Volunteer Stars of 2019

Read about our featured volunteers and how they are helping communities in NJ

The following are Jersey Cares Volunteer Stars...they all exceeded our expectations and inspired others through service.


December 2019

Nidhin Alappatt

Say Hello to Nidhin Alappatt!

Nidhin has been a Jersey Cares volunteer since September 2019, recently becoming a Project Coordinator, and in less than two months since he joined has volunteered for almost 50 hours. When asked what made him want to start volunteering and become a Project Coordinator, Nidhin stated:

“After moving here from India a year ago, I wanted to find opportunities to give back to my new community. I learned about Jersey Cares through speaking with my colleagues, and so in September, I signed on as a volunteer. I felt drawn to the wide range of projects that are available through Jersey Cares, and after going consistently to Marketplace in East Brunswick, I decided to take on the role of Project Coordinator to help lead each opportunity.”

Since first joining Jersey Cares, Nidhin has tried out several different opportunities, including Caring Closet in Hightstown, and Marketplace in East Brunswick – Monthly Delivery Day. When asked what he loved most about his favorite project, Marketplace in East Brunswick, Nidhin remarked:

“Some of my favorite parts of Marketplace in East Brunswick are being able to sort, organize, and bag food donations for those in need. Plus, being new to New Jersey, I love being able to give back to the members of my community and to support them in their time of need. Having the chance to support other volunteers through this leadership role and helping the agency run smoothly gives me great joy.”

When not volunteering, Nidhin works full time for Nokia and often spends his free time reading up on local and global news stories. Nidhin enjoys staying up-to-date on world events so he always knows what’s happening.

Are you inspired by Nidhin’s passion for volunteering and interested in becoming a Project Coordinator too? Click here to learn more and sign up today.



November 2019

Andrez Paz

Say Hello to Andrez Paz!


Andrez has been a Jersey Cares volunteer since September 2018, when he joined to become involved in the community while on break from school. When asked what advice he may have for new volunteers, Andrez advised:


Firstly, don’t be nervous when looking to try a new activity or start a new project: in every single project that I have worked on through Jersey Cares, there will always be someone to help you when you don’t know something. Also, I really get to know the other volunteers and project coordinators when you volunteer - I have had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people through my time with Jersey Cares. Lastly, when you find a project you like make sure to stick with it!


Since joining Jersey Cares, Andrez has tried his hand at a wide range of projects, including Protection and Prevention in Plainfield, Care of the Park in Branch Brook Park, and Tutor and Mentor in Morristown. When asked about his favorite project, Marketplace in Newark, Andrez stated:


My favorite project through Jersey Cares has been volunteering at Marketplace in Newark (Community FoodBank of New Jersey); after my first-time volunteering there, I really liked the project. The other volunteers there are friendly and inviting, you get to play a very active role as a volunteer, and there are always different tasks you can do. Most importantly, you get to work directly with the local community and see the impact of your work.


While he isn’t volunteering, Andrez enjoys spending his free-time weightlifting, practicing self-defense and jiu jitsu, and playing tennis during the summer. Andrez is also preparing to start medical school next year, having graduated from NJIT for undergrad and Cornell for grad school.

Inspired by Andrez’s dedication and ready to get started with volunteering? Click here to view our monthly calendar and sign up today.


October 2019

Kelly Santana Banks


Say Hi to Kelly Santana Banks!

Kelly has been a dedicated volunteer with Jersey Cares since 2011 and recently decided to become a Project Coordinator early this year. When asked what first drew her attention to Jersey Cares, Kelly stated:

Back in 2005, I had a great experience when I joined a few friends and volunteered in a Newark shelter during Thanksgiving. That experience was enlightening to me and opened my eyes to the goodness of serving those in need. Fast forward a few years, around August 2011, I jumped into action and found myself looking for opportunities to volunteer during the Thanksgiving season again. While doing online research, I found Jersey Cares. I loved the way Jersey Cares organized the volunteering services—having a portal with extensive opportunities throughout the month. Not only that, but also giving us volunteers the ability to choose the opportunities that better fit our schedule by date, county, or interest. I have seen nothing like that before.”

