News and Information
Youth-Driven Bike Business Presents First “Pop-Up Shop” at Tour of Somerville
Middle Earth recently teamed up with the college students of Enactus RVCC to create a new project called “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 have announced the opening of their first “Pop-up Shop” during the local cycling competitions this weekend at the Bound Brook Criterium on Sunday, May 25 and at the Tour of Somerville on Monday, May 26. The shop will have bikes available to take for a donation, as well as a full catalog of the shop’s inventory. The youth are offering give-aways, demonstrating bike repairs in the tent, and selling official Big Dan’s Bike Shop t-shirts and stickers.
“The youth are so excited for the Pop-Up Shop’s debut,” 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 $5,000 Grant to Middle Earth, Inc.
Staples Foundation, the private charitable arm of Staples, Inc., has awarded $5,000 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.
5th 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 5th Annual 10K Run on Sunday, March 23 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 grateful to their sponsors for making this event possible. The agency wants to thank the Bound Brook Elks and PSE&G.
Middle Earth is seeking additional 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.
Grand Opening for Somerville Youth Center
Middle Earth, a local nonprofit serving youth, is inviting everyone in the community to visit their Grand Opening and Open House for the new Somerville Youth Center located at the First Baptist Church at 132 W. High Street on Monday, September 16th from 3 to 7 p.m.
Visitors to the Grand Opening can meet the staff, as well as some of the youth the agency serves, tour the facility, and learn more about the activities offered. Light refreshments will be served. Any youth that visit the Open House will receive new backpacks with school supplies inside while supplies last.
“We are so excited to show off our new youth center,” said Maria Strada, Executive Director of Middle Earth. “We hope many teens will come to check out what we offer, and we hope that parents and other community members will stop by to learn how we impact the next generation in a really positive way.”
Middle Earth Youth Centers provide a safe and supervised place for any youth between the ages of 12 and 18 to gather and interact positively with their peers. The centers offer young people tutoring, life skill lessons, employment preparation, and many positive recreational opportunities.
Middle Earth, originally started in Somerville in 1972, had only been operating one youth center in Bound Brook for a few years. Last year, they returned to their roots, opening an additional center in Somerville at the First United Methodist Church. That endeavor was so successful that the center quickly outgrew the church’s space, and the agency needed to find a larger facility. The First Baptist Church in Somerville offered its building, and Middle Earth has been busily preparing the new center over the summer. The Open House will be at the new facility in the Baptist church.
“We are so grateful to both churches,” said Strada. “It was the generosity of First United Methodist Church that got us started in Somerville last year. It was a great success! When faced with limited space, First Baptist Church stepped up. We cannot thank them enough for being willing to open their doors to help the youth in our community. The new center looks fantastic.”
Middle Earth is a nonprofit that has served youth in Somerset County for over 40 years. Middle Earth’s programs work to find unique ways to engage teens in productive activities, such as offering a mentoring program during middle school lunch periods or teaching youth to repair bikes and open a small bike business. The agency offers 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. 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.
Teen-Operated Business Launched Through Community Collaboration
Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving teens in Somerset County for over 40 years, is asking the community for donations of used bicycles and bicycle parts. The donations can be in any condition and of any size or style. Donations can be dropped off at Middle Earth’s North Bridge Street office or at the agency’s tent at the Tour of Somerville Cycling Series on May 25-27, 2013. For information regarding drop-off locations, please call 908-725-7223.
Middle Earth is seeking the bike donations to launch their most recent project, “Big Dan’s Bike Shop.” Named after Middle Earth’s former Executive Director, Dan Puntillo, who had a passion for cycling, the program will allow local teens to learn new skills to repair bicycles and operate a small business.
