A woman had two cigarettes, her kid in the car, nowhere to live and didn’t know where to go. Another woman, who had left her job to be a stay-at-home mom and was suddenly abandoned by her husband, needed to get back into the workforce and was looking for help. Struggling students at Sussex County Community College needed tutoring and other support, and low-income families were missing out on tax refunds because they needed guidance in completing their tax returns. These are just a few of the examples of people helped by Norwescap, a non-profit organization. Started as part of the war on poverty during the Johnson administration, Norwescap is a $22,000,000 comprehensive non-profit social service organization dedicated to serving people and moving them from a place of being in poverty, or on the verge of poverty, to the point where they and their families are thriving. It also helps people advocate for their communities and much more. Serving Hunterdon, Warren, Morris, Somerset and Sussex counties, Norwescap ’s corporate office is at 350 Marshall Street in Phillipsburg. Recently, Mark Valli, Norwescap’s CEO, talked about the organization and gave just a few examples of the services provided through the six strategic areas which Norwescap helps: education, employment, health and nutrition, financial capacity building, housing and energy service, and volunteer and civic engagement.
While the organization helps those in poverty, Valli noted that a large percentage of those it helps are ALICEs: Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. That means that they are people who are working but are just one payment, one illness, one paycheck away from struggling. Valli noted that though people may come to the organization with one need, their situation is such that they usually have more needs. Norwescap is not just one program but a portfolio of services. About 90% of its funding comes from the government (federal, state, county, and municipal) and 10% from donors and grants. The latter helps in funding programs where participation might have been restricted by government rules.
Norwescap offers services in the area of education with early childhood education, child care, and the Sussex County Community College “Degree Up” program being some examples. “[We are] the leading early childhood education non-profit in the northwest corner of the state. We are a major Head Start provider,” noted Valli. Norwescap has Head Start centers scattered around four different counties. “[Also,] we are the childcare resource referral agency for three counties so anybody who needs childcare can call us and ask for advice. People who are having a hard time paying for childcare can call us and apply for a subsidy,” In addition, “every licensed child care provider in our footprint gets training, technical assistance, and support,” shared Valli. However, it is not just the educational needs of young children that Norwescap helps. Another example of its services in the Degree Up program. Valli shared that “a good percentage of community college students are struggling financially.” Norwescap provides a computer lounge, volunteers who tutor and provide a willing ear to listen (when needed), an on-site food pantry and information on Norwescap services. Valli shared that analysis done has shown that those who participate in the Degree Up program are much more likely than their counterparts to complete their studies and matriculate. “It shows you that sometimes you really just need a little support to help you get through….. most community college kids are probably holding a job somewhere. They have other things going on, so having a little bit of support to get them through the rough patches really helps improve their outcome,” said Valli.
Another area Norwescap addresses is employment. Valli talked about the Career and Life Transitions Center and the Pathways 2 Prosperity program. A Career and Life Transitions Center helps those who haven’t been in the workforce for a while or are entering it for the first time or need to upscale. Valli noted that one example of a person who graduated the program is a woman now on the Norwescap board. “She had three kids, all of whom had special needs. Her husband, at some point, decided that that was too much for him and he left, and then she had a struggle…[to] figure out on her own [what to do]. She had left a career in New York to raise her family and now she’s on her own, and so she didn’t know where to turn. She called her Career and Life Transitions Center, didn’t do anything for a few months, and then called again.” Valli notes that the woman, though shy at first, completed the program and built her network (through peer-to-peer sharing and support) and is now pursuing a career in corporate America. Another program, Pathways 2 Prosperity, in Sussex County, is peer-networking where a group meets once a week for dinner to work on personal and professional goals and to help each other.
Norwescap also helps with financial capacity building, improving the financial well-being of low income individuals and families. Valli shared two of the programs that fall under that. One program, VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), offers free tax help to low-moderate income individuals and families, including young adults, adults, senior citizens, persons with disabilities and those with limited English. Another program helps participants to open a savings account, with Norwescap matching the funds put into it, to save for a purchase of a major asset like a home.
Health and nutrition are areas many know Norwescap for. It has a food bank, which means that it is a distribution center. It supplies food to food pantries and soup kitchens in Sussex, Warren, and Hunterdon counties. Norwescap provides about two million pounds of food per year. Another example of what it does in the area of health and nutrition is WIC. “We are the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) provider in four counties,” shared Valli. Norwecap provides supplemental nutritional assistance to women who are either pregnant or who have kids all the way through age five. Additional services include health screenings, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, including lactation consultant services, and referrals to health and social services. Another of the ways Norwescap helps is by providing education on chronic diseases and access to free cancer screenings and other healthcare resources through its Health Connections program.
A fifth area Norwescap helps with is housing and community development. Valli said this area touches on everything to do with housing from homeless prevention programs to rental assistance and much more. He noted that in the borough of Sussex, Norwescap runs an 11 -unit senior housing complex. It also does housing counseling, helping people save for a home, providing them with information on how to get to that point where they’re able to purchase their own home. Also, Norwescap provides supplemental support to help those having problems paying utility bills, getting a tank of oil, air conditioning, etc.
“When a community is engaged, you get better health outcomes,” shared Valli as he started to talk about the last strategic area in which Norwescap offers help: Volunteerism and Civic Engagement. “We help people to advocate for themselves, advocate for their communities.” He noted that through a tax credit program, Norwescap was able to purchase a single-family home which had been an abandoned lodgings bar, renovate it and will be turning it over in a couple of months to a low income family. “So that’s taking what was a vacant home for over a dozen years in downtown Phillipsburg …on the main track, by the way, making it into a viable home, helping to improve not just the family’s asset but also to help improve the neighborhood,” said Valli. In addition, he shared, “We did more than that. We’ve been able to purchase banners and flags to help market businesses and put planters in downtown Phillipsburg.” Norwescap has also organized community get- togethers and organized community events. Right now, the focus has been on Phillipsburg but that will be expanded. One of Valli’s favorite stories is how Norwescap was able to help small businesses when they were shut down due to COVID-19. “We were able to access funding from the state to provide direct grants, over $500,000 in direct grants, to small businesses to keep them afloat…. to pay their utility bills, to be able to help pay their rent, able to help pay for PPE and other things, so we literally invested half a million dollars in small businesses …to keep them alive during COVID-19.” In addition, some of that money went to helping businesses establish an online presence and e-commerce so they could pivot the way they were doing business. Also, Norwescap has a variety of volunteer opportunities including ones through Americorps and AmeriCorps seniors. People can find out more about those by looking at the Norwescap website.
Valli noted that for those in need, it is easy to get help. All they have to do is click on the green “Get Assistance” button the homepage of the website. Norwescap’s website is www.norwescap.org.