Since joining Jersey Cares, Kelly has volunteered with a wide variety of projects including Hunger Helpers in Newark, Marketplace in Hillside, and Marketplace in Clifton. When asked about one of her favorite projects, Computer Essentials in Elizabeth, Kelly explained:

I love the fact of making a difference in peoples lives, whether it is volunteering in itself and throwing goodness out in the worldor guiding people and making their experience as comfortable and fulfilling as possible as a Project Coordinator. I usually have a great time in every opportunity that I take part in, mostly because of the unbounded feeling to contribute to something bigger than myself. Plus, I like to create connections with other volunteers and people from the places/agencies I contribute to while getting to know them. Not saying its a favorite, but if there is an opportunity that I feel especially connected to, it would have to be Computer Essentials in Elizabeth because of the mission of the agency, which encompasses womens empowerment/refugees and immigrants resources (issues that I feel strongly about). Also, the guidance that we, as volunteers, give to the women taking the course aligns with the work I have done and continue doing throughout the years.

When she is not volunteering, Kelly LOVES reading and everything book-related, writing, and mentoring others. Kelly also spends her free time practicing yoga and meditating.

Inspired by Kelly’s dedication and ready to take the lead as a Project Coordinator? Click here to learn more and sign up as a Project Coordinator today.


September 2019

Wendy Sue Williams


Say Hello to Wendy Sue Williams!

Wendy has been a dedicated volunteer since 2013, devoting more than 100 hours to giving back. When asked what inspired her to join Jersey Cares, Wendy explained:

As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I was always looking for opportunities to volunteer in my community. However, with a busy work and family schedule, it was difficult to find programs that were flexible. I first signed up for Jersey Cares because I liked the ability to choose projects and dates that worked with my family’s schedule. I was also able to sign up for certain projects as a family and get my kids involved!”

During her time as a Jersey Cares volunteer, Wendy has served at a wide variety of projects including Earth Keepers in Island Beach State Park, Earth Keepers in Jersey City, and countless other opportunities. Yet Wendy’s favorite opportunity to attend is Marketplace in East Brunswick, closely followed by the Beach Sweeps, which she has attended regularly since joining Jersey Cares in 2013. When asked what drew her to this opportunity, Wendy remarked:

I love working at the Marketplace in East Brunswick, which has a food pantry and thrift store. Addressing hunger in our community is important, and the need is constant. I’m also an advocate of recycling clothes and other goods – so at the Marketplace in East Brunswick, I have the opportunity to work with both areas. The staff and volunteers at the Marketplace are wonderful – it’s a joy to work with such caring people dedicated to helping the community. I also have enjoyed volunteering at the Beach Sweeps – it’s a great way to spend some time outdoors and to help keep the local recreation areas safe and clean for everyone.”

When she is not volunteering, Wendy works full-time and raises her three children. In her spare time, Wendy enjoys reading new books, baking delicious treats, and traveling the world.

Ready to begin volunteering in your community and improve the lives of others? Click here to view our monthly calendar and sign up as a volunteer today.


August 2019

Cindy Paterno

Say Hello to Cindy Paterno!

Cindy has been a part of Jersey Cares since the start, joining as a volunteer in 1994 and devoting her time ever since! When asked what advice she might have for new volunteers, Cindy remarked that:

“Try not to go in with a preconceived idea of what the agency’s needs are or what the opportunity will be like, as that can close you off to new experiences. By being open to whatever direction or tasks the agency may need your help with, you never know what sort of new and life-changing experiences you may be exposed to.”

