MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ (Morris County) — Twenty-five young adults who’d left high school without graduating stood proud in their caps and gowns last night, all having earned their New Jersey high school diplomas through determination and support from NewBridge Jobs Plus.
About 100 relatives and friends cheered the graduates from Dover, East Hanover, Fairfield Jefferson, Kinnelon, Madison, Mine Hill, Morris Plains, Morristown, Mount Olive, Netcong, Randolph, Roxbury and Wharton at a ceremony held at the Morristown Beard School.
“Taking that first step toward independence can be a struggle — these NewBridge Jobs Plus associates did that and more!” NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden said. “They sought help along the way, and didn’t let challenges get in the way of their accomplishments. Their stories are examples of fortitude, determination and now, celebration.”
Favio Jasso left Morris Hills High School in Rockaway because he’d missed too many classes to graduate on time. NewBridge Jobs Plus “helped me get ready for life, beyond the academics,” said the 18-year-old from Dover. Jasso was awarded a Parker Endowment Scholarship, funded by retired NewBridge CEO Robert L. Parker.
NewBridge Jobs Plus has helped young adults turn their lives around since 1983, longer than any other such program in Morris County. Participants learn at their own pace, receiving academic support, life and professional skills training, career and college coaching and counseling to overcome emotional challenges. Located at the NewBridge Parsippany Center, the program is free to area young adults, and transportation is provided to Morris County residents.
Cassandra Reyes, a 2017 NewBridge Jobs Plus graduate, congratulated the Class of 2022 for their accomplishments, and urged them to pursue higher education. “You’ve already put your foot in the water so you might as well swim!”
Reyes, the commencement keynote speaker, was a single mom when she graduated, and studied biology at Montclair State University for three years. She revised her plans when she had a second child. Reyes is now a nursing student at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Florham Park and works full time as an emergency room receptionist at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville.
“You are going to hit bumps in the road, and that’s OK,” the 23-year-old said. “Remember that life doesn’t have a timeline set in stone.”
Class of 2022 graduate Raequan Houston said the staff at NewBridge Jobs Plus not only helped him with math, but taught him about personal finance. “That was a big help,” the 20-year-old said. Houston left St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark as a junior, and got jobs at ShopRite and later FedEx.
Houston mostly kept to himself when he first arrived at NewBridge, but eventually warmed up. “I started to talk a lot more,” the Madison resident said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity NewBridge gave me,” said Houston, who received the Alumni Appreciation Scholarship Award. He intends to study music recording at the County College of Morris.
Jasso had been struggling with depression even before the onset of the pandemic. Sports and time with friends had helped him manage it, but when classes went remote and extracurricular activities were suspended, “I couldn’t take care of myself,” the 18-year-old said.
Jasso immersed himself in his job, creating online marketing content, but neglected other aspects of life, including school and his health. He enrolled in NewBridge Jobs Plus last August. Within three months, he’d completed all the requirements and earned his diploma.
“There’s a strong sense of community there, and they help you succeed with every aspect of your life,” said Jasso, who lost 30 pounds and launched a freelance business creating web content. Jasso will study business administration at CCM in the fall.
Other scholarship recipients were:
- Angelina Spellmon, who received the James Ryan Memorial Scholarship Award, created in honor of a NewBridge founder
- Samantha Rolfes, awarded the Lakeland Bank Scholarship Award
- Devin Ortiz, winner of a Parker Endowment Scholarship