To begin the new program, local teens will be taught how to repair their own bikes or donated bikes. After mastering bicycle repair basics, the youth will launch their own small business by offering inexpensive bicycle repair to others or collecting old bicycles to repair and then sell. The bicycle repair business will be completely youth-driven and provide the teens with valuable work experience. Running a business will foster the teens’ creativity and teamwork, while also allowing them to develop entrepreneurial, leadership, financial, marketing, customer service, and management skills.
“Many of our youth are interested in cycling, since they volunteer at the Tour of Somerville Cycling Series, which we organize every year over Memorial Day weekend,” said Maria Strada, Executive Director of Middle Earth. “Our former director was an avid cyclist fan, and this is the perfect opportunity for our work with kids and our ties to cycling to intersect.”
“I’m honored that Middle Earth would want to name a program for me, but more importantly, I’m pleased with Middle Earth’s continued drive to find innovative ways to involve and prepare our youth for the future.” said Dan Puntillo, former Middle Earth Executive Director.
Middle Earth has connected with Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) to help the youth develop a business plan. Bill Harnden, Director of the Small Business Development Center, and Tracy Rimple, Professor and Sam Walton Fellow, will guide the teens in creating, marketing, and running their bike repair business, as part of RVCC’s Enactus initiative. Enactus is a community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to develop community outreach projects, transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world.
“We are excited to be a part of this multi-faceted partnership with Middle Earth and the Small Business Development Center,” stated Rimple. “This project not only transforms lives, it helps students develop the kind of talent and perspective that are essential to leadership in an ever-more complicated and challenging world.”
Bicycle donations are encouraged at the Tour of Somerville Cycling Series. The event is a three-day family festival and a terrific opportunity to see thrilling competitive action, right here in Somerset County. The competition attracts over 600 professional and amateur cyclists, including former Olympians and the best cyclists from throughout America and abroad, as well as local hopefuls. The event, which is free to the public, takes place the morning of Saturday, May 25 in Raritan, the afternoon of Sunday, May 26 in Bound Brook, and most of the day on Memorial Day in Somerville. You can learn more about the day's entertainment, course maps, volunteer opportunities, sponsorship, and registration at TourofSomerville.org.
Middle Earth’s programs offer 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/or future employment, participate in fun group activities, and volunteer for community service opportunities. Their programs offer mentoring and 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. All of their programs guide youth in learning respect for themselves and others and choosing positive alternatives to gangs, drugs and crime.
For additional information about bicycle donations, Middle Earth, or the Tour of Somerville Cycling Series, contact Maggie Navatto at Middle Earth at 908-725-7223.
Nonprofits Partner to Provide College and Career Exploration for Girls in Bound Brook
Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving youth, has helped female students from the Bound Brook School District explore their future after high school through funding from the Women’s Leadership Council of the United Way of Northern New Jersey.
Throughout the school year, Middle Earth met with Bound Brook female students, both in small groups and individually, to assess their career interests, provide instruction on preparing for college, and guide them towards post-secondary education plans. Recently, Middle Earth took students on three tours to college campuses, allowing the girls to see firsthand the variety of opportunities available to them.
On March 21, 2013, Middle Earth hosted a career breakfast at Smalley School for the entire population of 7th and 8th grade female students. Successful female professionals from all different backgrounds came to the breakfast and discussed their respective careers and what it entailed to get into their professions.
“I think the career breakfast was very well organized and the kids were great. I was happy to be a part of it,” said Pat Freyburger, Addictions Program Coordinator at Family and Community Services.
Participating youth were surveyed after these experiences, and 98% reported that they now understand the benefits of continuing their education after high school, and 96% reported they are considering their educational opportunities.
“The focus of our Women’s Leadership Council is financial stability for women and their families and a key component of financial stability is a job that pays a family sustaining wage,” said Lynn Weckworth, Director of Income Impact Area at the United Way of Northern New Jersey. “Helping girls learn about educational opportunities and careers that will support them and their future families was a perfect fit for us. We are pleased to have been able to support this project that is truly making a difference in the lives of these young women.”