Over the 25 years that Cindy has been volunteering with Jersey Cares, she has spent hours of her time at a wide variety of projects including Hunger Helpers in Hoboken, Art of Life Therapy in Englewood, Marketplace in Newark (Community Foodbank of New Jersey), Jersey Cares Coat Drive, and countless other opportunities. Yet Cindy’s favorite opportunity to attend is Hunger Helpers in Newark (St. John’s), which she has attended regularly since joining Jersey Cares. When asked what she likes most about this opportunity, Cindy remarked that:

“Being at Hunger Helpers in Newark (St. John’s) feels like being with family, from the Project Coordinator whom I have known since the start, to the volunteers, employees, and recipients. Each week there is something new to try or experience, yet I am always able to catch up with the wonderful people at the soup kitchen.”

When she is not volunteering, Cindy works fulltime as a special education teacher, having gone back to school to fulfill her lifelong passion. In her free time, Cindy also enjoys spending time with her three birds, going hiking or birdwatching, or spending a quiet day reading.

Ready to begin volunteering in your community and improve the lives of others? Click here to view our monthly calendar and sign up as a volunteer today.


July 2019

Lauren Kay Tortal

Say Hello to Lauren Kay Tortal!

Lauren has been a dedicated volunteer since Christmas Day in 2014 and isn’t stopping anytime soon! When asked what advice she might have for new volunteers, Lauren stated: 

“When you first get started volunteering, pick a project that covers something you really care about. Whether it’s hunger, childcare, animals, the environment, or socializing with the elderly, your experience will be further enhanced if the project is close to your heart.” 

Since Lauren began volunteering with Jersey Cares, she has spent her time at a wide variety of projects, including Hunger Helpers in Atlantic CityHunger Helpers in Red BankBingo Time in MorristownEarth Keepers in Jersey City (Veterans Cemetery)Book Buddies in WaynePersonal Shopping in Prospect Park, and many more opportunities.  While Lauren has attended a wide range of projects over the years, within the last 2 years she has attended Marketplace in East Brunswick – Monthly Delivery Day on a regular basis. When asked what she enjoys most about this opportunity, Lauren stated: 

“I’ve been going to Marketplace in East Brunswick-Monthly Delivery Day for almost 2 years now & it’s great. We unload a truck from the community food bank & make grocery bags for the center’s clients. Ending hunger is a huge issue, so this project is so important to me as it helps feed families. There is also a lot more physical activity because we are carrying boxes of food & other essentials to storage & shelves. It’s fun in that way, too! It’s a wonderful place to volunteer & I’ve made a lot of amazing friends!” 

When not volunteering her time at her favorite projects, Lauren enjoys reading fiction and fantasy books, or really anything geared towards young adults.  Lauren loves trying new things and gaining new hobbies, so she always takes the chance to travel and explore new places. 

Ready to begin volunteering in your community and improve the lives of others?  Click here to view our monthly calendar and sign up as a volunteer today. 


June 2019

Aarnav Patel

Say Hello to Aarnav Patel!

At only 16, Aarnav has been a dedicated member of Jersey Cares since December 2017, having already logged over 100 hours so far! When asked what advice he might have for new volunteers, Aarnav said that:

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other volunteers, most people are happy to help guide you and make the experience all the better.”

Since joining Jersey Cares, Aarnav has participated in the annual collection drives, from  Frosty’s Friends in 2017 to the Jersey Cares Coat Drive in 2018, and has also volunteered his time at Games Galore in Wayne and Bingo Time in Morristown.  Yet Aarnav’s favorite opportunity to attend has been Games Galore in Hanover, which he has attended more than 50 times since he joined Jersey Cares.  When asked about what he loves most about Games Galore and More in Hanover, Aarnav said:

“I get to spend about two hours every Saturday with the elderly talking to them or playing board games with them. It is a fun activity for both the residents and me, we get to play games like Dominos and Trivia, but the most popular game we play is Bingo.  On other days I just sit and chat with some of them. It is always intriguing to hear about their stories, their experiences in life, about the work they did or about their families. Most of them enjoy talking with me and it’s almost like looking into another world. There are a few people in the facility who have been there for a long time now and I have developed a close bond with them, but I still enjoy meeting with new people each week.”

