In the summer of 2017, Teacher Prep alumni, Natalie Tung ‘18 and Brenaea Fairchild ’16, launched the pilot program of HomeWorks, a free, community-based after-school residential program for marginalized high school girls. Located in Trenton, New Jersey, HomeWorks aims to work alongside their scholars to disrupt the narrative that Black and Latinx girls’ lives are defined by the cyclical effects of systemic injustice. HomeWorks accomplishes this by providing a space to explore and reclaim power over the girls’ experiences, cultures and identities, and fostering a community of young women dedicated to breaking down social injustices in their home communities and beyond.
2020 was to mark the launch of HomeWorks’s first full year of residential scholars, who during the day would be attending Trenton, NJ public schools. However, this was put on hold due to NJ Covid-19 regulations regarding residential programs. In addition, Trenton Public Schools moved to full-time virtual instruction, which can be especially difficult for students in marginalized communities due to the lack of resources such as appropriate technology, internet connectivity and study space. Natalie Tung, HomeWorks’s Executive Director, explains, “In Trenton, New Jersey, we’ve seen how the disruption in schooling and routine has caused students to fall behind in school and have an increase in anxiety and depression.”
HomeWorks, in the effort to support scholars in their online schooling, pivoted from being an afterschool residential program to offering a Monday- Friday program where scholars attend remote classes at HomeWorks. Scholars are picked up from their homes each morning before their first online class and stay at HomeWorks until the evening. This allows the HomeWorks staff to not only offer academic support during the school day but also resources and structure for the scholars to learn effectively. After classes are finished for the day, HomeWorks continues to offer its culturally responsive programming, which recently included exploring the issue of Voting and Black Women.
While HomeWorks’s response to Covid-19 and remote instruction has been a great support for its scholars, Natalie Tung notes the pandemic is nevertheless affecting the program. Ms. Tung shared that the NJ state hold on offering boarding has lessened the strong social bonds formed between scholars, which she finds to be one of the important components of their program. In addition, the increase of staff support to scholars navigating their academic and social lives during the pandemic has resulted in reduced ability to seek additional funding for the program, which includes funds for a permanent location.
Despite the obstacles of Covid-19, HomeWorks remains committed to supporting young Black and Latinx women of Trenton and continuing their mission of fostering a community of empowered young women who strive to achieve their full potential and positively impact the world around them.