The primary reason behind increased salary earnings and lower unemployment for women in recent years is the dramatic increase in college education among women. College attainment also means higher taxable incomes and reduced social services for the nation. With 1 in every 4 American teenagers dropping out of high school, Middle Earth feels it is vital to intervene and open girls’ eyes to the possibilities of their future, especially the value of post-secondary education.
The United Way Women's Leadership Council recognizes the power of women to affect change. Participants use their influence, talent, and passion to improve lives and enhance philanthropy around issues that impact our community. To learn more, visit http://www.unitedwaynnj.org.
Middle Earth is a nonprofit that has served youth in Somerset County for 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 also 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.
Nonprofits Partner to Promote Literacy
In Lafayette Elementary School in Bound Brook, children gather after school for fun and educational programming from Middle Earth, a nonprofit serving youth in our community for over 40 years. On March 5, Middle Earth youth received some very special guests.
New Jersey After 3, a nonprofit dedicated to improving and expanding learning time in New Jersey, kicked off its “Road to Literacy” campaign by putting together a special event for the Middle Earth youth commemorating Dr. Seuss and promoting the joy and importance of reading. Corporate volunteers from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and State Farm visited the youth for an exciting book distribution and journaling exercise.
Every Middle Earth student was given a book of their choice from donations collected at 75 participating Enterprise Rent-A-Car locations throughout the holiday season. Each student also received a “Reading Journal” that had been created by the volunteers which they used for a motivational writing exercise.
“We are so grateful to New Jersey After 3 for putting together this event for our youth,” said Maria Strada, Executive Director of Middle Earth. “It was a really fun experience, and the Enterprise and State Farm volunteers were so enthusiastic. Our students left inspired to read and write more!”
Middle Earth Announces New Executive Director
Somerville, NJ – The Board of Trustees for Middle Earth, a nonprofit organization that serves local youth, is pleased to announce that Maria Strada will be the new Executive Director for the agency. The current Executive Director, Dan Puntillo, will be retiring in January, 2012 after leading Middle Earth for 40 years.
Strada has worked for Middle Earth for nearly 15 years and is the current Program Director for Middle Earth. She has a Bachelors and Masters degree in Psychology and is currently completing her Masters in Business Administration. Strada has a broad range of experience in helping others, including serving as a crisis counselor, coordinating a program to keep at-risk youth out of residential placements, supervising volunteers, helping to create an after school program for emotionally disturbed teens, and providing case management for both adults with disabilities and youth.
"We examined many qualified candidates," said Ash Shah, president of the Middle Earth Board. "Maria has been with this agency for 15 years, she has a great deal of passion for our youth, and she has some wonderful ideas for the future. The Board feels Maria is an excellent choice for this new beginning."
Strada’s work at Middle Earth has included supervision of all programs, grant writing, policy and program development, community outreach, and staff supervision, training and development. As the second-in-command at Middle Earth, she is well positioned to continue the valuable work of the agency.
“I am very excited for this opportunity,” said Strada. “I am fully committed to continuing the good work that Dan (Puntillo) and others began nearly 40 years ago. I look forward to enhancing and expanding our programs so that we can provide youth with much needed supportive services. In this day and age, youth are facing even more challenges than ever before. What hasn’t changed is their need for caring adults to help them navigate their lives and help them to become strong, independent members of the community. I also plan to continue our strong collaborative work within the community. I am really passionate about our work and believe in what we do.”
Puntillo is thrilled with the Board’s choice, saying, “I know Maria (Strada) will do an outstanding job. I am leaving Middle Earth in good hands, and, under her leadership, it will continue to make a huge impact on our community.”
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 basic life skills such as budgeting, cooking, obtaining a driver’s license, as well as positive decision making skills, acceptance of consequences for their actions, mentoring and leadership skills. All of their programs, which are free to youth, guide kids in learning respect for themselves and others and choosing positive alternatives to gangs, drugs and crime.
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.