When he is not volunteering, Aarnav enjoys practicing and teaching Taekwondo, having earned his 2nd-degree black belt and training for his 3rd degree.  Currently a junior in high school, Aarnav wants to pursue Computer Science when he attends college in a year.

Inspired by Aarnav’s story and ready to take action? Click here to view the monthly calendar and sign up as a volunteer today!


May 2019

Marie Jean Pierre

Learn all about Marie Jean Pierre!

Marie Jean joined Jersey Cares as a volunteer in October of 2018 and has been a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator since January! Since joining Jersey Cares, Marie Jean has become a dedicated volunteer and leader within the Jersey Cares community. When asked what advice she might have for new volunteers, Marie Jean said that:

“Once you begin volunteering, you will have an immediate sense of accomplishment for the good work you are doing for your community.  You’ll also have the chance to make new connections with other volunteers, meeting new friends along the way.”

Since Marie Jean joined Jersey Cares, she has devoted her time to countless projects, including Caring Closet in Teaneck, Hunger Helpers in Newark (St. James), and Marketplace in Paterson.  While Marie Jean has volunteered with a wide range of projects, she spends most of her time as the Project Coordinator for Hunger Helpers in Jersey City. When asked what she enjoys most about this opportunity, Marie Jean said:

“I've made some wonderful new friends and met many fantastic people through Hunger Helpers in Jersey City at St. Lucy’s Shelter. I enjoy chatting with them and they don’t mind sharing their life experiences and stories.”

With her love of giving back to her community, Marie Jean attended St. Peter’s University with a Major in Environmental Science, learning about Jersey Cares for the first time through her fellow classmates.  When not volunteering, Marie Jean also enjoys playing the clarinet, both at home and church.

Driven to action by Marie Jean’s love of giving back? Why not consider taking the lead and becoming a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator today! To learn more, click here.


April 2019

Heba Abbas

Say Hello to Heba Abbas!

Heba has been a member of the Jersey Cares family and an active Jersey Cares Project Coordinator since 2014! With over 5 years of experience as a PC, Heba is a true professional at leading her teams of volunteers. When asked what first led her to join Jersey Cares, Heba remarked that:

“I was drawn to Jersey Cares because it has so many different types of projects, from visiting with the elderly to serving at soup kitchens, to cleaning up at local parks. I tried a bunch of projects before I found one that I continued with routinely. The best part about Jersey Cares is that you are not bound to any one project type if you don’t want to be, and there is something to suit everyone.”

Over the years Heba has taken the chance to try out a wide range of opportunities, with some of her favorites being Marketplace in Hillside, Hunger Helpers in Jersey City, and Bingo Time with Veterans in Paramus, which she led for years. When not pursuing her hobbies of traveling the globe, sight-seeing, and taking long hikes, she can be found at her current favorite project to PC, Tutor and Mentor in Livingston. When asked what she loved most about this opportunity, Heba noted:

“I typically work with adults on a daily basis, so I find it really refreshing to volunteer my time working with children. I look forward to every Saturday morning with these kids! Being able to see the lightbulb go off in a child’s head when they “get” what you’ve just explained to them is beyond rewarding.”

As a Project Coordinator, Heba advises new volunteers “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new! Volunteering is something you can do with your friends, family, colleagues, classmates, or alone, and you may be surprised to meet some brand-new friends along the way!”

Inspired by Heba’s dedication to service? Why not consider taking the lead and becoming a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator today! To learn more, click here.


March 2019

Sister Katherine

Say Hello to Sister Katherine!

