I had lunch with a homeless person. It wasn’t planned, I was supposed to meet up with a friend who never showed up. I never got the homeless man’s name, but he came into the Dunkin Donuts rumbling through the garbage looking for a cup. He saw me staring at him like he had 3 heads. I didn’t acknowledge he was homeless until I saw the holes and dirt in his clothes.
He gave me a quick smile and went to the bathroom to clean the cup. He came back to tell me he needed the cup “for his blessings.” I asked him if he was hungry, he told me he was starving. I rarely give money to homeless people, I always give food though. I bought him a sandwich and an iced tea. He sat across the store because he didn’t want me to feel offended. I didn’t understand how he could have offended me so I sat with him and started talking.
He told me within this past week that he’d been robbed of his social security and birth certificate. Soon after, he woke up and couldn’t breathe. Rushed to the emergency room and found out he got bit by a snake while he was sleeping in Lincoln Park. I thought I had a tough life, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Statistics from Patch.com shows that in 2017 Hudson County had 9.6% of the population homeless.
Luckily, there’s an organization that is trying to change that called Roots and Wings. They’ve gathered the research of what happens to the youth who age out of the foster care system.
They originally started in South Jersey but wanted a more city feel. They’ve decided to settle in Jersey City and have a kick off fundraiser event. The day before, I sat down with Kaitlin Cassara over a cup of coffee and we instantly started talking about Roots and Wings.
Kaitlin: Do you live in Jersey City?
I do, I live in Greenville.
Kaitlin: I came from Manhattan but I spend so much time in Jersey City this last year, it feels like a second home.
Yeah, it’s a very welcoming environment. The owner of the blog actually isn’t from Jersey City, but she always felt like Jersey City was home.
Kaitlin: It’s a good area I think, especially since part of the reason why we picked this as Roots and Wings location. As I was telling you, I work for Morgan and Stanley. I think like a lot of big corporations they host a lot of community outreach programs, and at Morgan and Stanley, we have something called the Strategy Challenge. The way it started was to get nominated to be a part of this group of people. You get pared down into teams of 4, and you’re partnered with a nonprofit that Morgan Stanley has pre-selected for you. They have a lot of different nonprofits and they have a lot of great missions.
This year I was selected, I was partnered with great people. I got partnered with Roots and Wings. We were up against a lot of big-name organizations with like huge operating budgets. We were really excited to be partnered with Roots and Wings; they’re a lot smaller, a lot leaner, and part of the project is the organization comes to you with a business related question. It can be some sort of scaling exercise, maybe they wanna reconsider their pricing scheme, and we and our little team will do a whole lot of research between a 10-week period. It’s like a second job, I think in all we collectively logged just under 1,200 hours. So basically it’s a second job but you get to really help a nonprofit. It’s also a competition at Morgan Stanley, at least that’s how it started for us because, at the end of this, you give these incredible doses to the nonprofit and they can do whatever they want with that.
Then you have to go and present this to an executive committee and Morgan Stanley. Then the best one wins, this year we won. Which is super exciting for us, but I think the project itself really took off when we met young people at Roots and Wings. We started competition style, like “Okay, we gotta do this thing. We gotta help these young people.” We also had in the back of our minds, “We gotta present this thing in front of a panel of people who could fire us potentially.”
The second week into it, we got to go to Roots and Wings to meet the young people that we actually serve and that was the turning point for us. The lights went on, kind of. You sit down and you meet these young people, and you’ll meet one of them tomorrow at the fundraiser event. They’re so charming, funny, and such elegant speakers and you know they’ve been through a hard time. They don’t talk about it but they know so much more about life than we do.
How does a young person get started in Roots and Wings?
Kaitlin: These kids are referred to us by a case manager. So basically, the kids are 18-20 years old. Essentially in the state of New Jersey, you turn 18 and that’s it.
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You’re out of the system.
Kaitlin: Basically, yeah. Thinking back to myself at 18, I think to myself, “What the hell would I have done at 18 to take care of myself? To find a place to live? To get money for food?” It’s impossible. These kids have such a great outlook on life, like – I can’t say enough good things about these kids. They amaze me to no ends.
The following day was their grand opening in Jersey City and fundraiser event at Taphaus near the waterfront. I was invited and more than glad to attend.
The event took place in a small section of the restaurant. There were a brief 30 minutes to grab a drink and eat any of the variety of the foods they had laid out. Roots and Wings were kind enough to have an open tab for the evening.
Once they got started, the executive director Emily Marchese spoke briefly on how the nonprofit came about and how happy she sees that it’s expanding.
Kaitlin spoke next on how incredibly amazed she is with the young adults continuously growing and becoming more amazing every day.
They had one of their young adults of the program speak on her experience. She’s currently a student at Montclair State University.
An amazing evening with amazing people who love and care to empower the youth.
More information on Roots and Wings, as well as donations, can be found here.