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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Chefs and Designers Delight Attendees at A Taste of Talent

Hundreds of patrons poured through the doors of Perona Farms on Monday night to help support Project Self-Sufficiency at the 18th annual A Taste of Talent, a fundraising event which offered guests the opportunity to sample hors d’oeuvres, entrees and desserts from area restaurants while mingling with the chefs.  Patrons were also invited to bid on the tabletop creations of several local designers.  Thirty-two restaurants participated in the event, along with representatives from five design firms.  Proceeds from the event benefited Project Self-Sufficiency’s programs for low-income families in Sussex, Warren, and Hunterdon counties.  

Project Self-Sufficiency Leadership Council member Lois Pellow and her husband, Harold, served as Honorary Chairperson of the 2014 A Taste of Talent.  Lois noted, “I have been involved with Project Self-Sufficiency since the beginning because I thought it was such an outstanding idea to help women and children who needed specialized assistance.  It’s a grass roots project that grew and grew until it became what it is today.  It’s a wonderful organization and I don’t get involved with anything unless I think it’s worthwhile!  A Taste of Talent gives you a chance to sample food from different restaurants, which is wonderful.”

Noting that the event has grown significantly to include a record number of chefs, Beverly Gordon, President of Project Self-Sufficiency’s Board of Directors, commented, “An event of this magnitude would not be possible without the dedication of the restaurateurs and chefs in our community.  We are indebted to them for their enthusiastic participation and for their creativity.”

Pete Freund, owner of Cliff’s Homemade Ice Cream, volunteered as the Culinary Chairperson for this year’s event.  “A Taste of Talent is a wonderful experience, it’s a wonderful cause.  You get some of the best people in the food and restaurant business gathered in one location for an evening.”

Participating restaurants included Perona Farms; Alice’s Restaurant; Andre’s Restaurant & Wine Boutique; Black Forest Inn; George Mandakas III, Blue Olive Market; Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse; Café Pierrot; Caffe Navona; The Chatterbox Drive In; The Chocolate Goat Gift Shoppe; Cliff’s Homemade Ice Cream; Uwe Toedter, Faculty House, Columbia University; De Bragga & Spitler; Fossil Farms; George’s Wine & Gourmet Gallery; Hayek’s Market; The Homestead Rest; The Inn at Mill Race Pond; Jesse Jones Cuisine Catering; Krave Café & Caterers; Mosefund Farm; Pizza Bistro; Ristorante Il Porto; Riviera Maya Mexican Restaurant; Ryland Inn; St. Moritz Grill & Bar; Salt Gastro Pub; Salt Studio; Springhouse Creamery, LLC; Tante Baci Caffe; Triomphe Restaurant; and Upstream Grille.  Guests were also invited to stroll through the cavernous kitchen at Perona Farms and witness a cooking demonstration by George Mandakas of Blue Olive Market. 

Perona Farms Executive Chef Kirk Avondoglio noted that the event has changed since its inception 18 years ago.  “Now we plan a month in advance and decide what we’re going to make.  It has to be something new, something different.”  The staff at Perona Farms created a bite-sized surf and turf using short ribs and tuna this year.  Continuing to support A Taste of Talent is important to Avondoglio.  “I believe in Project Self-Sufficiency and what they do.”

The Chocolate Goat Gift Shoppe owners Jennifer Koza and Stephanie Austin have been participating in A Taste of Talent since the event’s inception.  The sisters are partners in their shop, and both look forward to attending A Taste of Talent each year.  “A Taste of Talent is one of those things that we look forward to every year, because it’s different for us.  We get to participate in the event and see people enjoying our product,” commented Jennifer Koza.  The Chocolate Goat Gift Shoppe contributed eight different types of Belgian chocolate, as well as chocolate covered almonds and pretzels this year.  “For us just being a part of the event and giving back to Project Self-Sufficiency is what’s important.  It can only be a positive thing when you are helping a charity.  It’s a beautiful evening.”

The entryway at Perona Farms was transformed into a showcase featuring the wares of local designers, including Patricia Bruterri, Sweet P.E.A.’s; Holly George, Holly George Interior Design; Jacky Murphey, Victory Frame Shop; Alicia Shearer, Alicia Shearer Interior Design; and Debbie Devenny and Hanna Smith.   Patrons bid on table designs which featured place settings for eight, art objects, and decorative items associated with the television shows Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Keeping Up Appearances, Fantasy Island and Project Runway.  All items were sold at a Silent Auction, with the proceeds benefiting Project Self-Sufficiency.

