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MCCC Alum Ayo Johnson Uses Her Educational Experiences to Give Back to the Mercer County Community

6/20/12


West Windsor, N.J. -- Ayo Johnson ’93 (A.S., Business Administration) wasn’t sure where her career would lead when she came to study at Mercer, but after getting a good education, she decided she wanted to help others do the same.

“I had no intention of going into nonprofit work,” said Johnson, a Bordentown resident who, after working in both business and academic settings, combined the two skill sets to assume the post of executive director at Westminster Community Life Center almost two years ago. The center provides various services to the Trenton community, including afterschool care.

After growing up in Spring Valley, NY, Johnson headed to Virginia for college, but decided it was not a good fit.  Knowing that not all schools are alike, she began to look at other college options, which eventually led her to MCCC.  While she first intended to just take a few classes, Johnson said, “I ended up loving Mercer, and I decided to stay on and earn my degree.”

MCCC alum Ayo Johnson '93 is pictured with two children at her current job as executive director of Westminster Community Life Center in Trenton.

Working as a waitress while attending classes, Johnson remarked that without MCCC’s flexibility and the ability to take some of her classes through MCCC’s cable channel, she wouldn’t have been able to complete her studies.

By the time Johnson graduated, she had a full-time office job at a transportation company called the Clark Group, and later moved on to work as an account specialist at EPITAXX, a telecommunications company.  During that time she also started a family, which includes her son, Ricky, now 17, and her daughter, Amber, now 16.

It was while her children were young that Johnson decided to go back to school to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, which she earned from Rider University in 2002.  “I didn’t have a direct career path at the time, but I knew I wanted to learn more and set a good example for my kids,” Johnson said.

Once her children entered school, Johnson began to feel the calling to a career in education.  “I began to see a lot of turnover at the elementary school,” said Johnson, referring to the charter school where her son had three different teachers in one year.  With her substitute teaching certification in hand, she decided to apply for a teaching job there.

“Within a few weeks they wanted me to become a full-time teacher,” she said.  The school believed in Johnson and sponsored her to get her elementary teaching certification from The College of New Jersey.

“I loved being a part of education,” said Johnson, who worked at the school for three years before taking a post as director of education services at Changes, Inc., an early childhood education program in Hamilton that also serves the community through a food pantry and financial literacy workshops.  It was there she combined her business and academic backgrounds to oversee the nonprofit’s daily educational operations, including supervising staff, budgeting, and organizing special events.  “It was a great opportunity for me, and I was able to help direct the path of the school, groom the teachers, and oversee the entire process,” she said.

At that point, Johnson sought to take her education to the next level.  A new degree program at Rider University called Organizational Leadership fit her professional needs. She was able to earn her master’s degree there over the next two years.

By now Johnson’s experience – both educationally and in the nonprofit world – was getting noticed.  She received several calls from Westminster Community Life Center, which wanted her to come on board as program director.  In 2010, she made the move, and within six months, she was promoted to director of the center. 

“I wanted the opportunity to help grow an organization that was giving back to the Trenton community in a really big way,” she said, noting the center’s afterschool program, summer camp, early literacy intervention program, and college and career preparation assistance – all of which are all provided at little or no cost to the community.

Given her educational background and leadership skills, Johnson’s ability to make meaningful contributions as the center’s director is very rewarding.  “I really love making a difference in afterschool care and helping kids excel academically,” she said, adding that she has seen many immigrant students who start out hardly speaking English, and are then able to read whole books by the end of the school year.

“It inspired my tag line for the school,” she said, which is “Communities that read are communities that live.”'

As a proud MCCC alum, Johnson often finds herself back at the college for various community events.  “I always stand up and proudly say I am a graduate of this college,” she said. “Mercer has so much to offer; the college is the hidden gem of Mercer County.”

She added that she is proud to have passed along the importance of education to her son, Ricky, who is beginning college at Kettering University in Michigan this summer, where he is studying mechanical engineering.

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