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When Grandma Becomes the Teacher

Dr. Charisse Smith

The Trenton-based New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA) typically focuses on advocating for public policies that allow older New Jerseyans to live independently.

But in the current circumstances, roles have shifted. Instead of being out and about, participating in their communities, older adults — and everyone else — is staying home. With schools closed, children are also among the homebound, and for grandparents whose adult children are working, educating their grandchildren can fall to them.

Grandparents-turned-teachers is the topic of the foundation’s July episode of its Aging Insights television program. “Learning Together” features Charisse Smith, an instructional coach in the Hamilton school district and the president of ETE — Excellence Through Education of Hamilton Township.

Smith, a Trenton resident, earned her bachelor’s in psychology at Rutgers and holds a PhD in education, specializing in professional studies, from Capella University. She serves on the boards of the NJFA and Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville.

In a guest blog post on the NJFA website,, Smith shared tips and resources for grandparents.

As a young child growing up in New Jersey, I recall spending countless summers in the sandy woods of Wall Township with my maternal grandmother, Carolyn Holland.

On her screened-in porch, we spent hours playing such card games as Pitty Pat, War, and Casino. This card shark, with less than an eighth-grade education, showed me no mercy, winning game after game! Through these card games, she fortuitously taught me how to quickly identify numbered groups (subitizing) and strategy (critical thinking).

My paternal grandfather, Robert E. West of Neptune, instructed me in the art of applying the correct tip for great service at the local Perkins Pancake House. Maternal aunt Doris Sergeant of Asbury Park cultivated my love of reading and storytelling through her reading aloud. Her fluctuating animated voice magically fit each and every character of the stories she read.

As I reminisce about these special moments as a wide-eyed, inquisitive youngster, I now appreciate them as authentic learning experiences. I truly cannot recall specific reading or math lessons or feeling that these moments were “school,” but as an educator, I recognize that the benefits of simple card games and stories read to me set me on the path toward academic success.

Although I assist teachers in applying curriculum and best-teaching practices to classrooms, the simple games, conversations, and nightly read-alouds with Carolyn, Robert, and Doris were invaluable.

COVID-19 and virtual teaching/learning. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, there are approximately 2,734,950 students in New Jersey’s public and charter schools who spent the final months of the school year participating in some form of virtual or remote learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many New Jersey schools pivoted from photocopied worksheets and packets to working exclusively online with students in virtual classrooms.

In a matter of a few weeks, New Jersey school districts found themselves quickly gathering their troops of learning experts, teachers, and educational technology departments to provide quality learning opportunities for all of their students. Families also found themselves banding together to navigate through digital learning platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Class Dojo, Canvas, and Blackboard.

Older Americans are teaching/learning, too. Older Americans also fearlessly accepted the call to join the ranks of the virtual homeschooling faculty. Because many parents continue to work as essential workers, older adult family members have been designated as the at-home schoolteacher. These older family members are ensuring that children are logging on, participating, and completing school assignments.

One example is a 68-year-old grandmother in Mercer County’s Hamilton Township, Mrs. Jones. She joined the of ranks of homeschoolers this March. Mrs. Jones is not only caring for her ill husband, but by working in online learning platforms to assist her kindergarten-aged grandson, has expanded her technological skill set.

Through perseverance and a little bit of coaching, Mrs. Jones is now more comfortable helping her grandson with the daily requirements of cyber-learning such as logging on to online class meetings; monitoring reading, writing, and math assignments in Google Classroom; accessing books online; following up with emails; and communicating with teachers via the Class Dojo app.

Familiarizing oneself with multiple learning platforms can be overwhelming even for the most tech-savvy person. But older Americans, like Mrs. Jones, are courageously balancing the duties of being a caregiver for an ailing spouse, running a household, and homeschooling an active kindergartener.

I admire Mrs. Jones for her tenacity and grit during this challenging time. She admits that working with technology is frustrating, and she felt like giving up, but I encouraged her to take care of herself and to do her best. Her best is amazing!

Other ways older adults can share knowledge/expertise. I encourage all older adults who are caring for and/or homeschooling young family members to share their knowledge and expertise by:

• Having conversations

• Counting and grouping the number of tiles on the floor

• Finding a pattern in the carpet

• I mentioned subitizing before. Subitizing is a hot topic in math education circles. It means “instantly seeing how many.” Math educators have discovered that the ability to see numbers in patterns is the foundation of strong number sense. Visit

• Following a recipe using measuring spoons and cups

• Writing a song together and recording Tik-Tok videos of you singing

• Coloring in coloring books

• Listening to books on tape or online together

• This website features videos of actors reading children’s books, alongside creatively produced illustrations. Activity guides are available for each book.

• Teaching them how to play a card game

This site has card games supporting math skills

Other resources to use

Read Alouds

Homeschooling during COVID-19

This link leads to resources for teachers in any subject and grade. There are also worksheets and lesson resources for all areas of reading and language arts skills.

Visit this Guide to Google Hangouts Meet for Students and Parents 2020

Check out Joining a Zoom Call for the First Time; Fun and Easy Online Connection

Older adults have much to give and young people, much to receive! I would dare to guess that there are many Mrs. Joneses here in New Jersey. Are you one? You deserve our gratitude, respect and support.

As a New Jersey educator, I would like to thank all of the caring and brave older Americans in our state who are committed to sharing their knowledge, wisdom, love and expertise to help our students continue to grow and learn!

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Charisse Smith and New Jersey Foundation for Aging.

To view the full Aging Insights episode visit


Museums Getting Back to Business

Asher Lurie, left, conducts a masked and socially distanced tour at the Old Barracks in Trenton.

“Welcome back” say museum staff and museum visitors as New Jersey museums slowly reopen — with the Old Barracks in Trenton being the first in the region to open its gates to the public.

Originally ordered closed by an executive order in March by Gov. Phil Murphy in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, museums got the green light to reopen on July 2, but only if specific health precautions mandated by the state were in place.

