by Dev Goswami | Independent Candidate for 38th District of NJ Congress
I served as an AmeriCorps for national preschool program Head Start from January to July of 2016 in southern New Jersey while I was finishing up graduate school. At the time, I had no political ambitions and wanted to be a neurodevelopmental disorders physician.
During my service I discovered massive abuse and misuse of funds and neglect of children. Contractors were hired to provide cleaning services but failed to do the job. Organization executives were pilfering funds from the program for their personal use. Children with learning disabilities were being denied adequate education services. Other children were routinely placed in danger through the neglect of maintenance to the heating and ventilation systems.
There was no protection for whistle blowers. Employees were terrified to speak, as their contemporaries had been coerced into falling in line out of fear for their jobs. Various forms of discrimination were rampant.
This was an instance of not government corruption, but of organizational corruption. Governing agencies were spending approximately $24,000 per student, but organization chairs and individuals down the line continued to treat the funds like their own personal playthings.
In an act of despair and frustration I reached out to our local congressman whose brother’s name was plastered across the front of the school. I made similar pleas to the office of the inspector general, the NACCP, OSHA, the Administration for Children and Families, and even the White House. I felt something had to be done to correct this shameful neglect of children and fraudulent misuse of taxpayer funds.
Was it so wrong to want to serve my community by helping kids? My heart was drawn to those struggling with socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and helping them to reach their potential. I refused to allow these kids to be slighted so I began to speak up.
I was fired from the organization in July.
This experience taught me a great deal about politics in the state of New Jersey -- punishment for doing the right thing, stuffed pockets for doing the opposite. None of that made any sense to me. It angered me.
To me, these children are little gods and goddesses walking the Earth. How is it okay for greedy adults to steal their opportunities at each and every level of bureaucracy? The doom and gloom of what I had witnessed had set in and I had almost completely lost hope.
A few months later, I got a call to help US Congressional candidate Josh Gottheimer. He was running what was considered one of the closest congressional races in the country and I had no idea it was going on my district.
I researched Gottheimer and he hooked me in with his simple message of social inclusiveness and fiscal conservatism -- two elements I felt were desperately lacking in my home state. I had reservations about his Democratic party ties, but his message was intact.
During a visit to his campaign headquarters I saw firsthand how he was constructing his campaign. I wanted in. It only took one interview for me to roll up my sleeves and get right to work.
I was finally going to be able to serve my community the way I felt called to do.
Dev Goswami in running as an independent for the 38th District of NJ Congress. He serves as an editorial contributor to Our Voice.
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