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Community Advocate Fostering Hometown Hub

Civic Warriors Podcast Episode 9: Community Advocate Fostering Hometown Hub

"We can't do this alone, it takes a village."

Kelly Post-Sheedy of Joseph H. Firth Youth Center speaks to her own personal connection to community in her town of Phillipsburg and what impact it has made on her life.

Listen in as Withum’s Brad Caruso and Ashley Krompier chat with Kelly on what it takes to create a culture of giving back within a community. Emphasizing that fostering a safe space for youth, and inspiring within them a lifelong connection to community, can best be done by setting the example, together.


#CivicWarriors #WithumImpact

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This Is Civic Warriors…Podcast Trailer

This podcast was transcribed through a third-party application. Please disregard any misrepresentations.

Civic Warriors:
Innovative, dynamic, gritty, determined warrior.

Hosts:
This podcast is about the innovators, the leaders on the front lines of adversity, the all around good people doing good deeds. They are the civic warriors of the world. Withum’s guests are the leaders in the nonprofit industry affecting change. They try, they fail, they overcome. Through their stories we can join forces to become civic warriors.

Brad:
With us, we have Kelly Post-Sheedy from the Joseph Firth Youth Center in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Uh, also with us is myself, Brad Caruso who is the host of Civic Warriors, as well as Ashley Krompier, who’s a Marketing Coordinator at Withum as well as co-host of Civic Warriors. So we’re going to jump into today and we have a very exciting guest, because it’s something that’s near and dear to a lot of our hearts, and that’s a youth center. And if you haven’t had a youth center in your neighborhood, you need one because there’s a lot of value and a lot of fun that it brings to the children and a lot of good that it brings in working around a community. So welcome to the show, Kelly.

Kelly:
Thank you so much for having me.

Brad:
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s Valentine’s day which is exciting. Kelly has a nice pink shirt on. We went to Dunkin’ Donuts and they have the pink donuts out. So, there was no traffic today I’m sure people are out having fun with their significant others. And we’re going to talk a little bit about a few things that, some of the challenges that happen, some of the fun things that the center is doing. And really just get a little bit of background about some of the, some of the really positive things that, the center has on the community. So with that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the center and share with us a little bit about your story.

Kelly:
Sure. So once again, I’m Kelly, I’m the executive director of the Joseph Furth Youth Center in little old Phillipsburg, New Jersey. I was invited here today, uh, through the connection through one of your employees, Mr. Mike Pintabone. So we want to give him a shout out.

Brad:
Mike Pintabone, the boss-man.

Kelly:
He is amazing. And he’s a longtime board member of the Firth Youth Center. Uh, he also was a former Phillipsburg resident and now moved away with his wife but comes back every month for our board meeting and still has family in town. So I’m so happy to be under his leadership and direction at the Youth Center. But the Firth Youth Center for those who don’t know is a 501(c)(3) standalone nonprofit recreational facility, serving the children of Phillipsburg and beyond. We don’t have any geographic limits of children that we can serve, which is great because we certainly have people that come from Easton, our bordering city, as well as our sending districts for different programs that we offer and summer camp throughout the year. But we do pretty much anything and everything that we can to get as many kids into our facility as possible. Uh, we’ve had a mission statement for longer than any of us in this room have been alive. It’s been there for almost 70 years, to fill the Youth Center with children, especially those at risk who the founding member, and the woman who made it all happen many years ago, Ms. Elizabeth Firth-Wade had said, let the children meet here rather than on the street corners in town. Let them come here to the Youth Center to a safe supervised environment so that they can enjoy recreation and leisure and socialization with their friends. So I hope, Ms. Elizabeth Firth-Wade is shining down very brightly on us. I’m very happy with what we’ve done, especially over the last two years since I became involved.

Brad:
Yeah. And she had, if you go to their website, which we’ll share with you. There’s a very interesting story about how, Elizabeth Firth kind of got involved and how it started which is cool. And she started a foundation as well, which I believe supports you.

Kelly:
Yes, we do. We do receive funding through a small endowment in her memory. Her dad actually was the mayor of Phillipsburg way back in the day. Joseph Firth. Yep. And she, I kind of think of her as a modern day Kate Hudson, she was famous. She went overseas and traveled the world. She was almost like a Broadway star. Um, and she moved out to Santa Barbara, California. She married into a pretty wealthy family but was successful in her own right. Um, but then she wanted to give back to the community that raised her, especially in honor of her father. And she invested a large chunk of money to build the original Firth Youth Center. About 10 years later, our chief of police at the time who was the late Mr. Jack Budd, his son actually serves on our board right now, he was the chief of police and he mailed a brochure out to every resident and Phillipsburg and said, if everybody chipped in $25, we could build these kids a gym and put an addition onto the Youth Center. And that is how the gym at the center was erected. We were so thankful because our gym is used seven days a week, minimum of 10 hours a day and then from there, slowly and surely the Youth Center kind of expanded throughout the years. They built on a wrestling room, which if you know anything about Phillipsburg, New Jersey, you know that we love our wrestlers. So, it has grown and evolved with locker rooms and we hope even more in the future.

Brad:
Yeah. That’s so cool. So what age children on a regular basis, what’s the age group that comes by?

Kelly:
The vast majority of our program is second through eighth grade. We are so fortunate in the location of the youth center. The land was actually donated by a silk mill factory back in the day. Um, but we are conveniently located one block away from the elementary school, so grades three through five, and our parking lot is adjacent to the biggest public park in town, which also has the community pool. So we have a great space that we can utilize and take advantage of. And then the kids can walk. So, Philipsburg, is a working class blue collar town, and a lot of kids lack transportation families who are working so hard to make ends meat but sometimes have to push luxuries or things that people may see as excessive to the side because they’re worrying about their basic needs. So we’re so fortunate. The middle school is not even a quarter of a mile away from us and the elementary school is right down the street. So we do have some programs for younger kids. We certainly serve our high school population. However, the vast majority of programs are grades two through eight.

Brad:
Okay, cool. And how often I guess time wise, when are people usually rustling and bustling?

