October 8, 2019, Jersey City, NJ – In Hudson County, where the population is about 43% Latino, a coalition of faith-based leaders is embarking upon a partnership for an aggressive outreach campaign they hope will fuel the future of New Jersey’s economy.
The New Jersey Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers (NJCLPM) and Hudson County Community College (HCCC) plan to partner, and to devise strategies that will encourage young Latinos to apply to HCCC and the New Jersey Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG). Through the grant, qualifying individuals can attain tuition-free higher education. When the CCOG pilot program launched for the Spring 2019 semester, more than 740 HCCC students received grants totaling $800,000. This fall, the College expects the number of students who receive the CCOG grants to double with more $1,400,000 in funding being awarded.
The NJCLPM represents 128 Hudson County houses of worship with about 12,000 congregants, half of whom are between the ages of 18 and 25. The NJCLPM provides individuals from 17 nations with a variety of services, including obtaining identification cards from county or state agencies, retrieving records (such as high school diplomas from their countries of origin), filling out college or job applications, and more.
“We want to enhance outreach for the College and ensure that the Latino community is aware of the available opportunities. It’s important for the faith-based community, including leaders, to validate HCCC as an institution of choice for families. We are third-party validators and strategic partners,” said Wendy Martinez, NJCLPM Government Affairs Representative. “This partnership is the first of its kind, with faith-based leaders representing every municipality in Hudson County. Our goals are to begin a relationship and build a strategy that yields a long-term initiative that benefits the Latino community.”
The NJCLPM clergy are key to community outreach, noted Dr. Chris Reber, President of Hudson County Community College. “They have a distribution system within the community, and they work cooperatively and collaboratively with one another,” Dr. Reber said. He noted that the NJCLPM has strong, established relationships in Hudson County. “We share their goals of letting people know about Hudson County Community College and the educational opportunities available here, including the free-tuition CCOG, our scholarships, and every type of financial assistance.”
Trust and reputation are essential in successfully recruiting students. Congregants view churches as symbols of faith, and they trust their pastors, noted Reverend Bolivar Flores, Vice President of NJCLPM. Students and alumni often mention “family” in describing Hudson County Community College. Leveraging and connecting those bonds built on trust, reputation and family is key.
Reverend Flores noted that the Gente De Fe (People of Faith) newspaper is distributed to 15,000 Hudson County residents. “We talk to pastors every Sunday, and we will discuss publicizing information on the College and CCOG in this resource,” Reverend Flores said.
While congregants want to take advantage of financial assistance, they often don’t know where to begin. Reverend Flores has already helped one man obtain a CCOG grant. “A lot of young people we serve are first-generation immigrants who need assistance finding jobs and applying for college grants. We bridge the gap. This becomes a testament of leadership value to the community,” he stated.
Dr. Reber noted that he takes “Community” in the College’s name very seriously, and added he wants to focus on partnerships such as this across Hudson County and beyond. He said the College is nationally recognized for its diversity and equity programs, and that HCCC students were born in 119 different countries and speak 29 different languages. “More than half of our students are Latino, so our partnership with the New Jersey Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers is very important,” he stated.
On October 26, about 700 young people are expected to attend the “We Are One Youth Conference” in Union City, NJ where Hudson County Community College has a campus. Reverend Flores sees the event as an opportunity to spread the word about the College and CCOG.