Fair Lawn teen Jessica Alvaro was taken by surprise last week when her mother called to tell her she had been appointed to Bergen County’s Junior Commission on the Status of Women.
“My mother sent a text after Shabbat,” she said. “When I found out I was chosen, I squealed like a schoolgirl in my bunk and did the happy dance.”
Alvaro-who will turn 17 this month and is spending the summer teaching dance at Camp Morasha in Lakewood, Pa.-was nominated for the position by faculty at the Frisch School, where she is entering her senior year.
“I was surprised to have been recommended,” she said. “I have a lot of wonderful friends who would have been great [candidates] as well.
|Jessica Alvaro, a 17-year-old Frisch student from Fair Lawn, was among 21 teenagers chosen to be on Bergen County’s Junior Commission on the Status of Women.|
“She was honored just to have her name put forth,” said her mother, Judith Alvaro, “and she was amazed that she was selected. It was a long process; she hadn’t thought about it for a long time.”
Jessica is not new to community service. She works as a volunteer for the Friendship Circle, Habitat for Humanity, and the federation’s annual Mitzvah Day.
“I also went with my grandmother to the senior center and volunteered there,” she said.
In addition, said her mother, her daughter is assistant captain of the school dance team, a member of the swim team, and co-editor of the Frisch literary magazine.
Rocco A. Mazza, of the Bergen County Department of Human Services, noted that the Bergen County Commission on the Status of Women (COSW) was founded in 1975 as “a bridge between government and community, studying the needs of women and promoting the expansion of women’s rights.” The Junior Commission was established in 2000.
Each year, 21 young women from Bergen County are selected to participate. Prospective members, nominated by their schools, complete an application detailing their community service experience, school leadership or extra-curricular activities, and academic achievements. They must also submit an essay.
“My essay was about where I thought I’d be in 2020,” said Jessica, noting that she may want to pursue a career in criminal justice.
Junior commissioners participate in COSW activities and special community projects of their choosing, and attend conferences on issues affecting young women.
According to Mazza, projects may include “cell phone collection for vulnerable populations, a prom dress drive for those who are unable to afford one on their own, garden planting at a local women’s shelter, toy collection for low-income families at holiday time, and a Women’s Equality Day exhibit.”
This year’s exhibit will take place August 3 at 10 a.m. in the first floor lobby of the Bergen County Administration Building at One Bergen County Plaza, Hackensack.
The COSW has enjoyed much success since its founding, said Mazza. Its report on crimes of violence against women helped secure funding to assist women affected by violence, while its “Community Court Watch Project” became a national model for volunteers monitoring the handling of domestic violence cases. In addition, the group successfully advocated for the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act; the N.J. Stalking Law; the N.J. Adult Protective Services Act; and the Immediate Income Withholding Act. Its other priorities include health care, affordable housing, child care, child-support collection, sexual harassment, care of elderly parents, and employment rights and opportunities.
Mazza noted that the success of the junior commission has been based on “participants’ compassion and determination to help others; commitment to the projects in terms of prioritizing their time; their knowledge of community needs; and their ability to plan, complete, and evaluate their projects.”
Jessica believes she will be a valuable member of the commission.
“I’m really hard-working,” she said. “I don’t stop until something is done fully and properly. I’m very determined, but I’m also willing to take a step back and listen to others’ views and feelings.”
She said that dealing with illness in the family made her able to relate to women who struggle with illness or deal with ailing parents.
Mazza said women in New Jersey face major challenges in the areas of employment, health care, and education. He suggested that it is important to sensitive young women to these issues, “so they can envision their role in the world and plan for making a positive difference in the area they choose to work in.”
Jessica said that a major challenge facing young women today is the pressure to conform, in dress and behavior, to how women are portrayed in popular culture.
“I’ve seen my friends dress in a way their parents wouldn’t approve of,” she said. “It’s a major issue.”
In addition, she said, “I know of friends who lost out on jobs because they were female and a boy applied. Also, in some other camps, girls are paid less than boys. There’s been a lot of progress, but there’s still not equality.”
While she has not done anything specifically for women, she is looking forward to “soaking up everything she can” from her work as a junior commissioner. Although the position will be for only one year, “I’ll carry it out with me to the real world.”
“The biggest thing is that I’m looking forward to learning through the projects,” said Jessica. “I want to encourage young girls to realize that they can have a voice and be active in the community. Even if there is inequality, they can get things done and make changes.”