Kelly:
So our motto is, when the schools are closed, we must be open. So most of our programming starts at 2:30 when the school day lets out and then goes ’til 9:30/10 at night. Weekends, we are open, of course. Some weekends we’re open from seven in the morning until six or seven at night, depending on what we have going on. But today the schools are closed for president’s day, weekend and Monday. So we will be open all day Monday. We’re open, pretty much from eleven in the morning until nine at night with different things going on. When the schools are closed, the kids need the Youth Center. They need a place to go, a safe supervised environment where they can socialize with friends and stay out of trouble.

Brad:
You need a little bit of trouble. Just a little bit but you need a place that people can reign you in and teach you the right way.

Kelly:
We’re totally okay when kids test boundaries. I think that’s a sign when they feel safe that they know that they can test boundaries a little bit and yes, exactly. We’re going to reign ’em back in.

Brad:
Reign ’em back in. Yeah. That’s good stuff. And I think from my experience, I know just having that, having that community outlet or a place you can go around people doing like things and, and I think just physical activity in itself is just – we all need more of it every day. I mean I think a lot of people in the business world get so stressed cause we just stopped doing those things that made us kids or that made us enjoy the things that we do. Like you need physical activity.

Kelly:
Definitely. I say that all the time when people stop by the Youth Center, you hear in the news and you hear from, you know, maybe around your social group of friends that kids are constantly on technology constantly on technology. We don’t see that. We have over 150 kids who come to the youth center every day. We serve over 600 a year and that doesn’t even count any of the youth sports teams that use our gym as their home gym. We see kids playing, even when we have – could I tell a short story?

Brad:
That’s what this is for!

Kelly:
So, we started doing Friday night dances, we call them Fri-YAY. And it’s a wonderful collaboration with a couple of different key partners in the community who have pooled resources together and said, Hey, on Friday nights we need a safe place for the kids to go. So the flood gates open when we say that we want to collaborate with people, we want to work together, how can we do all pull a little bit together and do more for the kids. So a couple of different agencies stepped up to the plate. I’ll give them a little shout out, Norwescap Traditions Family Success Center and the Municipal Alliance of Phillipsburg and they said, we want to work together and have Friday night dances. So we start them two years ago when I had started, and every Friday night having dances, we split them up by age groups. We had a DJ come in, we had pizza for the kids and some volunteers come in to help us chaperone as well as our staff of course. And the first couple of dances were huge. We were getting 70 to 100 kids there. Packed house. Awesome. Amazing turnout. Yes, a lot. Maybe too many, but it’s okay. And, I think it was because of the social media campaign. Our superintendent Troxel was promoting it for us and there was a lot of hype in the beginning because historically the Youth Center wasn’t open late on Friday nights. Well, about three or four dances into it. Once the novelty wore off, we started to see attendance decline and we’re like, what’s going on? So rather than getting around a table with a bunch of professionals or board members, no offense to any of the board members and say, what’s going on? Why is the attendance going down? We went and talked to the kids and said, guys, why aren’t you coming? Where were you at? And they said, resounding, we want to play basketball. We want to come there and be able to play basketball. And when you shut the lights off and you have the DJ, you don’t let us play basketball. So of course, you know, safety first, that’s why the lights are out, you know, the DJ lights are going. Um, and it’s dark. I don’t want his equipment to get ruined and it’s a dance. So I’m thinking that’s what they want to do. So what do we do? The next dance we, uh, put, we have a blue tarp that divides our gym in half. We left the lights on the one side, we turned the lights off on the other side with the DJ and his equipment. And what do you know, we’re back up to 70 to 100 kids. So I think listening to the kids and letting them be in the driver’s seat of how we run programs was so important.

Brad:
Yeah. That’s the most important part. And you’re right. I mean, kids need an outlet to let their energy out, but it needs to be something that they want to do. So yeah, that’s great that you found a way to connect with them. So what do you really want to do? And they’re like, basketball!

Kelly:
Yeah. And they’re not on their phones and they’re not on an iPad.

Brad:
And I think I know with myself, I’m on a phone out of boredom. I’ll just be in the elevator. I’ll be like, just scrolling through Instagram just because it’s there. And you can do it. But is that what I want to do? No.

Ashley:
But if you had access to a basketball court…

Brad:
But if there was a basketball court right inside that elevator, I’d shoot some hoops. Yeah, I would, yeah. No, listen I think we’re all built, you know, I think most of us anyway, I’d like to think most of us, I don’t think Phillibsburg is alone in the fact that people want an outlet to exercise and to do fun things. And, really it’s a community based thing. So it’s being around people you know.

Ashley:
It’s uplifting.

Brad:
It really is. Yeah, I know, you know, in our quest to find purpose and meaning in life, I got lucky. My wife, my wife’s whole family was involved with the fire company, so we got married, we moved to my wife’s town about three and a half years ago. And her dad was like, when are you coming to the fire house? And I was like, tomorrow. And so finally I got involved, went through the fire academy, which is a daunting task for a working professional with two infants at home. But, got through that. But I, realized that that was one of those things that was really missing, uh, not missing but just I wish I did it years ago in my life was just being around people, being in the community, doing physical activities. Right? Cause some of that stuff is not fun. You know, if anyone wants to know a gallon of water weighs about 8.3 pounds and if you’re flowing a hundred, 200 gallons a minute, it’s a lot of weight. And so, you know, you do a lot of exercise, you do a lot of activities and then if you’re on an air mask and you try to do physical activity… We had a house fire in our town and I’m on an air mass trying to chop out a wall with an ax and like within, three minutes, like breathing on air. So you’re just sucking down this air bottle. You know, so anyway, bringing that –

Ashley:
It brings you a sense of purpose.

Brad:
Bringing that all around I think, I think, uh, I think most people don’t understand or don’t, don’t necessarily pursue, how much it means to be involved in your own, in your own community. Right? So I’m sure, and I guess tell us a little about community involvement in your town, cause I know just looking at your website and what we talked about before this, tell us a little bit about how some of the first responders and the others get involved and why that’s important.

Kelly:
How much time do we have?

