"When I was a teenager, everyone at Middle Earth inspired me to do better. They believed in my potential." - Sarah
Reception at U.S. Golf Association Museum Benefits Local Youth

Branchburg, NJ – Middle Earth hosted a successful Reception at the United States Golf Association Museum at 77 Liberty Corner Road in Far Hills. The event, which benefitted youth programs in Somerset County, took place on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 from 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Guests at the Reception enjoyed antique golf club putting green contests, guided museum tours, and wonderful refreshments, including heavy hors d'oeuvres, beer and wine. Additionally, the event featured a silent auction with a 50” flat-screen television, a golf foursome, a suite at a Somerset Patriots game, amazing baskets, displays of artwork and projects made by the Middle Earth youth, and much more.

The United States Golf Association Museum is home to the world’s premier collection of golf artifacts and memorabilia. The greatest champions and greatest moments in American golf history come alive through entertaining and engaging exhibits that feature numerous multimedia and interactive displays that are fun for all visitors, even those who have never held a golf club in their hands. You can learn more at usgamuseum.com.

Middle Earth’s programs offer local children a safe environment where they can hang out with their friends, engage with caring adults who listen, obtain help with homework or employment searches, participate in fun group activities, and volunteer for community service opportunities. Their programs also teach youth basic life skills such as budgeting, cooking, employment readiness skills, and how to obtain a driver’s license, as well as positive decision making skills, acceptance of consequences for their actions, and leadership skills. 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 in choosing positive alternatives to gangs, drugs and crime, while developing the skills to become productive and responsible adults.


Middle Earth’s College Readiness Program Enrolls 100% of Participating High School Seniors in College

Bound Brook, NJ – Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving youth, is pleased to announce the most recent success of its Youth College Readiness Program (YCRP), whose purpose is to reach students in Bound Brook who ordinarily would feel that college is not a possibility and teach them how to make post-secondary education a reality.

All 12 high school seniors participating in YCRP during the last school year are enrolled in the upcoming Fall semester in a university or college, a 100% success rate.

“I can’t begin to describe the excitement this program brings,” said Maria Strada, Middle Earth’s Executive Director. “We reach out to teens who are experiencing challenging life circumstances, help them to realize their true potential, and guide them towards a college education.”

The students enrolled in YCRP face a variety of struggles, including financial difficulties and not having anyone in their family who has ever attended college. While each of them desire to attend college, the obstacles to that dream often seem insurmountable. YCRP helps them identify and address those obstacles, clearing the path to a brighter future.

YCRP offers participating youth academic support, college tours, career breakfasts, ACT/SAT preparation, parent workshops, guidance on the college process and financial aid, and community service opportunities to build their resume for their college applications. When the students reach their senior year in high school, YCRP helps them to complete and submit college and financial aid applications.

Three of the graduating seniors received Middle Earth YCRP scholarships to assist them with college related expenses. Flavio Rojas received a $1,000 scholarship, and Diane Astacio and Christina Gonzalez both received a $500 scholarship. All three winners will be first generation college students in their families, and previously felt very uncertain that they could get ever into college. YCRP helped them to overcome their obstacles.

Flavio Rojas is excited to be attending Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) this Fall to obtain an Accounting degree. “I did not know what to do with my life until I met Jessica” (YCRP Director), said Rojas. “Jessica was giving me a lot of advice to get to college. She told me she came from another country, too, and had some difficulties in life and that tells me that everything is possible no matter the situation.”

Diane Astacio will begin working towards becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) at RVCC this Fall. “I want to show my parents that eating only sardines and rice for months so that they could support my sisters and I was worth the sacrifice,” said Astacio. “Recent tragedies surrounding my family and loved ones including death, depression, drug addictions, and disabilities has brought me to appreciate those sacrifices even more.”

Christina Gonzalez was accepted into seven colleges, and decided to attend Rutgers University. She hopes to eventually obtain a PhD in Clinical Psychology, so that she can positively affect the lives of others. “My goals were once limited to going to a community college and working to try to cover my expenses,” said Gonzalez. “Being an immigrant and first generation student, I felt anxious about college. This program dared me to dream and aim higher. It’s a support system for both parents and students. My parents, who felt guilty for not being able to help me, were relieved that we could have someone to rely on.”

