This past Shabbat, September 22, 2018, we were honored to welcome to Shomrei Dr. Gwen Parker Ames, Executive Director of MESH, as our @nourish speaker. Dr. Ames is Dean of Student Success at Nyack College, Adjunct Professor in Family and Child Studies at Montclair State University and Chaplain Educator at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. She is also a licensed staff minister at St. Paul Baptist Church.
Dr. Ames began her presentation with a story of how she first became involved in serving the neediest members of our community, which became her lifelong passion. She grew up in Tallahassee, FL, where her father was a minister. She attended a private laboratory high school on the campus of University of Florida. She was eligible because her father worked for the state. Gwen was the only African American student in her class and she quickly bonded with Susan Greenberger, the only Jewish student. Susan encouraged Gwen to join a community service club on campus. She explained that, as a Jew, she was responsible to help repair the world. Gwen was hooked and the rest, as they say, is history.
We learned that while many of the guests served in the MESH Cafes are homeless, many others do have a place to live but they are food insecure. (Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.) Many also come for the fellowship. MESH is their community, their social circle. In addition to the MESH Cafes serving dinner 6 nights a week, MESH provides overnight respite during the winter months when the temperature dips below 32 degrees F. Last season, MESH provided over 100 nights of respite, a very expensive undertaking.
This is the third year of the MESH Scholars Program, identifying and supporting homeless students at Bloomfield College. Often these are foster children who have aged out of the system, worked hard to attend college and have no place to go when the dorms are closed for vacation breaks. MESH provides money for housing and food at the school, in addition to mentoring and career counseling. One of the first MESH Scholars graduated last spring. She has started a new job and for the first time ever moved into her very own apartment!
Everyone who attended @nourish was inspired by Dr. Ames’s passion, commitment and successes in her mission. As she was leaving, she told me she felt energized by our response and all the thoughtful questions.