That includes restricting the number of visitors to 25 percent capacity, requiring the use of facemasks, practicing social distancing, and other measures.

At the Old Barracks reopening on a warm July 2, guides, like Asher Lurie, are glad to be back in action and waiting for history and museum buffs to start lining up.

And while the foot traffic on reopening morning was light, the health protocols were not, and a masked Lurie mixed historical dates with safe-distance footing — marking an historical occasion in itself.

The Old Barracks is located at 100 Barrack Street and open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets range $8 to $10, with children under five admitted free. For more information, call 609-396-1776 or visit

Several other regional museums followed by announcing their own phase two re-openings.

Morven Museum & Garden — built by Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton — reopens on Thursday, July 9, to welcome visitors to two exhibitions. One is the permanent exhibition on the home’s inhabitants, ranging from state dignitaries to slaves. The other is the special exhibition “Dreaming of Utopia: Roosevelt, New Jersey,” highlighting the history of the federally built farm and textile community that became a center for prominent American artists.

Open Wednesday through Sundays, current museum practices include cleaning visitor areas before and during opening, providing hand sanitizers at various locations, and the use of safety shields at information stations and the shop.

Morven Museum & Gardens is located at 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. Morning hours, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., are designated for members only. After a cleaning, the general public is admitted between 1 and 4 p.m. Ticket range is from $8 to $10, children under six are free.

For more information, call 609-924-8144 or visit

Grounds For Sculpture, the nationally noted sculpture center located in Hamilton, begins a limited reopening on Thursday, July 16, by allowing members to visit the grounds to view outside artwork only.

All member entries are free but must be reserved online. Hours are Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All indoor facilities will be closed, except for Rat’s Restaurant, where limited outside opportunities to dine must be reserved in advance.

Grounds For Sculpture is located at 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton. For more information call 609-586-0616 or visit

At press time, the Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey State Museum, and Trenton City Museum in Trenton, and the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers in New Brunswick have yet to release any reopening information but offer free digital exhibitions and programs.

Peter Genovese: Living, Breathing, and Eating New Jersey

Peter Genovese is long-time food and features writer for Photo by Saed Hindash, NJ Advanced Media.

If the title “New Jersey State of Mind” doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps the book’s author will.

Peter Genovese is’s veteran food and features writer.

He is also the author of 10 other New Jersey books, including “Jersey Diners,” “Roadside New Jersey,” “The Jersey Shore Uncovered,” and “Food Lovers’ Guide to New Jersey.”

This hot-off-the-press new one published by Rutgers University Press is in many ways a 156-page tough-love letter to a small state big enough to include 9,200,000 people (the nation’s most densely populated), 39,000 miles of highway, 525 diners (another national record), and more stores than the square of the number of registered vehicles (6,628,080).

“I live, breathe, and even dream New Jersey,” says Genovese at the top of his book.

And why wouldn’t he?

With 35 years of newspaper experience that include long terms at the Home News and Star Ledger, Genovese has written about all 565 state municipalities, doesn’t need a GPS, and regularly visits state locales reached only by Jeep.

And with his articles’ trail of visits to delis, hot dog stands, pizza places, and dive bars, the unmarried Ocean County-based reporter could have added “eats” to the above list.

The new book, he says, was inspired by his 2010 Star-Ledger State of Mind series — one that Genovese says introduced readers to the “real Jersey, not the cliched, stereotypical, or rose-tinted one.”

But inspired is the key word. This Jersey-fresh collection of new stories continues a personal objective to capture and preserve New Jersey places and people in ink.

Mix that intent with a chatty and detail-rich journalistic style, Genovese’s voice becomes that of an informed waiter whose a la carte menu is the book’s content.

To sample the fare, simply scan down the 27-item menu and settle on something suits the mood or state of mind, like the chapter “Straight Outta Camden.”

That’s a visit to Donkey’s Place, enticingly described as “part dive bar, part sports memorabilia museum, part cheesesteak paradise.”

Genovese is quick to report the name comes from the bar’s founder, Leon Lucas. And that the former boxer nicknamed for his mule-kick punches christened the bar with the name when he opened it in 1947.

Already part of Camden culture and lore, the place gained national attention in 2018 when the late food writer and adventurer Anthony Bourdain proclaimed Donkey’s cheesesteak as the best in the Philadelphia region, Genovese says.

“New Jersey State of Mind” was published by Rutgers University Press this year.

Another item is “Muscle Cars Forever.” It’s a trip to South Jersey Classics, a place owner Ed Van Hee says people come to buy vintage cars to “fulfill a dream” from an inventory of more than 70 cars of various ages and body shapes — from hefty Mercuries to lean Corvettes. It’s also a place where two French dealers travel 3,800 miles twice a year to purchase cars.

Other choices include “Where 6,000 Insects Are on the Menu,” about the Raptor Trust near the Great Swamp National Park in Morris County, and “I’m Not Eating the Dirt,” a canoe trip in the Pine Barrens.

Then there are the topics: Monmouth Mobile Homes on Route 1, Atlantic City’s boardwalk rolling chairs, an ice cream stand in Elizabeth, the South Jersey Boost! beverage, and New Jersey trucker stops and diners.

People include Rodrigo Durante, a Newark pata negra purveyor; Alka and Arvind Agrawal, owners of the nation’s largest Indian radio station in South Brunswick; and Tori Fischer, a female army veteran turned founder of Backward Flag Brewing in Forked River.

And while Genovese’s wit often grabs the reader’s attention and sets the tone, he also knows how to use surprise to bait the reader into considering something deeper, as when he mentions “the world’s largest salad” and takes the reader into a story on the Hoboken Shelter.

Here, in one of the most restrained sections of the book, Genovese opens the door to a hidden New Jersey world where everyday people — firefighters, policeman, construction workers, teachers, nurses — stumble and find help in an organization.

“I wanted to get away from the stereotypes of when people think about New Jersey,” says Genovese about the book during a recent telephone interview.

