A lifetime of giving and community service started for Namiaya Kelton with a coat when she was 8.
Kelton was shopping for a new coat in the winter at JCPenny’s in the Quakerbridge Mall with her mother when she overheard another family talking about also getting a coat, except the other mother was telling her young girl that they were just looking. They did not have the money to get more than one coat for the young girl’s brother.
Kelton had split away from her own mother when she walked up to the young girl and presented her own coat to her. Both of the mothers were blown away by the gesture.
“As a parent, it’s quite surprising to find that your children do listen to you and you want to encourage it,” said Kelton’s mother, Tangela Wright. “I was quite in awe. This is her shining opportunity and she took advantage of it.”
Wright got in the act too when she saw the other mother didn’t have a coat and purchased her one as well as scarves for her and her daughter. The moment deeply impacted Kelton.
“From there, it sparked something in me,” Kelton said. “It made me feel good. It made me feel like I was helping. It was a different feeling than I get from anything. It changed my whole perspective on life.”
Kelton has continued to serve the community whenever she can, and the Ewing High School senior is one of three high school students to receive the Young Woman of Achievement award from the Mercer County Commission on the Status of Women. Also honored were Lanae Lopez of Lawrence Township and Mehar Bajwa of Princeton.
An awards reception was originally planned for March 31 and then postponed until June 30 due to the COVID-19 crisis. It has now been cancelled, but a recognition video is planned to be posted on the Mercer County website (mercercounty.org).
“It is with great sadness that the Mercer County Commission on the Status of Women has canceled its annual awards reception,” said a statement on the county website.
The plan was for Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and members of the Mercer County Commission on the Status of Women to present awards for the Woman of Achievement and the Young Woman of Achievement at the reception.
The Woman of Achievement Award was established to honor Mercer County women who volunteer their time to make the county a better place to live, raise a family and work. The Young Woman of Achievement Award honors high school students for their outstanding volunteer work within the county.
“We look forward to honoring each of this year’s recipients,” said Hughes, the event’s honorary chairman, before the event was cancelled. “We are proud to recognize these selfless individuals for their work and the example they set for everyone in our communities.”
Kelton’s coat story won her a Humanitarian Award from Kidsbridge in Ewing in 2008, but she was surprised to again win acclaim for service after following it up more than a decade later.
“I’m super excited,” Kelton said. “I never thought I was going to get recognized for any of this. I just thought me doing this was enough for me. I didn’t think there was a thing for this. It’s going to be interesting to see what other people do. I thought I was the only one. Now, I want to meet these people. I’m so excited.”
Kelton has volunteered with Jerzey Gurlz Social Club where she helped to organize and run the Purse Project for displaced women, the Salvation Army of Trenton and Central Baptist Church.
She is annually one of the youngest volunteers to help with packet pick-up for the Trenton Half Marathon and the Run Now Wine Later 5k in New Hope, Pennsylvania. She has helped with kids camp and worked on renovations of the youth area at her church. She has worked with Special Olympics. Kelton has volunteered at Ronald McDonald House in Camden and Feed the Streets events with Jerzey Gurlz.
“Sometimes I see other kids there,” Kelton said. “Not everybody is meant to do what I’m doing. Not everybody has that mindset. Not everybody has that emotion in them that they want to help others. I feel like people just don’t care enough these days. I feel like me being out there shows them there are other things that we could be doing rather than the bad stuff or trying to be famous. There are other things out there.”
Kelton has plenty of other things going on in her life. She played softball for Ewing—third base, outfield and catcher. She said she also enjoys learning in school and is looking forward to studying psychology at Roanoke College next year.
“I found it really interesting to think about how people process thoughts and the way they think and why people do the things that they do based on science,” Kelton said.
Her reason for volunteering is something she hasn’t given much thought to. She said it comes naturally to her, and she has given up countless Saturday mornings when others are sleeping-in to help serve the community.
“Volunteering is super important,” Kelton said. “It’s something you need to not only keep you humble, but it makes you realize these are people. I used to have a different mindset in how I thought about people. I just used to think of them as they’re less fortunate. I never thought about how I could help them, or how I could impact the world.”
“That is something that I could probably never not do now.” she added. “That feeling is something that not only do I have, but the person I’m helping also has. I’m sure more people should appreciate what they have so when it’s taken away, they know how fortunate they are to have it. In this day and age, we have to think outside ourselves.”
Kelton has made her family proud. Her mother founded Jerzey Gurlz three years ago with the idea of forming a social club with a huge community service component, and she has been thrilled to see her daughter’s attachment.
“It’s been a different kind of journey with her because she attends more than 80% of the community service events,” Wright said. “She’s my one kid that’s always with me.”
Kelton has gone beyond just volunteering. She has organized the Purse Project the last two years where she collects and distributes items for women in need.
“That’s probably 80% of what we take care of, is giving back to the community,” Wright said. “It’s in different forms of volunteering—feeding the homeless, the Purse Project that she’s been running the last two years. We sit down and look at what the need is and address the need.
“For her, you don’t see a lot of kids her age doing community service on that level. You might see they get involved because someone makes them do it or it’s centered around a specific item or time frame. As a parent, being able to show the different facets and how everything comes together so that she could make some decisions or in the case of the Purse Project, she’s giving me information on what she would like to see done outside of Feed the Streets. She says, ‘Everybody feeds the homeless, but they need socks or coats.’ Or, ‘I saw this on the internet and can we try it?’”
Kelton goes into action whenever she sees a need or a way to improve a service. When she started working with the Angels for Kids program run by the Salvation Army, she did so through her church. She would pick a tag for a child in need and supply the present.
“I only picked one or two kids at first,” Kelton said. “Then I saw how I could do it on a greater scale which was giving them out at other churches and that grew into giving them out at other churches and to people I met. It grew from there. When I started with Jerzey Gurlz, we did it on an even larger scale. We did it for Trenton and we do it for Camden. We have about 200 tags, and then we pick up the toys and deliver them to the Salvation Army so they can get distributed.”
Kelton also helped to organize a coat drive where every Friday they are collected at Lore Elementary School. Wherever she has helped, she has grown personally and emotionally. Kelton teared up at the passion of the Special Olympics softball players who tried so hard despite their limitations.
“It’s very hard to teach a kid about empathy,” Wright said. “It’s something they must learn on their own. For her to see how hard it was for them was big.”
Kelton’s wealth of experiences have helped to shape her as a person. She has developed an empathetic ear that makes her a valuable resource.
“People always come up and tell you their stories,” Wright said. “You never hurry them. You never rush them. You let them take their time. You show them you’re listening. They know you’re busy. You give them that compassion and time they need.”
She added that even with her friends, her daughter is the friend that everybody calls for advice.
“She sits, and she listens. She offers advice if need be. And if it’s something that’s really on her heart and bothering her, she’ll come to me and ask me and I’ll walk her through the process,” Wright said.
Kelton will continue to serve and volunteer next year in a new area. Roanoke has a Fellows Program that is an on-campus outreach community service organization. It serves a different community from the Ewing area, but fits in perfectly with Kelton’s passion.
“It gives a broad range of opportunities,” Wright said. “You can plan orientation day and follow it up with a huge community service that gets everyone involved in campus. She went from being involved in a small thing to being involved in something great for her age as a new student on a college campus.”