Lately, Saint Peter’s students, faculty and staff may have noticed a new splash of color by the student center. In the last few months, what had been a plain wall across an unassuming parking lot began to be adorned with vibrant geometric shapes and striking multi-angle portraits of famous people.
This new mural, visible from the East side of Mac Mahon Student Center, was commissioned by Hudson Community Enterprises (HCE), whose building is the work’s canvas. Nearing completion, it has been a collaborative effort by local artists Distort, Mr. Mustart and Clarence Rich.
Patrick Robinson, HCE’s VP of Fulfillment and Document Destruction, said HCE wanted to make what they do known to more of the local community.
“Everybody that is on the mural is an individual that has a disability that has achieved greatness,” he said. “We’re trying to focus on the excellence of these people and use them as an example to empower individuals with disabilities, or to allow people to see that, when given an opportunity, individuals with disabilities can succeed.”
Empowering people with disabilities is HCE’s mission -- one in which they excel.
“We began in the 50s as somewhere that would bring individuals with disabilities in,” said Robinson. “We would train them in job skills and then find employment for them in the workforce. As the jobs in the workforce dried up, we decided to start our own lines of business to create positions for individuals with disabilities.”
Currently, HCE has a few different lines of business, including a fulfillment floor which does packaging, a document imaging company, a shredding company, a janitorial service, a print shop and a security service. They employ 800 people, 85 percent of which have disabilities.
“We are a private non-profit, so anything that we do always goes back to our clients here,” said Alex Rivera, HCE’s Print Shop Production Manager and SPU alum.
According to Robinson, HCE receives grants but does not rely on them. Everything they make, they reinvest back into the company to create new opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
HCE has found many avenues for creating opportunities for those they employ. The Saint Peter’s community likely knows HCE best by their printing service; many of the posters around campus were commissioned from and produced by their print shop just next door to Mac Mahon Student Center.
“For what I do, we train individuals at the print shop, and then we place them elsewhere outside of the company,” said Rivera. “For our section we usually deal with at-risk youth as well. We find a lot of the hidden gems of Jersey City, especially the youth. A lot of times we get people who haven't really finished their education; they don't have GED's, but when they come to this program we bring them to their fullest potential.”
HCE can be found doing work well outside of Jersey City. They also do scanning, shredding and cleaning for the state and provide services as far as Trenton.
The new mural is a declaration of HCE’s values and their mission, which is to provide a fair opportunity for people with disabilities, contribute to their community and show the world what they can do.
When completed, the work will feature numerous individuals of great renown who have had a disability and found great success, regardless of their condition, such as Stevie Wonder, Frida Kahlo, Jim Abbott, Ali Stroker, Lady Gaga and Stephen Hawking. These figures are shown over a colorful and varyingly geometric backdrop that encourages the celebration of diversity.
According to Robinson, the artists selected were a natural choice given their prominence in the Jersey City area. HCE created a list of the people whom they wanted featured in the work, and then handed the remaining creative direction over to the artists.
“They're extraordinary ... in their own right,” Robinson said. “And when you combine them together it creates great results. We thought they were the best.”
Both Robinson and Rivera expressed their hopes that the mural will help to inform people of HCE’s ethos and garner interest in the organization’s work.
“When I first came here I had no idea that this place did this kind of stuff,” said Rivera. “I had no idea there were special needs people working here. Even [since] we started getting the traffic with the print shop with Saint Peter's, I still feel like people [have] no idea.”
Despite HCE’s success in Jersey City and beyond, the public is largely unaware of the opportunities it provides within its facilities for the disadvantaged of the local community.
“We think that if more people just knew about what we do that they would actually use our services,” said Robinson. “We're very accomplished in everything that we do.”
HCE’s new mural can be seen along Montgomery Street, at one end of Panepinto Plaza, or from the windows on the East side of the Student Center. It is planned to be finished by the end of Thanksgiving week.