And while he says he had some general ideas of what he wanted to cover when he started the book, he didn’t know who the subjects would be and set out to find them.

The hunt sometimes starts by simply surfing the web.

“I wanted to do something about bay fishing,” he says, “I was on a Facebook page and found this guy with personality.”

So much so that Genovese starts the chapter focusing on the manager of the Belford Seafood Co-op on Raritan Bay with, “The first thing I learn about Dave Tauro is that it doesn’t take much to get him wound up.” He then steps back and lets the man uncoil and dictate the story.

Another path to his subject is through word of mouth. “People tell me about people, and I just show up at the doorstep and hope for the best,” he says.

Then there is just getting out on the road, getting out of his car, and opening his mouth. “I have an easy way, and people tell me their stories,” he says. “Everyone has an interesting story. We all have a story to tell. I think you start there and you have to draw them out. And tell it truthfully and compellingly.”

Genovese’s own story begins with his Trenton birth in 1952.

The son of an engineer father and insurance representative mother, he grew up in nearby Ewing Township and graduated from Notre Dame High School in Lawrence in 1970.

He next stop was Marquette College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “I wanted to get away from home,” he says about the choice. “It was a solid school, and they had a reputable journalism program.” It was also less expensive than the other schools he had considered.

While he now writes extensively about New Jersey food, he says he didn’t focus on it at all in school.

His current bread and butter writing slowly evolved when he lived in Plainsboro, drove daily to his reporting job at the Home News in New Brunswick, and became a regular at the Lorraine Diner — now the South Brunswick site of a McDonald’s on Route 1.

“That’s where my diner fascination started, just driving up and down Route 1. As a reporter you can tell when a story hadn’t been told. And no one had written about Jersey diners. So I spent a year and hit every diner in the state.”

During that time he ate, took pictures, and talked to diner owners, builders, and customers. “I just dropped in at diners,” he says.

That led to his 1996 book “Jersey Diners” and his hiring three years later as a feature and food writer for the Star-Ledger – now part of NJ Advance Media which also published NJ.Com.

“I was hired to take over the Munch Mobile,” he says, referring to a band of writers who visited and wrote about casual food joints around the state.

With thousands of miles in his rearview mirror and thousands of articles stuffed in files, Genovese says he is lucky that both the Home News and Star-Ledger allowed him to move away from regular reporting beats, explore stories, and develop a style.

“The editors saw something in me and didn’t stick me at town meetings, although we need those stories. But I wanted to be in features without realizing it. I wanted to wander around and write about real people. I thank the editors at two newspapers for allowing me to do that.”

Thinking about his book, he says, he wants to depict New Jersey people in places in a way that is missing from Facebook description or posts. “My main mission is to bring Jersey to my readers. And a lot of that is describing a place and taking them to a place they may not have heard of.”

Asked if one chapter gives a glimpse of what he is about, Genovese singles out “Inside the Traffic Management Center.” Located just off Route 1 in Woodbridge, “down the road from Wawa,” it is the state’s digital eye to its mega-highways and byways.

“Because it was about a highway I got into it more,” says the road-ready writer. “It stirred up something inside me. I don’t see a lot of me in it. But it is a chapter in which I identify.”

“New Jersey State of Mind” by Peter Genovese, 2020, $24.95 156 pages, Rutgers University Press.

Dishing on Dining

When not writing books, such as the just-released “New Jersey State of Mind,” Peter Genovese is hard at work visiting New Jersey eateries and recording the experience for his regular column.

During a recent interview, the Ewing-raised writer of the book “New Jersey Diners” shared some thoughts on diners and his winning recipe for a successful diner experience.

“It was probably the Ewing Diner,” he says about his first time at a diner. “It was near where I grew up. My folks were not diner people. For me, that (interest) grew.”

The catalyst was his habit of a daily breakfast stop at the Lorraine Diner on Route 1 in South Brunswick during his commute from his apartment in Plainsboro to his job at the Home News outside New Brunswick.

“That’s where my diner fascination started. Just driving up and won Route 1,” he says about the start of a career covering the Jersey diner beat.

With hundreds of diners and calories under his belt, Genovese — who learned informally on the job — dishes out some thoughts on what make a diner a “good” one.

“I don’t do straight reviews,” he says of his writing. “It’s all casual.”

But, he says he has a general approach and “it’s usually breakfast. I’ll order French toast, pancakes. For me you have to do the basic things well.”

But he says you get a sense by asking a few basic questions, such as “Is it clean?”

Then he zeroes in on something vital. “Coffee is key. Some have bad coffee. Watery coffee is my number one diner turnoff.”

He says he is currently interested in what diners are doing and cites the recent U.S. 1 article on the forward-looking Americana Kitchen & Bar as an example of an innovative diner.

Since Genovese also write about New Jersey pizza, what’s his formula?

“Really saucy tomato pie with basic ingredients,” he says. “Don’t give me jarred sauce that tastes like everyone else’s.”

He also looks for fresh cheese, dough with crust, and quality topping — with special attention to pepperoni. “It’s the world’s most used topping, and places use the same product.”

Instead he “savors” the less mass produced sausage, saying “You tell by looking at it and know it’s not mass produced.” Fresh mushrooms also get high marks. But the best in taste goes to “the quality of toppings. Are you using cheap mass produced or are you spending extra money to get quality items?”

Asked for some dining recommendations in the Trenton-Princeton area, Genovese shared the followed recommendations directly from “New Jersey State of Mind:

Barbecue: Hambone Opera in the Trenton Farmers Market.

Bars: Checkers in Trenton, a “downtown dive bar, good pork roll and egg and cheese sandwich.” Tir na nOg, also in Trenton, with “no food, but maybe the state’s most authentic Irish bar.” The Boat House in Lambertville, “The state’s most peculiar bar, a two-story house at the end of an alley with enough nautical decor for a cruise ship. And Clydz in New Brunswick, a “small bar with an enormous drink menu.”

