A Special Speech Made by Mark Singleton, Board President, in honor of our 30th Anniversary, May 2012:
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places
This beautiful passage from Isaiah 32, describes God’s justice, and the fruits of righteousness, which are quietness, trust and peace. I remember the time before the shelter was founded, and it was not peaceful. I remember planting a tree in Elysian Park for a classmate who died in a horrific fire. I remember the fires at 1200 Washington St., and the Pinta Hotel, and 11th and Willow and the smoke, and I remember seeing firemen cry because they had carried dead little children and I remember the grafitti saying “This is Displacement” written on the still smoldering shells of people’s homes, battling for space with the “Coming Soon Luxury Condo” signs. And I know the shadows that still lurk in many of the empty lots uptown. And I remember the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness in the face of a complete lack of action by our city government.
And in the midst of that confusion and fear and government paralysis…God’s people acted. It wasn’t the police, or the City Council, or the County Executive or HUD or any other governmental agency that acted…it was the people of God through their churches and synagogues that got together to actually do something about the growing problem of homelessness and hunger in Hoboken at the very beginning of our city’s “Renaissance”. Renaissance for some perhaps… devastation for others. Today we celebrate what God can do in the face of hopelessness. I count as a moment of Divine intervention that moment when the initial communities of Faith got together and said “we have to do something” or when the Congregation of St. John’s said, “you can use our church hall”. And here we are 30 years later…in this quiet place of refuge…. and trust…and peace. God is Good.
My personal journey with the shelter began 28 years ago when two friends and I called down and asked if we could cook a meal. My friend Eddie was a chef and we were just 22 year-old kids. We cooked chicken legs, yellow rice, gravy and salad and so was born “The Chicken People”. Today, I am a 50-year-old man who has never missed a second Wednesday of the month since. When I look back over my life, I realize that the Hoboken Shelter has been the most consistent thing in my life. I’ve been a “Chicken Person” longer than I’ve been anything in my life except my mother’s son and a child of God. There have been twists and turns and bumps in my life but the Shelter has been the one constant and for that I am forever grateful.
Looking back over my years of service, I could reminisce for hours about things that have happened but what keeps coming back to me are the people. The people I have met! The lifeblood of this organization is the people that come and are changed. Too many to count.
I remember Frank, a childhood friend who fell on hard times due to alcohol and drug abuse. After stints in prisons throughout the country, he came back to Hoboken, his childhood home. Still wary, and for good reason, even his family wouldn’t take him in, so he came here. He stayed here for a few months, got sober and began his journey back to life. Frank is now living in Secaucus with his wife and daughter in a house they own. He has remained sober for over 25 years and it started here…in this place…and he was just one of thousands. And I remember Tippy Taglieri who froze to death on a bench in front of City Hall, finally prompting the powers that be to take seriously the need for a winter emergency shelter plan. And I remember Sister Norberta…the toughest, yet most loving person I have ever known. Even though she is far away in Hawaii enjoying her retirement, she will always be here in spirit. And the literally THOUSANDS of volunteers I have met, from business people and new residents in Hoboken to the annual tidal wave of high school and college students who come here to do their community service and on and on. It would be impossible to calculate the number of people that this organization has touched. Impossible. Touched and transformed.
And I certainly remember the close calls. More than once we were on the verge of losing this place. From lawsuits from the city challenging our right to shelter, to unpaid water liens, and most recently, to failing roof beams. We have been close a few times for sure but for 30 years, God has chosen us to do this important job and He must still want us here. God has protected us and sent us the resources and people we needed over the years. Like when He sent us Jaclyn, our fearless leader who is like a whirling Dervish on too much Espresso. Her positive energy and commitment scare me sometimes but she has taken this organization to a new place and I am very grateful for her presence. I remember board meetings where we literally did not know how we were going to pay our bills. Now we argue over appropriate prudent reserves and surpluses. Thanks Jaclyn.
