The Not Unreasonable Podcast

Jen Brady of Oasis Gives me Hope

August 05, 2022 David Wright
The Not Unreasonable Podcast
Jen Brady of Oasis Gives me Hope
Show Notes Transcript

This conversation gave me such a feeling of humility yet hope about our world. It's an awful place sometimes but some people are truly awesome at making it better.

Jen Brady is the Executive Director of Oasis, a non-profit serving women and children in Paterson, NJ and this is her second appearance on the show. In the first show we talked about COVID and the poor. This time we're digging right onto Oasis and its mission and how it's doing.

Charity is incredibly similar to insurance. As I half joked once in comparing them: "One of them supplies resources to those in desperate need and hopefully enables them to pull themselves out of their difficult circumstances to lead a successful life. So does the other one." Insurers could do well to learn from Jen. And she has a remarkable track record, doubling the size of Oasis during her tenure and initiating many fascinating experiments and new initiatives in Paterson, NJ. 

We discuss:
* How self-belief is the most important factor in women lifting themselves out of poverty
* How that feeling of self-belief is constructed, influenced and nurtured in and out of Oasis
* The difference between generational poverty and immigrant poverty
* What is the drop out rate (I was astonished) and how do they manage drop-outs
* Do the problems feel endless?
* What did they learn by extending Oasis into housing development?
* How to not create bureaucracy in solving problems
* How they handle the cultural complexity of women and children from 26 different countries (plus Paterson natives!)
* How the social consequences of COVID (lockdowns, etc) impacted poor families
* How much talent there is hidden in places like Paterson

show notes: https://notunreasonable.com/?p=7567
youtube: https://youtu.be/aWS7tSIe68Q

David Wright:

My guest today is Jen Brady, Executive Director of Oasis, a nonprofit helping women, teens and children rise out of poverty and the greater Paterson, New Jersey area. we last spoke in May of 2020 on COVID potential impact on the poor Jen, welcome back to the show.

Jen Brady:

Thank you. It's very nice to be here.

David Wright:

First question. So who are the hardest people for you to help with your programs and why?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, so Oasis serves women and children living in poverty, the children are much easier to help, mostly because they don't have other obligations, right, the children want to be here, this is a warm, happy, nurturing place for them to be. But women living in poverty have lots of things pulling on them in every direction. So they might have a job that they can't leave to come to class, they might not have bus fare to get to the program, they might have a sick child or a child whose class has been sent home for a week or two due to COVID. So getting the women here consistently on a regular basis in our classrooms is the biggest challenge. And it's it's quite hard to overcome. We try to overcome it by providing for as many of those basic needs as we can. But if you're a mom of three kids, and you don't know what you're going to, you have no food in your in your cabinet to serve for dinner, your priority is not going to be on coming to class to get your GED, your priority is going to be hitting the street and figuring out how you're going to get some food on your table.

David Wright:

And amongst kind of that demographic group of moms, young young moms, I guess, is there kind of a subgroup there? That's even harder still? Like, is there something other than that circumstance, which can make the hill even steeper?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, I would say the women who come to us to get their high school equivalency degree is probably an even further challenge group. The typical profile of a woman who's coming to us to earn her GED is typically 36 years old, single mom dropped out of high school at 16 years old. So she's been out of out of any kind of educational institution for you know, an average of 20 years, having that woman believe that she can actually earn her GED and want to be in a classroom is enormously challenge challenging, and the smallest factor can throw her off and throw her confidence off that, you know, we always say if a woman gets out of bed in the morning, and gets on the bus and gets to Oasis, she deserves a star for the day, we should stand up and applaud her, because the challenges are so great. But then if you don't feel good about being here, if you're not being successful in your studies, if you're not understanding your pre algebra class here, which I don't think that I could understand, at 56 years old, you know, it's, it's one more reason why you're not going to want to get out of bed and come.

David Wright:

Where do you think that's comes from that insecurity? Like, what if you could maybe I know, there's gonna be a lot of diversity in the people who are here, but is there a way of sketching out a backstory that if you could for some of these people that might kind of tell? Because you have love people from other countries? And if people who are not from other countries? is one of those two groups more representative in that in that profile? Or why aren't Why is it so hard? What what is what has hurt them damaged them to make that so hard?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, I think the women who have grown up in generational poverty, they're they're not the families who've new immigrants here who are here, and they're scrappy, and they really want to work. And they really want to create a brighter life for their for their families. But the women who have grown up in generational poverty, quite often have spent their lifetime being told they're not good, right? They're not going to be successful in anything. So why are they even trying. And so to work with those women, and this is the work this is where we bring in the social workers and the Social Work component of, of our programming here, to get those women to believe that we believe in them, and we believe they can do it, that's what changes the tide,

David Wright:

and is there you're fighting against something there, right, you're fighting against the culture that they're in. And that's got to be pretty tough,

Jen Brady:

can be daunting to go back exactly every day.

David Wright:

And they're gonna, they're gonna be you're gonna have a a countervailing influence on them. John, what do you do about that

Jen Brady:

our job is to build them up so much, that they that they become resilient to that right to believe so much that they can earn their high school degree that they could go on to college, if they choose or a trade, that they can get a job, that they can create something, whatever it is that they imagine. That's our job, that's our job. And that's what a waste is actually does quite beautifully when a woman wants it.

David Wright:

Mm hmm. Is there something that have you encountered amongst organizations that sort of sherry mission right there are others out there that you have a special insight into how to crack that is it in the structure that you mainly or only serve women and children yours or some other thing that that gives you a special? I don't wanna say advantage or not right way thinking but you don't I mean, right. Like makes your your efforts here a little more effective, maybe then they might see somewhere else.

Jen Brady:

So I would say serving only women and children is certainly an advantage and creating an atmosphere that's supportive and nurturing. But the thing that sets Oasis apart, and we say this over and over and over again, is we love our women and children, we love them, like their family. And once they once a woman understands that we are invested in their futures, and we want them to succeed, and we will stop at nothing to help them. That's what that's what sets Oasis apart. And I do think that once a woman is here, and she's meeting with our social workers regularly, and she's in the classrooms where their teachers become like a family member to them, and they know that my door is open, and that Evelyn, our Student Services Manager is going to ask them every day about their children and their mother and their brother who's still in Peru, you know, then those women really feel like they're part of something and that they have a support network that possibly they've never had before. That's when we can see them succeed.