Breweries: River Horse Brewing in Ewing, “My favorite: Hippotizing IPA.” And Troon Brewing in Hopewell, “My favorite: Mineralized Matrix IPA.”

Greek: Mykonos, Ewing. “Made my list of the state’s best Greek restaurants.”

Ice Cream: “the bent spoon is one of my 10 favorite ice cream places in New Jersey. Talk about pushing the envelope.” And also in Princeton is Halo Pub, where the “chocolate rocks.”

Italian: Vidalia, Lawrenceville, “made my list of the state’s 10 best Italian restaurants.”

Mexican: Taqueria El Mariachi in Trenton, a “funky little place” with “good cheap food.”

Pizza: Conte’s in Princeton and DeLorenzo and Papa’s tomato pies in Robbinsville.

McCloskey’s Mission: Faith, Justice, Freedom

Centurion founder Jim McCloskey, above, celebrates the July 14 release of his memoir, ‘When Truth Is All You Have,’ on Thursday, July 16, in a virtual event with noted novelist John Grisham. Photo by Diane Bladecki for Centurion.

“It is my belief that most Americans vastly underestimate the frequency with which innocent people get wrongly convicted of serious crimes,” explains Jim McCloskey, the founder of Centurion Ministries in Princeton. It is one of the chief reasons why he decided to write “When Truth Is All You Have,” which will be published by Doubleday with a foreword by John Grisham on July 14.

On Thursday, July 16, Grisham will interview McCloskey via Zoom in a free event hosted in partnership with Doubleday, Princeton Public Library, and Labyrinth Books.

As the book’s subtitle proclaims, it is “A Memoir of Faith, Justice, and Freedom for the Wrongly Convicted.” It is a rousing good story with its share, as with any decades-long tale, of ups and downs, death and deliverance.

In a sense, McCloskey’s struggle to free innocent people from years of demeaning, often brutal imprisonment began 41 years ago. It was, he readily admits, not something he had ever thought about. He was 37 years old, with what he felt had been a varied and rather exciting life. He had grown up in Philadelphia’s bucolic Main Line, imbibed the fraternity scene at Bucknell University, spent a night in a Mexican jail cell, fought in Vietnam, and racked up a financially rewarding business career in Japan and the United States.

And then in 1979 he left that history behind and went to Princeton. To the Princeton Theological Seminary, in fact, where he hoped to find greater meaning to his outwardly successful life. While he most assuredly did, it was only indirectly through his Seminary studies. Rather, his transformative moment arose during his second year, when he visited the maximum security unit at what was then the Trenton State Prison (now the New Jersey State Prison).

As a volunteer Seminarian student, he met Jorge de los Santos, an inmate who repeatedly declared not only his innocence but also that prosecutors had knowingly and intentionally framed him. That declaration ultimately led not only to McCloskey founding the nation’s first innocence project in 1983 but also to John Grisham’s best selling 2019 novel “The Guardians.”

It is, as indicated above, a decades-long story. It should also be noted that when McCloskey becomes really interested in a project, he becomes passionate about it. And his passion is such that others, such as John Grisham, frequently join him in the quest to free innocent people from jail. But not right away.

It was a lonely start, one that involved taking a year’s leave of absence from the Seminary to search for information that would prove Santos’ innocence. He became transfixed reading trial transcripts and was dogged in tracking down and interviewing witnesses. He was, as he writes, “living in a film noir life. I was Humphrey Bogart, tracking down the Maltese Falcon; I was Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade all wrapped in one.”

He was moved not only by his belief in Santos’ innocence but also by how Santos challenged him, “If there is a God, He’s gotta work through you.” McCloskey’s book, as emphasized in the subtitle, is also about faith and how his faith has buttressed him through many a dark and devastating moment.

He recognized from the beginning, however, that more than faith and investigative research were needed to free wrongly convicted people. Lawyers were also a key component. Enter Paul Casteleiro, a sole practitioner with a law office in Hoboken, who became, McCloskey writes, “my mentor and my guru.” (Casteleiro’s passion for justice ultimately led him to close his office and join Centurion as its legal director in 2014.)

Though McCloskey returned to complete his Seminary studies at the end of his year’s leave, he continued to document, as did Casteleiro, Santos’ innocence. On July 26, 1983, two years and ten months after McCloskey walked into the Trenton prison, Santos was freed.

That night, as he sat alone in his hot, rent-free attic apartment in Princeton, McCloskey looked at a pile of papers that had accumulated on his desk and, he recalls, “I realized God is here with me. And has more work for me to do.” Thus, Centurion Ministries was born.

The papers contained pleas from other prisoners. And McCloskey responded, slowly building up a resume of exonerations. That record did not, however, show much income. At one point, McCloskey considered applying for a waiter’s job at the old Annex restaurant on Nassau Street.

One might say the New York Times came to the rescue. In early November, 1986, the paper reported on an exoneration obtained by McCloskey. That led to widespread publicity, an appearance on “The Today Show,” and, even more important for the future of Centurion Ministries, a phone call from Kate Germond.

In 1986 Jim McCloskey, right, secured the exoneration of Nathaniel Walker, who had been sentenced to 50 years in prison for a 1975 rape. Coverage of his case in the New York Times brought national attention to Centurion’s work. The photograph above appeared in People Magazine in November, 1986. Photo by Michael Abramson/Onyx for People Magazine.

“I felt, quite literally, like she was heaven-sent,” McCloskey writes. Germond had just moved to New York City from California with her husband and wanted to employ her bookkeeping skills in something she felt was useful. Within a few weeks she had waded through the piles of papers in McCloskey’s apartment and organized everything — case files, information pouring in, donations, and pleas for help.

There was one case that demanded immediate attention. Clarence Brandley was on death row in Texas and scheduled to be executed in March, just months away. That time constraint made it among the most nerve-wracking of cases. Germond joined McCloskey in the successful search for proof of innocence, one that ultimately brought forth a recanting witness. The Centurion findings were enough to postpone the execution “just six days before Brandley was scheduled to die,”’ McCloskey said in a recent interview. “Can you imagine the pressure we were under?”

