Joe Malinconico Paterson Press
PATERSON — One of the city’s largest nonprofit groups is beginning a $4 million construction project that will significantly increase the number of people it serves, a much-needed boost as the pandemic strains the capacity of existing social service programs in the city.
The group, Oasis – A Haven for Women and Children – will be able to expand enrollment in its various programs by 50 to 100% when the new portion of its headquarters opens next September, officials said.
For example, Oasis’ adult education courses would grow from 300 to 450 women, the after-school classes from 125 to 250 children, and the teen program from 50 to 100 youngsters, said Jennifer Brady, the group’s executive director. On top of that, the capacity of the care center where mothers leave their children while they take classes would expand from 18 to 36, she said.
The project will provide 10,000 square feet in added space, including a new fourth floor on the existing building as well as a two-story addition. The space will provide an expanded child care center, a new thrift shop, a wellness center, three classrooms, a group counseling room, a multi-purpose room, and a roof-top garden that will be used for outdoor classes, she said.
Community advocates in Paterson are applauding Oasis’ efforts amid the COVID-19 crisis that has hit low-income families particularly hard.
“Right now the need for social services is definitely skyrocketing,” said Inge Spungen, executive director of the Paterson Alliance, a coalition of community and nonprofit groups.
Spungen noted that many other charity groups are suffering their own financial strains in the pandemic.
“Are there others doing the same thing?” she said of the expansion. “Not so much. But Oasis does have a way for of finding the resources it needs to make it happen.”
The health crisis has made it difficult for social service groups to raise funds, said Bob Guarasci, head of the New Jersey Community Development Corporation, a large Paterson-based nonprofit organization.
“Everyone is more reserved concerning resources,” Guarasci said. “Donors who may have been generous in the past may still be generous, but less so. No one knows what the stock market is going to go.”
Back in 2018, when Oasis launched its expansion effort, the goal was to raise $6 million, Brady said. That included $4 million for the construction and the rest to cover increased operating expenses for three years as well as money to buy land for extra parking, she said.
The fundraising drive already was in full swing, with more than $4.6 million in pledges by early spring, Brady said. The plan had been to start construction in June, but the coronavirus intervened and everything was put on hold, she said.
As the crisis continued, Brady said Oasis asked its donors if they were willing to have the work begin in such uncertain times. None of the benefactors pulled out, she said. Instead, every one of them urged the group to restart its expansion, she said.
“We’re going to be bigger and better in the ways we serve the women and children of Paterson,” Brady said. “While others are pulling back or contracting, Oasis is bullish.”
One of the major donors was Rich Taylor, owner of Rapid Pump, a Paterson-based company, who has been making contributions to Oasis for about 16 years. Taylor said he had no doubt that sticking with the expansion was the right thing to do as the demand for Oasis’ services increased.
“I’ve been told that if you’re going through hell, keep going,” Taylor said, “keep going until you get past it. Don’t stop there.”