“A Taste of Talent directly benefits our Sussex County neighbors in need, and is the cornerstone to our annual campaign,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency.  “We are exceptionally grateful for the time, talent and resources provided by the chefs and the designers who have contributed to this event, and to the entire community for their support of our programs for low-income families.”

Supporters of the event donated funds at several levels, ranging from individual tickets priced at $200 to contributions of $25,000 or more.  Silver Circle Members included Beverly & Bruce Gordon; Intercar Mercedes Benz; Susan & Gregory Murphy; Selective Insurance Company of America; and Sussex Honda.

Supporters at the Chairman’s Table level included Francesca Fazzolari, James Alexander Corporation; and Rhoda & Norman Seider.

The President’s Club was comprised of A Friend of Project Self-Sufficiency.

Partners included Judy and Jay Dunn; Kathy and Lou Esposito; George’s Salvage Co.; Frances Gould Naftal  and Marvin Naftal, Flatbrook Farm; The McNamara Family, Safety Scaffolds; The Printing Center; RoNetco Supermarkets, Inc.; Dr. Salvatore Sciascia; and Don Williams.

Anniversary Celebrants included Ellen and Arnold Lieber; and Sylvia and Ronald Petillo, Petillo Enterprises.

Supporters at the Patron level included Anonymous; Carol Campbell and Dale Thatcher; Current Adventure; Barry Douglas, Mountain Spring Irrigation; Paris and Virginia Eliades; Joanne M. Friedman, Gallant Hope Farm; Margery and David Inkeles, M.D.; A. Roy and Susan Knutsen; Lakeland Bank; David and Hilary Manser, New Image Landscape Services; James Moore Construction; Lora and Charles Musilli;  Nisivoccia & Company—Certified Public Accountants; Lois and Harold Pellow; Faith A. Ullmann & Associates, LLC; Friends of Project Self-Sufficiency; Dr. Richard Vaz; Stephen Wescott, Sterling Financial; Whispering Pines Enterprises.

Sponsors included Alberto & Cho Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Group, LLC; Jeanne M. Apryasz; Lana and Jim Ayers; Norman and Agnes Beatty, First Hope Bank; Dolores Blackburn and Kenneth Roberts; Michael Brazitis, Freedom Business Machines; Marjorie Bresler; Gene Bronson and Barbara O’Neill; Caristia, Kulsar & Wade, LLC; Cliff’s Homemade Ice Cream; Jacqueline Colaneri and Daniel Higgins; Mary Anne and Larry Condit; William Cowan, WILLCO; Delade Brothers Electric Inc.; Eastern Propane and The Nicholson Family; Jonathan Eigner. Northern Rain Irrigation; Farmstead Golf & Country Club; Franklin Mutual Insurance Co.; Hautau & Sons, LLC; Mr. and Mrs. R.G. Huber; Mary Hyde; Linda and Bruce Jorritsma; Hilary A. Kruce and Vincent Signorile; Robert Levy; RonDee and Brian Lockwood; Linda and George Miller; Gail and Richard Miner; Dr. Gerald and Suzanne Mirkov; Morris, Downing & Sherred, LLP; Dr. Jeffrey and Denise Panicucci; Carolyn and Mark Proulx; Smith-McCracken & Wood Funeral Homes; Sparta Hardware Store; Susan and Sovann Stark; Michael Stieglitz; Cheryl and Kenneth Syberg; In Memory of Harry Tarzian; John and Jody Ursin; Sheila and Peter Ventricelli

Music was provided by a variety of individuals and groups, including the Meant to be Jazz Ensemble, Glenn Merritt, Alan Hayes and Pete Omelio; Carol and Gary Kraemer, and Larry Supp; and students Katie and Andrew Van Varick.

