As the nation’s longest government shutdown in history passed its one-month mark, Montclair State University opened its doors to provide furloughed federal workers with free classes and enrichment to help keep their minds sharp, and yoga and a lawmaker’s ear to lift their spirits.
In connecting the University with the community, the day of classes on January 18 featured conversation with newly elected New Jersey Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (D-11). If classes were good for the brain, being heard on the emotional toll and burden of not being paid, the workers said, was food for the soul.
“It restored a lot of what I’ve lost,” said Nadia Hicks, a 2006 graduate of Montclair State. “I’ve lost faith in my job. This improved morale – by a little bit.”
Speaking with the group, Sherrill acknowledged the hardships and day-to-day impact of the long shutdown. “I was a federal worker for many years, and a lot of us do it because we feel our job has a higher calling,” Sherrill said, “that we’re doing important work for this country.”
About 8,000 federal workers live in New Jersey, and the employees who took part in the Montclair State program work for a variety of government agencies, including Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency and Internal Revenue Service.
“When we thought about the situation that those federal employees in our community are currently facing with the shutdown, we decided to mobilize by pulling together members of the Montclair State community to deliver relevant technical, leadership and career-oriented programs that we offer through our CAPE unit,” said Peter J. McAliney, executive director for Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE).
Montclair State faculty from across campus stepped up to teach the skills, including Microsoft Excel and building a professional network on LinkedIn. The workers explored their core values and how to incorporate the leadership traits they most prize into their own careers. And at a time when many of the furloughed federal workers are struggling without pay to make ends meet, they sat in on an economics class on how to improve their wealth.
“We strived to enhance a sense of community for the displaced workers – one community reaching out and embracing another community,” McAliney said.