Over the summer, Middle Earth continues to connect with all of the college-bound students, teaching them organizational strategies, time management skills, how to access college resources, and budgeting for their first year of college. In addition, YCRP staff will help the youth review their college plans and career choices, and to choose and register for their Fall semester classes. Each YCRP program participant that attends college will receive follow-up from YCRP for their entire freshman year. Staff will support and guide them through any issues they may have to ensure that they successfully complete their first year in college.

If you would like to help students like Flavio, Diane and Christina, you can make a donation on the Middle Earth website.

Middle Earth has been serving youth in Somerset County for over 40 years. Their programs offer local youth 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, volunteer in the community, and participate in fun group activities. 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. For more information about Middle Earth, visit www.middleearthnj.org.


Middle Earth Youth Awarded Guitar for Dedication and Hard Work

Bound Brook, NJ – A middle school student from Bound Brook recently discovered that dedication and hard work really do pay off!

Catherine attends an afterschool program provided by Middle Earth, a nonprofit agency working with youth for over 40 years. The program offered students the opportunity to learn how to play the guitar, thanks to a generous volunteer, named Sharleen Leahey, founder of songs4peace, a community-based organization promoting peace through the arts.

Leahey has been teaching at Middle Earth’s afterschool program for the past two years, offering music appreciation classes to disadvantaged and at-risk youth. This past school year, Leahy decided to offer a guitar class. While many students participated, Catherine quickly stood out in the class and showed an enormous amount of dedication to mastering every lesson.

“Catherine really loved the guitar lessons and showed a lot of talent,” said Maggie Navatto, Associate Executive Director of Middle Earth. “Sharleen knew that Catherine didn’t have access to a guitar of her own and she really wanted to reward Catherine for all of her hard work, so we planned a great finale for the last day of guitar class.”

As the school year drew to a close, Middle Earth assembled all of the youth for a musical performance so that Leahey and Catherine could play the guitar. Catherine was already excited to have the opportunity to perform, but she was amazed and thrilled when Leahey awarded her with a songs4peace Certificate of Excellence and her very own guitar!

“Catherine’s dedication and determination to learn the guitar really touched my heart,” said Leahey. “I feel honored that Middle Earth has given me the opportunity and support to bring guitar instruction to at-risk students in the Bound Brook Community.”

The Middle Earth afterschool program was funded in its entirety with federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by No Child Left Behind, Title IV, Part B, 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grant funds through a grant agreement with the New Jersey Department of Education.

Middle Earth has been serving youth in Somerset County for over 40 years. Their programs offer local youth 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, volunteer in the community, and participate in fun group activities. 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. For more information about Middle Earth, visit www.middleearthnj.org.


2016 Tour of Somerville T-Shirt Designed by Local Youth

Somerville, NJ – Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving youth for over 40 years, announced the winner of the annual t-shirt design contest for this year’s Tour of Somerville, a cycling competition over Memorial Day weekend and community tradition for 73 years in Somerset County.

Each year, Middle Earth offers local youth the opportunity to create a unique design for the cycling competition and enter a contest to determine whose design will be featured on the event t-shirt. This year, Jojo Mosca, a senior at Somerville High School, won the contest with a bright yellow design that uses the letter O in the event name to be the wheels of a bike.

"We are proud of JoJo's artwork,” said Dr. Timothy Purnell, Superintendent of Somerville Schools. “We will join him in celebrating the Ville during such a wonderful community event!"

Jojo Mosca will be graduating from Somerville High School next month. He will be attending Stevens Institute of Technology in the fall and be majoring in Engineering. He also plans on playing basketball at Stevens. Jojo enjoys playing baseball with friends and mountain biking on the weekends.

"Jojo's design was selected for its unique incorporation of the bicycle theme, which we believe will appeal to our customers,” said one of the contest judges. “The design's clean lines translate well to t-shirt printing. We would like to congratulate Jojo on his success and creativity."

Tour of Somerville t-shirts can be purchased for $12 at Middle Earth's tent near the start/finish line at the Bound Brook Races on Sunday, May 29, and near the family fun pavilion on the Court House lawn at the Somerville Races on Monday, May 30. Additionally on Monday, Middle Earth staff and youth will be walking the race course selling the t-shirts. All of the proceeds of the t-shirt sales will benefit Middle Earth’s youth programs.

