Newark last night received an uplifting jolt of reality -- television, that is.
Three city charities were featured on ABC’s “Secret Millionaire", in which wealthy individuals are temporarily cut off from their fortunes and assume false identities while searching out worthy causes. At the end of the program comes the big reveal, when the rich guy or gal discloses their true identity and bestows a generous cash award on the stunned recipient.
The millionaire this week, the season premiere, was 52-year-old artist Scott Jacobs and his teenage daughter Alexa, who live in a California mansion far bigger than many of the city’s three-family homes. Jacobs, who did not know where he was being sent by the show, is a Cranford native who was born in Newark and whose mother is buried here.
The City of Newark hosted a screening party for last night’s show at the downtown Hilton, where representatives of the charities munched on popcorn as they sat beside Mayor Cory Booker and municipal council members Donald Payne and Mildred Crump.
“This is a night of celebration for the city of Newark,” said Jack Fanous, a founder and the executive director of the G.I. Go Fund , which assists military veterans. “This is a night where we show what happens when Newarkers come together.”
Another charitable organization, GlassRoots, helps troubled youth by teaching them the ancient practice of making glass art, imbuing students with a sense of purpose, providing them a skill and teaching them to work as a team, said Wesley Simms, the program’s executive director.
“Glass is a fantastic medium to learn a whole lot of lessons,” Simms said.
The show also featured one of the city’s oldest and most widely respected nonprofits, the International Youth Organization, best known by its acronym IYO, which was founded 42 years ago by Carolyn Wallace and her late husband James. The group aids disadvantaged families on a variety of fronts.
Wallace, a wry, formidable 77-year-old great-grandmother, had the audience laughing when she described her first encounters last year with the “documentary filmmakers” ostensibly on her doorstep to learn more about charity work.
Wallace recalled one of the show’s visits, which lasted two and a half hours, and how when they attempted to return, “I said don’t let them in. I don’t have time for this.”
There were other lighthearted moments last night, as when Alexa Jacobs candidly admitted on the program that the money she and her dad had to live on for six days -- about $70 -- was what she spent to have her nails done. When Scott Jacobs finally disclosed his true identity at G.I. Go and announced that he would be giving the group $75,000, Jack Fanous, the executive director, at first greeted the news with a priceless look that suggested Jacobs was full of something other than money.
But there were poignant moments during the show as well, as when Alexa Jacobs, while at IYO, described meeting a young man about her age who was helping take care of his siblings.
“These kids are strong,” she said, reflecting on the distance between her privileged upbringing and the young man’s hardscrabble one.
Fighting back tears, Scott Jacobs described how he identified with a young artist at GlassRoots, a former drug dealer attempting to strike out on a new path. Jacobs not only gave GlassRoots $20,000 but also another $2,500 directly to the youth and volunteered to serve as his mentor as he pursued a career in the arts.
And there was hardly a dry eye in the house when the program showed the Jacobses meeting members of the family of Army Lt. Seth Dvorin, who was killed while attempting to dismantle an explosive device in Iraq, not before ordering 18 of his comrades to retreat to a safe distance. G.I. Go was founded by Fanous, his brother and another man in honor of Dvorin, who was their close friend.
Booker, speaking to the audience after last night’s screening, praised each of the charities in turn, marvelling at the work done under rigorous conditions at GlassRoots, commending G.I. Go’s "one-stop service" for homeless and other veterans as a national model, and highlighting the determination of the Wallaces, who have kept IYO going for decades despite sometimes sporadic funding.
“This show demonstrates Newark has a strength, a resilience, a fortitude,” Booker said.
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