Meals in the millions, beds in the hundreds of thousands, and no way to count the number of families reunited, lives rebuilt, addictions battled, dreams rekindled, hopes restored. The successes are indeed numerous but the need is just SO great. We will never meet the need fully and that can be soul-crushing at times. So what I try and do is forget about the statistics and concentrate on feeding. I keep it simple, which is why I have never given up the Chicken People and why the soup kitchen is still the heart of this organization. We do ONE THING perfectly at the shelter…ONE THING: feed the hungry. And hunger is the common denominator for guests and volunteers alike. We all come because we hunger. Hunger for food, hunger for a bed, hunger for hope, hunger for community, hunger for meaning, hunger for justice, hunger for God, and we feed each other and are fed by the Divine.
There are places in the world that are special…thin places they are called in Celtic Mythology, places where the gap between the human and the divine is thin…and this is one of those places. Call it magic, call it special, call it nice people doing nice things or just a collection of misguided do-gooders, I don’t mind…I call it a Holy place. I thank God for the Hoboken Shelter on the 30th anniversary of our formation, for all of the people that have made it what it is, for the opportunity to serve and for the many years still to come.
In the book of Genesis there is a story about Jacob at a time in his life when he was homeless and running in fear from an issue he was having with his family and he came to a place: an obscure place like Hoboken somewhere between Beer-Sheeba and Haran in the desert where after much running, he laid his head on a rock and slept…and he dreamed. Jacob dreamed of a ladder between heaven and earth where the angels were ascending and descending and God spoke to him there. God reassured him of the promises God made and told him that He will never leave him. Never leave him. The verse continues.
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ Genesis 28
The Hoboken Shelter is scary like that. Amen
Meet Mark Singleton, Board President
Here is an interview Jamie, a Volunteer, did with Mark Singleton, Board President, Volunteer, and Self-Proclaimed “Chicken Person” in May 2012:
1. Jamie: How did you get involved with the Shelter?
Mark: I got involved in the shelter around 1985. On a whim, I went down to 300 Bloomfield Street with some friends one night to help serve the meal. We cooked the meal and got ready to serve. As the guests lined up for dinner, I noticed that there were 3 friends of mine from High School in line. 6 years previous, we were standing in line at graduation. Now we were standing on different sides of a food line. I have been cooking a meal on the second Wednesday of every month since. The call us “The Chicken People” for obvious reasons.
2. Jamie: What is your favorite aspect of working at the Shelter?
Mark: Feeding. Like everyone else, I get overwhelmed with the issues of homelessness and hunger so I try and remain focused on feeding. Whatever else happens or whatever other issues people may have, they arrive hungry and leave full. That is a success 100% of the time.
3. Jamie: What is your favorite shelter moment?
Mark: Too many to remember but seeing former guests come back as volunteers really warms my heart. I always say that the Hoboken Shelter is a “transformative” place. People come there and are changed. That goes for guests and volunteers.
4. Jamie: In your opinion, what was the best meal served?
Mark: Chicken of course!
5. Jamie: What do you do to unwind?
Mark: Not really sure what unwind means unfortunately. I do a lot of work and a lot of work after work but I love it. Perhaps spending time with my kids is my answer. I went rowing with my daughter, Emma, in Central Park recently and was taken by the “perfectness” of the moment.
6. Jamie: What is your favorite spot in Hoboken?
Mark: 300 Bloomfield Street!! I was thinking last night at the board meeting that The Hoboken Shelter has been the most consistent thing in my entire life! I’ve had many ups and downs and changes in my life but the second Wednesday of every month I KNOW where I will be. For more than half of my 50 years on this planet, I have been a “Chicken Person!”
Kudos to Mark for more than half a lifetime helping others!!!
Meet Jaclyn Cherubini, Executive Director
Jaclyn Cherubini is the Executive Director at The Hoboken Shelter and leads its mission in ending homelessness one person at a time. Ms. Cherubini has been an active community organizer in numerous non-profit organizations providing food, shelter, and permanent housing to the homeless; raising public awareness for women’s issues, specifically domestic violence; serving the creative and therapeutic needs of children in domestic violence shelters and foster care; and raising funds for the performing arts. She has previously served as the Assistant Director at Pathways to Housing in New York City, where she was instrumental in its growth from a $5 million to a $10 million organization to house mentally ill homeless individuals. Ms. Cherubini earned her Master of Public Administration with a concentration in Non-Profit Management from Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus and her Bachelor of the Arts with a major in Women’s Studies and double-minor in Political Science and Communication from Rutgers University, Douglass College Campus.