Brad:
Listen, it’s near and dear to my heart. So share your story.

Kelly:
Well it’s just incredible. What we’ve seen over the past two years is that when we opened the doors and we say to our Philipsburg community and beyond, we can’t do this alone. This takes a village. No matter how cliche that sounds, we have so many kids to serve and we’re not the only people in town who can help. And so connecting to the community has just made all the difference in the world, uh, for the Firth Youth Center programs that we can bring in at no cost to the families that we serve. The police just stopping down, popping in. It’s very common if not every single time that we a dance, that a police officer either comes in to hang out with the kids, shoot some hoops with the kids, or they’ll even just wait outside while kids are being picked up or they’re walking home from the Firth Youth Center. Just to be a presence and a connection to the youth that we serve. There’s not a single activity and program that we’ve run at the Firth Youth Center that we do in a silo.

Brad:
Okay.

Kelly:
Every single thing that we do is because somebody else has reached out some other nonprofit, some other resident or individual who knew somebody who said, Hey, I can bring this program in? For example, we have a karate program. So every Thursday officer Lance, who is also a sensei, comes down and it’s a collaboration with the Phillipsburg police department and Norwescap, which is another nonprofit in our town, pulled resources together and said, karate is a great sport. It’s physical activity, it’s discipline. There’s so much more that goes into it. And every Thursday from four to 7:00 PM, there’s karate class officer Lance has also then network to get free uniforms for all the kids and really make it a special experience to the point that now every December he has a massive day that he takes over the Firth Youth Center a Saturday, whole morning and afternoon, and brings in other instructors and puts on a big show for the parents to really see what the kids have been working on. And I could speak volumes of that man and what he has done for those children enrolled. So much so that now he’s asking me can we come on Tuesdays too, and run it Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Brad:
Hold on cowboy!

Kelly:
Exactly I know, I’m like wait wait wait.

Brad:
But it’s a good thing that he does that.

Kelly:
As a total aside, my brother is Phillipsburg high school’s wrestling coach, so we can’t kick the wrestlers out to bring in karate. I told him when the season ends, you’re more than welcome to have as much time as you’d like in the wrestling room. But you know we’re very involved in the community. But that’s just one program. I mean we just ran a massive Super Bowl party. Super Bowl is the number one day of the year where marketing for alcohol and tobacco. We are a very big source of alternate activities for kids. So if the kids are at the Firth Youth Center, then we know that they’re not engaging in drugs or alcohol. So two years ago when I had first started Marybeth Ringo from the Municipal Alliance, she said, why don’t we do a Super Bowl party? It gives kids a safe place to be. There’s also a lot of research and data on domestic abuse and that the Super Bowl may be tied to higher likelihood of a domestic abuse. Let’s face it, half of America, their team loses, right? Whoever they’re rooting for loses. But additionally, alcohol is more likely to be involved in money, gambling. If people lose money on a game, emotions can be high. So she said, let’s get the kids out of the house and into the Youth Center and do something really great. Well, it’s not just about putting the TV on and putting the game on. We said, how can we take it one step further? So we got pizza and wings, paid for by the Municipal Alliance. We had the gym open because like I referenced before, if we turn the lights on in the gym, the high school kids are gonna come, so they want to play. We did some trivia games with them for some small prizes. Then the next year, actually, Mike Pintabone at one of our board meetings said, I loved the Super Bowl party. I think that was awesome idea. Really want to see if we can get even more kids there. I think the first year we’ve had maybe like 45 kids, um, that we were kicking out at 11 o’clock at night. Like the game’s over. You gotta go, we gotta shut the gym lights off. You have school in the morning. And Mike said, how about from the board? Um, actually let me take that back. I think Mike and his wife from their own pocket gave a $500 donation for us to go and get prizes so that then we could raffle off prizes for the kids. So we got Apple AirPods it was last year. They were huge at the time. We got a flat screen TV. We got gift cards, like Uber gift cards. A lot of our kids lack transportation. So getting them Uber gift cards was really –

Ashley:
Great idea.

Kelly:
Yes. Great.

Brad:
Very intentional things, yeah which is good.

Kelly:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not just, no offense to fast food, but not just giving them fast food gift cards, but things that they could use. And then our attendance last year I think went up to like 65/70 kids and we advertised with the support of the school district and our superintendent saying, Hey, this is a great activity. Get the kids over there and look they’re going to have all these awesome prizes to raffle off. So it just grew in this past two weekends ago was another great event. Again, we gave some great gift cards away and raffle prizes, food and… But again, it’s not working in silos. We couldn’t have done that. The Youth Center could not have just supported that on their own if there weren’t community members and former Firth Youth Center all stars and our different agencies around town stepping up and working together. That would not have happened. Actually and back to the first one that we had?

Brad:
Yeah.

New Speaker:
I didn’t even realize here I had went, set up the whole thing was with the staff. Maybe for the first half. I went over to my brother’s house, which was maybe a mile away to watch some of the game and was going to go back later to help close up. In the interim, four police officers came over to watch the game with the kids. They realized we were low on soda? They ran to Wawa and bought soda for the kids, two liters. I mean that’s the community, that’s what rebuilds a community and brings so much more positivity and creates that, that level where people feel like we can all do this. We can make a difference if we work together.

Brad:
Oh 100%. I think that’s a critical aspect of all of it. And I think a lot just, you know, commenting a little bit about the police side of it. You know, a lot of studies out there show that that community policing, um, it’s not necessarily about about having, having police to you know, enforce law. It’s more about how do they help people understand it and know that they’re not trying to bring people down or unduly hurt someone’s life because they’re enforcing the law. And I think that is like the biggest example of how we can change perception in society. They’re there. They’re with the kids, you know, and those kids see that. They say, wow, you know, these police officers are here with us. Like they’re good people. I guarantee those kids are going to be less volatile in doing something like, you know granted they’re kids. So you know, every once in a while kids do funny things, but they’re not, they’re not going to be – if that wasn’t the case, I bet things would be a little bit different.

