A lifelong “Jersey Girl,” Jennifer Brady grew up in Glen Rock and Wyckoff, attending Ramapo High School and Rutgers University.
“I always knew I wanted to work in the non-profit sector and be involved with organizations that help people,” says Jen.
Years ago, she was approached by her friend, Sue Buchanan, who asked if she would be interested in helping organize special events for Oasis, a Haven for Women and Children in Paterson. Although Sue was leveraging her friend’s fundraising expertise, she unknowingly opened the door for Jen’s greater involvement with the organization, supporting thousands of underserved women and children each year.
“I met the board members and joined the gala event committee. Later, I was asked to join the board, and I never looked back,” says Jen. Making the jump from volunteer to Executive Director six years ago was a big decision. “The thought of taking on the position was scary, but it’s the best decision I ever made. Having this job allows me the opportunity to understand the needs of this community and address them.”
Oasis provides critical services to women and children by providing a “hand-up” rather than a “hand-out.” Their programs are designed to give women the resources they need to become self-sufficient and provide for their families.
“Our mission is to help lift women and children out of poverty through education,” says Jen. “We work to alleviate the burdens that prevent them from succeeding. We provide child care so that moms can take classes like ESL, GED, computer education, and employment training. Our after-school, educational, and recreational programs provide children a safe place to continue learning and growing. We have social workers on staff to help our clients navigate issues like drug addiction, domestic violence, and learning disabilities. We provide the wraparound services that give women the ability to get back on their feet.”
Although Oasis is only a few miles away from northwest Bergen County, it is worlds away when considering Paterson’s economic, educational, and cultural environment. For example, when schools went virtual last spring, very few families had computers or devices, so parents had to pick up packets of worksheets for their students. For many, this meant taking time off from a job and traveling by bus to their child’s school. If they were unable to speak English, they could not help their children with their work. Oasis saw this critical need and procured 100 devices for students. Eventually, all students received Chromebooks from the school district. However, it was soon discovered that many parents did not know how to operate a computer or use a mouse. Oasis quickly developed an instructional class for parents to help jumpstart the process.
Because many low-income families are essential workers or cannot work remotely, there is a significant economic impact when parents need to resign to stay home with their children. “Families are being evicted out of apartments because they are unable to pay their rent,” says Jen. “Another serious side-effect of remote learning is a significant drop in the reporting of child abuse, which a child’s teacher usually reports.”
“We are grateful that the residents of northwest Bergen County have been so supportive of Oasis; they are invested in helping their most vulnerable neighbors,” says Jen. “But, there is a chasm growing between towns in Bergen and Paterson. Economically and opportunistically, these kids are falling farther and farther behind. The rebound from the pandemic will be years slower in a city like Paterson.”
Last year, when her staff realized the oncoming pandemic's severity, they swiftly organized a feeding program. By the time schools were shut down on March 16, Oasis had instituted their “grab-and-go” program to help feed those in need.
“We purchased food with generous donations from supporters and went from providing 150 meals a day to 1900 meals per day. We pivoted quickly to give the community what it needed,” says Jen. The community continues to pick up grab-and-go meals, diapers, wipes, clothing, and personal care items.
Housing is another critical issue. “If a mom doesn’t feel safe due to drug dealing or gun violence, she can’t focus on anything else. It’s hard to keep and hold a job living in that type of environment. We see women with no safety net or support network of friends or family to help out. They don’t know one person they can ask to watch a child. Oasis becomes their support network,” says Jen.
Oasis is now in the midst of a $6 million capital campaign which will enable the organization to expand their child care programs, double their capacity for after-school programs, and help more women find the pathway to self-sufficiency through adult education classes.
Fundraising during a pandemic is a challenge. They’ve raised $5 million of the campaign and hope to reach their goal by Memorial Day. “We are well underway, but it will be the hardest million dollars we’ve ever had to raise,” says Jen. “Speaking engagements, meetings with supporters, and special fundraising events cannot happen now. We are hoping to have the project completed by July 4 in time for summer camp and summer school.”
“We are going to be here bigger and better when this is over. This project gives us hope. We are planning and being proactive. We have a committed group of staff, volunteers, and supporters. Once we identify a need, we make it happen. It doesn’t matter what your role is here at Oasis; your job is to create a brighter future for women and children,” states Jen.
“I’m so glad to be here. There’s never a day I don’t wake up excited to get to work!”