For 20 years, New City Kids, a Christian Reformed ministry in Jersey City, N.J., has transformed the lives of at-risk children through its after-school center and its focus on the fine arts. Recently, some graduates of the program had a reunion.
“New City Kids was like my second home!” Tonia Young explained. Young, a recent graduate of Howard University, has been a part of New City Kids since graduating from eighth grade. She attended a job fair, hoping to get a summer job at New City Kids, and ended up working there throughout high school. “I was an art teacher, creative writing teacher, dance teacher, tutor, assistant team leader, and a team leader,” she said.
Young was a part of the Teen Life Internship program in which teens work eight to12 hours during the week. They also learn how to prep for college and receive one-on-one coaching. “The result,” according the New City Kids website, “is a teen who is stretched, challenged, loved, and grown into discovering the dignity of work, a new-found confidence in his [or her] abilities, and the sure hope of a college education.”
Young was also involved in New City Kids X-Change ministry, which allows teens to express their trials, fears, and suffering through poetry, drama, and music in “exchange” for a message on God’s love. As part of the X-Change Crew, Young explained that she “helped participants deal with their issues and created a safe place for them to exchange their burdens for the love of God.”
Gregg Nelson, who has been involved with New City Kids since he was 2, was also part of the X-Change Crew. “We planned, did skits, and prepared a message at the end of the night,” Nelson explained. “The purpose was to show teenagers a different route.”
Nelson, a recent graduate of Montclair State University, was both a participant in New City Kids and an employee. When he participated in the after-school program, he said, kids did their homework but also learned to play an instrument. “The city’s all about the arts,” Nelson said. “New City Kids incorporates music because it’s a skill kids want to learn. Performing in front of your peers shows kids they have self-worth and gives them tools to do something besides the norm.”
While working at New City Kids in the Teen Internship program, Nelson taught kids how to play the drums. Eventually he became the manager, overseeing all the programs.
Nelson said he had family issues growing up, and New City Kids was there to support him through his childhood and adolescent years. They also helped him get into college and find a job.
Young agrees that the program supported her spiritually, emotionally, and also financially. “I was able to gain a sense of self, develop an authentic relationship with God, and strengthen my academic skills, as well as gain the courage to share my God-given talents.”
When Linda Rubingh and her husband, Trevor, started New City Kids 20 years ago, “there was no money, no people, no building—just the call,” Linda said. The work was not easy. “Pain and suffering are everywhere, but it’s concentrated in high-need areas of the city. Breaking into a hurting community felt like having to break down a brick wall with our bare hands.”
Despite the resistance and frustration, the Rubinghs believed God was calling and strove to serve the children of Jersey City. “Learning how to bring the fullness of this reality to the foot of the cross each day, and then allowing God to re-proclaim the power of the resurrection in our hearts, was a humbling yet essential thing we had to learn.”