Though Brandley was ultimately exonerated, Jimmy Wingo was not. Centurion had been also working on his case, but to no avail. McCloskey stayed with Wingo on the afternoon of the execution in June, 1987. “It was an incredibly difficult visit for me,” he writes.

National publicity and the increasing number of exonerations were enough for McCloskey’s name to be known in legal circles. It wasn’t until 2005, however, that John Grisham became aware of his work. Grisham was visiting Mark Barrett, an Oklahoma attorney whom Grisham featured in his only nonfiction book, “The Innocent Man.” Barrett’s office contained boxes marked Centurion Ministries. Grisham asked Barrett about them and was told, “These guys only take the toughest cases.”

Grisham was impressed. So much so that when he finally was introduced to McCloskey three years later he said “I know all about you.” Grisham’s knowledge was such that he offered to speak at a Centurion benefit in April, 2010. “He is such a gentleman, “McCloskey says. “He went out of his way to accommodate all our wishes.” Grisham not only paid all his expenses for his appearance at the Nassau Presbyterian Church but also, McCloskey likes to tell, sent in a very handsome check afterwards.

McCloskey readily admits that donors and volunteers are crucial to Centurion’s mission, which has freed 63 wrongfully convicted people since its founding. “The Nassau Presbyterian Church,” he emphasizes, “has been my family and my home, providing material as well as emotional support.” Among the numerous donors, Bill and Judy Scheide and Jay and Amy Regan have been particularly generous.

Centurion estimates that it takes eight to ten years to free an innocent person, and the average cost is in the ballpark of $350,000. Given that the average per prisoner cost in the New Jersey prison system is $61,603, Centurion is often saving taxpayers money when an innocent person is freed.

More than 1,200 new requests for help come annually. Currently staff and volunteers are working on 150 cases of wrongful conviction. “The volunteers read case reports, answer phones, set up meetings, help with the filing, and more,” McCloskey reports. “Most are retired, and they bring a variety of backgrounds — corporate executives, police officers, nurses, attorneys, urban planners, medical doctors, teachers, and financial planners. John Farmer, former attorney general of New Jersey, is also among those who have pitched in.”

He could not resist adding, “We even had a go-go dancer at one point.” It turns out she was better on the dance floor than in going through office papers and did not stay very long.

And McCloskey does like to emphasize, as he writes in his book, “It doesn’t matter if you believe in the existence of God or you don’t. Because we work together for a common cause.”

Centurion’s family of exonorees gathered for Jim McCloskey’s retirement celebration in May, 2015. Photo by Diane Bladecki for Centurion.

McCloskey retired from active management in 2015 but continued engaging in case management while starting work on his book. Thus, he was available when he answered his office phone a year ago last March. A phone call he will never forget.

“Hi, Jim, this is John Grisham.”

“Well, hello John.”

“How about if I come up and visit you?”

No surprise: McCloskey thought that was a great idea. Grisham flew up to Princeton and spent two hours at Centurion’s headquarters conducting research for his 2019 book, “The Guardians.” In an Author’s Note at the end of that book, he writes that McCloskey and his work was one of its inspirations. He urges readers to take a look at Centurion’s website “and if you have a few spare bucks, send them a check. More money equals more innocent people exonerated.”

Grisham also admits that he knew very little about innocence work 15 years ago. This was generally the case, McCloskey says, and “I must say that I have been encouraged by recent audience response to my presentations. In the 1980s and 1990s I was often met with a palpable degree of skepticism, if not cynicism, when I offered my belief that far more people are wrongly convicted in the United States than any of us care to believe.

“However, there has been an evolving, perceptible change in this attitude to one more accepting of the notion that innocent people do get convicted in America.” While innocence projects now exist throughout the country, and hundreds of prisoners have been exonerated, Centurion continues to stand out for taking on the toughest cases.

In writing “When Truth Is All You Have,” McCloskey also sought to show the public how and why such convictions occur. And finally, “It is my hope that it will inspire and touch the hearts of people into believing that all things are possible, and mountains can be moved through pluck and luck if the truth is on their side.”

Jim McCloskey and John Grisham, Labyrinth Books. Thursday, July 16, 7 p.m. Register. Free. Pre-order signed books by email to 609-497-1600 or

Centurion Ministries, 1000 Herrontown Road, Princeton 08540. Corey Waldron, executive director.

A Lesson to Remember

Illustration by Eliane Gerrits.

Do a chemistry test on your mobile while you pay for toilet paper with your little brother in the supermarket. That happened to a student of Kimberly Dempsey, a chemistry teacher at East Side Community High School in New York City. A so-called high-need school, which is expressed in the proportion of children who are entitled to a free school lunch. In this case, two out of three. It is often the only nutritious meal of the day for them. Normally lunch is at school; now the children have to pick it up somewhere.

The coronavirus took a major toll in the city. Kimberly, a young woman who Zooms me from a park bench, tells me that a column has been added to the student name list. There is a cross when they are dealing with loss from COVID-19 in the immediate family. There is a cross next to almost every name.

“Fortunately, we had the opportunity to arrange a computer for everyone,” she says. “In the nick of time. We only heard that we were closing the following day on Sunday afternoon. But we weren’t out of that yet. Not everyone has internet at home. Or even a safe place to work.

“The classroom is the big equalizer,” she says. “Now you suddenly see the differences. Well, see, hear more. Children don’t turn on the video, often out of shame for poverty at home. And for their uncut hair – after all, they are still teenagers. But the conversations in the background say enough: arguing housemates, screaming babies. This morning I heard a student say to a sister, ‘Are you going to go again? You had just peed anyway.’” But Kimberly also praises the resilience of her students, who go through everything as good and as bad as possible.

She tells about a girl from the graduating class who was unreachable for a month. Then she found out that she worked in the supermarket at night and was sleeping during the day. She was suddenly the breadwinner when her mother fell ill.

