NEW BRUNSWICK — It was the spring of 1980. Jimmy Carter was president; Brendan Byrne governor. Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” was the number one song in the United States. And Middlesex County College’s New Brunswick Center began in a storefront on Albany Street.
The Center was established through the efforts of New Brunswick Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the people of New Brunswick by promoting economic and social revitalization. It was aided by an advisory committee comprising representatives from government, business and the community.
Originally called the New Brunswick Career Preparation Center, it focused on training programs for the unemployed and underemployed residents of the city. The Center was established in partnership with Middlesex County, which administered the CETA program at that time. CETA, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, was a federal program in the 1970s and early 80s that provided block grants to state and local government to support public and private jobs and job training. The New Brunswick Center originally ran the CETA training programs there.
“The New Brunswick Center has a long and distinguished history of service to people in the city and beyond,” said College President Joann La Perla-Morales. “The past 30 years have seen a tremendous revitalization of New Brunswick and we are proud to have been a part of that. The Center has enriched the lives of thousands of individuals. It has been a local treasure, helping people reach their goals. It has a great history, but I think its best days are still ahead.”
To celebrate the milestone, the College held a reception at the Center on October 21. Students and College administrators joined Board members, freeholders and community partners in celebrating the Center’s success over the years. The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders issued a resolution praising the Center that was presented by Freeholder Ronald Rios, who is the liaison to the College.
The New Brunswick Center is home to both credit and noncredit classes, serving as a satellite for the College’s main campus in Edison. Classes have included regular College credit courses, English as a Second Language classes, as well as developmental courses. Over its history, the New Brunswick Center has served more than 30,000 students.
Academics is one facet of the Center’s work; community service is another. The New Brunswick Center is an active task force member of New Brunswick Tomorrow, the New Brunswick Domestic Violence Prevention Coalition, Elijah’s Promise, and the Central Jersey Latino Chamber of Commerce. It assisted the Mexican Consulate with a passport project and it continues to support key initiatives meant to provide a wide range of assistance to the diverse people of New Brunswick.
For example, working with Democracy House, Middlesex County College’s service-learning program, the Center has offered free tax preparation services to the community for years. This year saw 120 tax returns completed with a total refund amount of $185,000. The New Brunswick Center has played a key role in reaching out to high school students from the area to participate in the Summer Bridge program, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. It has helped coordinate activities for another summer program, sponsored by the Puerto Rican Action Board, which uses the arts to prevent violence.
Regularly throughout the year, the Center offers workshops on the financial aid application process for prospective college students. The program, run in conjunction with the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, allows students to receive help in completing financial aid documents.
A new program initiated by the New Brunswick Center, EMPOWER, offers mentoring and tutoring to high school students. Running with the help of Middlesex and Rutgers University student volunteers along with professionals from businesses and organizations, EMPOWER offers academic guidance to 18 college-bound high schools students. They attend peer tutoring sessions at the Center three to four times per week, guided by a master tutor. The EMPOWER students are mentored by a group of disciplined college students at various educational levels and a host of industry and business professionals. Most of the students will enroll at Middlesex County College next fall.
The New Brunswick Center also holds financial education workshops for the community to encourage financial independence – on topics such as budgeting, paying for college, taking out loans, and purchasing homes and cars. Workshops scheduled this year include presentations by representatives from Magyar Bank, Valley National Bank and PNC Bank.
This month, the Center will open a new location for the area’s Youth One Stop Career Center. This is an initiative funded by the Middlesex County Workforce Investment Board; it will serve those 16-21 years old who are out of school.
Evelyn Rosa has seen tremendous growth during her 11 years as assistant director and director of the Center.
“The New Brunswick Center has been an active community partner for decades,” she said. “There is a great deal of collaboration with key organizations that support education initiatives for people of all ages. The New Brunswick Center recognizes the importance of community partnerships in meeting its mission. We’re committed to our partners and to the people of the community.”
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