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Rutgers and the Renaissance of New Brunswick

How alumni play key roles in providing services for the people of the Hub City.

 

Mariam Merced

MARIAM MERCED Director of Community Health Promotions, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
How do you promote health in a diverse, rapidly growing community with a large immigrant population, many of whom face barriers of language and poverty? For this highly successful outreach program, the solution is outside-the-box creativity and partnership with a variety of community organizations. Under Mariam Merced’s direction, the organization has launched initiatives ranging from an annual health-themed Family Arts Festival to a march and rally to raise awareness of domestic violence. It helped to establish the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance (to offer residents access to nutritious foods), and—the realization of Merced’s dream—partnered with the hospital to open a pool and fitness center. “We’re not the building on the hill that people visit only when they’re sick,” says Merced SMLR’90. “We’ve become part of the fabric of the community.”

Glenn Patterson

GLENN PATTERSON Director of Planning, Community and Economic Development, City of New Brunswick
Informed by the vision of Glenn Patterson, New Brunswick’s Department of Planning and Development has helped transform the landscape of the city to make it greener, cleaner, and more pedestrian friendly. The concept of public housing, for instance, has undergone a sea change. Where the notorious Memorial Homes high-rises once loomed over a neighborhood known as a haven for drug dealers, the front porches of Hope Manor’s garden apartments—many occupied by former Memorial Homes tenants—physically connect residents with the community they inhabit. Adjacent to the downtown train station, the newly constructed Gateway—designed to appeal to the city’s diverse population—combines condos, rentals, and low-income housing with public parking facilities and a three-story Barnes & Noble at Rutgers college bookstore. “This is a dynamic city,” says Patterson GSNB’86, “and it’s our job to adapt to changing housing needs and markets, and to make the city a place where people want to live.”

Mario Vargas

MARIO VARGAS Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Action Board
In 1969, the modest mission of the Puerto Rican Action Board (PRAB) was to provide Latino immigrants with English lessons. Today, under the directorship of Mario Vargas, PRAB serves the entire central New Jersey community, offering an extraordinary array of services to help all residents overcome economic, social, and personal challenges. Since Vargas RC’92, EJB’06 became executive director in 2008, the most pressing of those challenges stem from the recession, and PRAB has responded with assistance in paying utility bills, foreclosure counseling, and finding access to health care. PRAB is working on a far-reaching plan to revitalize one of New Brunswick’s low-income neighborhoods. “If families in the neighborhood need help getting out of poverty, we’ll provide them with stable housing until they can become homeowners,” Vargas says. “And for those ready to own their own homes, we’re looking into buying properties so they don’t have to leave New Brunswick.”

Jeffrey Vega

JEFFREY VEGA President of New Brunswick Tomorrow
A city can’t be revitalized by brick and mortar alone. For three decades, that philosophy has guided this community-based nonprofit, which addresses the needs of New Brunswick’s low-income population, from child health and adult literacy to housing and leadership development. The latter is particularly critical, notes Jeffrey Vega, a force behind the successful New Brunswick Tomorrow–Rutgers collaboration known as Leadership Tomorrow, which identifies and cultivates a cadre of emerging leaders for the city. With Vega CC’90, EJB’91 at the helm, New Brunswick Tomorrow has also conducted in-depth surveys of the community it serves to better pinpoint how its annual budget—which has grown from $200,000 in the 1980s to $2.2 million today—should be apportioned. “We’re expanding our impact in a more profound way,” Vega says. “We’re reaching out to the community and really listening to what their needs are.”