"When I was a teenager, everyone at Middle Earth inspired me to do better. They believed in my potential." - Sarah
Local Churches Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. by Volunteering to Help Youth

Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving youth in Somerset County for over 40 years, recently welcomed volunteers who were inspired to help others in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Clergy United for Christian Ministry (CUCM), a group of Somerset County churches from all denominations, sponsored the “Martin Luther King Week of Community Service” from January 12-16. The purpose of the project was to provide an opportunity for volunteers to donate their time in the community to continue Dr. King’s legacy of striving to transform lives by serving others.

One of these projects was to refurbish a basement at Middle Earth that will house the agency’s Big Dan’s Bike Shop. This program is aimed at teaching bicycle mechanics, business operations and employment-related skills to at-risk youth. Teens repair and refurbish bicycles to sell to the public at low-cost pricing. Running the bike shop helps the youth develop valuable workplace skills.

The church volunteers were excited to create a usable space for the teens to work. One volunteer stated that “this is an excellent project to assist in cleaning, painting and reorganizing space for a bike project that will benefit youth and older persons alike in the community.”

The volunteers began the project by assessing the work to be performed and estimating the cost of supplies and materials. The volunteers performed various tasks of scraping, washing, and removal of items from the basement in preparation for the sealing of cracks and painting by professional painters, paid for by the churches.

“We work hard to partner with our community and local faith-based groups, so we were so pleased they chose to help us,” said Maria Strada, Executive Director of Middle Earth. “Their efforts mean that our youth have a functional, clean, cheerful business space to operate their bike shop.”

As a finale for the week of service, the CUCM hosted an Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace and Justice Interfaith Service on Sunday, January 18, 2015 at 4:00 pm. at Faith In Action Church, 228 South Main Street in Manville.


Middle Earth is Recipient of the Economic Vitality Award and an Impact 100 Grant

We are pleased to announce that Middle Earth has received two wonderful awards from two different distinguished organizations.

Founded only three years ago, Impact 100 (impact100gardenstate.org) is a unique organization of women dedicated to improving the lives of New Jersey residents by supporting nonprofit organizations that serve Morris, Passaic, Somerset, and Sussex counties. Each member contributes $1,000 to membership and the entire amount funds grants for worthy organizations voted upon by the members. Middle Earth was honored to receive an $85,000 grant to support our “Big Dan’s Bike Shop” program aimed at teaching bicycle mechanics, business operations and employment-related skills to at-risk youth.

The Somerset County Business Partnership (SCBP) recently announced the recipients of the 2014 Economic Vitality Awards, and Middle Earth is honored to be a recipient. Non-profit recipients have demonstrated a record of significant impact on the quality of life of the targeted constituency and the County in the areas of growth of constituency served, innovative programming, and contribution of volunteer base. The Economic Vitality Awards will be presented at the Somerset County Business Partnership Annual Meeting on Monday, December 15, 2014 at the Palace at Somerset Park, 333 Davidson Avenue in Somerset, New Jersey.

Thank you to Impact 100 and SCBP for their support!


Youth-Driven Bike Business Uses “Pop-Up Shops” at Community Events

Middle Earth, teamed up with the college students of Enactus RVCC, are offering local youth a unique opportunity to gain valuable employment skills through “Big Dan’s Bike Shop.” Named after Middle Earth’s former Executive Director, Dan Puntillo, the program teaches local teens to repair bicycles and the steps involved in creating and operating a successful small business.

The youth of Big Dan’s Bike Shop host “Pop-up Shops” during local event. The shops have bikes available to take for a donation, as well as a full catalog of the shop’s inventory. The youth offer give-aways, demonstrate bike repairs in the tent, and sell official Big Dan’s Bike Shop t-shirts and stickers.

“The youth love working in the Pop-Up Shops,” said Maria Strada, Executive Director of Middle Earth. “The Enactus students have been absolutely invaluable in developing our teens into real entrepreneurs. The lives of these children have been forever changed. They see their future in a completely different way than before they had this experience.”

Big Dan’s Bike Shop is a provider of low-cost alternatives to expensive outlet stores, wholesale clubs, and small bike shops. The shop’s bikes are donated by the community and then repaired and maintained by the students. Operating the business prepares the youth for the working world and gives them a positive outlet in which they can grow and prosper. Purchasing a bike from Big Dan’s Bike Shop is so much more than a simple transaction. Your support helps these local students become leaders, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists, who will improve the quality of life and standard of living for the community as a whole.

Big Dan’s Bike Shop will be organizing more Pop-Up Shops at local event and street fairs. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook to find out where they will be next: @BigDansBikeShop and www.facebook.com/bigdansbikeshop.


Nonprofit Seeks Support for Innovative Arts Initiative to Combat Youth Delinquency

Middle Earth, a local nonprofit that has been working with at-risk youth for over 40 years, is always seeking new ways to help guide youth on a path to responsible adulthood. They are currently seeking the community’s help to launch a new arts initiative, entitled The Art House, for teenagers who struggle with chronic family problems, low income, poor academic performance, low absenteeism at school, and other factors that can lead to risky behaviors.