David Wright:

What if for for a woman that's come in? And you know, as we're saying, Go home goes home to this broken culture, right? Do and let's say the bad thing happens? They they drop out, or they stop coming? Do they reappear again, later? What's sort of the story that tends to how does that play out?

Jen Brady:

It happens all the day, it's, we have an ongoing conversation about attendance issues here, right? Because this happens, women drop out, they don't feel good, they lose steam, something happens in their life, somebody beats them up, they lose their housing. So now they're couchsurfing in another part of the city. We don't have a policy that says, You were gone for three months, you can't come back, you can always come back to oasis. And eventually, the woman will be ready to stay. But it is it's it's it's a dominant issue for our for our work here.

David Wright:

What would you say would be like the the percentage of people first timers that come in, that will have this kind of, you know, ups and downs, they'll drop out? And they'll return? Like, how many people wind up having that pattern of engagement for you?

Jen Brady:

Nearly 100%?

David Wright:

No kidding. Holy cow,

Jen Brady:

it's very unusual for us to have a woman come in and say, I want to get my GED, and show up every day and get it it happens. It definitely happens. And those are the women who are successful, right. And and our teachers say it all the time, the number of days that you sit in that seat in my classroom is that you're that much closer to getting your GED. But it's it's a very high percentage.

David Wright:

So how do you protect the culture here against some cynicism about that, right, because somebody new walks in the door? I mean, you could you could imagine an eye roll, like, here comes another one, I know what's gonna happen to you? Right. And I think of like other and I mentioned to you before we start talking about the insurance industry, right. And one of the things that's about the insurance industry is you wind up being very focused on the people who abuse the system, right? Because they're the ones who will I have this experience personally, where somebody will buy an insurance policy claim the next day, and then cancel it. Right. And now, you know, they pay the insurance company $1,000. And they get a million dollars or something, some frat fraud racket, right. And so the culture the insurance industry is, is it's almost like a callus. Right. So an callus is a good metaphor there because they become distant, distanced from their social mission, which is to really help people. But they're so focused on the bad actors that that they get kind of cynical. And I have a cousin, another confession, who's a police officer, same thing, right? I mean, they live in the world of the dirty and the bad. And, and they also get very cynical. And so how do you protect yourself against some of that?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, so we do a lot of work educating and re educating all of us here at Oasis, who work here and including our volunteers, on understanding what it's like to live in poverty. So most recently, we brought in some people to do aces training aces, if you're not familiar with it, our advanced childhood experiences. And there's actually a study in office of resiliency. Now, in the state of New Jersey, that's very focused on making this a priority for our state. If a woman has grown up, if a child grows up in poverty, and has advanced childhood experiences, there's actually a rating scale of them. And based on the number of of ratings that you have, you are so much more likely to remain in poverty, because your brain actually changes right? You become wired to experience trauma, you become wired to, you know, for your survival mechanisms to click in. And it prevents you from learning the way that other children might learn. And it prevents you from making decisions the way that other people make decisions. So making sure that our staff have an understanding of why women might drop out of what what's been happening in their world, right. And making sure that we're quite empathetic to those stories is critical, because it is it can be it can be quite depressing for some of our staff, especially our teachers who are having low attendance rates, especially the This time of year in February, March, you know, a snowstorm if you've got to walk 12 city blocks with two kids in a stroller, and the bus isn't running, and they're slush, and you know, you're going to be much less apt to get out of your apartment and get your button the seat in your classroom, then if it's a beautiful sunny day, so, you know, we're we're very cognizant of what might prevent a woman from showing up from continuing with her education. But it's it's a constant, it's a constant source of conversation,

David Wright:

do you do measure that the AC e score, did you actually administer a survey of some kind of people,

Jen Brady:

we haven't administered a survey amongst our we've done it with select staff here, we haven't done it with our with our student population,

David Wright:

okay. And so the idea there is, you're pretty safe assumption, a lot of the folks here would score fairly high, right. And then so you're saying to your staff, this is what we're this is what happened. And I guess as a result of educating themselves on it, they can become more empathetic

Jen Brady:

understanding. And we also, you know, we have policies in place that say, you know, support our women, if you need to take a pause from our GED program, we will let you take a pause. And we and we will actually commend you for saying, you know, I need a break for a couple of weeks, my child is in the hospital, I'll come back in three weeks, and our social workers will check up on them to make sure they're okay. Make sure they're on target to come back. But it's okay. There's no shame in saying, I can't come for a little while. We're in your traditional program. You're either in or you're out. Right here. It's okay to take a pause.

David Wright:

Right. And I would guess that that slows the whole process down. I mean, not just the pause, because there's the the reload, I suppose, right? So what you know, what would you say? Is the what's like the standard time to get a GED? And how long would it take somebody here? On average?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, it's impossible for me to give you an answer to that. Because we also don't, we don't cut anyone off from coming into our program. So you take a test when you arrive here to get your GED. And you you test in at a certain grade level. Yep. So we've had women who've tested in fifth grade who've gotten their GED in two years. So that woman in particular, she came, she showed up almost every day, she studied at night in the laundromat, she had two kids, she was gonna show her kids that she could do it. So she went from fifth grade to 12th grade in two years. Other women who don't have the same level of determination, or who have many other obstacles in our way, could take them 10 or 12 years. It just depends on the circumstances.