Please help to support the teens in our community by purchasing a Tour of Somerville t-shirt. For more information, you can call Middle Earth at 908-725-7223.

Middle Earth has been serving youth in Somerset County for over 40 years. Their programs offer local youth 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, volunteer in the community, and participate in fun group activities. 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. For more information about Middle Earth, visit www.middleearthnj.org.


Filmmaking Workshop Engages Creativity of At-Risk Teens

“Quiet on the set!” was announced, and the room fell silent. The camera and sound equipment operator pressed ‘record,’ and the second cameraman directed the clapperboard to signal it was time. “Action!” was called, and the scene began.

This might sound like a scene from Hollywood, but it actually took place in Bound Brook and all of the actors and production operators were teens who attend the Bound Brook Community Youth Center run by Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving at-risk youth.

Middle Earth’s Art House exposes teens to the arts to teach them to express themselves with confidence. By engaging youth during after-school hours, the probability of youth taking part in risky behaviors decreases. Research shows that arts exposure helps youth improve academic performance, self-esteem, and many other positive skills, such as persistence, collaboration, creative thinking, motivation, and problem solving.

The Art House Film Project collaborated with Phil Puzio, volunteer and Filmmaking graduate from Montclair State University, to educate 24 youth in the process of filmmaking. The teens invested a lot of their time and energy every Monday and Wednesday at the youth center for several months.

The students decided to reproduce Star Wars Episode IV: Cantina Scene. Youth learned what elements were involved in the pre-production, production, and post-production of filmmaking. In addition, the project helped youth to exercise focus, employ memorization skills, build quality relationships with adult mentors, and collaborate with peers of diverse backgrounds and interests.

Youth chose the roles they wanted to learn during production, including: set designer, sound recorder, camera operator, special effects make-up specialist, 2nd unit camera operator, and actor. Phil provided the workshop with quality camera, sound, and lighting equipment.

The youth transformed the Bound Brook Community Youth Center into a high-tech film set in April 2015. Youth hung up muslin from ceiling to floor, moved furniture, and rigged lights, camera and sound equipment. Production ended the first week of May, and the teens were able to view a rough cut of the film.

Participants in the Art House Film Project were enthusiastic after completion of filming. Youth reported that they had new understanding of the film making process, gained new skills during the project, felt more confident about themselves, and found the workshop “enjoyable” and “helpful.” When asked about their favorite part of the film project, one youth responded, “being able to learn more about special effects make-up,” and another youth responded, “I like acting.”

Click here to see the final edit of the reproduction of Star Wars Episode IV: Cantina Scene. The public is also invited to see their film during the Arts on Division Festival, which takes place in downtown Somerville June 19-21. You can find out more about the art festival at ArtsOnDivision.com.

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.


Employment Readiness Classes Offered to Teens and Young Adults

Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving youth, is offering classes on employment readiness to teens and young adults. Participants in the program receive $450 to attend the classes and will gain experience that will improve their resume.

To be eligible for this work assistance program, youth must:

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

Kevin Slover is a former participant in one of Middle Earth’s employment readiness programs, and now has steady employment within the auto mechanic industry. “I learned a great deal,” said Slover. “If I never had Middle Earth to look over me and guide me the right way, 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.”

Youth that meet the eligibility requirements, which is determined by Youth Employment Services of Somerset County, will be enrolled in Middle Earth’s VISIONS Program. Participants are paid $450 to attend two weeks of employment readiness classes. The classes consist of learning how to write a resume, practicing interviewing techniques, searching for jobs, and writing cover letters. Middle Earth staff also offer lessons in workplace situational judgment, reading, math, and active listening.

During the program, participants engage in paid community service experience. This helps boost their resume and provides employment experience.

At the end of the two week class, program participants take a test for the National Work Readiness Credential. This credential is nationally recognized and helps set them apart from other job seekers. Employers have a greater incentive to hire individuals with this credential because they know that they have the basic skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.

Upon completion of Middle Earth’s VISIONS Program, youth participate in a program with Youth Employment Services of Somerset County. Through this program, participants have the opportunity to receive $4,000 towards furthering their education, whether that be trade school or college.

“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.”

Interested youth should call Middle Earth at 908-725-7223 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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.


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.