She holds closest to her heart the children who come in when the new school year starts. “The most important thing is building trust with a child,” she says. “And that is precisely what is so difficult via Zoom. Not to mention the cuts in education here. Especially now that we need more teachers, more cleaners, more social workers. But I don’t complain myself. I am 27 and have only myself. I don’t have to teach my own children, like many of my colleagues. ”

COVID-19 was already a disaster in New York City, but since the assassination of George Floyd, many teachers have barely been able to teach. Children and teachers take to the streets together to protest. They have a great need to tell their stories and share their experiences. Every school subject can be a reason. The official teaching material sometimes has to wait a while. Current events provide enough material.

As one student noted, “I feel sorry for my kids when they start dealing with 2020 in 20 years in history class. That will be a long chapter!”

Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her memoir, “Saving Charlotte,” was published by W.W. Norton in 2017. She can be contacted at

On the Move: Princeton U.’s Plans, Mergers, and More

Princeton U. Announces Plans for School Year

Princeton University has announced that undergraduate students will be invited to spend at least one semester on campus this year. Freshmen and juniors will be invited to spend the fall semester on campus, while sophomores and seniors can spend the spring semester on campus. Graduate students can spend the full year on campus.

Exceptions will be made for students who face housing insecurity or who are enrolled in programs or research that requires them to spend the full year on campus. Any student who does not wish to return to campus can complete the full school year remotely.

The fall semester will start earlier than usual, on August 31, and students will return home at Thanksgiving to complete final exams and written assignments remotely. The traditional week-long spring and fall breaks will be reduced to long weekends. The university is also planning a summer, 2021, program that would allow students to complete certain requirements, such as science courses with a laboratory component, on campus.

Tuition will be discounted by 10 percent, and other fees will be eliminated or pro-rated to reflect the current circumstances. Students and visitors are required to wear face coverings in all indoor spaces on campus and outdoors when social distancing is not possible. Students will be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive and regularly thereafter.


Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, 310 Cargnegie Center, Suite 400, Princeton 08540. Michael Mann, partner. 609-452-0808.

Pepper Hamilton, a law firm headquartered in Philadelphia with offices in Carnegie Center, has merged with Troutman Sanders, a firm based in Atlanta.

The merger makes the new firm, Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, one of the 50 largest law firms in the country. The merger was delayed from April 1 to July 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Delaying the merger allowed us to prioritize the health and safety of our people,” chair and CEO Steve Lewis said in a statement. “In the interim, our firms have come together in meaningful ways to guide clients through this difficult time. As our industry and indeed all industries continue to grapple with the challenges created by the health crisis, we know that we are stronger as one firm and choose to move forward together.”

The merged firm covers a broad range of legal areas. Troutman had focused on the energy, banking, finance, and insurance industries, while Pepper Hamilton was known for its health care, life sciences, and private equity practices.

Troutman Pepper will have offices in 23 U.S. cities, including Princeton.

Land Preserved

The D&R Greenway Land Trust announced the addition of 58 forested acres to its Plum Brook Preserve in Delaware Township, near Stockton. The 311-acre site now includes five permanently preserved neighboring parcels.

The acquisition was finalized on June 30 in partnership with Delaware Township, NJ Green Acres funds, and a Hunterdon County nonprofit grant.

The 58-acre property belonged to the Joseph Cisek family, whose widow, Joan, sold the land for permanent protection, at a price that included a partial donation of value. “I cannot think of a better way to close out New Jersey Open Space Month than by adding nearly sixty acres to our almost 21,000 acres of green open spaces,” Greenway CEO Linda Mead said.

Agriculturally, the property dates back to the late 1700s. When farming and pasturing were discontinued in the early 1900s a natural conversion to woodlands took place.

Management Moves

West Windsor Arts Council, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor 08550. 609-716-1931 Aylin Green, executive director.

Jyotika Bahree

The West Windsor Arts Council has named Jyotika Bahree as the new president of its board of trustees.

Bahree, currently a stay-at-home mother, is a past West Windsor councilwoman and former member of the township’s zoning board. She holds a bachelor’s in economics and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management.

“This is a time when we need to come together to collapse boundaries, celebrate our diversity and communicate with one another in new ways,” she says. “Not only does West Windsor Arts Council offer excellent cultural programming, but it is also an active participant in a number of community service projects.”

The Arts Council also named Gina Holland as its board treasurer. Holland currently works at accounting firm Mercadien PC on Quakerbridge Road. She earned a bachelor’s in accounting at Berkley College in New York and a master’s in financial forensics and fraud investigation at Carlow University in Pittsburgh.

“Jyotika and Gina have already made significant contributions to our organization during this time of change. I am inspired by their strong, yet compassionate and flexible leadership,” Aylin Green, executive director of the Arts Council, said in a statement.

Withum, 506 Carnegie Center, Suite 400, Princeton 08540. 609-520-1188. Richard C. Coyne, partner.

Carnegie Center-headquartered accounting firm Withum has named six new partners, several of whom are based in Central Jersey offices.

Jennifer Safeer, Withum’s chief financial officer, is based in the Carnegie Center office. She has 25 years of experience in professional accounting and holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Georgian Court University.

Two new partners are based in the firm’s East Brunswick office: James Berg, part of Withum’s manufacturing, distribution & logistics services and automotive teams, and Joseph Ro, who supports Withum’s assurance and accounting service area specializing in the retail automotive industry.

Ro earned his bachelor’s in accounting at the Ohio State University, and Berg earned his undergraduate degree at the College of New Jersey and master’s in finance at Rutgers.

New in Town

WuXi Biologics, 7 Clarke Drive, Cedar Brook Corporate Center, Cranbury 08512.

WuXi Biologics, a China-based technology company, has signed a 10-year lease for a 68,000-square-foot clinical manufacturing facility in the Cedar Brook Corporate Center in Cranbury. The facility is expected to be completed by the end of the year and bring 100 jobs to the area. JLL negotiated the lease.

