HomeFront Family Campus celebrates fifth anniversary

HomeFront NJ

Samantha grew up in a household where drug addiction was normal and freely admits that she never knew a life without drugs – until she came to HomeFront.

At that point, Samantha had been separated from her two children, and she was pregnant with her third child.

Samantha spent six months at HomeFront’s Family Campus in Ewing Township, where she took part in many programs, including HomeFront’s “My Baby and Me” addiction treatment program.

Samantha has been “clean” for more than 18 months. She is working and has been reunited with her children. They live in their own home.

The HomeFront Family Campus, which celebrated its fifth anniversary last month, is housed in a building that was the former home of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Marine Reserve Center at 361 Scotch Road. HomeFront acquired the 8.5-acre decommissioned Naval base after lengthy negotiations.

HomeFront was inspired to acquire the 42,000-square-foot building after the State of New Jersey sold the Katzenbach School for the Deaf campus, which was the initial location of the HomeFront Family Campus, formerly known as the Family Preservation Center. The name was changed when it moved to its current home.

The state’s decision to sell the Katzenbach campus galvanized HomeFront officials to take steps to buy a property – and that’s when it zeroed in on the drab, industrial-looking U.S. Marine Corps’ Marine Reserve Center.

But it was not an easy task. It took more than seven years to acquire the property – which was given to HomeFront for free – and more than a year to complete the transformation into a bright and airy home for 38 families that stay there until they can get back on their feet. HomeFront raised $6 million for renovations.

Taking ownership of the property meant that HomeFront could expand the Family Preservation Center and its services, said Connie Mercer, the nonprofit group’s founder and executive director. It also provided a measure of security for HomeFront, moving it from tenant to owner.

There are counseling rooms, classrooms, a large computer room and a smaller computer room, a child care center, an art room and a teaching kitchen with five stations on the first two floors of the building. The teaching kitchen allows clients to learn about nutrition and cooking, and also practice culinary arts skills they may learn in preparation for a job.

The top floor features offices for the family advocates who help the clients, plus a small family lounge and a large library with an oversized glass window. Having offices for the community partners who help the clients all under one roof eliminates the need for transportation from a shelter to agency offices.

In the last five years, the HomeFront Family Campus has provided nearly 3,000 homeless individuals with shelter, and the chance to change their lives by offering education, job training and placement, children’s programs and life skills classes.

The HomeFront Family Campus’ comprehensive services model was designed on the basis of its years of experience working with families that had found themselves homeless and in need of a helping hand.

“We realized early on that it wasn’t enough to have a roof over your head. You need to address all of the underlying issues of homelessness,” Mercer said.