About Us

Greater Life BackgroundGreater Life Founders Michael and Maria  Westbrook

The Greater Life story started 30 years ago, when Reverends Michael and Maria Westbrook decided to do something about a troubling paradigm among Newark’s after-school and summer enrichment programs: the majority of these services were not available to the young men and women who needed them most. Kids with gang affiliations or truancy records were usually not permitted to attend afterschool programs; only those with clean records were allowed to participate. However, in Newark’s South Ward, where Greater Life began and still operates today, there is a particular need for targeted services for this population: the region’s poverty epidemic has spawned culture of gang violence, drug trade, and spiritual alienation.

To successfully reach those at-risk youth of color disqualified or underserved by other after-school programs, the Westbrooks have spent over a quarter of a century developing and perfecting programs that balance cultural sensitivity, inspiration, and moral/spiritual focus to turn thousands of Greater Life youth (and adults/parents in crisis) into more productive members of society. Throughout, they have operated on the principle that, if given the opportunity, every young man and woman, regardless of their background or personal history, has the capacity to focus their talents and energy towards positive growth. Greater Life affords this opportunity by offering a welcoming, nurturing alternative to the threatening aspects of inner-city culture. We have built Greater Life into more than a disconnected set of homework help, entrepreneurial projects, feeding programs, leadership development, camping programs, and daily programming —it is instead a community of support in which every new youth and adult is assigned a mentor from our staff, alumni, and Board of Directors; and with which poor and at-risk students grow from grade school, through high school, and into a successful adulthood.

Our Mission

Greater Life’s mission is to educate and inspire indigent, at-risk and behaviorally challenged youth and adults with innovative and culturally-sensitive programs, so they may thrive academically, socially, and morally/spiritually. The organization was formally incorporated as a charitable non-profit 501(c)(3) Faith-Based Community Youth & Family Organization in 2003. It previously operated as the national non-profit Young Life from 1986 to 2003. We have effectively served more than 28,039 young people, caregivers, and family members.

Greater Life is dedicated to reaching and serving Newark’s indigent, poor, disadvantaged, or at risk youth—their families--and adults-—on a daily basis. The Greater Life program main site is located in a 5,000 square foot mixed use space at 272 Chancellor Avenue. It is centrally located in Newark’s South Ward and situated directly across the street from Weequahic High School, Eagle Academy School, and Chancellor Avenue Grade School; three of our primary public school partners. Greater Life is easily accessible by public transportation and the facility itself is wheelchair accessible. We also acquired the 2,200 square foot space directly adjacent to our building, housing our expanded Kidstitute program, high school, and adult internship training, and our Family Resource Center/Food Pantry.

Through longstanding partnerships and community collaborators, in addition to school-year programs, we also offer day and overnight camping experiences, and summer trips that offer Newark students and adults subsidized opportunities to get out of the city. Our year-round program focus is designed to promote improved grades and behavior, peak physical health, productive social skills, improved interpersonal behavior, strong moral/spiritual standards, and improved family connections, community involvement, leadership development, internships and volunteerism.

Our Clients

Every year, Greater Life provides services to 1,500+ youth ages 7 to 19, their family members, adults, and "seasoned citizens", targeting those affected by poverty, with unstable family lives, and at risk of being influenced and affected by gangs and the drug culture. Youth & teens in particular are negatively impacted due in large part to Newark’s poverty epidemic: one in three Newark children grow up in poverty. Essex County has the unfortunate distinction of possessing the third highest level of severe poverty in New Jersey: 6.3% of Essex families were living at less than 50% of the federal poverty rate in 2008 compared to 1% in the most affluent county in New Jersey (Somerset) and 4% statewide. The child poverty rate in Essex County is also third highest in the state. In 2008, when the state child poverty rate was at 12.5% and the national average leapt to 18.2% as a result of the recent economic downturn, the rate in Essex County rose to an alarming 20.2%.
The consequences of Newark’s poverty epidemic are severe:

  • Every week, 11 infants are born to adolescents.
  • Less than 50% of 8th graders pass the state proficiency tests every year and nearly 28 children are removed from their homes every week as a result of suspected abuse or neglect.
  • More than one quarter of Newark high school seniors fail to graduate every year.
  • From 2000 to 2004, school violence incidents in Newark involving weapons jumped 84%.
  • From 2000 to 2004, the amount of grandparents forced to raise their grandchildren leapt 73%.

Our Staff

Michael and Maria lead a dedicated staff of 12 professionals, including contracted service personnel (majority reside in Newark), a corps of consultants and volunteers, and a Board of Directors who mentor, volunteer, donate 100%, and know Newark and its surrounding communities, particularly the South Ward, intimately. In many cases, Greater Life alumni also return to serve as mentors or volunteers. The leader of our Kidstitute educational enrichment program is Annette Alston, the former president of the Newark Teachers’ Association. Our Program Director is Scott Davis, who has over 20 years experience with client services and case management.

Why is a staff that knows the neighborhood well important? Because our staff members find the youth and adults that need our help most by walking the streets and visiting basketball courts and playgrounds daily to identify and immediately assist these children, teenagers, and adults who are often in crisis situations. As a "needs driven" organization, our case management is designed to identify, address, and offer programs to help meet said needs, along with our 20+ Partnerships & Collaborations.