May 1, 2024
Author: Trenton Soup Kitchen

Empowering Advocacy Through Storytelling

Garden State Leaders program helps TASK staff turn experience into advocacy

Theologian Robert McAfee Brown once famously said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”

In 2015, recognizing the power of storytelling to help effect change, the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness partnered with the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey to create the Garden State Leaders Program.

This innovative six-month program meets monthly, offering leadership and advocacy training to those with lived experiences of homelessness and poverty.

With each session focusing on different topics — ranging from the legislative process to media relations — participants have the opportunity to share and hone their personal stories to help educate others, influence public policy and better connect with the people they serve.

Recently, TASK’s Radical Hospitality Coordinator, Anita Rivera, who oversees and manages the dining room, and Case Manager Erykah Jones, who helps to connect people in our community to the resources they need, graduated from the prestigious program.

“Lived experience keeps your heart and soul in advocacy,” says Rivera. “Speaking from pain or hurt offers you a different voice.”

Rivera says the program helped her and other program participants to overcome the stigma and nervousness often associated with sharing a lived experience, freeing them to turn their vulnerability into a strength.

TASK CEO Joyce Campbell commended Rivera and Jones: “They courageously agreed to join this program and share their personal experiences with poverty. In exchange, they have learned to tell their stories in a way that impacts the people and policymakers who shape legislative outcomes in the state.”

TASK Radical Hospitality Coordinator and floor manager, Anita Rivera, poses alongside Case Manager Erykah Jones. Rivera and Jones recently graduated from the Garden State Leaders program.

Jones says the challenges she’s encountered finding affordable housing have helped inform her work at TASK.

“I was in college and wasn’t able to work full-time with three small children, so I had to do what was necessary to maintain our basic necessities,” she recalls. “I found myself navigating the system just so my children could eat. It was either pay my rent or starve my children.”

“Today there are over 650,000 homeless individuals in the United States,” Jones adds. “The numbers will continue to grow if we don’t look for solutions to this problem.”

Because TASK is on the frontlines of the housing crisis, Jones says she’s grateful to the program for providing helpful resources. While working with a patron who was seeking housing recently, the individual was becoming increasingly frustrated with the process. Jones was able to call on a Garden State Leaders classmate at the Continuum of Care Advisory Board to help navigate some of the barriers that were presenting obstacles.

Jones, like Rivera, says she is proud to be able to use her skills to help others. “It‘s my duty as an advocate to make sure low- and moderate-income individuals can maintain their dignity while finding a home for their family.”

In agreeing to participate in the program, both Rivera and Jones embody the spirit of radical hospitality that is a signature of TASK. By sharing their own experiences and telling their stories, they are amplifying the voices of the people TASK serves and helping others across the community to better understand and advocate for change.


Tag: Advocacy - affordable housing - Case Management - homelessness - Partnerships - poverty - Success Stories - TASK - Teamwork - Trenton Area Soup Kitchen - Date Posted: May 1, 2024 - Author: Trenton Soup Kitchen