Kelly:
Yeah. I’m sure Phillipsburg is very similar to other towns with the community policing, but I do just have to say Chief Stettner is incredible. Our police officers, our fire police Chief Hay and his guys at the Phillibsburg fire department are always involved, whether it’s that they’re opening up the firehouses for trick or treat, giving out candy, or they’re coming down to the youth center or they’re at one of our local parks running national night out. It just seems like whenever anything is going on Phillipsburg related, it’s not that they’re there policing, they’re not there to, you know, babysit or reinforce laws. They’re involved. They’re cooking the hot dogs. They’re, you know, playing with their kids.

Brad:
Yeah they’re to show that they’re apart of the community.

Kelly:
Yes, of course.

Brad:
The most important part.

Kelly:
And so many of our police live it Phillipsburg which I think is phenomenal as well.

Brad:
Yes. 100%.

Kelly:
They’re part of our town and we see it. I stand outside everyday, 2:45, best part of my day. I wait outside and see all the kids running down from Warren Street down to the Firth Youth Center at the end of their school day. And there’s typically a police officer who will drive by at some point. They know the kids by name. So how powerful is it that in a couple of years when they’re in high school and maybe they’re testing those boundaries, that that police officer is going to call that kid by name and they’re going to say, dude, remember when we were shooting hoops at the Youth Center? Come on. I know you can do better. That type of connection is what’s powerful.

Brad:
That’s what makes change.

Ashley:
And it’s just a testament too, that when there’s an opportunity for people to help that they’re going to step up and want to.

Kelly:
Yeah.

Ashley:
So that seems like that’s what your group has done. It gives them the opportunity to really come together and expand the positive influence.

Kelly:
Definitely. Yeah. We are, our doors are open and we want to be able to utilize the Youth Center for the original purpose that it was developed to open the doors and get the kids in there and hopefully make a bigger difference and an impact on their lives.

Ashley:
It seems like that’s the direction it’ going for sure.

Kelly:
Thank you.

Brad:
Is your fire department volunteer?

Kelly:
Yes.

Brad:
Cool. Yeah. So I think the cool part about about volunteer, and you mentioned it with as far as uh, police officers that live in live in the town that work in the town, that has a big impact too. Which every department is not like that, but volunteer fire. What’s cool is everyone probably does live in town that’s on the fire company. And, uh, I know the one thing cool we do, and I always try to just emphasize this, October is fire prevention month and every fire department, I’m sure yours does it too, is they have fire prevention week or fire prevention activities that time. So we open up our doors for an open house. And so every October, we have two departments in town, so we every year alternate, but just invite the entire community. So they just come by and we have different things. So the coolest part is when you have your own kids and you see them kind of get involved. So I have a three and a half year old and my three and a half year old came by and sometimes he’s a little skittish or shy, like very shy actually around other kids. So like, I keep trying to figure out ways to get him involved. So he’s not like hiding in the corner glued to mom’s hip, which is the typical. But I think the coolest thing is, he was by and I was just kinda doing whatever I was doing and helping people with different activities in the house. And we had a little fire hose, like little baby fire hose and like a little house set up with like, you know, fake fire in the windows and like he picks up the fire hose. He like turns it on.

Kelly:
Yeah.

Brad:
It was one of those like, and then, then all his little friends, I’m helping them too. I’m like, oh, come over here. You know. Then his neighborhood friends who are – you know sometimes he’s even shy with, even though he’s like friendly with, you know, they are three and a half, four and a half, and they come by and they grabbed the fire hose. And then you know, I’m selfishly trying to get their dads to join the fire company.

Kelly:
Recruit!

Brad:
Oh always recruiting. Fire company? Always recruiting. There’s a big volunteer gap in the fire world. Just, there’s a lot of people that are like nearing retirement and a lot of people that are like 18. But our town’s hard with fire because, um, a lot of the kids when they go to college, they end up leaving the town. Um, so a lot of our, a lot of our town isn’t necessarily permanent residents forever. Um, a lot of people, a lot of their kids will end up moving away. So it’s hard to, it’s a very difficult proposition. Um, and then people that move into the town, most people are working professionals, um, just to be able to support, support living in town and uh, yeah. So it’s hard to get people to dedicate the time. So, the more volunteers you get, that’s a difficult thing.

Kelly:
Yeah we have yard signs all around town that our fire and EMS are looking for volunteers at the time.

Brad:
And the only reason I mentioned all of that is because I think the part about like being involved in the community, it’s great that the kids are going to be around those, those first responders. Cause then some of them are going to go do that. And the best thing anybody can do is go be a first responder. Cause you really, you get a different perspective on life. So that’s the only reason I mentioned that.

Kelly:
Definitely and I think what you’re, what you’re talking about there is really modeling, you know, so how your son has seen you with the fire hose. He went over to it and naturally knew what to do and pull the lever and you know.

Brad:
He knew, exactly. I didn’t even have to tell him. He just walks over and just pulls the hose.

Kelly:
And that speaks to children are always watching. They’re always watching what you do. And I think that goes back to the staffing that we’ve hired at the youth center is we want to have the best role models. They’re people who are always going to be showcasing the best way interact with one another. How to model appropriate behavior and so on and so forth. But yeah, your son is doing that because he’s seen you do it, you know?

Brad:
Which is the scariest part. You realize like you know some of the things you do, you’re like he’s watching, I don’t want him to watch what I’m doing right now. Whatever it may be.

Kelly:
It could definitely make you scratch your head and say, man, I could really mess my kid up. Like, if I do something wrong they’re watching.

Brad:
Yeah. It’s like I realized when he just learned how to walk. So he’s probably, you know, one, maybe one and a half. I was mowing the lawn and I come inside and I see him in the living room pushing something around the living room, like a lawnmower. He’s pushing something and going up and down the living room.

Kelly:
Aw.

Brad:
Up and down, up. And I’m just like you literally just watched me mow the lawn. You’re mowing the living room lawn. And that was the moment I realized –

Kelly:
Your carpet probably looked great though.

Brad:
Oh it was phenomenal. Yeah. He watches mom vacuum. He’s got his little vacuum out. He’s back. You mean I’m like, Hey, there you go. Get the chores going on. But yeah, you realize how much of an influence you have without, without actually intentionally being an influence. And I think that’s so important that you have to always be mindful that when you are around kids, they’re always watching.

