A federally funded organization that provides early education to Hoboken kids held a ribbon cutting for a new four-story annex on Garden Street last week.
The building, in what used to be the courtyard of the David E. Rue School at 301 Garden St., includes administrative offices, three classrooms, and a rooftop playground for the children served by the non-profit.
City, county, state, and federal officials welcomed the new facility for the HOPES Community Action Partnership, Inc. on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
In a surprise revelation, the annex was named after Frank Raia, the chair of the 53-year-old organization’s board of directors.
They also dedicated a wing to former board member Michelle Russo, who was involved in various community and political organizations and died last year.
HOPES CAP, Inc. provides the community with a number of services, some of which come from government funding, others of which are aided by donations, and some (such as after-care in the public schools) which are partly reimbursed by parents.
The group’s mission is to provide necessary community services to help individuals overcome poverty through all stages of life.
Among other things, the organization is one of the providers that helps Hoboken meet a state mandate to educate pre-schoolers ages 3 and 4, since the city is one of 30 “special needs” districts in the state.
The organization serves over 1,000 children in the area for preschool education, infant care, and youth programming. In the Rue building and annex the organization will serve a total of 152 preschool aged children and infants, according CFO Simona Ovanezian.
“The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy impacted many of our children, families, and clients.” – Joselyn Estevez-Vargas
A long time coming
The project was funded through Federal Sandy Relief as well as local grants totaling about $12 million, according to organization CFO Simona Ovanezian, who specified, “about 6.7 went towards building the actual annex.”
She said the rest of the funds included renovations and repairs to their current spaces in the David E. Rue building. Rue used to be a public school, but now holds HOPES pre-school, the Mile Square Early Learning Center, and the middle school of the HoLa charter school.
In order to get the funds, HOPES had to submit 18 applications over the course of several years, said Joselyen Estevez-Vargas, HOPES director of early childhood programs.
She said, “The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy impacted many of our children, families and clients and it also impacted HOPES,” said Estevez-Vargas. “We lost a total content of three classrooms in the Connors site. The Rue basement was flooded with six feet of water which impacted electrical system, elevator, and sub-pump. The early Head Start site which had just opened 30 days before was completely wiped out. administrative offices, HR offices, finance were all impacted by the storm.”
Construction of the new building began in March 2016.
The four-story annex was dedicated to board of directors member of 34 years and current chair Frank Raia, a lifelong Hoboken resident. Raia, who has developed a lot of local real estate, has also served on the school board and was briefly a councilman.
“It doesn’t matter what time of the day or what hour, I would call Frank to get something done, and he always showed up,” said the organization’s longtime CEO, Ora Welch.
Raia said, “Today I am the proudest person on this earth. I am finally being recognized for my hard work in this town. This is an honor and a great feeling. My policy that I’ve said to myself a long time ago is, I want to take care of the kids in Hoboken before I leave this earth and go out and take care of people and seniors. HOPES does exactly that. This is overwhelming.”
The Rue building now also includes a wing named for former board member Michelle Russo who passed away last year. Besides various community positions, she was the wife of Mayor Anthony Russo and the mother of current Councilman Michael Russo.
“When I came to work for HOPES,” Welch said, “one of the things I asked in the interview is, what do you want? Michele Russo said, I want infant care in Hoboken for low-income families. I said, I don’t know if I can do that, but working together, we were able to get infant care program here in Hoboken, and the Michelle Russo wing will serve infants and toddlers in four classrooms.”
Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano and State Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro both presented proclamations. Romano presented a proclamation on behalf of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders to Frank Raia and in memory of Michelle Russo.
“His heart is for the children of Hoboken,” said Romano.
Words of support
Several members of the government and community expressed support for the organization.
Dennis Gonzalez, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which helped fund the project, said, “The work that we do … is reflected here. There are times and I’ve always said, we are the Department of Health and Human Services and often times people stop at health and they forget what comes after. We also need to look at the human services side and to make sure that facilities like HOPES are able to … get back on its feet and continue to provide the services that are so needed in this community. I remember five years ago, I live just up the street in Union City, and I remember how badly Hoboken was affected.”
Dr. Christine Johnson, superintendent of schools, said, “I think the most important aspect today is the issue of partnerships and the power of partnerships. There is nothing more applicable today then the concept that alone we are really just a drop, but together we are an ocean.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at email@example.com.