David Wright:

Do you have access or partner with other institutions that might kind of get closer or let's say, provide influence in a different way? Because they show up here, and now they're there in the world, you can control? Right. And you as you mentioned, you're going to build them. But then they go back to this other world, like, Do you have any access? Or can you can you supply any resources to the world? Are there other other other organizations or there is the police for that matter? Right? I mean, what else can you do to help them?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, you know, the one one of the greatest issues that our women face here is safe, affordable housing. So many of our women are couchsurfing. They're living in illegal apartments and garages even. So that's, that's something that we've dug pretty deep into. And we have partnered with two other organizations, Eva's village in Kumasi to start a small Supportive Housing Program. It's 60 units, and we've got six single moms living in those units, they all are working with a case manager having the support that they need, they're paying very little fee per month, they don't pay rent, per se, they pay a program participation fee, they've got a savings plan, to have the woman in the one year that we've held that program have moved out to a place of choice is the way that we term it. Yep. Because you and I might have a choice of where we live. But so many of our women don't, they're picking a place out of, you know, desperation. And so we're working with some other groups in the city to try and create larger scale supportive housing programs for mothers and children and even for families. But that's, that's really where we need to do the most work in the city.

David Wright:

What what sort of controls you place on that environment? Because I imagine if you left it alone, it would just turn into the world that they came from, that you're trying to protect them from, right. So how do you stop that?

Jen Brady:

I think you have to, I think you have to create it from the inside. And you have to let the moms create it. So all of those moms have full understanding that we're trying to create a supportive environment amongst the moms. We're not top heavy. We're not coming in and telling you what to do. But we will support you in the choices that you collectively make. So if the group decides that they want to do a potluck dinner, or an art therapy program, they're deciding they're making those decisions. They're co creating the program with us, and that's what's going to make it successful because no single mom wants to be told you have to be in your bed by 10 o'clock, you must attend 18 workshops a year, right within your convent. But if, but if you're working with one of the Oasis social workers or one of the social workers from one of the other organizations, and you said you identify what the needs are, and you work with your team, you know, your other moms to come up with, you know, I'm struggling with this, too. How could we tackle this as a group, you're gonna find that that's what's gonna work.

David Wright:

The thing that I kind of think about there that would concern me is the it's called sources of destructive cultural influence. The ex boyfriend is a drug dealer, whatever, right? I mean, how do you stop that from intruding in this safe space?

Jen Brady:

It's been difficult. Yeah, I'm not gonna lie, it's certainly been a challenge. And while Oasis has never gone into housing before, even dipping our toe in it in this manner, has been eye opening for us. But working very consistently with those moms to make them understand that what's a toxic relationship? What do you deserve? What do you want for your children? You know, constantly bringing it from the inside out, instead of from the outside in? That's been our approach. And for the most part, it's worked.

David Wright:

Yeah. Yeah. And that's, and of course, the consequences aren't just for the, for the woman who has the, you know, dirt bag, you know, in

Jen Brady:

the whole community,

David Wright:

right, the roommates,

Jen Brady:

it can poison the whole community.

David Wright:

Yeah, really. Can you know, can mess the whole thing up? How do you, you know, I'm just kind of wondering, like, how would you actually stop a problem that you see, like, is there? Can you give me an example? Maybe? No names of course,

Jen Brady:

yeah. No, we've had some issues over over the house. And we've sent our staff over there to deal with it. And we've actually, most recently, had one of our social workers actually move into the house, as a house mom. Yeah. So that there's somebody living in the house so that when an issue comes up, you don't have to wait till the next morning to call Oasis or to call one of the other partner organizations, and then we've got to have a meeting and it becomes very bureaucratic. And that's, that's not the intent. The intent is to have the women solve their own problems, and solve them collectively, when that's necessary. So having one of our social workers living on site has been a game changer there.

David Wright:

That's a super interesting tension between kind of the, let's call it autonomy and bureaucracy. Where else does that pop up for you? Is that something you think about a lot?

Jen Brady:

You know, I think in any organization, and in any line of work, you realize success when people can make their own choices and can generate the solutions themselves. So it is something we try to encourage here at Oasis. Yeah.

David Wright:

Right, as opposed to having groups of people get together, because it always seems to me that here's how I experienced this tension. Where if you have people who, who are really good and individually at some function, right, so you have a teacher, or you have, maybe, I don't know, a cook, or a security person or something, right. So they really know what they're doing in that world. They kind of have to work together for everything to work. And so suddenly, now you have a committee, right? We didn't expect it, you didn't want it really, but these people have to be on the same page, they have to be aligned with what they're all doing, and communicate, and that necessarily slows it down. But the trade you get is you get individuals that are a little bit better at what they do, because they're specializing in something. Is that sound familiar to you?

Jen Brady:

This? You know, I think I think what you're getting at is, you know, are we working to solve problems collectively here? Right. And I you know, it while you were thinking while you're making that descriptive question, I was thinking about a big problem that we faced about six years ago here. You'll remember when immigration became a big issue all over our cities, and people weren't coming to class anymore. They were staying home in their apartments, they weren't coming in for class, they weren't even coming in for lunch, they were coming in getting groceries and going back home. Because there was so much fear in this community. Whether people were really documented or undocumented, they might have a family member who's undocumented, or you know, a friend who's undocumented in the apartment next door, so they didn't want to risk ice coming into their home. So first of all, we had to educate ourselves enormously here on what what's our rights and responsibilities, you know, to our moms and to the law. But we took a different approach when our ESL teachers actually went to the women and said, you know, what's keeping you from coming here? And how can we help? And what we realized were, there were dozens and dozens of women in our programs that were undocumented but had a pathway to citizenship, but it was scary for them to pursue, where they didn't know how to pursue it or they perceived it as being on attainable because of the financial obligation that they would have to make. So our team got together here. We're like how, you know, how can we solve this problem? There's, you know, nobody's coming up to the, you know, to your program, nobody's coming to my program. How can we solve this? So they, we've created a citizenship program here. And we help the women learn the 100 questions that they need to know practice for the interview, we help them complete the application, we get their fees waived. And we've had over 70 women become citizens since the inception of the program. But it was really like a grassroots. This is the issue, it's affecting our organization, cross, you know, cross across every aspect of it, how can we solve it? And that was the approach that we took, and it really came grew out of what the needs of that community were.

David Wright:

Was there any basis in their fear? Like, was there a risk to them coming here at that time?

Jen Brady:

There was a risk of being anywhere if you were undocumented? Really? Yeah. I mean, there. There were reports of ice being on the corner. And absolutely, yeah. And people were afraid that even if they came to Oasis, could ice come into the classroom and grab them, but there were there were reports of people being picked up on the streets. Absolutely.

