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State legislators come together in a bipartisan effort

16 state legislators came together in April to raise money for the Covenant House in a bipartisan effort.
16 state legislators came together in April to raise money for the Covenant House in a bipartisan effort.

More often than not, Democrats and Republicans disagree on legislation and various issues. Most of the legislation that does clear the State Legislature tends to tilt mostly along partisan lines. That is why it is worth highlighting what a bipartisan delegation chose to do by coming together for a great cause this past April.

Outside of the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey lawmakers held a legislative sleep-out to raise money for homeless youth. The event helped raise over $25,000 for the Covenant House. This was the first year such an event took place.

As Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26), who co-chaired the event with state Senator Joseph Vitale (D-19), would state;

It was a worthwhile night; a notable and meaningful event. There was a lot of learning and sharing going on, and for those of us participating on the legislative side, we came away with an appreciation for these kids.

The Covenant House was founded in New York City in 1972 and is the largest privately funded charity in America for providing services to homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked, and exploited youth. In New Jersey, the Covenant House is a crucial resource for providing health care, educational and vocational services, counseling, drug abuse treatment and prevention programs and transitional living programs.

Overall, there were 16 state legislators who were interacting with young adults between 18-22 during the overnight event.

Besides Webber and Vitale, the following legislators were in attendance: state Senators Peter Barnes (D-18), Jennifer Beck (R-11), Nellie Pou (D-35), and Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-11), Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-38), Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-3), Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-8), Assemblywoman Donna Simon (R-16), Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-29), Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-15), and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35).

As Vitale would express,

These are kids who live in Newark or Atlantic City who were homeless and found their way to Covenant House. These kids are very resilient. We heard a lot of tragic stories. Many of these kids were raised by someone other than biological parents and left because the abuse was so great. At Covenant House their future was restored, and now they are excited to be able to dream again.

Webber would speak on the event further by voicing,

It was uncomfortable (sleeping on the ground). But we were so much more comfortable than the homeless youth we were trying to help. We had access to restroom, we were with our colleagues, we had a patch of grass, and we were safe. A lot of these kids don’t have that. The experience doesn’t compare to what they go through, but it was a good reminder to us of their challenges out there. We were fortunate to raise awareness and keep them in our consciousness.

This was the first such venture in an event like this for state legislators and it seems like this could become an annual tradition based on reactions.

Vitale would add,

Some of the kids said we were crazy to be out there. A bunch of old folks on the ground – but they appreciated the time we spent with them, and we appreciated them and the chance to raise awareness about what it’s like to be a homeless kid.

After spending some time inside in the Statehouse beforehand, the event transited outside and lasted from 11pm to 6am with some sleeping under the stars mixed with some meaningful conversations.

Spencer too would exclaim,

The experience was eye-opening and alarming when one considers the resources that are not readily available to these young people. Covenant House is saving the lives of youth who would otherwise be lost.

While Casagrande would utter,

Covenant House is always there, when no one else is, to help homeless, at risk adolescents. I was moved to get involved by the stories of those whose lives have been changed by this remarkable organization. It is my hope that my participation in this ‘Legislative Sleep Out’ will bring attention to the work of Covenant House and encourage others to get involved.

This type of event and its impact might be something that could bring more legislators who were not there to the conversation on funding and assistance for places like Covenant House. Providing outlets and resources for these young individuals greatly benefits their lives and events like this provide an opportunity for raising money and bringing attention to important causes. Events like this should inspire legislators from both sides of the aisle to try to come together more often on areas they can find common agreement.

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