Sister Katherine has been a part of Jersey Cares and a Project Coordinator since May of 2018!  Having devoted her life towards serving others, especially the homeless and hungry of Camden, joining Jersey Cares seemed like the perfect organization to join.  When asked why she chose to volunteer with Jersey Cares, she remarked:

“I was drawn to the fact that Jersey Cares welcomes volunteers from all over the state, with few restrictions, allowing people from all walks of life to join together in helping others.  Plus, it makes such a difference that projects are short term, allowing volunteers to spend as much time as they’d like volunteering.”

When not devoting her free time to her love of writing and embroidery, along with collecting and distributing supplies to the homeless on the streets of Camden, Sister Katherine spends every Tuesday and Wednesday as the Project Coordinator for Marketplace in Camden.  When asked about her favorite part of this opportunity, Sister Katherine stated:

“I love that I get to volunteer for an organization that fills such an important need in the local community.  With few food stores, Camden is a “food desert”, so having the food pantry allows community members to receive necessities such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy products, as well as canned goods and other non-perishables. Above all else, though, I get the chance to show our recipients that they are loved and cared for when they may feel forgotten.”

As a Project Coordinator, Sister Katherine has found that “the best way to get started is to look through the Opportunity Calendar, find something that interests you, and then go for it! With so many opportunities to choose from there’s something for everyone.”

Inspired by Sister Katherine’s dedication to service? Why not consider taking the lead and becoming a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator today! To learn more, click here.


February 2019

Joann Douds

Say Hello to Joanne Douds!

Joanne has been a member of the Jersey Cares family since 2016 and an active Jersey Cares Project Coordinator and Leadership Specialist since 2017. From her work as a mentor in the Service Works program to her current role as a regular Project Coordinator, Joanne has never been one to shy away from taking the lead! When asked how she first discovered Jersey Cares, she reminisced that:

“Actually, Jersey Cares found me! Because of the mentoring, I did with college students at the time, Jersey Cares enlisted me to join the Service Works program as a mentor for a cohort of Rutgers students.”

Joanne’s service doesn’t stop there! Following the completion of the program, she began working with a variety of other Jersey Cares programs including Care of the Park at Branch Brook Park. When she’s not long-distance cycling or traversing the globe as an internationally licensed realtor, Joanne can be found at her favorite project, Caring Closet in Madison. When asked what she loved most about this opportunity, Joanne noted:

“Things at Dress for Success move very fast. Volunteers have to get organized quickly and it requires a lot of communication. That allows us to build a sense of community and comradery. As I always say to the volunteers, ‘We’re gonna work hard today but we’re gonna have fun. If you aren’t having fun, you’re not in the right place.”

As a Project Coordinator, Joanne has found that “It is more effective to submerge yourself in one project rather than jumping around. You see the operations from a different angle.”

Inspired by Joanne’s dedication to service? Why not consider taking the lead and becoming a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator today! To learn more, click here.


January 2019

Mariya Ermakova

Say Hello to Mariya Ermakova!

Mariya has been a volunteer with Jersey Cares since January 2018 and has been actively engaging the community ever since! With over 150 hours already under her belt and more opportunities scheduled, Mariya has worked tirelessly across the city of Newark to enact positive change.

Her dedication to service quickly became a call to leadership and in April, she became a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator (PC). When asked why she chose to become a Project Coordinator, Mariya noted that she had a strong desire to develop her skills as a leader. Since then, she has regularly led a variety of project with us. She noted that her favorite projects were “Farm to Table at Vineyard Baptist Church, Marketplace in Newark, and Community Clean Sweep in Newark. I really enjoy working on projects that involve helping people and the environment.

Outside of her volunteer service, Mariya works as a bartender with interests in cooking and drawing. She hopes to pursue a second degree in video production. When asked what advice she has for first-time volunteers, Mariya noted,

“It is very important to find the project that inspires you. Don’t give up.”

We are so thankful for Mariya’s service! You too can take the lead as a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator. Be The Change and click here to get started on your own PC journey!