David Wright:

So they would have plainclothes ICE officers who would just ask you for your document,

Jen Brady:

they would knock on the door. Yeah.

David Wright:

Whoa, I did not know that. And you mentioned before we started that there are 26 countries.

Jen Brady:

twenty.. our women come from 26 different countries. Currently, yeah.

David Wright:

represented here. That's an that's a very big number.

Jen Brady:

Yeah. So our so our ESL program isn't like Spanish to English. It's English immersion, because we have certainly a lot of women come from South American countries. But a lot of women are coming from Middle Eastern countries as well. So we, we accept everyone.

David Wright:

Yeah, of course, is how do they? How are they influenced differently. So what I'm getting out of here is people respond to different folks. And you know, one of the main things I see what you're doing here is a is a kind of cultural conversion rates, you're trying to get their head straight about kind of how they can lead a fulfilling life. And you have to talk him into it. Right, and sometimes you don't respond, everybody doesn't respond to the same sort of sort of stimulus, I guess, or advocacy? Is there? Maybe I can rephrase the question more generally, like, what are the different ways in which you try and do that? Is it is it difficult, different countries have different kind of priorities there? Or is there some other dimension in which you kind of think about how to influence people,

Jen Brady:

you know, we really, we really try to celebrate all cultures here, so and bring them together so that there's an understanding, because, you know, the danger is that, you know, women from one culture would get along with women from another culture, right? Or wouldn't respond would respond differently. So instead of treating everyone differently, and taking that approach, we really try to integrate everyone. So pre COVID, we were doing something called cultural meal days, and a group of our students from the community would go into our soup kitchen, and they would cook the meal for the day, and they would share the stories of what this you know what this meal meant in their homeland. And, you know, we would, we might have some Syrian refugees one week, and the next week, we might have a group of women from Peru, or a group of women from Dominican Republic, kind of sharing their meals. So in that way, you know, we kind of envisioned, you know, like a little Model UN going on here, where, you know, people really had an opportunity to cross ethnic boundaries and become very empathetic and understanding of people's different cultures

David Wright:

do get a sense for just imagine the composition of, at least the national composition of the people here is changing over time shifting depending on things that are happening in the world. Right. And I'm wondering about how you, Howard, if you can develop a sense of progress for the the organization itself, it might seem like you're just kind of rolling a rock up the hill and Dabbagh down it goes, right, so there's infinite need for what you do? Is that how you feel? Or do you feel like there's something greater that's being achieved? You're making progress or some bigger goal?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, I mean, some days, we certainly do feel like that I'm not gonna lie, but um, you know, where we find the most hope. And where we see a lot of movement is really with the children. Yeah, right. So you know, it wasn't that long ago that, you know, we had your average after school program, and we had 120 kids in it. And they came here after school, they had a hot meal, they went up, they did their homework with some high school kids that we hired locally, and it was, you know, a nice safe place for them to be after school. But we had recognized, you know, that we had kids in fifth grade who didn't know how to read. And we had we had kids in second grade who were functioning at a kindergarten level. So we had a very generous donor who invested in a long term commitment to have us hire certified teachers and actually embed them in each of the classrooms. So today, grades K through seven, have a teacher in their classroom, who knows their work knows what they're struggling with can assign tutors, to them, who are also highly trained have an assistant teacher in the classroom, we've got a full time math tutor and a reading specialist on staff to help those kids. So we're addressing those kids educational gaps in a way, I don't think anybody is, especially post COVID. You know, it's always shocking to people when I tell them that our kids in Paterson left their classroom on March 17 of 2020. And didn't go back into the classroom till September of 2021. So a year and three months of instruction was essentially lost. Because, you know, my kids are older, but if they had been little when COVID hit, they would have each had their own bedroom with their own safe space to work and their own laptop. But we were zooming with our kids, we still ran our after school program throughout COVID, you know, albeit remotely for the most part. And there'd be four kids on a bed with one laptop that we might have given them if they hadn't gotten one from the district, all trying to do their work on one little bed, which just wasn't conducive to learning. So today, we've, you know, we we measure our kids academically, independently here. So we know that all of the kids in our after school program are at least one grade level behind as of December of 2021. So we're bringing in extra resources. We've got a Saturday program now with extra reader reading specialists, and bilingual instructors to try and get them up to speed. Because if they don't get up to speed, you know, it'll affect them for the rest of their lives. But that is where we see the most movement with with the children.

David Wright:

Yeah. I imagine. Are there? Is there a world where some kids would come back as adults? Like, do you lose them? Is that something that has ever happened?

Jen Brady:

I don't think that's ever happened. Although we've had some of our kids come back and work with us as adults, that has happened, but have they come back? No. And I, you know, I have to say, the kids who the kids were lucky enough to find a way sis and come into our program, go through our after school program to seventh grade, go into our teen program where they have access to a team guidance consultant. And even if those kids aren't going on to college, they have the ability to apply to trade schools, we have scholarship programs here. Like we can take that kid from the nurturing center when they're, you know, babies and infants, and get them all the way through to where they are, you know, successful, you know, adults.

David Wright:

And I like that I like that idea of measuring the actual their, their grade level. So as you're, you know, one behind, that's obviously not great, but maybe that's better than it was, you know, do you would do with it as the average of that change, like, you know, would save you when you first heard the program, they probably were more than one regular grade level behind on average. Is that true or

Jen Brady:

We were seeing we had great traction before COVID. But COVID really threw a wrench into it. So we were you know, we had three years under our belt of running this program. And we could see progress every year. And our kids were the majority of them were at least on grade level, if not above grade level, pre COVID. But spending, you know, almost a year and a half of you know, not going into the classroom has affected every single one of our kids.

David Wright:

One of the things that I think is probably hard for me to at least appreciate. Having never lived in a community like this is Patterson is what the context is like, because you can you can kind of go I would imagine for somebody in my position, or at least in my own mind, I go one of two ways, either. I don't think about it. Right, in which case could be anything, or I overdo the negative, obviously, like, oh, it's like Baghdad, you know, I drive through the town today, which you know, I haven't done that many times. But you know, it's, it's it's a it's a beautiful day today. And so everything looks nice, you know, beautiful day, but it's a town I still here, right? i It's not going to be a warzone. It's going to be for the United States pretty rough place. Right? But maybe helped me understand like, the real context like, well, how many kids have it? Okay, and they're helpful pretty easily and but there's, you know, the subset of course that have very much not okay. You know, how many people come through on one of those two camps.

