Empowered women explain impact people can have on ‘community’

“Today, we’re here to talk about community,” Monica C. Smith, founder and CEO of Marketsmith Inc., said recently at the second EY | Marketsmith NJ Women’s Empowerment series, held at the Center for Great Expectations in Somerset.

Community, Smith said, is something she’s passionate about. And the Marketsmith side of the series is focused on changing the paradigm of how women commune and gather, she said.

“To get us to leave our offices, leave our children, it has to be special, it has to be meaningful and it has to be impactful.”

The topic of discussion was “Creating Community,” and focused on the importance of making time for those who need help.

Melissa A. Sciarrillo, co-chair of EY’s professional women’s network in New Jersey, said, “We chose this location (at the center) not only to bring attention to all of the great work that the center is doing, but also to really emphasize what we can do as women in our professional journey and where we can influence and involve ourselves in organizations like these that every day is a very important part of our journey and use of our time.”

Speaking with Smith on the panel were former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, now CEO and president of Fulfill (formerly the FoodBank of Monmouth & Ocean Counties), and Peg Wright, founder, CEO and president of the Center for Great Expectations. The trio all have made significant impacts in their community and the state.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

Kim Guadagno:

  • Community is new territory: Twenty years ago, I got a phone call from my dad, who said, ‘Your great-nephew needs a home.’ And if (the Center for Great Expectations) had been around 20 years ago, my niece, who was a drug addict at age 15, would not have had a child who was abused for 14 months and would never have had that child go into the system and that child would never have become my son. … And, so, now, what you’re doing in this building right here, will prevent that from happening to even just one person.
  • Community is providing food to the hungry: I get to wake up every morning. … I get to walk out the door and say, ‘I’m going to feed 150,000 people today. What are you doing?’ And it puts a smile on my face.
  • Community is you: There’s a lot of people who come to the food bank in Neptune, take a couple of hours every day to simply come and feel better about themselves, about their community and about the people they help. And if you think it’s not you, and if you don’t think it’s your neighbor, then you have to look around and open your eyes.
  • Community is facts: One out of 10 people in the state of New Jersey are hungry and food insecure. … In one of the richest states in the world, we’re not feeding our own families.
  • Community is opening your eyes: There’s a lot of things you all can do to help us help them. And the ‘them’ is your next-door neighbor. The biggest issue I have in Monmouth and Ocean counties is that the ‘them’ is really our neighbors. That they’re not really in someplace else.”
  • Community is solving crisis: Everybody always wants to know this: Can we really solve hunger? And, I don’t want to burst its bubble and break its wound, but I say, ‘Look, we may not be able to make this world a perfect world, but we do have the obligation to try. And even if I can feed one person who comes to the food bank today, then I will have made the world a little better.’
  • Community is lending a helping hand: Even if you can just help us by serving one day or serving one meal, or going to your cabinet and providing a couple of pounds of food to the food bank, than you will have helped us help those people. And, so, you will be feeding the hungry quite frankly.
  • Community is talking to politicians: If you want to know how to talk to those people, those people who, by the way, are making the rules in Washington, I’m happy to help you do that.  You’ll need to speak in a language they understand, so they’re less inclined to cut those programs.
  • Community is reaching as you rise: When you help, the next obligation you have is to reach as you rise. Bring somebody with you. I’m 60, my job is to go to that 40-year-old or 20-year-old and grab them and bring them with me on my journey so that they can go further than I did.

Monica C. Smith:

  • Community is a tool: If you define community, it actually says gathering for a common purpose. … It’s a tool in our toolbox that we do not use as well as we should. It is something that allows us to sit there and say, ‘It doesn’t have to be transactional.’
  • Community is logistics: (Over the last 10 years), I have learned not only to be a great community builder, but I’ve been able to use that community to help me build a logistics model that does not have one full-time employee paid. That allows me to go from taking time and finding time treasured and talent in places where there is excess and bringing it to places that have needs.
  • Community is life: It doesn’t have to be defined by your church, or what you believe to be the reason why this exists. … Why Melissa and Alison and the work that they’ve done is so important is because they want to elevate. To say that we don’t have to wait, we don’t have to have a bucket list, we don’t have to not have the conversation that we want to have that makes us full. We don’t have to live just for our children or for our partners or for our business. We can just live. Right now. And part of that in my mind is about community.

Peg Wright:

  • Community is leaning in: I met a nun who changed my life. I was in therapy (for substance abuse), I was starting to understand trauma. I became passionately committed to making this thing (the Center for Great Expectations) happen. And I had to learn everything. What a board was. What the state was. And it was a real challenge, but it turned me on. I’m still turned on. The only way that this happened and worked was with community.
  • Community is partnerships: It’s because (Sue Henderson, president of New Jersey City University, and I) are going to partner together, I’m going to work with her, I’m going to go into her social work department, as we do with Rutgers University, we don’t just say we’re the best thing since sliced bread here. We have data with Rutgers University that really cements that position. It’s critical. The Annie E. Casey Foundation got this huge funding from the feds.
  • Community is school: So, the Annie E. Casey Foundation actually chose us along with two other agencies in the entire country to go into residential facilities and take their punitive model and make it into trauma-informed care. Because that’s what we do. Complex trauma. Huge. We’re in the schools now. Critical. That’s community, that’s where it starts. In the schools.
  • Community is culture: How can we change a culture? … Use a trauma-informed model. That’s how you do it. We’re doing it. The data is astounding at Hunterdon Central High School. That’s our pilot. We’re just getting started.
  • Community is strength in numbers: But we can’t do this without you. Absolutely cannot do it. Kim’s working with food insecurity, you have to help her. Monica is down in Newark collecting coats all year long. She’s feeding people. We are together.
  • Community is opportunities: The opportunities for you to partner are limitless. Just call me. Call Kim. Call Monica. We have a laundry list of opportunities. I have never met an individual that hasn’t engaged in helping others that hasn’t said it moves my heart tenfold. … I am home. We’re just getting started.