Newark agency striving to save city youth struggles to stay open

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on August 12, 2014

Heather Critchlow teaches an English class at The International Youth Organization in Newark.



NEWARK — In five years, Carolyn Wallace expects to get a letter from the young men and women she tried to help find their way.

She’ll want to know how they’re doing and if they accomplished their goals after leaving the Newark social service agency she kept from closing last month.

"Send it to me whether I’m here or in heaven," Wallace said.

In her motherly fashion, Wallace was talking to the latest class of young adults that the International Youth Organization helps with life skills, job placement, earning a general equivalency diploma and counseling.

A letter is the least they can do for the 79-year-old Wallace, who came out of retirement to save the organization she helped found 44 years ago.

IYO, a grass-roots staple in Newark, was ready to shut its doors July 1. The phones didn’t work and the lights were off in Wallace’s office. She was behind on paying the water, gas and electric bills. Insurance payments for the building and vehicles were way overdue.

There was no way she could take on a new class of young adults ages 16 through 25 in need of direction when she owed $46,000.

It didn’t matter that she had $600,000 in grant money from the state, since those funds can only be used for program services, not operational costs — which has plagued the agency for years. IYO focused on serving city youth and their families, and never bothered to come up with a plan for self-sufficiency.

Facing a July 1 decision on whether to close, Wallace waded through a mountain of paperwork. Her annual operating costs came to $150,000, but she needed $46,000 or so to stay afloat. Underneath the piles on her desk was an unexpected gift — two grants from Newark that her agency had not spent after she retired at the end of 2010.

One grant was for $13,000, the other for $41,000.

The money was already allocated, so Wallace said Newark officials let her use the $13,000 to pay for insurance on the building and the vehicles. That move, Wallace said, allowed her to keep the doors open and accept the newest class for its New Jersey Youth Corp program.

"If I don’t have anything, I’ve got to have insurance,’’ she said. "I can’t run a program without that."

James Blaney, chief of staff for City Council President Mildred Crump, set up the meeting in which city officials and Wallace began to make things happen.

"She’s non-profit royalty,’’ Blaney said. "You do what you can to help.’’

After reading a column about IYO’s plight, some called Wallace to see what they could do. New Eden Baptist Church, which is across the street from the organization, has been taking up a special offering each Sunday.

"We have to do this,’’ said Fonda Dortch-Taylor, associate minister at New Eden. "Failure is not an option for IYO. Closing is not an option."

In September, a coalition of Newark churches, including New Eden, plan to sponsor a luncheon to raise funds.

"This is a community problem," said Larry D. Tyson Sr., associate minister at Trinity Baptist Church. "We believe IYO needs to be here for the future."

Wallace has a little wiggle room, but she is still struggling and hopes the city will let her to use some of the $41,000 to pay bills.

At the same time, she is trying to anchor the future of the organization with people who have business acumen.

What she’s doing at this stage in her life was never part of the plan. Wallace was working in a doctor’s office and working toward becoming a registered nurse. Her late husband Jim, a Newark police officer, was hired to provide security for Brick Towers and Hill Manor apartment buildings.

The couple, which would later marry, worked together to give a small group of youths something to do at at Brick Towers. The next thing they knew, there were 300 members of the Brick Towers Youth Association, which they started after school programs closed.

The name was changed to International Youth Organization when they outgrew Brick Towers and moved into a seven-building complex on South 12th that could easily house 600 to 800 children. They’re down to 30 members now and many programs that served the community are gone, except the one for the young adults who promised to send Wallace that letter in five years.

Demetrius Best, 21, says Wallace will be proud when she reads that he’s hauling goods and services as a trucker. He’ll always remember how IYO took a chance on him after getting expelled from four Newark high schools.

"This place feels like family," he said. "I feel loved."

Jasmine Cooper, 25, has two letters for Wallace. The second one will say she’s styling hair in her own salon. And she’ll explain how her confidence is through the roof, because IYO encouraged her to do better and not be afraid to ask questions.

The first letter is much shorter: Thank you, Mrs. Wallace, for keeping the program open.

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