Jen Brady:

So, you know, a lot of it has to do with your family dynamic and your family structure. We've had kids find us later in life, who have had a mom who's a drug addict and a dad they've never met, and they've kind of been on their own the whole time. Right. And those kids aren't coming to our after school program because the parent needs to make a choice to get them into our after school program. Right. So they're not the ones that are finding us. The ones that are finding us as young children are more often than not come from a loving family and parents who are hard working and maybe carrying two or three jobs each, just to make sure that their kids have a better life. And those, those moms, I know them, I love them that they want the same thing for their kids that I wanted for my kids. They want them to be safe and secure. But there's definitely that population in the city here. Have kids who see a lot of violence, see a lot of anger, see a lot of crime and don't feel safe.

David Wright:

So for the families that come here who have who have brought their kids and they work a lot, right. I must think that when we spoke last you were mentioning to me that is actually the lockdowns were devastating for that group, because they had a lot of the jobs that got locked out. I mean, I sat in my bedroom with a laptop and talk people all day. That's my job. It's ridiculous. But that's what my job is. They have to get out and they interact. They're in there in the real world. How did it go?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, so a lot of them lost their jobs. Yeah. Initially, because if you were the dishwasher and the restaurant restaurant wasn't open anymore, so that was devastating. On one level, right. Then as the world reopened, we had a whole nother dynamic happening, and that was of children being left home, because there was nobody to be home with them. Because if mom stayed home, she wasn't going to bring home a paycheck, and she'd probably be fired. It was interesting. Right after the holidays this year in January, Paterson decided to stay closed for three more weeks. We were actually we have a program that's embedded in public school number two, and part of our staffs responsibilities over there is checking in on students who aren't showing up for class and why why, you know, why is Jose absent so much or Susie? And so she was doing that, even though the classes were remote for three weeks, the teachers would say, you know, Susie's not signing on, she hasn't signed on for three, four or five days. And so we were calling the parents and what we learned was that Jose or Susie wasn't signing on, because there was nobody home with them to make them sign on. They were eight years old, but they had been left home alone, because mom couldn't take the day off of work, she would lose her job. Or the other thing that was happening was mom's internet hotspot is on mom's phone. So when Mama went to work, she took the internet with her. So Jose or Susie couldn't sign on to class because there was no internet. So we actually opened up one of our classrooms here and had some of those kids come here and had a staff member just monitoring them. We weren't being teacher, but we were giving them a safe place to be where we were making sure that they were logging on Wi Fi and have Wi Fi right, what having Wi Fi was was a big issue for this community during the pandemic. So, you know, it's the the issues have shifted as COVID has progressed, where initially it was people were just losing their jobs, and then it was affecting the children in a different way.

David Wright:

What did the kids do all day?

Jen Brady:

I mean, you can only guess, right? And this is, if you're, you know, a latchkey kid and there's nobody home in the afternoon, you're more likely to get into trouble, right? You're more likely to have bad things happen to you, you're more likely to be out on the street, you're more likely to end up going down a bad path.

David Wright:

Yeah. Anecdotally, did you have you detected an increase in that kind of thing? I mean, crime rates are bouncing back pretty hard right now. Do you see it?

Jen Brady:

Crime rates in the city are sky high right now? Yeah. And we hear about shootings every week. There shootings here. There's been murders. They're certainly away from here physically? Not far, right. Not far. There was a shooting around the corner just about a month ago. So it happens here. It's part of it's part of living in an urban environment. But there's gangs and there's crime and the children know it.

David Wright:

Yeah.

Jen Brady:

Well, I'll actually the first week that I was working here in 2015, I walked downstairs, the after school kids at all just gotten here. And somebody ran up to one of the tutors who at the time, was a high school student and went to drive him home because his mother just called that his father had just been murdered in the street, in Paterson, and I remember all of those little kids knew what had happened to their tutor that they admired and, you know, they loved and cared about his name was Kenny. And and they just went on with their day. And it wasn't it wasn't shocking to them. And I'll give you one other interesting fact. You know, we've we've all been horrified. Whenever a school shooting happens in our country, right? And I got the question once like, well, what are you doing about school shootings in Paterson? Like do you do lockdowns? Do you do drills? You know, what do you do? And when we talked and how traumatic is that for the kids, right? And when we talked to the teachers and to some of our students, but definitely the teachers that we work with over public school number two, the story that we heard was that the kids in Paterson don't worry about someone coming into the school to shoot up the school, because why would they come in shoot up random people, when you the reason you shoot people is because you're mad at them? And and, you know, if I if I know I'm mad at someone, I'm just gonna go and shoot them. Like that's that's the world that they've existed.

David Wright:

There is already an existing logic of murder.

Jen Brady:

Yeah, sort of. Yeah. Yeah. So it's, it's, it's a very different way to grow up. And it's not something you can

David Wright:

Do girls react differently than boys? shake.

Jen Brady:

to girls react differently to boys?

David Wright:

No, than boys, to knowledge of shooting and that kind of thing?

Jen Brady:

No, I don't think so. I think it's a reality for all of our children here.

David Wright:

Yeah. Yeah. Because later on in life, they react differently. Boys tend to be the ones doing the shooting. Yeah, they do. Yeah. And then for the girls, how does that trauma manifest itself in them?

Jen Brady:

What what we've learned here at Oasis is that many of the girls become mothers at a very young age. And I don't mean physically mothers, I don't mean that they're getting pregnant. I mean, that they have to drop out of our program, because mom is working. And they have to be home to take care of the little kids and make dinner and make sure they get in bed because mom's second job doesn't allow her to be home during those hours. So our girls tend to take on a high level of responsibility in a chaotic environment, at a very young age. And they often don't see that they have a choice of having any other life. So going to college and becoming an insurance broker, or an actuarial or engineer isn't something that crosses their mind, because they can't leave that home because the family relies on them to be there. We've had children. We had a boy a couple years ago who got accepted to Penn State, and he had scholarships to cover the whole thing. And his parents wouldn't let him go because they needed him at home to help.

