Trenton Makes: Philanthropies Take

Harry Jackendoff

A great number of youth programs of every sort exist in Trenton.  If you don’t know how many, then you are little better off than most parents, kids, or teachers. There are sports programs, music and dance programs, culinary programs, health programs, oral and language arts (poetry, positive rapping, ESL) programs, media arts programs, computer literacy and job skill programs, sewing and horticultural programs, religious programs, carpentry programs, family therapy programs, boxing and karate programs, marching and drill team programs, to simply name the categories. So to say we need programs for kids is merely to admit to ignorance of what exists already, and ambivalence to the greater and more systemic issues.

I will be honest, I have a whole list of new youth program concepts, too—but guess what. They are only competing for the attention of the same good kids. They would want the allegiance of the same volunteer adults and teen mentors who are already doing great work.

The problem as I see it is that very few people are aware of where to go, on the web or elsewhere, to find out what exists and in which neighborhoods. And there aren’t enough volunteers to staff more programs. Frankly, if an inventory of all the youth activities accessible to Trenton kids did exist, most of us couldn’t find it without help. You could put a clearinghouse up on, which is the city’s official website. But how many people can find it, and once they find it how many will see the link to youth activities? The web is a good start, but no solution, since all the parents and kids who really need something are not the ones who live off the internet.  They live off of pizza and Chinese take-out.

Answer No.1: Pizza Boxes. We are the Tomato Pie Town

So. There is a simple first suggestion to solve our problem. For a few hundred dollars, we can have printer plates made for the Crescent Paper Company, the Trenton supplier of restaurant paper products, including pizza boxes and Chinese food containers. On a big, simplified map of TOMATO PIE TOWN there can be little alphanumeric numbers identifying all the locations of youth programs. S1, S2, and S3 would be sports activities. A1, A2, and A3 would be arts activities. M1, M2, and M3 would be classes on mutual funds for better investment decisions (I’m kidding, that’s on the box for corporate deliveries. M1, M2, and M3 on our box would be music activities for youth!) You get the idea. Our central inventory is a game found on every Trenton pizza box. The answers are printed around the edge of the map and the sides of the box. T1, T2, T3, etc., would be a quiz of Trenton landmarks (important spots like the Battle Monument, the Farmer’s Market, the Last Chance Recovery House). To make the landmarks into a real quiz,  the answers would be on the bottom of the box, where we would also print all the addresses and contact numbers for the youth programs.

I am sure that once we do an inventory, the entire map will be covered with numbers and call-outs, and the bottom of the box will be so filled-up, you will have no recourse but to look up that web-page link called “activities-for-kids” on the Trenton website.

The exact same thing can be done with Chinese take-out containers, only I would suggest we use these for all the different adult and family services available in town. Chinese food containers are more easily printed, and don’t require specialty printing plates that pizza-boxes do. Restaurant owners simply pay for the containers. Store owners who want the old plain standard boxes will show that they’re not motivated to help their neighborhoods, and will likely lose some customers as a result. So I think that they’ll be happy to cooperate with the idea, as will Crescent Paper, who will be working out a new advertising service to their business which could well draw new customers from their competitors in New Brunswick and Pennsylvania, especially when we develop the small business box for them.

Our Mandate is to Market Excitement to Kids

The goal, of course, is to design great ads on take-out food containers for local programs that have no advertising budgets of their own. This should be every city’s mandate—to help their non-profit programs find new adult volunteers from the suburbs and obviously, excite kids to press their parents into enrolling them in activities. We need to be better advertisers than the undesirable elements, who offer our kids a life in the fast lane. Our mandate is to overwhelm our neighbors’ kids with interest in a bigger and greater society—bigger than action films, fantasy gaming, cell-phones, and gangs. And while this is a challenge beyond this essay, it is a tall order worth considering carefully.

However, it does bring us back to the title of my essay—“Trenton Makes, Philanthropies Take.” There is no reason why our pizza boxes ads can’t be copied by every inner city in the country. I originally came up with the concept for a drug rehab outreach in the Bronx. I don’t think they ever picked it up, which means that Trenton gets to show the nation how it can be done.

