For more than 30 years Isaiah House has been a critical lifeline for many of the most fragile residents in the Oranges and Newark communities of Essex County who continuously struggle with homelessness, hunger and unemployment.

A meaningful legacy 

This essential organization evolved when three existing groups came together in a unique collaborative effort. Isaiah House was created by combining the Community Service Council of the Oranges and Maplewood (which is a division of United Way of Essex and West Hudson), the Junior League of the Oranges and Short Hills, and the Concerned Clergy of East Orange. And today, Isaiah House, the lasting result of this three-way alignment, remains the only family shelter in East Orange. By serving in this much needed role they provide temporary and permanent lodging, food, social and financial services, as well as comfort and hope, for the thousands of families and individuals they touch every year.

Discharging individuals and families into stable situations

In their role as a loving and supportive shelter offering comfort and hope, the staff at Isaiah House puts a special focus on clients who have been devastated by unemployment, illness, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, fires and other overwhelming crises. In order to accomplish their goal for helping clients overcome these circumstances, they offer a variety of support services to family members, including life skills training, instructions in household and money management, job search assistance (even when it means checking out local companies as they are continuously on the look-out for opportunities for their clients), tutoring, medical referrals, and on-site drug and alcohol support groups.

They have on-site and off-site programs that enable them to reach deeply into the community, bringing the tools, resources and a practical, hands-on approach that change peoples’ lives. One of their proudest accomplishments is that, unlike other agencies and shelters, Isaiah House works diligently 365 days a year – 24 hours a day - to ensure that the family unit remains intact. Whether the family is defined as a mom and dad, a husband and wife, just a mom or a dad as heads of household or some other configuration, they can remain together with their children at Isaiah House rather than having to separate and stay in multiple locations. This distinctive approach is based on a firm belief that individual progress and development is enhanced and augmented by the assistance of loved ones. Keeping their family unit together is a major advantage for those who seek shelter.

Most employees are “lifers” at Isaiah House

The employees hold fast to a strong family culture at Isaiah House. This is one of the key reasons it is so successful in achieving its mission.  Their tightly knit staff boasts of the longevity of their tenure, with many having been at the organization for 20 years or more! In fact, some of this dedicated and loyal team have been clients/residents themselves.

Working together as a ‘family’ and functioning as one unified agency, they cross-train all the employees, avoiding a silo mentality and fostering a fully integrated program that delivers services and programs smoothly and seamlessly.  With camaraderie and conviction, the team can accomplish the bigger picture vision and strategy that often eludes other organizations.

This is especially important because of the breadth of programs provided by Isaiah House, including: 

  • Food Pantry  
  • Rental Subsidies
  • Prevention Funds 
  • Infants and Tiny Tots Day Care Center
  • 12-Step Addiction Recovery Meetings

Additional residential programs include:

  • HIV/AIDS Residential and Special Programs 
  • Community Creche
  • Emergency Shelter​
  • Youths Empowered to Succeed (YES!) ​
  • CCEP 

Always ready, always transparent

With government funding accounting for approximately 97% of their revenue, the Isaiah House must always be ready to share information and data, confirm metrics, and demonstrate value. Transparency is not an option – it is a mandate.  This means that files are organized, financial statements are current and available - and reflect the organization’s ongoing stability. As such, community impact is easily tracked, giving the government funders, as well as others, the confidence they need to trust the leadership and support Isaiah House. 

Black History Month is celebrated every day at Isaiah House!

At Isaiah House the leadership team and staff, as well as their clients, recognize the power of Black History on a daily basis.

Instead of waiting for a designated month to honor the black community, this organization brings a sense of empowerment to the black community every month!  Close to 98% of the clients at Isaiah House are African American, so the organization has integrated Juneteenth, Kwanzaa, and Black History month into one ongoing commitment that regularly encourages pride in being black. 

Guest speakers, including many who have grown up locally, visit the shelter often, sharing details of their journeys that inspire the community. The message is clear: Almost anything is possible. When this message comes from peers who have traveled the same road, it helps to build confidence in everyone else. These tangible connections within their own community help to stoke ambition and fuels a determination to push forward. Examples of neighbors who struggled to survive – who were homeless - or poor - or addicted - and then were able to overcome every obstacle and thrive is one way to convince the audience that they can make it too.

Listening to the residents

While the team can speak for Isaiah House from their perspective, the voices that inspire all  are those of the residents. Hear what they have to say about the lifeline provided by this organization:

“Being at the Isaiah House was a journey for me because sometimes you have your ups and downs, but I managed to like staying here to get on the right track for my kids and also myself. The staff here taught me a lot of things like make sure that I love myself in order for me to love on my kids and that I always keep up with doctors’ appointments and make sure if I am good make sure my kids are too as well. They also teach us how to budget your money never spend it up always put money to the side for emergencies. Being here at the Isaiah House makes me feel safe and protected that I know if I have a problem I can go to anyone of the staff and they are willing to listen and give great advice and I love them for that. They teach how to be clean and responsible for your actions.” RJ 

"When I think family, I think of Isaiah House." PB

“I think the Isaiah House is a great transition house. The staff on hand is awesome, caring, and loving. I myself never had a problem since I have been residing here.” CJ

“I think that the Isaiah House is a great place to live. Everyone is very helpful, resourceful, caring and hospitable. It’s a place filled with a lot of love. Anyone can come to Isaiah House and get the assistance that they need.” TD

“When I think of Isaiah House, I think great, interesting, helpful, fun, cool.” TC

“Isaiah House - very helpful, amazing place, very decent place, a place that always puts people in need first.  It is very clean, very strict. This is a place that cares and is always striving to make a change in people’s lives. When you get here, by the time you leave, your life is completely changed. Isaiah House changes lives for the better.” NS

“If you are a runaway youth looking for guidance, support and shelter the Isaiah House is a very good place to look. I was able to get a new start and escape negative influences at home. Without the Isaiah House, I would not be focused on school and my future.” JB

How to help

Many of you who are reading this interview with Zammeah Bivins-Gibson, MSW, Executive Director of Isaiah House will want to know how you can get involved too. Here are some great ideas for connecting and making your own, lasting impact:

  • Food Bank Collections
  • Clothing, housewares and electronics drives
  • Volunteer
  • Happy Birthday helpers
  • Customized Day of Doing
  • Offering your skills

Visit the website at  www.isaiahhouse.org for more details!