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In Nov. 2021 after ten years of our evolving mission and impact, we changed our name to Gathering Ground. You may still find reference to our old name Creative New Jersey in posts created prior to Nov. 2021.

When Young People Are Heard

We sat down with two Host Team members of Creative Asbury Park to get their take on how Creative New Jersey’s Call to Collaboration in Asbury Park afforded them the chance to connect community leaders with the young people they serve at Asbury Park’s High School.  The two-day, citywide Call to Collaboration meeting produced thirty-nine breakout sessions on topics as varied as the skills and interests of the 125+ participants, and the energy and vibrancy of those conversations sparked new collaborations and strengthened partnerships, leading to a variety of actionable outcomes.

The thought-leadership of the High School students who participated was impactful – hear what two educational professionals had to say about their students’ involvement: Genise Hughes is the Structured Learning Experience Facilitator, and Brian Stokes is the Career and College Supervisor of the College and Career Readiness Institute of Asbury Park High School.  Here’s what they had to say:

How did the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration support work you are doing with Asbury Park High School students? What were the most interesting topics you discussed during the two days of the convening?

GH: One discussion that I found to be very important addressed the homelessness crisis in Asbury Park, because the reality is we have students who are also dealing with homelessness.  People participating in that discussion were willing to share their own experiences, and it was powerful to see people lending support to one another, and developing steps that we can all take to help the homeless.

BS: For me, the session on the prevention of teen pregnancy, led by two of our Asbury Park High School students, was powerful because it came from their perspective – what young women face, the self-esteem issues, their own desire to help mentor their peers and young ladies coming up.  It lent a unique perspective to the conversation.

GH:  It’s so important – and so difficult – to figure out how to get our youth to open up and talk about what they are struggling with or how to get help.  For example, one of the other discussions we were in, led by a local Pastor, touched on the drop-out rate in Asbury Park.  The students who were participating in that conversation shared their own struggles with considering dropping-out and were able to shed light on some of the pressures our young people face.  They shared the enormous barriers that their friends who had dropped out faced in trying to figure out how to complete their high school education.  Without the support of the College and Career Readiness Institute, students said they would have just quit.

Now let’s talk about the High School students who participated in Asbury Park Call to Collaboration. From your perspective, why do you think it was important to invite the students to lead and participate in the breakout sessions? What do you think were the best moments regarding their participation?

GH:  The kids realized [in the course of participating in discussions and leading them] that there’s a big interest in the youth of our city, and they were rather surprised at how receptive the adults in the room were to them.  The Mayor spent time just talking with them – the students felt empowered, felt like they had a voice that people wanted to hear.

Initially, the students were nervous – what were they going to do?  But they jumped right in and showed their leadership.  The diversity of the participants – seeing people from all walks of life – at the Call to Collaboration definitely helped because the students didn’t feel out of place.

Could you please tell us a little bit more about the College & Career Readiness Institute Asbury Park High School offers to the students? How has this program benefited the students who have participated so far? Could you give us one or two examples?

BS: The Institute prepares students for work readiness and college readiness.  We expose our students to different kinds of jobs, shadowing opportunities and internships, and help them learn the pathways to those jobs and internships so that they become self-motivated to excel in the subjects they will need.  The internship and job opportunities we help connect our students to allow the urban young person to put money in their own pockets and helps them to bridge gaps in the community.

The Institute, only two years old, started with lots of volunteerism.  The first year we placed three interns.  This year, we placed seventy-two in either internships or jobs.  We’re able to connect students directly with local opportunities.  We also work with them on the “soft” skills – how to present yourself, workplace etiquette, relating to others.

GH:  We help students find the pathways they need to the careers they want.  We now have students who will be graduating as Certified Nurse’s Assistants, in partnership with Meridian Health, who will also help pick up some of the tuition costs of college as the students pursue advanced degrees.

One early and fast outcome of the Call to Collaboration is the launch of the new Asbury Park Mayoral Youth Council.  How do you think this initiative will help students to empower themselves, school, and community?

GH:  The idea of a Youth Council came out of a breakout session run by four of our students, who wanted to discuss ways to inform their peers and their peers’ families about the resources available to them through the high school.  From that initial topic grew the idea of forming an Asbury Park Youth Council, so that students can have a platform and voice to share what they need with City decision makers.

We’re thrilled that things are moving forward: we’re in the process of scheduling a meeting with the students, Mayor John Moor and one or two City Council members to talk about how a Youth Council works.  Another person we met at the Call to Collaboration – Brendan Meehan from Project U.S.E. – knew of a Youth Council in Jersey City and researched their structure and duties to share with the students, as well.  The students are so excited!

We at Creative New Jersey will continue to share milestones as the Asbury Park Youth Council and other creative ideas that are taking hold progress.  Are working with youth and have some innovative ideas to share? You can do so on the Creative Asbury Park Facebook group page.

To contact Genise Hughes or Brian Stokes, visit the Asbury Park High School website or download the College and Career Readiness Institute brochure.

Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Program Manager and is a 2015 alumnae of Lead New Jersey.

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.

Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.


“Before Hammonton’s Call to Collaboration, I did not know that I was surrounded by people who, despite our differences, care about the same issues: the safety of our town, the well-being of our families, the opportunity to contribute to our community, etc. Knowing that there were other like-minded people in my community gave me the courage to act.”

– Ivette Guillermo-McGahee – Executive Director, Allies in Caring (Hammonton)