Walk into any neighborhood and you will quickly learn about the types of people who create it; the “nosy neighbor,” the “corner store comedian,” the “grumpy old man,” the “unofficial neighborhood watch,” the list is infinite. It’s these people who give each community and neighborhood its own unique identity.
As a child, growing up in Newark, New Jersey, my family was a working middle-class family. Even though things were tight, I was fortunate enough to see plays at Symphony Hall and art at the Newark Museum. I practically lived in the Alexander Street library; I attended fashion shows at the Robert Treat hotel and took summer art classes at Arts High School. We didn’t have much, but my parents and grandmother always taught me to give whatever I had to offer, to someone in need. I watched my grandmother and parents feed strangers, provide clothes or just offer a word of encouragement to anyone who needed it. My community in Newark is not free of crime or violence or poverty but there is a sense of pride; people who get up each day to care for our community. There is an innocence and hope in the youth here that I have always wanted to guide into something productive. And that something for me was Girls Who Code.
As a young child and the daughter of an Engineer and aspiring Lab Technician, I poured through Popular Mechanics Magazine and experimented with lab kits. The early interest in technology led to my participation in a summer program where I learned to build computers. My experience with science and growing affinity for computers were the foundations that supported my volunteer efforts with Girls Who Code.
Volunteering with the Girls Who Code organization helped me find a way to give back to the very community that raised me. This program exposes teen girls to coding, in efforts to close the gender gap in the technology industry. Though women are making strides in S.T.E.M. fields, there is still a significant void in the number of diverse female professionals entering these fields. Programs like Girls Who Code are necessary in every community – especially in urban communities like the one I grew up in — and PSEG’s Recognizing Excellence in Volunteerism Award is an incentivizing boost to continue my efforts to reinvest back into the Newark community.
Currently, I am building my own non-profit called, E-S.T.E.A.M Kidz. Empowering Students To Excel and Achieve More is a non-profit organization that focuses on student empowerment. The afterschool enrichment program exposes students to S.T.E.M. fundamentals through the use of art as a platform. The goal is to help students learn the basic math, science, and technology concepts, in hopes to nurture increased interest and greater understanding of these subjects.
Newark is certainly not without its challenges, but I am proof that greater things exist here and I am proud of where I come from. I believe there is greatness in Newark’s youth, and it’s my responsibility to give back and encourage more students to get involved in building better futures for themselves and their community. These students might even end up being Engineers at PSEG, helping to maintain and build the electric and gas systems needed to power New Jersey.
Adah Steward- HR Consultant – Workforce Analytics, PSEG