The move is one of several the company has made in the past several years to expand its footprint in the United States, including additional manufacturing space in Worcester, Massachusetts, and laboratory space in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The company has three locations in China and one in Singapore and plans to open facilities in Ireland in 2021.

WuXi, founded in 2010, offers an open-access technology platform to aid in the discovery, development, and manufacturing of new biopharmaceuticals.

“Cranbury is a growing hub for the biotech and biopharma industries, and we look forward to working with and serving our partners in the area to benefit patients worldwide,” said Chris Chen, CEO of WuXi Biologics, in a press release.


Henry Read Martin, 94, on June 30. The 1948 Princeton University alumnus was a long-time Princeton resident who spent 45 years as a cartoonist for the New Yorker. He also created illustrations for Princeton Alumni Weekly and other university publications. Many of his works are part of Princeton University Library’s Special Collections. He also served on the boards of SAVE animal shelter, McCarter Theater, and Friends of Princeton Public Library.

Robert Malkin, 64, on June 25. For the past eight years he was a computer analyst for the state Department of Law and Public Safety, Juvenile Justice Commission. He previously was a computer programmer for American Re-Insurance Company on College Road East.

Romus Broadway, 81, on June 23. He was known for writing, photographing, and chronically people and events in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood of Princeton as well as the Italian Americans who lived in Princeton.

Marianne Stankiewicz Battista, 85, on June 27. She taught undergraduate and graduate-level accounting courses at Rider University for 24 years.

John Michel, 62, on July 3. He was an executive with Merrill Lynch before building financial technology firms Bullrun Financial Inc. and Kingston-based CircleBlack Inc.

Charles Maurice Weber, 90, on July 6. He worked at the Gandelman Insurance Agency in Lawrenceville until February of this year.

Mercer Stables Slowly Re-Opening Barn Doors

Lesson horses Tempest, in the foreground, with Brady, left, Mahogany, and Cruiser in the background, photographed by Maria Mucha.

The horse, of course, is the main attraction at the Mercer County Park Commission’s stables — currently in the second phase of both the COVID-19 related reopening and renovations to the main barn, lounge, and restrooms.

In addition to traditional riding lessons as well as pony and trail rides, when in full operation the stables offer its notable adaptive riding lessons, equine-assisted psychotherapy, and lessons for area children in need.

There are also tours for children who just want to learn about horses, whether at ground level or atop them, and even an equine-themed, barrier-free playground next to the barns.

Those who may not be seeking an equine experience can enjoy Curlis Woods, with its trails for hiking or horseback riding, which surround the stables. For gardeners, Mercer Educational Gardens is located onsite.

Nestled on 243 acres of Mercer Meadows in Pennington, Mercer Stables is a well-equipped equestrian facility that features 50 horse stalls; one indoor and two outdoor rings; two grooming stalls; two tack and feed rooms; and four wash stalls.

Stables director Christine Cardinal spent 30 years in the equine business, owning, training, and caring for pleasure and race horses, before she came to the stables. She says, “I have loved horses ever since I can remember. My first job at a horse farm was cleaning stalls at 13 years old. Although brief, it solidified my passion for horses.”

Youth from The Children’s Home Society’s Positive Impact Program participating in Mercer County Stables’ H.A.Y. After-school Program. Photo by Ed Butler.

Cardinal most enjoys “making a difference in a child’s or family’s life as a result of their participation in our programs.” The stables provide adaptive riding lessons for individuals with learning, physical, or emotional disabilities by certified instructors. “The same riding skills are taught during an adaptive riding lesson as in a typical riding lesson,” Cardinal says. “The difference is in the method of teaching those skills, and sometimes the riding tack and equipment needs to be adapted to suit each student’s needs.”

Adaptive riding students gain more than riding skills. “Even though adaptive riding is not a physical therapy session, riding a horse; interacting with the horse, staff, and volunteers; and learning and accomplishing riding skills may help participants reach their cognitive, physical, emotional, social, and behavioral goals,” Cardinal says.

Each lesson costs $40 and is offered to children age four and up. “The student’s disability is always taken into consideration,” Cardinal notes.

The stables also offer Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP). Cardinal describes it as “a mental health session with a licensed and equine assisted certified clinical therapist, a certified equine specialist, and one or more horses working as a team to address the client’s mental health goals. EAP may be a good alternative to traditional talk therapy for some clients, or if talk therapy is not working.” These are not riding lessons. “Ground-based sessions are conducted in the barn or in the riding ring. We follow the EAGALA (Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association) model.”

Horses are well suited to assist with therapy. EAGALA’s website explains that these prey animals have evolved to be extremely sensitive to their environment. “They instinctively analyze and react to our body language and other nonverbal cues, providing us with valuable feedback and insights. Their large size also makes it hard to ignore their presence and can help us reflect on how to approach our relationships and other big and overwhelming things in our lives. Horses are social animals with defined roles in their herd. They have distinct personalities, attitudes, and moods. In other words, horses are a lot like us.”

Youth from The Children’s Home Society’s Positive Impact Program participating in Mercer County Stables’ H.A.Y. After-school Program. Photo by Ed Butler.

Youth organizations that want to build emotional resilience and healthy behaviors in their members can register for the Power Tools for Living program at the stables. Its five-week sessions are ground-based and follow the EAGALA model.

Cardinal and her staff also enjoy introducing horses to children who otherwise might not get the opportunity to interact with them. She says the stables’ Horses and Youth (HAY) program was developed “specifically for children from underserved areas of Mercer County. This equine-based educational and recreational program began in January, 2005, with an afterschool program for six children from the Trenton area. It stemmed from the mission of Dorothy E. Katz and the Hopewell Valley Reading and Recreation Fund in partnership with the Mercer County Extension Office/Rutgers Cooperative 4-H Youth Development.”

During the HAY afterschool program, children have a riding lesson and learn about horses and their care. The program also includes informational or educational tours, summer camp visits, and school visits with a pony.