Kelly:
Definitely.

Brad:
They’re always listening, even though they may not communicate that they’re listening, their ears are open. I hear it all the time. And my wife would kill me for this, but what was hilarious, one night, one night we were, uh, I was giving him a bath and, I forget what my wife, she was either at work or somewhere. And so I was giving both the kids a bath and giving two kids a bath at the same time, it’s hard when one walks and one doesn’t. Cause it’s kinda like, one, you’re chasing around the other one, your worried they’re gonna fall in the bathtub.

Kelly:
Herding cats.

Brad:
It’s herding cats. So, little guy gets out of the bath and I get both of them out of the bath and I’m like, oh, there’s no towels. I’m like, where are the towels? So I’m like looking around, there’s none in the hamper. There’s none on the walls. They’re probably in the dryer, right. And the dryers downstairs. And I’m like, oh my god. And she’s screaming, he’s yelling, everyone’s going nuts. And I’m like, you know, where all the flipping towels? And then he’s like, dad, where are all the flipping towels? And I’m like, oh my god, I just messed up.

Kelly:
They’re watching your behavior and hearing your words.

Brad:
They are. They hear everything and they are very good at repeating what you say. They’ll never repeat what you want them to say, but they’re very good at repeating things that they want to say.

Kelly:
Don’t you wish you had that moment on Snapchat?

Brad:
For his wedding day? Yes. It would be. I think it would be one of those, Hey, by the way, I have the first time who ever cursed. Mom doesn’t know about this. So yeah…

Kelly:
And play the DVD.

Brad:
DJ hit it.

Ashley:
Do you find that a lot of the youth that go and participate in the activities, that as they age and they kind of grow, move out of town, do they come back? Do you have a lot of stories about people coming back and contributing in different ways or staying within the town?

Kelly:
Well, you’re speaking to her. So my family’s fourth generation, I’m fourth generation Phillipsburgian, if you will. And I think that that’s something that speaks to Phillipsburg tradition. Coming back, serving your community. I feel like what to me personally, and I’m sure some people would agree, we want to raise our kids to go out and conquer the world. Leave Phillipsburg, get an education, do what you want to do, follow your passion. But there’s always that connection to home. And I do think that if you would track the data and the research and hey, shout out census 2020’s coming, everybody needs to be onboard to get counted, but we all then, um, if you can come back and have that connection to your community, Phillipsburg is a place that kids want to return to. You have roots here, you have tradition. And I think that’s always something very important. We have a lot of history, a lot of legacies, a lot of families who have been here for many, many years and generations. And you want to be a part and to come back and serve your community. So, I mean, just about me, I went off to Kutztown University. I got my bachelor’s degree, then I went to Lehigh. I got a master’s degree there. I worked in the nonprofit world out in the Lehigh Valley. Came back to Phillipsburg and told my husband when we were house shopping, I need to live one mile from the pit. I need to be walking distance from the pit, which is our wrestling gym.Yeah, when they built the new high school, we lost the pit for a little bit, but fortunately we were able to go back once a year for a fabulous evening at the pit. But I said, I want to live where I can be in my hometown. And now, you know, he made my dreams come true I guess because we got to a house seven years ago and have made it into our home. And, uh, we want to be a part of our town. So to see the band marching down the boulevard to the Maloney Stadium, I can look out my window and see that. And that means so much. And you know, we have experienced a transient population in Phillipsburg over the last probably decade. So what we really need to do is make sure we’re having an emphasis on teaching the new kids who aren’t from Phillipsburg originally, their families are from out of town and have moved in Phillipsburg to teach them that history and teach them that commitment to your community and about volunteerism and giving back and holding true to the garnet and gray inside of you. Because that creates a whole community approach. Um, and if we can get more people to stay in Philipsburg and not move off, I think we’re going to be better in the long run.

Ashley:
Do you have any sort of like programming so when kids are new to the community then they can be informed. Is there anything that you do?

Kelly:
We don’t Ashley, but that’s a great idea! Like a Philipsburg 101. I love it.

Ashley:
Or something with the school’s like, do you work with the sales at all in that kind of way?

Kelly:
We work really great with the schools, principal Finken who’s right down the street from us. They do major pep rallies before the Thanksgiving day game. You guys know about the Thanksgiving game?

Brad:
No.

Kelly:
Oh my goodness.

Brad:
Yeah, I know about Thanksgiving day games just given where I’m from, please tell us.

Kelly:
Well I think, I believe, I don’t want to be misquoted here, but Phillipsburg and Easton, Pennsylvania have the longest tradition of high school football game on Thanksgiving morning. I believe we’re at like a hundred and I don’t know, eight or nine years now at this point.

Ashley:
That’s great.

Kelly:
Yeah, it’s always Thanksgiving morning and um, it’s over at Lafayette College because neither of our facilities can hold up to 20,000 people who come out Thanksgiving morning. But both Easton and Phillipsburg are very deep in tradition and history. So the week leading up to the game, there’s pep rallies, bonfires, fireworks, all sorts of shenanigans. The powder puff game of course, which my senior year we did win. Um, so, uh, that’s my claim to fame.

Brad:
And they’ll never forget it.

Kelly:
I will never forget it. I definitely have a blown up photo of that. But, yeah, those things that just keep you connected to your community and make you feel good and a part of something much bigger than you. So leading up to that of course, even now the elementary and the preschools have pep rallies. So that tradition in Phillipsburg is always present and resonates in every event where the state liners and um, you know, if you’re, if you’ve been a Stateliner you’re a Stateliner forever. But I like that idea. I may have to think about something for a –

Ashley:
Could be something cool.

Kelly:
Cause we definitely have a lot of families who have moved in within, you know the past, I would say decade or so. And teaching them about the history here and why it’s so important to stay connected to your community.

Ashley:
Thank would be awesome.

Kelly:
Yeah. Yeah.