Research has proven that at-risk students who have access to the arts, in or out of school, tend to have better academic results, increased self-esteem and resiliency, better workforce opportunities, improved emotional intelligence, and more civic engagement, such as voting and volunteering.

“Our goal is to decrease delinquency in at-risk youth, ages 12-18, by increasing their exposure to the arts,” said Jacquelin Mueller, M.A, The Art House Coordinator. “Many of these teens don’t have appropriate ways to express themselves or the frustration they are feeling in their lives. We want to give them the opportunity to confidently and safely communicate their identity though visual arts, theater, and music.”

Once launched, The Art House will bring in an artist, once a month, who specializes in a visual arts, theater, or music medium. The artist will provide the teens with workshop instruction and guidance that mimics an apprenticeship. The Art House initiative is unique because it combines a casual drop-in style program with exciting opportunities in art and professional mentorship.

Middle Earth is trying to raise $18,000 in the next 2 months for the space and the supplies they need to launch this innovative new initiative. You can watch a video explaining The Art House or learn about and contribute to their campaign on their campaign website.


Nonprofit Seeking Young Adults and Local Businesses to Participate in Employment Assistance Program

Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving youth, is offering young adults free assistance with employment searches, career interests and goals, lessons in workplace skills, training, and a paid internship through one of their supported employment programs. The agency is seeking youth for the program, as well as businesses that need part-time help and would be willing to offer program participants an internship. The program pays the participants for their time so local businesses will be obtaining free help.

Kevin Slover was once a participant in Middle Earth’s employment readiness programs and through the program was able to discover his love for working on cars. While at his internship at Bargain Auto in South Bound Brook, Slover excelled and was able to build up his work experience. He now has steady employment within the auto mechanic industry.

“Gaining an internship at Bargain Auto was a life changer for me,” Slover said. “I learned a great deal and realized that it was the work that I wanted to do forever. If I never had Middle Earth to look over me and guide me the right way, I’d still be getting in trouble and I do not know where I would be right now. At this point in my life, I am the happiest I have ever been and I give thanks to Middle Earth and its staff for everything they have done to help me.”

To be eligible for this work assistance program, young adults must:

  • be between 16 and 21 years old,
  • reside in Somerset County,
  • be out of school (regardless of whether they have dropped out, have a GED, or graduated), and
  • face one of the following challenges: unemployed; low-income; disabled (including an IEP or learning disability); involved in the court system; runaway; homeless; foster child; pregnant; or parenting.

Those who qualify will receive free assistance with job searches and employment readiness skills. Youth could potentially receive up to $4,000 for eligible training programs through funds from Youth Employment Services and the Workforce Investment Act. Middle Earth will provide 8 hours of paid job skills training ($9/hour), and upon completion, the youth could potentially receive a Work Readiness Credential, the only nationally recognized portable certificate of entry-level work readiness. Finally, the youth will participate in an 8-week paid internship ($9/hour) that is related to their career interests and abilities. Interested youth should call Michelle Mazzagatti at 908-725-7223.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Maria Strada, Executive Director of Middle Earth. “So many of our young adults are facing unprecedented challenges that make it difficult for them to be marketable in the workforce. Through this program, youth will gain the skills and experience they need to obtain and keep employment, which helps our youth transition to successful adulthood. When our young people become responsible and productive, our communities thrive.”

Middle Earth is also actively seeking local agencies and businesses that would be interested in offering an internship to one of the program participants. Middle Earth provides job coaching to the youth during the internship and pays the intern's salary, so the business receives free part-time help. Participating businesses interview potential youth to choose their intern and benefit from Middle Earth staff support throughout the internship. Any companies needing part-time help are asked to call Michelle Mazzagatti at 908-725-7223.

Middle Earth is a nonprofit that has served youth in Somerset County for over 40 years. Middle Earth’s programs offer local children a safe environment where they can use their free time constructively, engage with caring adults who listen, obtain help with homework, prepare for college and future employment, participate in fun group activities, and volunteer for community service opportunities. Their programs teach positive decision-making skills, acceptance of consequences for their actions, and leadership skills, as well as basic life skills such as budgeting, cooking, and obtaining a driver’s license. Middle Earth also provides parents, teachers and other adults, information on a variety of teen issues on their blog, http://middleearthnj.wordpress.com. All of their programs guide youth in learning respect for themselves and others and choosing positive alternatives to gangs, drugs and crime. For more information about Middle Earth, visit www.middleearthnj.org or call 908-725-7223.


Staples Associate Directs $7,500 Grant to Middle Earth, Inc.

Staples Foundation, the private charitable arm of Staples, Inc., has awarded $7,500 to Middle Earth, Inc. under a program that lets Staples associates direct donations.