Cardinal says since its inception HAY Programs have been free to participants thanks to funding provided by the already mentioned Katz fund, administered through the Princeton Area Community Foundation, and supporters.

Another program, the Equine Education Tours, allows participants to learn about the stables’ animals in a classroom setting and then groom and tack a horse or pony. They can also go on a pony or horse ride with a bit of riding instruction. This program is also offered to scouts or other groups of children aged 8 to 13 years for $22 per child.

The Stables’ Equine Informational Tour is similar, but shorter and available to younger children. “It starts with a 45-minute interactive presentation where participants learn about the stables and how the horses are cared for,” Cardinal says. “A tour of the barns concludes the session.” These tours cost $5 per child. For an additional $3 per child, children can groom and tack a pony or horse and ride them around the ring with assistance. These tours are available to groups of preschool-aged children and up.

The stables usually also offer traditional one-hour English riding lessons for all levels of school-aged riders. These eight-week sessions cost $368 for group lessons, $448 for semi-private, $480 for private, or $560 for advanced level private lessons. “Riders can register for a single, or open, lesson during any of the above sessions,” Cardinal says. These cost $46 for group, $56 for semi-private, $60 for private, and $70 for advanced private open lessons.

No riding experience is necessary for pony or trail rides. Children aged two to ten can enjoy a 10-minute pony ride for $15. For an additional $20, children ages four and up can also groom and tack their pony before the ride, and remove tack after the ride, with assistance. Trail rides cost $35 per person for a half hour or $60 for an hour.

The Whoa and Go Mercer County 4-H Horse Club also calls Mercer Stables home. Club members meet once a month to learn about owning and working with horses. There is no fee to join or participate in the club. Contact Mercer County 4-H for information and registration.

Whether you’re on foot or horseback, you can traverse Curlis Woods’ trails. The Woods’ northern end is bordered by the horse pastures and trails extend southwest to Main Street in Pennington. This 116-acre site was the first land preserved by the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space in 1993, after six years of grassroots efforts.

Those who have, or wish they had, a green thumb, will enjoy Mercer Educational Gardens. The gardens feature a wetland meadow restored with native grasses and wildflowers. There are seven types of display gardens (annual, butterfly, cottage, herb, native plant, perennial, and weed identification) here, as well as 20 ways to compost organic material at home. The gardens are maintained by Rutgers’ Master Gardeners and the Mercer County Park Commission.

Head to Mercer Stables and, whether you saddle up, mingle with the majestic horses, or simply enjoy the scenery, you’ll be glad you did.

Cardinal notes that Mercer Stables will not be running summer camps this year. However, “Numerous programs for all ages and for all levels of equine experience will be offered.” See the stables’ website for more information.

Mercer County Stables and Educational Gardens, 431 Federal City Road, Pennington. Open daily to the public 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. 609-730-9059 or!/facilities/mercer-county-stables.

Virtual Business Meetings July 8 to 15

Wednesday July 8

Networking Through LinkedIn, Princeton SCORE. Cecilia Jackson, owner of Forte Consulting and founder of the Youth Leadership Development Program, presents a webinar on creating a LinkedIn profile, branding yourself, creating a company page, commenting, and more. Register. Free. 6:30 p.m.

Thursday July 9

Learn How to Apply for PPP Loan Forgiveness, NJ Small Business Development Center at The College of New Jersey. SBA New Jersey District Office Lender Relations Specialist Erika Pearson discusses what you need to do and the documentation you will need to be eligible for PPP loan forgiveness. Register for webinar access. Free. 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Dr. Seth Rosenbaum

Virtual Monthly Membership Luncheon, Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce. Featuring guest speaker Dr. Seth Rosenbaum, an infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer of RWJ Barnabas Health. He will discuss the challenges that COVID-19 presents to the medical community and the public health. Register. $25; $15 members. Noon to 1 p.m.

Lunch & Learn with SheTek’s Extraordinary Women, The Outlet. Chaya Pamula, SheTek founder and PamTen President and CEO, interviews Sheri Horwitz of Synchonoss about successfully pivoting to navigate career changes that will inspire you to pursue your tech dreams. Register at Noon to 1 p.m.

Inspired Action Workshop Series, Ellevate Network. Second in a three-part series featuring Sharon List, a work/life success coach and creator of “All Inclusive You,” and Suzannah Sabin, director of Princeton Integrative Coaching, who have created a framework on how to identify your goals, explore obstacles, and plan for success. Register. Free. Continues July 16. 1 to 2 p.m.

Virtual Meeting, Mercer’s Best Toastmasters. Communications and leadership development. Guests welcome. Email for an invitation. 6:45 to 7:45 p.m.

Friday July 10

Virtual Networking Breakfast, Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce. Introductions, group networking, and interactive discussions. Nonmembers email to register. 9 to 10:30 am.

JobSeekers, Professional Service Group of Mercer County. Amy Warner, director of talent acquisition at iCIMS, discusses how the job seeker can effectively apply for a position using the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software tool. 9:45 a.m. to noon.

Monday July 13

Finding Grant Funding with FDO Essential, New Jersey State Library. Leigh Clark, NJSL Business and Funding Information Librarian, gives a webinar on how to access FDO Essential using the New Jersey State Library’s website, perform a search in FDO Essential to find prospective funders for your organization, evaluate FDO Essential’s grantmaker profiles to find funding matches, and save grantmaker information for later reference. Register. Noon to 1 p.m.

Legal Watch – 10 Steps for Small Businesses to Take Now, Princeton SCORE. Attorney Dror Futter of Rimon PC gives a webinar on important considerations for small business owners including safety, working from home, employee terminations, real estate, insurance, and more. Register. Free. 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday July 14

JobSeekers. Virtual meeting for those seeking employment. Visit website for GoTo Meeting link. 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday July 15

Business Before Business Virtual Networking, Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce. Networking over coffee plus speakers addressing how their businesses were able to pivot to meet new demands during COVID-19. Register. $25; $15 members. 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.