“I love Carolyn Wallace with all of my heart; she's been an inspiration to me,” said Michael Muckle, Director of New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg.

It’s fair to say there are probably thousands of people who feel the same way about Carolyn Thompson-Wallace as Mr. Muckle.

Mrs. Wallace got her start in youth development over 45 years ago. In 1970, she and her husband, the late James Wallace, founded Brick Towers Youth Association with the humble vision of providing the youth of Newark, NJ a safe place to go after school. They also hoped to provide parents and guardians the freedom to work or further their education with the knowledge that their children were in a nurturing environment.

What started as a small operation out of an apartment building became what is today the International Youth Association (IYO), the parent organization of New Jersey Youth Corps of Newark and Essex County. Over the years, IYO grew into a flourishing agency, housed in a seven-building complex, providing youth and young adults a range of services – including counseling, life skills training, job training and education – to help them stay on track and become productive citizens.

From the beginning, Mrs. Wallace used her secretarial and administrative experience to act as IYO’s Executive Director, chief planner, fund raiser, bookkeeper and public relations manager. Even with the heavy workload of managing day-to-day operations, Mrs. Wallace still found time to personally mentor the ever-growing number of youth who sought IYO’s services. In addition to the countless young people she has mentored over the decades, Mrs. Wallace is the mother of three biologic children, three stepchildren and over fifteen foster children.

In 1984, the New Jersey state legislature created the New Jersey Youth Corps to help out of school youth complete their high school requirements and develop job and life skills. In 1985, IYO-New Jersey Youth Corps of Newark and Essex County became a charter member of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (NASCC), which would later become The Corps Network. Mrs. Wallace served on The Corps Network’s Board of Directors for a number of years.

It is estimated that IYO has some 40,000 alumni; at its height, the organization could serve hundreds of youth. Though funding limitations have periodically restricted the agency’s reach, Mrs. Wallace’s leadership and fortitude have kept IYO running. Even though she retired as Executive Director in 2010, Mrs. Wallace came out of retirement in 2014, at the age of 79, to help see IYO through a budget shortfall.

Mrs. Wallace has been awarded strong praise for her work in the community. Just within the past six years, she has received: the Newark NAACP Sally G. Caroll Legacy Award; a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from U.S. Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr.; a Certificate of Special Senate Recognition from U.S. Senator Robert Menendez; a Senate Resolution by State Senator Ronald Rice; a Resolution by the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders; a Resolution by the Newark Municipal Council; Special Recognition from Newark’s Mayor Ras J. Baraka; a Community Service Award from Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer; the Mentoring Award from the Newark Mentoring Coalition; and a New Jersey Hero Award from Governor Chris Christie.

Mrs. Wallace’s Legacy is not in her many accolades, however: it’s in the thousands of people who, with the help of services provided by IYO, can now lead healthy, fulfilling lives.