Brad:
Yeah. It’s funny. My, wheels are turning too cause in our not-for-profit group we have about, I want to say a hundred people, maybe 75 to a hundred people that work in the not for profit – doing not for profit work, so audit, tax, advisory stuff. And, uh, one of the things we’ve been working on or talking about is like creating like a new welcome package, right? Like people join, like why do you want to do this type of work versus go do corporate work or do individual, whatever it is. And we were talking about creating like a welcome basket. And we were trying to, what we were trying to find actually was how do we find like products or things that our clients make. So we have some, we have some clients that do like sustainable sourcing, sustainable foods, um, sustainable farming. We have some clients that, one client, you know, they have a glass blowing program. So like we had some like trinkets and things from them that they make and we were trying to find like a good welcome basket to say like, you know, welcome to the group, you know, here’s what we’re all about. Right?

Kelly:
Very nice.

Brad:
Yeah. So we’re still working on it. It’s still a work in progress. But –

Kelly:
Yeah, make people feel connection to their work.

Brad:
You have to, it’s the only way that, you know, it’s the only way our job makes any sense. Right? You know, the amount of hours, and the amount of stuff that we go through and stress and all that. You know, you need that purpose and you need that sense of community. So Mike who you know very well, that’s the one thing I think if we all like learn from, he does best. What I love about Mike is, Mike Pintabone partner in Withum for those that don’t know, he’s also the treasurer of the Joseph Firth Youth Center, what he does really well is he kind of builds a sense of team on like every job he’s on. And what I think is, I think is great is, he comes up with nicknames for people like right away. I’m sure he has a nickname. And you may not know it.

Kelly:
I hope it’s a good one!

Brad:
It is. And they’re always funny.

Kelly :
Yeah.

Brad:
Like uh, and he’s a big Muppets fan, so like he comes up with just funny, funny names. So yeah. Long time ago, he started calling me wild man just because playing company softball, I got a little, I got a little crazy sometimes. Company softball gets aggressive. So you want to talk about rivalries? Yeah. I had to, I had to bow out for a few years cause I got, I got too too crazy about it.

Kelly:
Um, do you know about the alumni game he scheduled at the Firth Youth Center?

Brad:
No.

Kelly:
Oh my goodness. So before I came he thought of this fundraiser, to build that connection back to the youth center, um, is get former Youth Center players to come back and play an alumni basketball game.

Ashley:
Ooh, I’d do it.

Kelly:
Yeah, right. Sounds like a good time.

Brad:
Well, I guess from a, from running the center, any challenges you face? I mean, what do you see as a challenge in running a you know, a community based recreation center?

Kelly :
We’ve definitely had a lot of growth edges over the past two years. Um, when I came in we really wanted to focus on rebranding the youth center, um, for a period of time. It was maybe seen as, you know, not the best place to send your kids to. So we focused, I think I even remember saying in my interview, uh, that the first thing I would want to do is, um, give a positive image of the Firth Youth Center that when you send our kids your kids to the youth center, you know, they’re safe, you know, they’re going to be receiving enriching activities and that we’re going to do our best to treat them just like they were our own. And I think we were very successful at that in the beginning and to date. I mean, we have a very active social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We don’t do Snapchat, no Snapchat. So, and the kids are always on TiKTok, but not us however, I do hear a lot of nonprofits and businesses are getting into TikTok now.

Brad:
Oh are they?

Kelly:
Yeah.

Brad:
Yeah see, I haven’t, I haven’t, I haven’t seen that yet, but I can imagine that, that, that could take off in a degree.

Kelly :
It’s on the cusp. But yeah, we definitely had growth edges. We wanted to renovate a lot. So even just painting and getting new tile floor so everything matches. We renovated two of the classrooms, just quick face lifts, but just to get it up to date and clean and looking fresh. The kids don’t need a brand new facility. They don’t need, you know, everything under the sun. We just have to give them a safe space to come and be kids. So with that, you know, we certainly face some challenges with an old building and getting it renovated and it seems like every time you do something then you have to do five other things. We also are in the process of obtaining a full childcare license, which is very difficult in the state of New Jersey.

Brad:
It is very difficult yeah. We do work for a few not-for-profit daycare centers. And it is not easy to get it and maintain it.

Kelly :
Yes. So getting it has presented some challenges. The board has been incredible just to stop at nothing and do what we need to do. But of course that comes down to dollars. Being able to make sure that we have all the environmental codes and precautions taken care of which is a lot of money.

Brad:
And training and the trainings is the big aspect of it is making sure people follow the right protocols because of course, you know, you’re handling people’s very, very young ones.

Kelly:
Yeah, we’re fortunate because there’s different school-age policies and procedures versus, I think newborn to five or six. So I believe that, you know, we already do most of the things that are already, we’re already in compliance, you know, it’s more about the building and making sure the facility, like I said, it’s 70 years old. So we had raid on testing, we had, you know, very low levels but above the threshold. So we had to get a whole radon system installed, you know, within the matter of two weeks and it’s $10,000. Where does that come from? So navigating through some of that, but fortunately our board has just been incredible and if they don’t have the resources or know where to go, they network with their friends. And I think, um, you know, we talk about collaborations we’ve touched on a couple of times today. There’s no stronger collaboration than our board and a lot of people joined boards and, or sit on boards and you can be very passive and it’s just kind of something you’re putting on your vita and something maybe you feel good about it and you give a donation once a year. That is not our board. Our board, our 13, are the most driven, motivated, determined individuals I’ve ever met in my life. And it’s a pleasure to work for them. Very, very likeminded and it’s not, when problems present throughout the past two years, it’s not what are the problems? What are we going to do with it? It’s, we’re going to solve this. What are, what are our options and let’s do it. And it’s, you know, goal driven.

Ashley:
So what are we going to do?

Kelly:
Yeah. There’s no problem. It’s just what’s our solution and how creative can we get with that solution. So, we’ve been fortunate to with some of those hiccups. We’ve received a lot of grant funding. I think we’ve written for seven or eight grants under my leadership and we’ve received 100% of those. So everything from.

Ashley:
That’s amazing.