For very few philanthropy or foundation dollars, we can demonstrate how to give non-profit program dollars more bang for the buck with well-designed marketing—leveraging community energies with that greatest American source of extra energy—pizza.

Most pizzeria owners insert a paper or wax-paper doily under their pies, which is a perfect place for longer descriptive write-ups of the kids’ activities. A different program on each doily—mix and match. The problem is, of course, that reading them can get a bit messy with all the olive oil drippings. Also, for all I know, printing on wax paper doilies may be an impossible operation.

The Inventory of Youth Activity Programs

So help me. What do we get from putting together a true clearinghouse of youth services? What more do we accomplish from simply performing an inventory? Let us suppose (though I don’t suppose) that we’ve got enough programs to serve entire K-12 population after school.  Who is to know what our actual capacity is? By doing an inventory, we would surely discover the undernourished and forgotten programs, or the ones the arts community ignores– like CYO boxing on South Broad, or all the little for-profit karate establishments scattered through neighborhoods.

We will also be taking inventory of what successful programs in one ward could be expanded to a neighborhood where it’s missing, and where it can be equally successful. We can help foster the grant search effort through a consortium of non-profits like,, and and aid in volunteer recruitment efforts through the county’s VolunteerConnect program.

What else would we get from the inventory? Partnering Possibilities—that’s what. Where a van or bus serving four or five kids could swing around and pick up four or five more that never had a bus, we’ve done everyone a service; and if the activity can’t afford joining in on the cost, this is where very minimal funding request to could come to the rescue. The same can be said of partnerships that share locations—where adult supervisors, security and surveillance cameras, insurance costs, and whatever can be shared.

The Boys and Girls Club of Trenton has neighborhood outreach centers in several of the elementary schools.  A number of these have Police or security presence, and I believe are served by school buses or vans.  The East Ward Police District station runs an after school tutorial to help kids with homework, and provides a van.

Once we’ve done the inventory, NOW is when we can begin filling out the holes and coming up with new programs that build on the locations and volunteers we have. We can also begin to reach out to parents through the kids themselves, bringing families into the larger loop of what makes a city into a large neighborhood and a great place to live.

Resuscitating the Moribund Programs for Youth

As I said, I have a whole file of youth programs for Trenton to Make and Philanthropies to Take. I know there are ways to resuscitate, update, and build onto the scouting movement – that wonderful, moribund leftover from the 1920’s. Everything is in place, if we can show them how to dust it off and put it onto Twitter. And if it can be done for the inner city (and we’ve got one of the smallest inner-cities to succeed with), as with many 20th century fads, what the inner city develops the suburban kids popularize. And what suburban kids popularize, Madison Avenue turns into a mega-buck industry. So if anything can be done with Scouts, the same goes for the 4-H clubs, which are federally sponsored, and which Trenton has access to through the County Extension Office by Halo Farms and the Farmer’s Market.  Anything we can innovate with 4-H, you could count on a Princeton grad named Michelle Obama to take to the nation.

Finally, given that we have such a great Police Department, and we’re looking for ways to help them clean up the streets, we can look to that national (generally suburban) organization called PAL (Police Athletic League), and turn it into a PEL (Police Education League) teaching a whole boatload of municipal engineering skills to young technically-savvy problem youth…but this will need a much longer description that I can give here.

All of them, once we prove them in Trenton, can be exported around the country. This means that a NJ philanthropy like Verizon or Campbell Soups should be glad to help us get them started, for the advertising clout this would give them once we are exporting their programs. What everyone is after, is a way to go beyond what we get for our tax dollars, to make up for some of the deficits in socialization that broken families and over-wrought teachers can’t provide.  So the point is, this is very important. There is lots to do, and lots to dig our fingernails into. But there is also a long long way to climb—and we’re going to need strong fingernails to climb up out of the hole we are in. Our kids, our families, and our neighborhoods need a lot of help.


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