David Wright:

What happened to him?

Jen Brady:

He ended up going to local community college.

David Wright:

How long ago was this? Just about three years ago, so he'd be done. Now if he stayed.

Jen Brady:

He would be done now. If he stayed. Yeah. Yeah, he did. Stay. I'm not sure what he's doing now. But he got to two years. Associate's degree. Yeah, right.

David Wright:

That's heartbreaking, isn't it?

Jen Brady:

Yeah. But it happens over and over again.

David Wright:

Yeah, I need to see that in a certain kind of sense. Like, you can imagine how much talent, right? Absolutely. For The World is locked up in a place like this.

Jen Brady:

Right. Couple years ago, we have a, as I mentioned, we have a teen guidance consultant. And part of her job is to expose kids to different college campuses, even if it's not a college that they're going to go to let's just open your, you know, your mind to the availability out there, right? Yes. So a couple years ago, she took a group of nine teens into New York City to see fit different than go into William Paterson local here, getting on a train or a different kind of school getting out of Paterson, those nine kids had never they were all juniors and seniors in high school had never been on a train before and had never been to New York City. Just right there. It's just right there. You can see it from different parts of Route ad from here, right. But our worlds here in Paterson are very neighborhood centric, and they're very small. And if you don't have a car, and your job is down the street, and your Bodega is down the street, why would you go to a bodega in another part of the city? Or Why would you leave this neighborhood? It's safe, it's ours. Sometimes there's a territorial issue there as well, that we don't want to go into that neighborhood because that's not those aren't our people. But more often than not, it's at this this is what this is where we stay, why would we go anywhere else? So it's broadening our children's minds to what else is out there. Not just in terms of colleges and trades, but also what kind of jobs are out there that you've never heard about before? You know, if you ask our kids what they want to be, they'll all say, nurses, doctors, firemen, policemen, the things that they see in their everyday life, right. But if you say, you know, you could be a filmmaker, or you know, you could be a fundraiser or you could be anything you want. If they don't have exposure to what those what those opportunities are there if they are don't have the opportunity to pursue them.

David Wright:

How else do you demonstrate I mean, this I grew up in a small town I mentioned to you before it could be Canada You know, is mostly a farming town, some like manufacturing, or rust belt sort of place, right? And parents were teacher, nurse, they're dentists and that was it. What are you gonna be when you grew up? I don't know, I wound up going to university. And it took me a while to kind of figure out so many other kids who came from larger cities, and you know, let's do good backgrounds and stuff for them. And they had more exposure to all sorts of different professions. And they knew like they would show up to university and they knew what they wanted to be, I want to be I want to work at Procter and Gamble and marketing or something like that, right? And I was like, Procter and Gamble. What the heck is that? Right? Oh, they make tide. But really, you know that it's just a real deficit of imagination availability, you mentioned that's great word for it. I feel like that's something that is kind of cheap, maybe to provide them. But I mean, so powerful.

Jen Brady:

Yeah, I think the difference in the scenario that you just described is your mom was a nurse. Yeah, your mom was a nurse. So she went on to higher education completely. So there was no issue with you going on to higher education. You know, right. Yeah. Yeah. You just had to know where to go, how to get there. And then once you got there, you had the opportunity for that level of exposure, right? Where are many of our kids, mom and dad didn't even graduate high school, if they've emigrated here from another country, sometimes they didn't go past third or fourth grade. So education, looking at education in as a way of a means to a better life, isn't their reality, it's not part of their vernacular, it's not something that they talk about around the dinner table. So you know, mom works at the factory around the corner, that would be a great place for you to work, you could earn $15 an hour, and that would contribute to our rent. Yes, that's as big as we get, right. And if you're mired in, you know, sort of the hierarchy of needs, right? We need that money for shelter and food and clothing. Right? We can't if you're mired in the hierarchy of needs, you don't have the bandwidth to think beyond that. Yeah. So our job here, you know, in addition to being an educational facility, we want to make sure that we provide, you know, all of our moms food to take home food while they're on site, and our soup, kitchen, diapers, clothing, wipes, baby food, everything that you need, with the exception of housing at this time for most of our moms, right, but we'll help you find the housing, everything that you need, so that you can focus on your education, so you can dream, you know those dreams. And I think one of the most interesting things that came out of this super small housing program that we're doing is we just we just hit the one year mark on that. And we asked the moms for their reflections on on having a year of not having to pay rent, not having the burden of how am I putting food on the table, really just allowing them the headspace to think about what they want? What kind of mother are they being? What kind of, you know, family member? Are they being what do they want for their futures? 100% of them said, this is the first time I had peace in my mind. And I could think about my own well being Yes, 100% of them. So to the extent that we can do that on a larger scale, even without the housing, that will help breed success.

David Wright:

Yeah. Where my mind was going earlier to on this was it's almost at every level, just waking them up to the possibility of more can be helpful, right? You mentioned in their worldview, that you two comments, you made one, the local hyper local neighborhood, and then two, you can work at some factory make 15 bucks an hour, that's a big win. Right? And that's it. Right? Can you and obviously, the resources are a big thing to sort of give them a moment to take a breath and have a look around them. Can you orient them? What are the kinds of things what's the next thing from that? You expose them to the allow them to think bigger? What's that? What's the first step on that is, is that when you went to college? Probably many of your staff did teachers in the like? So they'll see people who went to college before? But is that kind of even too far? Is there something in between? You know, for college for a sec, let's just work on? What would it be?

Jen Brady:

I think I think get working with the children and having them have that exposure to different people coming in just to volunteer, right, like just a volunteer. Don't come in and tell me this is how you become an engineer. Yes. Just come in and volunteer. And oh,

David Wright:

what do you do be a real person,

Jen Brady:

be a real person. I'm an engineer. I work you know, in New York City, and I just had this afternoon to help you with your math homework. And oh, what's that? Like, you know, just little bits of fun exposure. So it's normal, like, like my kids had, right? Like, our next door neighbor was x. The other next door neighbor was why like, it's it's a normal course of, you know, having it become part of their normal is important.

