A story of resilience and community comes out of Jersey City, and it comes in the form of 28-year-old Jalisa Williams. When Jalisa was just three years old, her family entered the York Street Project, a social services organization + shelter in Jersey City. Her mother’s ongoing battle with drug addiction and mental illness left her and her three children homeless. The family immediately found a home at York Street, and years later, Jalisa recalls her time at the center with fondness — so much so, that she has now returned to the shelter to work as a case manager. Jalisa is serving her community to help others experiencing the same traumas she once did. What’s more, she’s working to fight the stigmas surrounding homelessness — which, she says, is more than a housing issue. We spoke with Jalisa to learn more about the amazing work she’s doing with York Street and the path that led her there. Read on for our interview with Jalisa Williams and learn how you can help York Street Project this winter.
The Hoboken Girl: Can you tell us a bit about your childhood at York Street Project? How long did you stay there? How would you describe the experience?
Jalisa Williams: I remember being in York Street Project at the age of 3 years old. I was in the program with my sister, brother, and mother. My mother suffered from drug abuse and mental illness. My experience at York Street was incredible. I remember being taken on trips, being a student in their childcare center, The Nurturing Place, and them giving me guidance that shaped me today. York Street Project truly hit a majority of the barriers my family was facing and I still remember the happiness the organization brought me when I was going through my childhood trauma. The holistic approach of taking on each obstacle proved to be effective.
HG: Has giving back to your community always been a dream of yours? When did you know you wanted to enter public service?
JW: Yes, I believe giving back to this community has always been a part of me. When I was old enough to understand issues relating to housing, mental illness, and substance abuse, is when I realized I wanted to enter the social service field. I believe these stigmas affect all communities that continue to be overlooked because homelessness is more than a housing problem.
HG: Can you tell us a bit more about your role/the amazing work you do as a Case Manager? What does the day-to-day look like for you?
JW: I just started this role so I have been adapting to my new work life, getting to know my staff, and introducing myself to my new clients. I am truly blessed and excited about my new position. Each day I work with clients on the best ways to assist them and get them to where they want to be or at least a little closer.
HG: Is there one memory from your childhood at York Street that stands out to you now? Maybe one person who played a pivotal role in your career path?
JW: Everyone did! One thing I remember about my childhood is this program, and the happiness it brought me while my family and I were going through trauma and challenges. But the trips had to be some of my favorite times.
HG: How can people support York Street and other shelters in the area? Is there anything the shelter especially needs during the holiday season?
JW: The holiday season is definitely a busy one for us and most non-profits. Thanks to so much support in our community, we have a surplus of gifts for our tiniest clients. However, we are looking for financial support to continue the work we do. You can visit our website at YorkStreetProject.org and follow our social media @yorkstreetproject. We also host numerous events, volunteer opportunities, and more, so give us a call!
HG: What has been the highlight of your work so far?
JW: Meeting everyone on the team and my clients made me feel connected with the program. Also, reconnecting with my teachers from my time here who are still big assets to the team was so special.
HG: What is the most difficult part about your job?
JW: Time management is hard because there are so many obstacles affecting our clients. Thankfully, we have an expansive team that focuses on each one. Our team is amazing because we prove every day that we are more than a shelter. We take on everything in stride and provide more to get our clients to be the best versions of themselves.
HG: What is special to you about Jersey City / your community?
I always loved Jersey City for its diversity, and now I love it even more because I can see just how much our community supports us.
HG: Is there any other information you’d like to share with us?
JW: York Street Project is more than a shelter. We offer case management, meals, child care, employment training, and more. We serve 25 families with children on site as well as over 40 working women in our boarding house on site as well as additional families off-site. We are more than a shelter because we break the cycle of poverty through a holistic approach.