The inspiration for the North Ward Center came from Monsignor Geno Baroni. A man of the people who carried his passion for social improvement into the Catholic priesthood, Msgr. Baroni convinced the Center's founder, Stephen N. Adubato, Sr., to leave his position with the Newark public schools and devote his time to organizing the NWC. Msgr. Baroni was instrumental in helping to acquire the first grant for the Center from the Ford Foundation.

Initally called the North Ward Educational and Cultural Center, the North Ward Center was organized in 1970, in a small, second floor office, to provide information to residents about services available to them, with particular emphasis on North Ward students, who had the lowest college-admission rates in the city.

The North Ward Center (NWC) was born out of the turmoil and despair following the Newark Riots in 1967. At the time, the North Ward was the primary home of Newark's large Italian-American population. In 1970, Mayor Hugh Addonizio, an Italian-American, was defeated in a bitter and divisive election by Ken Gibson, who became the city's first African-American mayor.

The reaction to these events among the North Ward residents took multiple forms. The majority of neighborhood residents responded with fear and hostility. While many chose to leave, a small segment of North Ward residents who remained had important needs that were being neglected in the atmosphere of confrontation and conflict.