David Wright:

I mean, one of the things that I've gotten to do with this podcast project of mine is to meet some of my intellectual heroes, and you sit across to them again, They're people, they're people just like me. And they're not perfect, you know, chip on the way in the door, and they'll say something dumb once in a while. And that's okay. Right? Because everybody's people, and it really kind of like, you know, as a person with enough privilege to be able to sit back and reflect once in a while, I think that's it. That's not that hard. I mean, if there are obviously you don't want to, you know, some people, you know, achieve amazing things, and you have to pay respect to that. But you know, the difference between kind of somebody who doesn't doesn't do it oftentimes is just thinking that you can

Jen Brady:

write a lot of it's luck, too. I mean, what's, you know, the children that come to Oasis are living in poverty, because they were born and they live in this zip code, as opposed to a zip code 10 miles away, where those kids have the opportunity to go to an Ivy League school if they really want to, right, and a lot of it is chance, it's left up to chance. And who your expert who, who's in your circle, right? So if the right people are in your circle, whether it's in Wycoff, New Jersey, or Paterson, New Jersey, you can you can dream and you can achieve and so I think we're trying to put the right people in the circles here.

David Wright:

So chance kind of introduces another topic area, which I'm interested in, which is, you know, catastrophic occurrences here, right. So from the insurance industry that somebody think about a lot, and something I think you think about a fair bit here, too. So in the COVID is an example. There are probably other examples. What are they? What are some things that are? Take everybody by surprise here that really set folks back? And what do you do?

Jen Brady:

Fire. Fire is a big issue in in poor urban areas. And it's happens quite frequently. So there will be a fire in the city. And I will get a text message from our CEO, that there are 78 people displaced 24 people displaced. We had a fire during COVID, actually, right across the street. And there were eight families in there that wait, we knew, and, you know, they were they were part of our Oasis family. And many of them ended up moving out of state because they couldn't find affordable housing here. They lost everything. Some of them weren't documented. So they had an even harder because they weren't eligible for some benefits. But several of them ended up moving out of state where they had family members who could take them in until they could figure out what their next steps were. So fire is a big one. Flood is a big one. Natural disasters and Patterson, you flooded. You know, we're on the Passaic River. We've got a lot of illegal basement apartments in Paterson. We had some people die in the last hurricane Ida. Yeah, there were a number of people, many people who were flooded out of their apartments. It was quite tragic. I think that was the beginning of September, and it actually delayed school closing school opening for a week here.

David Wright:

Yes. Do you? What do you do to help? Can you do something? Is there something you can do to help folks?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, so I'll give it when, when we had the fire across the street, we all came down here at 6am, we cook breakfast, we had it out on the street for everybody, we brought everyone into our soup kitchen here, we provided them with clothing, we had the Red Cross come in to our facility to help them. So we have three social workers and a family navigator on site. And they will sit with anyone who's need of anything, and help them find the resources and if there's there quite often resources that we can't provide for, but we will we will make that link for you. And we will we will help you you know, find your way.

David Wright:

How do you get the I mean, I guess it's across the street, that's, you know, they'll know they can come here probably farther away harder for them to realize, I mean, how do you how do you get the word into them to come here?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, it's it's funny, because every year we do like this, you know, big survey, like how did you find out about oasis? And more often than not, it's by word of mouth, you know, people in this community in particular, because in every community, right? Like, if you need a plumber, you're going to call a friend and say, who's your plumber? Like, I'm in need of help? Who do I go to? You're gonna trust your friends or your family members to tell you so it really is word of mouth.

David Wright:

Do you have a sense for how much kind of awareness coverage you have in Paterson? Like, you know, I guess the farther away physically you get from here, it probably diminishes. Yeah. How do you think about that? Is there is there parts of the town which nobody ever comes from? to here?

Jen Brady:

No, we've we've people come from all six wards in Paterson. And I think we're fairly well known. I mean, if we have, like I said, we have three social workers and a family navigator, we could quadruple that and we wouldn't still have enough to service the the women and children who come to us who have deep needs, right?

David Wright:

And so what in what way does that resource constraint kind of manifest itself right now? So he said you could do for x what you're doing. So that means 75% of people that could be helped aren't do turn them away.

Jen Brady:

We don't turn them away. We just we just work really hard. I mean, our you know, Jenny, one of our social workers the other day told me she had 56 messages on her phone. You know, it's all people who are calling because they need, they might just need diapers, right? They might need just diapers, but they might be in a domestic violence situation, and then they need a safety plan and they need, you know, to create a pathway out. So it really runs the gamut.

David Wright:

And I would there must be some point at which you do just not are you just not able to get all those voicemail messages every day or something? I mean, how does the system just creak? Anywhere?

Jen Brady:

No, you know, we bring it into we work with interns, we have interns out we will bring in other staff members, we we have, we will never turn a woman and child away.

David Wright:

How do you determine kind of what additional because this is a funny thing, right? So if you say, you know, there's this the service you're doing now, you could do more, but then you're also at the same time adding things changing things, you know, how do you make that kind of decision with the resources with the money with the people's time, which is a big one, the volunteers, maybe the bigger resorts and the money? You know, how do you allocate that? Or how do you think about that?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, I mean, it's, it's an ongoing struggle. To be truthful, we always listen to the community. So I use the example of the citizenship program, we're about to launch a something called the mommy series to help pregnant moms who are lacking resources in this community, we've experienced a lot of growth over the last five or six years, a tremendous amount of growth, both both physically with our construction project here where we've added nearly 10,000 square feet to our facility. But we've also grown our we've almost doubled our budget, in size, and we've increased our staff quite a bit. So you know, we have growing pains as as you would well expect. But we've had the great experience of having our stakeholders really respond. So we've been able to continue to grow the programs. You know, we've always had a waiting list for our ESL program. And so this year, we funding allowed us to hire an additional ESL teacher so that we could help fulfill that need. So we're always trying to meet that need, and balance, strategic growth,