Kelly:
Yeah, it’s been, uh, I, I always say my grandfather’s upstairs looking over us because, uh, he’s a Phillipsburg guy himself and I know he shines down on us for some of the hiccups that we’ve had to navigate through. Pop’s always looking out for us. So it’s a beautiful thing. And as I get a little choked up here on Valentine’s day. But it’s so true.

Ashley:
No it’s emotional because everybody’s contributing in such a big impactful way that you’re seeing.

Kelly:
Yeah. But Ashley some of the things that happened to us and some of the beautiful stuff, there’s no reason this should be happening.

Ashley:
Mystical?

Kelly:
Yes. I’m like, the stars are aligning or there’s a higher power, certainly looking down on us. For example, we wrote for a grant back in July with the help of two wonderful women Georgine Trinkle and Yvette day. It’s called the Drug Free Community Programs. So you gotta be in it to win it, right? So we, I think it was maybe, I don’t know, 400 page application, federal funding. It’s $125,000 a year for five years with the option to extend for another five years if you reapply and put our name in the hat. We know that we have a captive audience with the kids. Now, how can we make the time that they have at the Youth Center more valuable? How can we serve the greater good of Phillipsburg and work towards a drug free community that would be a much better, safer place for our kids to be raised. And we put our name in the hat and I don’t know, I think there were like 5,000 applicants throughout the whole United States and we were one of 150 that were selected.

Brad:
Oh congratulations, that’s fantastic.

Kelly:
Yeah. So, but those type of things that happened, I mean, many organizations apply multiple times before they can receive funding or never receive funding, no matter how many times they apply. But because of people working together and having a mission and saying these are goals we have now, how do we get to them? It’s just a, it’s incredible sometimes.

Ashley:
You do all the right things on the back end and the right things will come to you.

Kelly:
Yes, we are cashing in a lot of good karma. That is for certain.

Brad:
Yeah, that’s true. And Pop is looking out for you. I have, I have the same kind of family story where my grandfather owned a barber shop in North Plainfield for 58 years. So he was, he was a staple in that community. But he was a big supporter of the high school. I think a lot of people, him and his brother owned the barbershop and they passed away a few years ago, but um, it was the same, the same attitude. They live to basically right down the street and they were like big in the community. But, yeah, I have that same thought or hope that he’s, looking down on us and saying like, they’re doing the right thing. Sometimes I feel like I’m not, but yeah. But there’s a lot to be said about that and I think it’s, you know, as much as that’s kind of a mystical thing, the real nonmystical part is the fact that you’re doing everything you can do to make him proud. Right? That’s the, that’s the, that’s the thing most people don’t, when people are like, Oh, it’s, you know, it’s spiritual. It’s not, it’s actually the fact that you’re being a catalyst for yourself because of that. And so it’s creating these opportunities.

Kelly:
That’s a good way to look at it.

Brad:
Yeah.

Kelly:
Definitely.

Brad:
It is yeah. It’s a drive.

Kelly:
I think if we all lived by the mentality that no matter what you do all day long, whether it’s work, play, service, your marriage, your relationship with your kids, parenting. If you can go to bed at night and you can put your head on the pillow and say, I did all I could do and I did my best, then you’re doing what your, your intended purposes in life, and then you can make anybody upstairs proud.

Brad:
Yeah, it’s hard though. When you have little kids, it’s hard to like go to bed at night, like, ah, what did I do? What if I did some?

Ashley:
The towels.

Brad:
Yeah. Well, yeah. You’re thinking about that all night. You’re like, please don’t repeat it. Please don’t repeat it. Repeat it. Yeah. And then they repeat it and you’re like, ah, I screwed up. And then they don’t repeat it. You’re like, yes, dodged a bullet.

Kelly:
Winning.

Brad:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s like you know when you are young and you’re waiting, like, I hope my parents don’t find out. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. It’s like the same. It’s the same level of stress. Influencing the little kids. Cool. So I guess from a support perspective, obviously your a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, you can accept charitable donations. You know, if you were to say, this is what we need to continue to do our good work, what would it be?

Kelly:
Well, there’s always a need for funding, right? I mean, we make every dollar count, um, a dollar to us I feel like we can make it stretch very, very far because of the collaborations that we have. Um, with a lot, a lot of people, I’m not even, you know, speaking of today. It’s just incredible the amount of support that we’ve received, especially, over the past two years. But also ideas and sharing. I always say to people, even when they’re just sharing our Facebook post about, you know, the NCAA March Madness event we’ll have for high schoolers, you just sharing that maybe connects somebody to us that can offer yoga classes and they would love to do that, but they’re, you know, three degrees of separation from the Firth Youth center would never know that we do have a wrestling room and we do have these amenities and they would want to give back. And –

Ashley:
Spreading the awareness of just what’s going on.

Kelly:
Definitely yes, spreading the awareness, spreading the positivity. There’s so much negativity. Phillipsburg is no exception, that we have so much negativity in the world on the bigger scheme, and at our local level. So if we can just spread the positive and what’s going on, it’s a much more beautiful place than what people, you know, give it credit for the world, New Jersey, Phillipsburg um, and so on and so forth. And so spreading that positivity, I just feel like will resonate and make a much bigger impact than what any of us can imagine. So spreading our message, um, of course we always accept fabulous donations. And also opportunities to network. We’re always looking to get our message out or having collaborators come into our facility and offering more programs for our kids.

Brad:
So if someone were to donate, how do they donate to you? What’s the easiest way?

Kelly:
So we do have PayPal on our website, but they can mail us a check. They can call, they can stop by, visit us and check out what we have going on.

Ashley:
And what’s your website?

Kelly:
FirthYouthCenter.com.

Brad:
They can come get a pickup game of basketball in right?

Kelly:
Definitely, yes. Just no torn ACL’s.

Brad:
Make sure everybody, make sure you stretch.

Kelly:
Yes. Mike, are you listening?

Brad:
He better listen to this. He’s gonna be like why did you use my name so much?

Kelly:
I don’t even know how long he’s been on the board. I think over like 10 or 15 years now. It’s been a long time.

