Sunday, June 22, 2008

Morristown Woman Seeks To Help Kids In Newark

Being of Dutch origin, Maria de Mos has an extravagant garden on her front lawn which she takes great pride in.

“All Dutch people have gardens,” she says cheerfully as she steps out of her house, the sun splashing down on her purple perennials.

Being of the World War II generation and once kept in an internment camp in Indonesia by the Japanese, Ms. de Mos has a lot to smile about today. Especially now that another successful year of the Suburban Cultural Educational Enrichment Program (SCEEP) that she’s a tutor for has again reached its completion date.

“I’ve been working with SCEEP as a tutor for the past 30 years,” says Maria, who hasn’t missed a day since she started working with her Presbyterian Church in Morristown ever since it originally began working with SCEEP many years ago. “There is one child who I know went to college who used to be in the program, and when you hear something like that, it makes you feel damn good.”

A widow but living with her son, Mark, who’s an artist much like herself (it’s one of her many talents), she fits her artwork in with her work with the kids.

“I do it for fun and I also sell it,” she says, regarding her artwork, which layers her walls and hallways, along with her son’s, “I like to do abstract and landscapes, too.”

The purpose of SCEEP is to provide face-to-face tutoring to kids who attend Newark elementary schools, with the ultimate goal of improving their academics, giving them more self-esteem, and keeping them from dropping out of school. A bus picks the kids up after their bell rings and brings them over to one of the host sites so they can learn a multitude of studies, including reading, writing, and art. Once they’re done for the day, they’re bussed back to Newark.

The Presbyterian Church in Morristown isn’t the only group to participate with SCEEP, though, as fifteen churches, six corporations, one university, one private school, a synagogue and fifteen Newark Public Schools around New Jersey are also deeply involved with the program. Included in this roster are the Union Congregational Church, Bloomfield College, and the United Methodist Church in Madison, just to name a few. It’s a program that offers close to 500 children after school tutoring each week. It’s also the largest one-on-one tutoring program in New Jersey and is privately funded by churches, synagogues, universities, private schools, and
Protestant Community Center Inc. (PCCI)

Each location has multiple members and tutors that number around 500 volunteers around New Jersey who provide close to a million hours of service each year. This particular SCEEP in Morristown that de Mos is a part of has about 28 tutors and activity volunteers including a multitude of cooks that provide food for the kids.

“We work with 3rd, 4th, and 5th, graders,” de Mos says, “and if you can read, you can help.” The kids are taught and given time to play for all three years, one day a week, two hours a day, and the program acts as a form of extra help during the regular school year.

Ms. de Mos is personally no stranger to helping out others and being helped herself, as three years of her youth were spent living with the grudge of being held in an internment camp with little food or comfort. “My father was a civil engineer,” Ms. de Mos says with a smile creeping up on her face, “and he brought to the camp running water and toilets.”

Asked as to why her father did such a thing, she responds rather matter-of-factly, “He just thought it was the right thing to do.”

And that’s similar as to why Ms. de Mos helps out with SCEEP in the first place—she just thinks it’s the right thing to do.

“Indonesia had free hospitals and free education,” de Mos says as she gives one final look at her garden before she steps back into her house.

It’s a look that’s very proud of both the growth of her garden, and also the growth of all the young minds she’s helped over these past thirty years of her life.

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