BRIDGETON - Rev. Robert A. Jackson Jr. asked the dozens of worshippers during a recent Sunday morning service at the brick Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church on Vine Street - at 156 years, the city's oldest black church congregation - whether they were ready for an upgrade.
The reverend, 30, would like to see the city and the county embrace the concept that young people need something to do between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. He would to see more done to keep school children out of trouble between the end of the school day and dinnertime.
"When I first came to Bridgeton, I had the opportunity... to see young people incarcerated for theft, being out past curfew," Jackson said. "One of the things we don't have is a YMCA or a Boys & Girls Club in Bridgeton. There is one in Vineland, but that's not Bridgeton, so I think if that was in place, I think that would be a way to get the kids off the street and into some positive things."
Studies have shown that during the unsupervised time between 3 and 6 p.m., some students find their way to trouble whether it's petty crime, drug use, or experimenting with the opposite sex.
Jackson has an 11-year-old son in sixth grade and a 5-year-old son in kindergarten.
While only a city resident for the past two years, Jackson has already joined the NAACP Greater Vineland Branch and the Nehemiah Coalition, which is an organization that strives to offer alternatives to young men and women to help them on the road to education and employment.
"Even if it's not a Boys & Girls Club, one of the things that we will try to do here at my church is establish an afterschool program to give children safe haven to do homework and to provide them with a meal of some sort," said Jackson, who added that the K-8 Broad Street School and Bridgeton High School are close by. "Maybe, within the year or so, we can establish something with the Bridgeton Public Schools."
In the two years Jackson has been here, he believes things are getting better.
"Part of the reason that I feel that way is that we elected a black mayor, the first black mayor," said Jackson about City Mayor Albert Kelly, who was elected into office in May. "It is something we are looking forward to, a better day, better positive changes."