David Wright:

is there some kind of deeper thing that you would love to work on? So I actually think of you mentioned that the history of this organization is a soup kitchen, right? And then you recognized? Well, you know, the people here, they, they really do need to have more services that would help them even more, I mean, the ESL program education, that's incredible, right? So you're like, you're operating at a kind of like a, I guess a higher level of, of need there. But you're it's more like the give a person a fish or teach them to fish kind of thing, right? So now you're gonna teach him to fish. And then we've talked about Well, in this conversation about aspiring to learn to fish, right? You can fish, we can all fish, here's how you do it. Right? And that, that, that I realize or acknowledge that they can, then they're willing to learn it now, whereas he could have told him that and they would have ignored the instruction, and then just sort of, you know, had a problem until somebody gives them some fish. Is there some other level to that? Like, is there something else? I'm thinking maybe in terms of the community generally here in Paterson? Is there a deeper level or higher level? I'm not sure how you think about it, that you could work at, which would kind of accelerate all of the development here.

Jen Brady:

Yeah, I, you know, we we work really hard on trying not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, right. So working more closely and more collaboratively with organizations that might be doing say, a greater having a greater effort on workplace training, right, specific workplace training. So Patterson Task Force does a waitstaff training and as ServSafe training, and so sharing those resources, I think is really where the focus lies, in terms of helping our families realize success more quickly or more effectively. I think, the way we have to go, and I'm not saying Oasis, but the way we as a society has to go is giving these families safe supportive housing. I think that's that's the major stumbling block to people being able to realize, you know, having a beautiful life as possible,

David Wright:

what would that look like?

Jen Brady:

So it's, it's interesting, we're working with some people sort of on the state level as part of a collaborative here in Paterson that's was initiated by the Health Coalition of Passaic County and Habitat for Humanity here in Paterson. And they've brought together I guess, about 12 partners. It's a it's a program called building healthier, healthy, more equitable communities at Robert Wood Johnson and the reinvestment fund are kind of spearheading it. And it's, it's happening in four cities, one of them being Patterson. And so we've spent a year actually imagining what this would look like. And what it would look like would be identified programs embedded in in a housing facility. With a distinct population, a defined population, whether that's veterans or adults with disabilities, or single moms or nuclear families, whatever that might be, but a defined population with resources embedded in the housing model to meet the needs of that population. So the the model that we've come up with for this initiative, and we're actually we've gotten so far as we're actually looking for properties to talk about potential development, the model that we've come up with is a 14 unit structure for single moms with daycare, and perhaps a social worker, and some programmatic components that the partner agencies would bring to the table. But having that and making it affordable. So what's affordable, affordable means you're not spending more than 50% on on your, you know, your rent, but also developing a program. That's a pathway to where you want to be yes. So just because you're living in this back initiative, doesn't mean that's where you're gonna stay forever. Yes. So maybe there's a component of, of a housing model next door, that habitat does, that's your you're going to aspire to become a Habitat house homeowner, right? Or maybe it's identifying that you want to go move to the suburbs and, and be in a more rural, right rural setting, but whatever, whatever that pathway is, and whatever your goals are, are identified. And you've got someone supporting you and working with you towards that goal, right.

David Wright:

It's what's interesting about that is housing is a reference to a physical structure, right? It's houses a thing, or apartment buildings a thing. But the, the problem with a place like Patterson isn't that the houses are I mean, it will be one problem with the structures are probably not a great, they're gonna fire anyway. But that the people inside, right, it's a cultural problem. It's a social problem, are there many social problems? And so it's interesting, but your plan there is you're actually kind of reconfiguring the social side of things by having these identify groups. Did you tell me more about that? Like, how do you think about rebooting the cultural context for somebody because we were talking earlier about the deadbeat boyfriend shows up with, you know, bad attitude and starts messing with, you know, the environment, you're piloting this, this program here. You know, what are some of the things that you want to do to kind of insulate or nurture this kind of rebooted culture?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, it's really about building community. And as, as we talked about before, it's really about having the people involved in the community, build the community. Yeah. So again, not being patriarchal about it. But what do you want to see in this community? What are your needs? How can they need? How can the needs be dressed? Because you're right, a lot of our families live in homes and neighborhoods that aren't safe, the walls might be painted, and the ceiling might not leak, but you step outside of those doors, and it's not safe. So how do we create a community that's going to ensure its own safety? So there's going to be you know, there's going to be rules, but there's going to be self monitoring, and there's going to be opportunities for people to form bonds that will be will create a supportive environment. That's really what the model is.

David Wright:

And so you're, you're you're selecting, or folks are selecting themselves into this environment. And they're leaving an environment, what happens the environment they leave, it's gonna get worse, I suppose. I mean, do you think about that?

Jen Brady:

Well, Please, God. No. I mean, we certainly hope not. I think there's a lot of reason to hope that Patterson is on the upswing. We do see some some great things happening in Paterson. I mean, if you go to the Great Falls, now it's a national park, and there's a educational center. And there's a little amphitheater that, like there's, you can walk around that park and feel safe, and it's beautiful. And the rebuilding Hinchcliffe Stadium, which was, you know, the first Negro Baseball Stadium in the country. And there's, there is some great housing programs going on in the city. But the city is still a dangerous place. So as as you move people out, it's probably going to be a churn, right? There's going to be people who move there who will need to be moved out as well. Right. Right. But we hope that we're on the upswing,

David Wright:

right. So we're out of time. How can people help?

Jen Brady:

Yeah, so obviously, we're 97% privately funded, which gives us a lot of flexibility, which is great. Yeah, our website is www. Oasis nj.org. And there's all sorts of ways to make financial contributions on there, but there's also a lot of ways to find out how to volunteer had to get more involved in our programs. So that's that's the primary resource. But we invite anyone to come in for a tour, see our work because it's one thing to hear about it. But you walk through our halls when our kids are here, our moms are here. And you know, you kind of feel the support and the love that that happens here every day. It's a little bit miraculous.

David Wright:

My guest today is Jen Brady, Director of Oasis. Thank you very much, Jen.

Jen Brady:

Thank you.