LaVar Young, Newark Now

LaVar Young

A Vital Engine
of Change

Editors’ Note

LaVar Young was hired by Newark Now after his success as the Founding Director of Fathers Now, a program inspired by the National Comprehensive Center for Fathers. Through the center, Young successfully brought to fruition Mayor Cory Booker’s vision to directly impact and assist the needs of men returning home from jail each year. He is a graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. His first job was as a news reporter for WBGO radio.

Organization Brief

Newark Now (www.newarknow.org) was founded in 2003 by Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker to provide Newark residents with skills, tools, and support to transform their neighborhoods and is now an intermediary organization that partners with municipal government, residents, grassroots organizations, and the philanthropic community to catalyze the achievement of significant positive outcomes throughout the city. The organization channels the efforts and energy of the grassroots community to improve safety, economic independence, and civic participation. Their initiatives include the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC); Family Success Centers; and NewarkRx.

What role does Newark Now play in the city and how has it evolved?

Folks see us as a vital engine of change that they can rely on to help make it through whatever situations they are experiencing. Whether it’s through our Family Success Center or our Fatherhood Center, or our Financial Empowerment Center, we offer programs and services that can positively affect many of the families in Newark that need our help.

What is the mission of the Financial Empowerment Center and how was that developed?

The Financial Empowerment Center was developed to offer advice on everything from using basic banking services rather than check cashing facilities to educating folks about buying their first home or starting a small business, or saving properly for a college education. So it is a one-stop shop for all financial information.

For the past six years, we had the largest VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program in New Jersey. Every year, we recruit 65 college students or volunteers and we hire about 10 to 15 seasonal employees to do tax preparation free of charge for the community.

Through the Fathers Now program, how have you been able to work with fathers to make a difference?

Newark has about 71 percent single female-led households. So we thought about how to reengage fathers. We express the importance of our men being heavily involved in the decisions made in regard to their children as well as their communities. We talk about giving back and volunteering.

In addition, we try to assist with employment as much as possible. We talk to our guys about everything from how to properly prepare for an interview to how to present themselves in a social setting.

The Mayor is leading some great transformation in Newark but is the focus also on sustainability?

Definitely. The Mayor has been able to ignite the belief that this city can be a viable city, but it has to take hold within the community. We still have some work to do when it comes to getting residents to take hold of the potential they have for themselves and that we have as a city overall.•