want one (to audible cheers), she also told us that is averaging 2 million unique visitors a month and half of those are coming to the site from their phones! Me, my ink stained fingers and torn out articles stuffed in my bag are fast becoming a thing of the past.

Truthfully, I consume a lot of news from a device. I enjoy aggregating different news sources through the Flipboard app, and as anyone, who has talked to me even a little, knows, I love podcasts. Instead of plugging in intravenously to NPR in my car, I plug in my headphones and listen to my favorite shows while walking the dog or doing the grocery shopping. And as I try to stick to my resolution to “do” social media more, I admit that posting and tweeting interesting articles is easier when you are already reading online.

And yet, there is something about scanning the headlines and turning to the jump in a long story over a cup of tea in the morning that feels hard to give up—especially when the stories are about my neighborhood, Bergen County.

So here is what I am committing myself to trying after hearing Nancy Meyer speak:

  • Given the fact that North Jersey Media Group reaches 98% of North Jersey residents with their products—98%!—I am committing myself to think about my neighborhood as bigger than just Bergen County. As much I as preach “county-wide thinking” and that we all need to “share more,”—I realize that I have to start thinking about our region, not just our county. She said that she had to be reminded that “North Jersey is a big quilt, but it comes together.” I have to be reminded that there are many more patches in that quilt than the 70 towns in Bergen County.
  • She told us that Gannett was interested in North Jersey Media group because they see this area as a “robust market” and an “influencer community.” I have been a big champion of the fact that, as Phil Dolce of Bergen Community College says, “Bergen County is the most suburbanized county in the most suburbanized state.” Our challenges and opportunities are significant, both for our region and for other regions in the USA. She mentioned that 12 stories from The Record have landed on the front page of USA Today since September. This national exposure is good for us as a region and it gives us a huge opportunity to have more of an influence on national policies. And we can’t have this kind of exposure outside of the “digital transformation.”
  • She said that they are committed to Investigative Reporting, Local Reporting and the Reach and multi-media story telling that the internet provides. She reminded us of the essential role the media plays in a healthy democracy (and even an unhealthy one)—and I know how vital the local media is to keeping our communities honest and fair--so I am committed to staying engaged and learning how to read local news differently.

Thank you Nancy for sharing your thoughts and insights with us at the Fifth Friday Forum.