The Staples Foundation Grant will benefit the Promise program, a prevention program that helps youth prepare for the workforce, be successful in school, plan for their future, learn vital life skills, and gain job experience through a paid internship. Promise helps youth become employable and self-sufficient, allowing them to take responsibility for their lives.

The grants are part of a philanthropic initiative created by Staples Foundation which allows Staples associates around the world to direct funding to non-profit organizations that are focused on education or job skills. The program encourages local community engagement by awarding larger grants to organizations where associates are highly engaged in volunteering or fundraising – up to $25,000 per organization.

The program, called 2 Million and Change, will award funds to organizations around the world, reaching more than $2 million in grants by the end of the year. In 2012, associates globally directed more than $2.1 million of Staples Foundation grants to 470 non-profit organizations.

“Staples Foundation is committed to making a positive impact in the communities where our associates live and work,” said Katy Dobbs, director of global community and giving for Staples, Inc. “Through our program, we are pleased to support our associates and the local non-profit organizations that matter to them most.”

About Staples Community and Giving
Staples is dedicated to providing education and job skills opportunities in communities where our customers and associates live and work with a primary focus on support disadvantaged youth, from literacy and mentoring to career skills development initiatives. Staples supports these causes through corporate contributions, in-kind donations and grants from Staples Foundation, the private charitable arm of Staples, Inc. Through its global community and giving efforts, Staples has helped more than 6,500 organizations in local communities across 26 countries. Community and Giving is also an integral component of Staples Soul, which recognizes the connection between long-term business success and the impact Staples has on associates, communities and the planet. For more information, visit www.staples.com/community.

About Middle Earth
Middle Earth, a nonprofit for over 40 years, builds trusting relationships with youth to help them make positive decisions, obtain marketable skills for employment, volunteer, improve academics, learn respect, and receive the support they deserve to be successful in life.


6th Annual Middle Earth “Run From Winter” 10K Race

If you’re sick of the snow and bitter cold, then it might be time for you to “run from winter” at a 10K race to support local youth programs. For each of the past four years, over 500 runners, ranging in age from 14 to 85, say hello to spring by racing over 6 miles along the scenic Raritan River.

Middle Earth is hosting their 6th Annual 10K Run on Sunday, March 22 at 10 a.m. in Bridgewater’s Duke Island Park. The event, which takes place rain or shine, is open to the community and supports programs that help youth develop into responsible adults.

“This event has been a real success in the community. The park is a fantastic place to run and there’s a lot of camaraderie among the participants,” said Maggie Navatto, Race Director.

The entry fee is $30 (or $27 for USATF members) if you register before March 13 and $35 after March 13 or on race day. You can register through Middle Earth’s website at www.middleearthnj.org. Race day registration and packet pick-up begin at 8:30 a.m.

The course, which is flat and paved, is USATF certified and sanctioned. Short-sleeve race t-shirts are given to entrants, while supplies last. Prizes are awarded to the top male and female runners in standard age groups.

Middle Earth is seeking sponsors for the event. There are a wide variety of options for marketing including banner placement at the event, logos on t-shirts, program book ads, and the opportunity to distribute products to the runners. To get more information about sponsorship, call Maggie Navatto at Middle Earth at 908-725-7223.

The event proceeds benefit Middle Earth, a nonprofit that has served youth in Somerset County for over 40 years. Middle Earth’s programs offer local children a safe environment where they can engage with caring adults, obtain help with homework or employment searches, participate in fun group activities, and volunteer for community service opportunities. Their programs also teach positive decision making skills, acceptance of consequences for their actions, leadership skills, respect, and basic life skills such as budgeting, cooking, finding employment, and obtaining a driver’s license.


Online Resource for Parents of Teens

Bridgewater, NJ – Middle Earth, a nonprofit organization that has served local youth for almost four decades, is offering an online resource for parents, teachers and other adults working with teens and pre-teens. The agency is writing a weekly blog that discusses a variety of adolescent issues.

Middle Earth’s blog, which began one year ago, can be found at http://middleearthnj.wordpress.com or through the Middle Earth website. The topics are thoroughly researched, provide the latest information and trends, and list several resources for obtaining help. Topics cover a wide range of teen issues, including stress management, nutritional information, gangs and crime, dating, building confidence, school issues, drugs, volunteerism and community service, sex, communication skills, anger management, and safety.

“We are trying to identify common issues that parents face with their teens and provide the most recent information on that topic,” said Dan Puntillo, the Executive Director for Middle Earth. “One of our current entries covers money management for teens. If every teen in America was taught proper budgeting skills, the next generation would be more financially responsible than their parents, many of whom are suffering with massive debt. We simply want to offer and share as much information as possible to help every child get the support they need.”

Middle Earth’s goal is to help youth become responsible and productive adults. The nonprofit offers youth safe places to gather, caring adults to listen and to be good role models, community service opportunities, educational assistance, positive recreation, and life skills education. This blog is another extension of their services.

For more information about the agency, visit www.middleearthnj.org or call 908-725-7223.