Project Self-Sufficiency celebrates 30 years

| 20 Sep 2017 | 01:25

By Laurie Gordon
— Deborah Berry-Toon and the indispensable agency she directs has effectively waltzed with the winds of change for 30 years. As with any dance, the agency has had to make adjustments, speed up, slow down yet always move forward with its dance partners: time and change. Friday night, Project Self-Sufficiency celebrated 30 years of serving the community in a myriad of vital ways and those who have made it all possible with a gala at The Conservatory at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. The big 'Thank you' included dinner, ice cream, wine and appropriately... dancing.
“This is a celebration of all of those who have made these 30 years possible,” said Berry-Toon, Project Self-Sufficiency's executive director. “Without the very vital support of the community, we wouldn't be able to do what we do.”
And what they do is phenomenal. From it's ever-important roots, Project Self-Sufficiency has spawned numerous branches.
From the agency's family education and activities to its career, employment and health fairs to its youth empowerment programs to its youth employment and high school diploma initiatives, Project Self-Sufficiency is there for the community. There are programs about how to deal with legal matters and parenting issues. Its Prom Shop is reincarnated every spring to offer those unable to afford a dress a gown, and the late summer Back-to-School Fair offers families backpacks, haircuts and knowledge. Every Halloween, the agency kicks off its Season of Hope Holiday Toy Drive which culminates in the creation of an actual Toy Shop so that he area's less fortunate families can have toys under the tree on Christmas morning.
Campus 2 Campus is a partnership between Project Self-Sufficiency and Sussex County Community College designed to help non-traditional students take the next step towards college and a career. There's an annual Breast Cancer Survivors celebration of life and private celebrations of empowerment nearly every day as Project Self-Sufficiency helps restore hope, open the doors of opportunity and help people and families realize their full potential.
Thanks to Frances Gould Naftal, and her husband, Marvin, a few years ago a garden was created on the Project Self-Sufficiency Campus.
“It's important that people at Project Self-Sufficiency learn to grow their own food and have access to fresh food. It's just healthier,” she said. The garden continues to thrive.
Last March, the agency christened a new industrial kitchen for educational purposes as well as further partnership with Sussex County Community College. Each January, Project Self-Sufficiency's Mosaic Awards honor those individuals, organizations and businesses whose support of the agency's mission, and every spring, Taste of Talent showcases the area's most exquisite chefs at the agency's biggest fundraiser. Each Thanksgiving, volunteers donate and prepare hundreds of holiday meals for those less fortunate and distribute them throughout the community.
An evolution
Project Self-Sufficiency had its genesis as a Department of Housing & Urban Development program to fund rental assistance certificates for single parents who participated in education or job training with an office locate inside closet space at Sussex County Vocational-Technical School in Sparta. The Sussex County Board of Social Services was awarded the grant in 1984. Over time, additional funding was secured from the New Jersey Departments of Education and Community Affairs and the fledgling agency was incorporated as a private, non-profit organization in 1987. It didn't stay small for long and soon effloresced into a network of seemingly boundless programming, support and advocacy created to help local residents recover control of their lives and achieve what they once perceived as impossible. The non-profit has served in excess of 25,000 families and, simply, changed and enriched lives on so many levels and in so many ways.
The agency quickly outgrew the storage closet at the high school and moved on to a small building on the property in which it was housed until 1994. Project Self-Sufficiency eventually rented the old state police barracks on Route 206, as well as two separate locations in downtown Newton, before launching a capital campaign to secure funding for its own campus. Donations poured in from individuals, organizations, businesses and foundations, and In September, 2008, the agency proudly moved into its current space on Mill Street in Newton. The four-building campus was designed by local architect Alan Spector, and was funded entirely by the $10 million capital campaign, which was the largest in the history of Sussex County at the time. The agency has continued to expand, opening an outreach office in Blairstown in 2011, and beginning to serve families in Warren and Hunterdon Counties through its home visitation programs in 2013. The addition of the New Jersey Youth Corps in 2016 broadened the agency’s reach into neighboring communities. Today, Project Self-Sufficiency employs more than 80 full and part-time staff members.
The gala
Friday's gala event offered live music by Steve Chapin, the Meant to be Jazz Trio and the Moonshine Mountain Boys . Dinner was prepared by Perona Farms under the supervision of Executive Chef Kirk Avondoglio. Wine was provided by George and Frances Delgado of George’s Wine & Spirits Gallery. The evening was topped off by the unveiling of a commemorative flavor of ice cream developed by Cliff’s Homemade Ice Cream in honor of Project Self-Sufficiency’s 30th year.
Peter Freund, the owner of Cliff's, said that when asked to create a special ice cream flavor for the event, he toiled over the prospects. “We came up with a Sweet Honey Graham because it's delicate yet flavorful,” he said. “It will make people smile and that's what Project Self-Sufficiency does.”
Beverly Gordon, president of Project Self-Sufficiency’s Board of Directors, said, “Project Self-Sufficiency has grown and changed so much over the past 30 years, but the agency is still focused on the idea of neighbors helping neighbors. This community has shaped who we are today and we hope to be able to continue to rely on their compassionate support for years to come.”
“We have been here for 30 years because for this community and because Sussex County cares about its neighbors and those who are less fortunate,” Berry-Toon said. “Very early on we had a wonderful Board of Directors and throughout our tenure, the Board has been fantastic.” She added, “Sure there have been ups and downs over the years, but we always stood by our original mission to help those in need and our supporters have never wavered.”
As Project Self-Sufficiency poises itself for its next 30 years and a future far beyond that, its director, board and staff continue their dance with time and its ever evolving innovations and technologies. As they've demonstrated, it's all about understanding the rhythm and making the necessary adjustments to keep up with change. Project Self-Sufficiency continues to so expertly and eloquently as it proudly serves the people who need and depend upon it.