Brad:
He’s been involved for, for a long time plus plus just uh, being involved before that too. I think

Kelly:
You know Pburg people, we may move away, but they always stay connected somehow. That’s a Testament. He’s a Testament to that.

Ashley:
That means that you did a really good job, and 70 years of it.

Brad:
Means you created that strong connection.

Kelly:
Yeah. Yeah. And there’s even, I mean the people on Facebook and Instagram now are all different generations. And we see it all the time, the comments on our feed or our posts that they used to come rollerskating to the Firth Youth Center in the gym back in the 70s. And they used to come for their own basketball games. I played there when I was a steel bulldog. So that connection over years and years has created this rich tradition of not only Phillipsburg but at the Firth Youth Center. It’s so important. And I think we capitalize on a lot of that by allowing those people to come back and do programs with the kids and appreciate when they share our posts and thank them when, you know, maybe unfortunately they have a loved one pass and they say to direct, instead of flowers, direct gifts to the Firth Youth Center in their honor. That happens all the time. And it’s just a beautiful sentiment and a testament to the longevity of the Firth Youth Center and the impact that it has had over generations in our community.

Brad:
Yeah. This is, this is, yeah, this has been fun. I’m really excited and I think, I love, I love just hearing about, organizations that have, that kind of, the impact you’re having in your community and continue to have. And you know, it sounds like you’re just getting started, which is the best part.

Kelly:
It’s exciting. Every day is new. You know, I’m at the wrestling match the other night. Phillipsburg is in the sectional finals tonight for wrestling against North Hunterdon.

Ashley:
Good luck.

Kelly:
Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Uh, North Hunterdon beat us earlier in the season, but we are a feisty team and they have learned so much. So I’m excited about tonight. However you know, I was at the match on Wednesday night and Johnny Garriques who is Cetenary University’s head coach, he was a two time state champion for Phillipsburg back in the day. A year and a half ago he came to me and he said, there’s wrestling clubs all over. There’s one in Phillipsburg, there’s a bunch in Easton, and they’re charging a hundred, $150 $200, $300 a month for kids to come and wrestle at their clubs and get better. He wanted to volunteer his time. So here for the past two summers, once the season ends, April 1st all the way through the season starting in November, he runs a Friday night club for our kids for free. It is packed. And we constantly have people coming from outside of Phillipsburg and they walk into the Youth Center and they say, oh my gosh, I wish we had one of these in our town. And so here is this guy volunteering his good deeds, his good message and positivity with the kids. He’s incredible, literally like the best around. And in terms of coaching and technique. He then brings in high school wrestlers and college wrestlers to help keep the connection to them to rebuild the next, to teach them about volunteerism. Then some guy PayPal’s us $1,000 and says, I’m a friend to Johnny Garriques. I believe in what he’s doing for the community, please get the kids singlets for the next tournament.

Brad:
Wow. Yeah look at that.

Kelly:
I don’t even know the guy. The guys said don’t even send me a thank you card. He doesn’t even want to be known. So he takes him them tournament’s now and gives them experience, and things that our kids would not be able to otherwise afford, now they can do because of people like Johnny Garriques and other people stepping up to help. It’s just beautiful.

Brad:
That is.

Kelly:
It’s really great. So every day is new. Every day is an adventure and we’re always open to different things and you never know what can happen when you spread the message and spread what we can do.

Brad:
Yeah. Connecting with people and having people connect with other people, that’s, that’s how you make an impact. And it’s wonderful that people want to be a part of it. And it’s a testament, right? You can have all the programs in the world, but if people don’t want to be involved in it, it’s for naught.

Ashley:
Or if you’re not listening, like you said, you didn’t sit with the board, you sat with the kids, and said we’re serving you. We want what’s best for you. This group. And then you take that feedback and you make it better.

Kelly:
The driving force of that Drug Free Community grant that I had mentioned is not the sectors, the 12 sectors of very influential, powerful, awesome people who helped us with the application process. But the driving force behind using those funds will be the lead Phillipsburg Youth Coalition. So we will have a youth coalition of middle school and high school kids who will be the ones telling us these are the struggles that we’re facing. These are different ideas we have. How can you help us navigate through this very messy, messy world right now? And so, yeah, you have to listen to the kids and you have to be open to different ideas and open to networking and collaborating. We don’t want to close our doors off. We want to unlock every door at the Firth Youth Center and let people in and use the facility for the purpose that it was intended for.

Brad:
Yeah. Alright.

Ashley:
You’re doin’ it!

Kelly:
We’re trying. Lot of good people. A lot of good people helping.

Brad:
Yeah, no, this is fantastic. So yeah, thank you so much for your time. You know, we really appreciate it. I think this was a great conversation and just a lot of information. I jotted down a bunch of notes just things that I think are very valuable for people to consider as they’re running their organizations. And I think you know, the biggest part of any organization that we come across is it needs a leader. And you’re clearly exemplifying that leadership by being present. You know, Woody Allen said, 90% of life is showing up. And I highly believe in that, cause I never feel qualified to do what I do. But, then you take someone like you who is qualified to do what you do and put them in there and it has the impact it’s having.

Kelly:
I Google. I Google everything everyday. I said that to Mike. When he said, oh, would you want, would you be interested in coming and doing this podcast? I said, Mike, I’m not qualified to do this, I literally Google everything.

Brad:
Well you proved that wrong today.

Kelly:
Well, thank you so much, and really a message out there too is that, you know, you may not be connected to Phillipsburg or the Firth Youth Center. And I hope you enjoyed, you know, what we talked about today. I certainly did. And I appreciate the opportunity. But there’s community centers all over and maybe there’s one down the street from you or in the neighboring town and I’m sure they could use the support as well. So always keep our kids and the community centers involved in your mind, especially when you’re giving donations.

Brad:
Right. Yeah, great. Alright, well thank you for your time.

Brad:
Hey warriors. Thanks for tuning in. On the next episode of Civic Warriors we’ll talk with Alden Stoner, CEO of Nature Sacred about the power and serenity of nature, and turning a legacy grant-making organization into an operating foundation. Make sure to subscribe to Civic Warriors and thanks for all your support. Have a great day.

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