Project Self-Sufficiency is a private non-profit community-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families residing in northwestern New Jersey.  The agency’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to improve their lives and the lives of their children while achieving personal and economic self-sufficiency and family stability.  Since 1986 Project Self-Sufficiency has served more than 19,500 families, including over 30,000 children.  To find out how to make a contribution to Project Self-Sufficiency, call 973-940-3500.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

High School Drop Out Finds Success with Youth Connections Program

A mere nine months ago, Kayla Bross was frustrated and about to drop out of high school.  Today she is the proud owner of a General Educational Development (GED) Certificate and is well on her way to college.  What caused the abrupt turnaround?  The Youth Connections program at Project Self-Sufficiency.  “I decided to take this route instead,” noted Kayla, who elected to try the Youth Connections Program at Project Self-Sufficiency after seeing a flyer about it at her high school.  “I am definitely feeling better about myself.  I am doing the prep work for the college placement test, applying for college, and getting ready to move on with my academic career.”

Kayla notes that she has a learning disability which had always made it difficult for her to concentrate during high school.  “One of the first things they do at the Youth Connections program is test your learning style.  Then they teach you based on your learning style.”  Being in a smaller class size also helped.

Like Kayla, approximately 7% of high school students will drop out of school before reaching the 12th grade, according to the U.S. Department of Education.  Students from low-income families are almost twice as likely (13.8%) to drop out of high school as their higher-income peers.  There are many significant reasons teens drop out of high school before graduating, ranging from peer pressure to lack of parental support to failure to address special needs.  A feeling of boredom or lack of engagement at school is another common problem.  While the reasons for dropping out are varied, it is predictable that those without a high school diploma will fare worse economically than their peers.  Without a diploma, they will have a difficult time finding meaningful work.  High school drop outs will earn less, have poor health, live in poverty and have children at an early age, many of whom will also grow up to be high school drop outs, according to EduGuide, a non-profit organization that works with schools and other non-profit groups.

The free Youth Connections program at Project Self-Sufficiency is designed for teens and young adults who are no longer enrolled in school, or those who have graduated from high school but who may be struggling with literacy.  Youth Connections helps guide participants through GED testing, job training, and placement at a work site, in college or the military.  Once a participant is accepted into the program, they can expect to undergo a battery of assessment testing followed by help with attaining their GED, life skills training, pre-employment training, and other remedial education efforts.  Childcare, lunch and limited transportation assistance is available to all participants.  Upon completion of their education, participants will be placed in internships, followed by placement in paid employment, college or the military.  Follow up support will be provided by Project Self-Sufficiency staff to ensure that the newly-minted workers are faring well in their positions.

Kayla completed her school work and was assigned to an internship at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center.  “It was really fun.  I loved working there and I like being around little kids.”  She has no interest in pursuing a career in education, however.  “I want a business degree so that I can open up my own yoga studio.”

Along with her coursework in the Youth Connections program, Kayla took advantage of the life skills classes offered at the agency which has assisted her with her current job search.  “They helped me to build my resume and taught me how to interview which definitely helped me a lot.”

“Kayla Bross was an inspiring individual to work with in the Youth Connections Program.  She is a determined and hard-working young woman who has clearly defined goals for her future,” commented Project Self-Sufficiency Administrator Patrice Green.  “Kayla worked diligently to utilize the resources that became available to her through the Youth Connections Program and it has paid off; she is currently preparing for the Fall 2014 semester at Sussex County Community College. Kayla is an inspiration to the staff at Project Self-Sufficiency and she has acted as a role model for many of the Youth Connections students. Kayla would like to be an entrepreneur and there is no doubt in my mind that she will become the educated, successful, self-sufficient woman she aspires to be.”

For Kayla, being able to meet people like herself was just as important as receiving a diploma.  “My favorite thing about the program is the people I have met.  I have made some of my best friends here.  I consider the class my family.  The people that come here really want to be here.  I have changed and grown, and I am a much happier person since I came here.  Project Self-Sufficiency has taught me how to be an independent person.”

Eligibility guidelines for the Youth Connections program are strict.  Participants must be local residents between the ages of 16 – 21, who fall below the federal poverty guidelines.  Male participants are required to register with the Selective Service System in order to qualify.   

Project Self-Sufficiency is a private non-profit community-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families residing in northwestern New Jersey.  The agency’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to improve their lives and the lives of their children through the achievement of personal and economic self-sufficiency and family stability.  Since 1986 Project Self-Sufficiency has served more than 19,500 families, including over 30,000 children. 

For assistance in applying for the Youth Connections program, or to find out more about the other programs and services available at Project Self-Sufficiency, call 973-940-3500 or visit