Step into the offices of the HK Foundation Center of Maplewood & South Orange (commonly known as "The Center") on Valley Street in Maplewood and you are immediately pulled into a vortex of non-stop activity.
Local teenagers, business owners and training instructors are bustling about, gazing intently at computer screens and working with The Center's Director of Business Development and Community Outreach Stephanie Jelley.
The Center provides free—yes, free—media training classes to Maplewood and South Orange students in grades 7-12. (The full list of fall classes will be available online on August 23 and early registration is encouraged. Some of the classes to be offered include iWeb/Word Press, iPhoto/Aperture 3 and iMovie/Final Express.) A few adult classes—in ESL, conversational Spanish and blogging—are available for a nominal fee.
The Center was created as a partnership between the HK Community Fund and Jelley's media company JelleyJoint LLC. Tom Kerns the founder of the HK Community Fund and Jelley met via Facebook (yes, this is a true story). One of Jelley's other companies, the not-for-profit Loovatoo Inc., worked with up-and-coming Sony Epic performing artist Jasmine V as well as nearly 50 homeless youth in Newark, NJ to produce a music video titled "Serious." (The video can viewed on YouTube—it was partly shot in Memorial Park as well as the Maplewood Train Station.)
Kerns saw the video on Facebook as well as Jelley's postings and was intrigued by her background and work with youth. They eventually spoke, Jelley said, "about his (Kerns') vision of working with youth to encourage their sense of community." Kerns and Jelley agreed to partner JelleyJoint Inc. and the HK Community Fund so that they could reach as many young people as possible. From this partnership, The Center was created.
The Center is fully stocked with ten 21.5-inch screen iMac computers as well as two Mac Book Pro's. The hardware is loaded with a slew of software including iWork, Logic 9, Aperture and Adobe CS5.
During summer 2010, The Center ran several pilot programs, one of which included training in iphoto and aperture software. Fourteen students participated in an event titled "The Longshot": The Center photography students were sent out one weekend in July with the goal of shooting for 24 hours—11:00 a.m. Saturday to 11:00 a.m. Sunday.
The Longshot project is one example of The Center's dual-pronged approach to working with youth. Students receive media software training, but their education doesn't stop there. They are then able to take this training and apply it in practical terms. Students who participated in "The Longshot" will have their work displayed in an art show. The GAS Gallery and Studio on Ridgewood Road in Maplewood will be hosting an exhibit of the students work on Thursday, September 23. (And Patch will be there to report.)
According to Jelley, the students will handle the "entire process of creating an exhibit; shooting, editing, matting and hanging the photos. The students' work will be auctioned to raise funds for The Center so that additional software can be purchased."
Rick Hauser, one of the partners in GAS, is excited about his partnership with The Center. The gallery normally charges for exhibits but in this case is providing its space for free. "For what they are doing, we decided we weren't going to charge, " Hauser stated. He feels that the students will gain a great deal from experiencing the process of working on an exhibit from start to finish. Said Hauser, "To have your work in a gallery is an incredible experience, to have people stand in front of it and comment is a great feeling."
Sarah Vitello, a rising senior at Columbia High School, is one of the students who participated in the Longshot project. Vitello said that her experience has been "really cool." As a result of her training in photo software, Vitello feels, "Myphotos are so much better." Vitello was working on a picture she took of a group of ducks at the South Orange Duck Pond, and both she and Jelley spoke about how she was able to use the software to eliminate the beak of a duck poking into a corner of the photo. With regard to the Longshot project, Vitello said, "I wanted to capture the community and the people in it. At first I wasn't comfortable, but I know I'm learning about photography. It's really going to be cool to see my work on display."
Jelley is also the chief operating officer of Contour Media and Marketing and spent two years teaching middle school students. She brings sharp business acumen, as well as a great deal of experience working with kids, to her role at The Center. Jelley is a mother of four children spanning ages 10 to 19 and is a six-year resident of Maplewood. The Center's instructors are all volunteers and teach the classes on their own time. Instructors include Jelley's wife Michelle Jelley, a professor at Rutgers and Kean University; and Louis Toledo, owner of the Maplewood Karate School and a Mac and Adobe Certified Instructor.
During the summer, The Center Pilot Program offered training in Logic 9 and Garage Band, which are two music creation software programs. Students worked on creating and downloading their own ring tones. One center student, Michael Clark, who goes by the stage name DiVerse, created a song "New Jersey Minute" which has been picked up for use in the independent movie "Mothers of Murdered Sons." The film, which is being produced by Don Richardson of Denotes Entertainment, is scheduled to be released on October 1.
Besides the technical software skills that students are learning, Jelley feels that the students will also gain other skills: "They will learn how to represent themselves in professional environments as well as acquire skills essential to the 21st century."
The Center's students are also participating in the local economy. Currently, a group of students is working with St James's Gate owner John Meade to rebrand the establishment's menu. Using the Center's software, they are working on three design options. These three menu designs will be presented to Meade and he will select one. The new menu should be available by October 1.
Students are also teaming up with Karen Veltri, a certified professional energy analyst for RGH Solutions. Veltri is collaborating with The Center students to create banners and brochures to educate consumers about Green Energy Solutions. Students will also be working with Veltri on video presentations.
Jelley is a strong believer in giving back and impresses this on her students. "You must pay it forward, through some venue, whether HK or some other organization."
The Center is doing just that.
The HK Foundation Center of Maplewood & South Orange is located at 515 Valley Street, Suite 130, Maplewood, NJ 07040. Phone: 973-762-4206.