Bridgeton’s Next Generation Community Leaders Share Their Experiences Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

NJHI 2017: Next Generation Community Leaders Next Gen Leaders
With schools closed and interactions among peers replaced by social distancing, the Bridgeton Next GEN Leaders are participating in journaling exercises to remain connected to each other, to their coaches and to the community. Project Director and coach Nina Young is providing a set of writing prompts to support the youth in documenting how these uncertain times are impacting their lives. Below, Next Generation Community Leaders Alazea Rivera, 16; Jennifer Hernandez Ruiz, 17; Rigoberto Silva Mendez, 15, and V. Silva Mendez, 19, detail their efforts to remain productive in the initial weeks of the COVID-19 public health crisis. These reflections from the Next GEN Leaders were written between March 30 and April 6, 2020.

Alazea Rivera, 16
Throughout these weeks I have been working on my physical, mental, and social health. During the day I do many different things to stay healthy. First when I wake up, I make my bed, brush my hair, wash my face, brush my teeth, feed my pets and have a cup of coffee. After about an hour of sitting around, I get up and straighten my room by wiping everything down and light a candle warmer so it smells good. By the time I’m done, I take my dog out for a 10-15 minute walk.

In the afternoon, I start my school work. It takes about three hours, depending on how much I have. After I’ve finished my homework, I walk the dog again for another 10-15 minutes, get the mail, and sometimes just sit on the couch and look outside. I watch YouTube for a couple hours to laugh and keep myself occupied by something positive and enjoyable.

During the late afternoon, I feed my pets their dinner. Feeding our kitten can feel like a workout, because she likes to play. When all of the animals have finished eating, I pick up their bowls, wash them, dry them, and put them away for the following day. When the dog is done eating, he is ready to go outside for another walk.

I like to exercise for an hour to stay healthy. I practice yoga because it is relaxing.

Before I go to bed, I like to exercise for an hour to stay healthy. I practice yoga because it is relaxing. When I’m done, I brush my teeth, wash my face, and brush my hair. Before I go to bed, I play with my pets for a bit and check my phone. After I check all of my notifications, I put it on charge for the night. Then I finally lay down, close my eyes and relax before drifting off to sleep.

Jennifer Hernandez Ruiz, 17
About two weeks ago, my parents received a call from the Bridgeton Public Schools. I assumed schools would close due to COVID-19, but I thought it would be for only two weeks. This was exactly what the call was about – that schools would be closed until April 20, 2020.* To most kids, this is a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want a whole month off from school?

An example of the meals that students and families can pick up at a number of sites throughout Bridgeton while schools are closed.

Unlike my sisters, I was not too excited about the announcement. I am currently a senior at Bridgeton High School and losing a month of school is upsetting because it’s a month less of memories with friends, and because our Prom and Senior Trip might be cancelled. But, I understand that this is the best thing to do to ensure everyone’s safety. Since our break began, I have been watching my three younger sisters. We wake up and follow a daily schedule as though we were at school.

We have visited the closest food pick-up site near our home a few times. I am very grateful for the staff and the schools that provide us with these healthy meals. We eat the food they provide us and we do our homework daily. Every other day, we exercise in our basement as a substitute for gym class. This month off is preparing me for college because once I’m there, I’ll have to practice time management and complete my work just like I have been doing for the past two weeks.

For the rest of my time off, I will continue the same activities, eat the food the schools provide us, finish my homework, exercise and watch my sisters.

*On April 7, 2020, Governor Murphy extended New Jersey’s public health emergency and issued an order for schools to remain closed indefinitely.

Rigoberto Silva Mendez, 15
The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has been rampaging across the world and causing chaos throughout our nation. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, so far there are 374,329 confirmed and presumed positive cases in the U.S. and 12,064 deaths. The Coronavirus pandemic is a respiratory illness that is easily spreadable by a sneeze or cough and is rapidly spreading due to close contact. The COVID-19 virus is leading to the postponement and cancellation of major events. Humanity is filled with fear about what will come next, and anger about the sacrifices we have to make.

Social distancing means I have time to think about my priorities, which include learning culinary skills, a different language, and sharpening my skills in my four best subjects.

My school and many other schools have been canceled for a long period of time. I have a lot of time on my hands, and that is what I enjoy – that I have the time to build skills in my current hobbies and discover new ones. It’s important to stay productive because now we have the time to develop skills and hobbies to help us in the future. Now that I have unlimited time, I try to focus on things that will help me, and not pointless actions. As an example, I’m a runner and I take running pretty seriously. It’s part of my identity and I’m using this time to train as hard as I can to perform at my best. In addition, fitness is important for your body and mind and it’s a way to live a healthy life. Social distancing means I have time to think about my priorities, which include learning culinary skills, a different language, and sharpening my skills in my four best subjects.

My priorities also include doing daily chores around the house and spending time with my pet. Before my school closed, I was pretty busy and couldn’t get the recommended amount of sleep. Now, I can get enough rest and reverse my bad habits. I’m a member of the Health Occupations Students of America Parliamentary Procedure team and I feel determined to win at our competitions, so I set aside some time to study parliamentary procedure. In a time like this, we have to be productive and look on the bright side. We also have to make sure to wash our hands and follow social distancing guidelines. 

V. Silva Mendez, 19
Before Governor Murphy issued a “stay-at-home” order on March 21, 2020, I was going to college every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. That has not changed for me since everything has shifted to the virtual world. I spend most of my days doing homework. In addition, I coach students and help them make a successful transition to online learning.

The Silva Mendez family observes social distancing guidelines by playing board games at their home in Bridgeton. Photo by Bridgeton Next GEN Leader V. Silva Mendez.

My parents continue to go to work since they are considered essential workers, which means I don’t see them often. When we are home together, we play board games. Luckily, my family has not been heavily impacted by the stay-at-home order, or by the Coronavirus. My parents go to work. Otherwise, we do not go outside if it isn’t necessary. We do not want to catch the virus or spread it to others.

Bridgeton is one of 10 communities working to engage youth as health partners through New Jersey Health Initiatives’ (NJHI) Next Generation Community Leaders program. The Bridgeton Next GEN Leaders will continue to document how the Coronavirus pandemic is disrupting their work and NJHI will publish their personal updates.

Explore the Bridgeton team’s work to improve health for their families, friends and neighbors prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Meet all 10 Next Generation Community Leaders teams here.

The Grantee Blog regularly publishes updates from NJHI-supported communities. Bookmark this site to stay up-to-date and share in the work of building healthier communities across New Jersey.
Alazea Rivera, 16; Jennifer Hernandez Ruiz, 17; Rigoberto Silva Mendez, 15, and V. Silva Mendez, 19
Tri-County Community Action Agency, Inc.