BARNEGAT – Barnegat resident Kristin Santorelli knows what it feels like to be loved and supported as a child.
As the founder of a local nonprofit organization aimed at providing support and assistance for low-income families, Santorelli has made it her mission to ensure that all members of the community have the opportunity to experience the kind of compassion and support she has known.
“I have been loved and helped all through my life along with the tough times when I needed some help. I see and notice how hard other’s lives may be,” Santorelli told Jersey Shore Online.
Growing up in a small New Mexico town, Santorelli did not see or notice true hardships such as homelessness until later in her life.
“Now I see the hurting right in my back yard,” she said. Santorelli recalled a memory from years ago, seeing mothers pushing their babies in strollers along Route 9, one of the busiest local thoroughfares.
In 2015, Santorelli finally took action to heal this “hurting” by creating Hearts of Mercy, a 501c3 nonprofit organization located just off of Route 9 in Barnegat.
Hearts of Mercy serves as an advocate for low income families that are living in need, providing programs, events, and assistance to kids in Barnegat and surrounding communities.
“The ones that seem to be affected the most are the children and through no fault of their own they are falling through the cracks. This downhill slide seems to speed up as soon as the children enter middle school,” she explained.
Hearts of Mercy has adopted the “it takes a village” mindset, involving members of the local community, businesses and schools to help underprivileged kids succeed.
“The Barnegat Motel was our first spot to reach out to [in 2015],” said Santorelli, noting that Hearts of Mercy supplied diapers, food and school supplies to families living at the motel, as needed.
Five years later, Hearts of Mercy has expanded from just meeting needs to providing free afterschool tutoring, mentoring, a Reading Buddies program, day trips, summer camps, and sponsorships for children in sports and extracurricular activities.
The Hearts of Mercy website outlines what they tackle with a few simple points:
- Tutoring: After school tutoring to help the kids excel in education
- Mentoring: Someone cares to take the time to listen and teach
- Self Esteem: These kids matter. Help them see they are important
- Direction: Life is hard …. direction is needed in their lives
- Lost & Found: Faith in God is promoted and displayed in what we do
- Yearly Activities: Planned events to establish lasting memories
More recently, the organization also provided kids with a host of summer activities to keep them busy and involved while off from school including an overnight camping trip, a trip to the BlueClaws to meet the players, a backpack giveaway, pool parties and a fishing event on LBI, Santorelli said.
With all of these fun and enriching programs, the main focus is always the children.
“As we know, students today need access to computers and the internet. These families have neither of those along with no transportation to gather resources at the public library. Some families we know have been evicted and have no minutes on their phones. What are the chances for these underserved students?
“We are reaching the children that have little opportunities…We open doors and help them to find their strengths and enjoy the good things in life that cost money and always need transportation; in which they may not have that possibility without us,” said Santorelli.
And it is working.
Santorelli told Jersey Shore Online that, since she began Hearts of Mercy, they are seeing a major difference in these children’s lives, including renewed hope in their parents.
“Through the years we have become very close with a lot of the families, and we continue to reach out hoping to build trust and lasting friendships. It’s encouraging to know that our community is willing to offer their resources to work together with us towards the same goal,” she said.
Next up on the list for Hearts of Mercy is collaboration with the Barnegat School District. Once they garner enough support and volunteers, Hearts of Mercy plans to open up tutoring to more children, said Santorelli.
“We are speaking to corporations, planning for fundraisers and very excited about 2020 and reaching many more underserved children in our surrounding communities,” she added.
As a community organization, Hearts of Mercy needs the community to thrive. Hearts of Mercy is seeking volunteers to serve as tutors, mentors, reading buddies and van drivers. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Santorelli at 908-783-0269 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stop in at 50 Hannah Lee Ave., Barnegat. Hearts of Mercy is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday by appointment only.
Throughout the month of January tutoring will take place every Wednesday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Call for more information
“Hearts of Mercy is quickly growing and we need the involvement of our sponsors, community and local schools. We are ready to reach many more children and their families. We are in need of local professionals with a sincere interest in our mission,” said Santorelli.
For more information, to donate, or to view upcoming events and programs, visit hearts-of-mercy.org.