Make a resolution to volunteer this year

During this season of resolution making, of course we are going to lose weight, clean closets, save money and live healthier lives. Consider an additional one, that encompasses the benefit of creating a legacy for the next generation.

It’s the promise to spend time in your community as a volunteer.

The needs are so great in so many areas, but let me offer some insight on one that is especially critical, and that is afterschool programs for our children. Some 25 percent of New Jersey children are “latch-key kids” who have little or no afterschool supervision. Some 27 percent, about 575,000, live in lowincome families. They are often alone because their working families cannot afford structured after-school activities. Left unoccupied, they are far more likely to be involved in antisocial behavior such as drug and alcohol use and violence. This is when kids get into trouble.

However, when these children have a mentor, a tutor, a drama coach, play a game of chess with a “big brother” or “big sister” and, of course, homework assistance, their attendance rates and scholastic achievements soar.

You can make a real difference in the lives of these young people by volunteering in many successful mentoring and afterschool programs administered by the Girls and Boys Clubs, New Jersey After 3, AmeriCorps and Teach for America. Recently, volunteers in those programs saw the tangible fruits of their efforts, when the students they nurture at the Sussex Avenue School in Newark publicized their New Year’s resolution to become volunteers themselves in the coming year.

The need is always there, and it is always growing. In every community, across all ages and socio-economic groups, volunteering meshes generations and helps create healthy, integrated and secure communities.

We are a state of incredible contrasts. New Jersey has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country, yet as many as 537,000 low-income individuals are assisted by community food banks each year and thousands of elderly and disabled citizens thrive on the friendship of a caring companion. There are so many areas where volunteers are needed. Whether it is in our schools and youth programs, food banks, community centers, environmental programs or cultural organizations, the impact of each hour you spend as a volunteer is multiplied exponentially.

New Jersey offers an enormous range of volunteer possibilities. Please visit the Governor’s Office of Volunteerism Web site at and contact your county volunteer center. Consider volunteering for disaster response through Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) training at 1-877-CERT411; or explore full-time stipend service through AmeriCorps or VISTA, the “domestic Peace Corps,” at

Nina Mitchell Wells N.J. Secretary of State