Close this search box.
Gathering Ground logo

EE Hub Access

Impact Stories

In Nov. 2021 after ten years of our evolving mission and impact, we changed our name to Gathering Ground. You may still find reference to our old name Creative New Jersey in posts created prior to Nov. 2021.

Connecting Project and Place

Earl Jackson at CNJ's 2017 Summit

One of Creative New Jersey’s goals is to help build relationships and connections between people of diverse backgrounds – connections that can have meaningful impacts for communities, and when we spoke to Ivette Guillermo-McGahee (whom we first met at Creative Hammonton) and Earl Jackson (who we met at our 2017 Statewide Summit) earlier this year, we were delighted to learn about just such an example where Ivette, Earl and CNJ’s Statewide Partners connected and collaborated for community benefit.

While we can’t predict what the connections we try to help build in communities will look like, the story Earl shares below is a testament to the power of connection and the people who are passionate about contributing to the vibrancy of New Jersey’s communities.

(Photo above: Earl Jackson at CNJ’s 2017 Statewide Summit)

Connecting Project and Place
A design that started as an interior renovation has become a public place and engagement project.


Ivette Guillermo-McGahee presenting at CNJ’s 2017 Summit

In 2017, I received an email from New Jersey Future promoting Creative New Jersey’s Statewide Summit. Driven by a strong desire to design more in my home state, I crashed the event and was excited to see and meet so many people taking action to improve New Jersey’s communities, towns, and cities.

One of the presenters was Ivette Guillermo-McGahee, of Allies in Caring (AIC) in Hammonton, NJ. She gave a passionate and professional presentation about her organization and described how their work was serving families and kids in need that suffer from adversity in the home. I was inspired and found her group’s mission to be extremely relevant and critical to the health and well being of our state. Her mission is also near and dear to my heart as I have both family and friends that still suffer from the effects of adversity in the home.

It is our mission at our architecture and urban design workshop to design memorable experiences of place for those that our projects serve. During the time that we’ve been engaged with AIC, we have worked with Ivette and her team to better understand her organization and those they serve, local contractors to make the most of a tight budget for construction, the Town of Hammonton to be sure we’re doing the greatest good with the property, and the USDA to help fund and to try to get the Con-Vivir Wellness Hub completed. We have participated in workshops with the Hammonton community and have held countless meetings at the local café on Main Street where we now feel completely at home.

Getting creative, we did a couple of months of design work for AIC before learning that their space was only signed for a short-term lease. Ivette and her team came to the conclusion that the risk of losing the space after a significant renovation was too high and the project was stopped.

When the corner property a block away became available, Ivette began thinking of her renovation project as permanent home for the organization. When she mentioned she would need financing to purchase the building, I re-introduced her to Laura Wallick and Joe Palazzolo from NJ Community Capital (I met them at the same Creative New Jersey Statewide Summit were Ivette and I had met!).

Laura and her team came through with financing that allowed Ivette to purchase the building that we are now helping to renovate. The project is under construction and has gone through a number of adjustments and changes in response to a tight budget. In order to help expedite the process and to help get AIC into their new home as soon as possible, we helped Ivette and her team develop a phasing strategy for construction and growth.

Joe Palazzolo (NJCC) presenting his group’s work during the creativity exercise that kicks off CNJ Summits.

We hope that the new facility and the open space that we’re creating in front of it will help Ivette’s team ease the strain on both permanent and seasonal residents through the programs that are housed there, and that the Wellness Hub will become an active and vibrant corner of downtown Hammonton. We believe that its presence will create a greater sense of stability on this quiet downtown street and will act as a catalyst for new tenants that will line South 2nd Street, connecting it north to Main Street just steps away. Once the new facility is running, we expect to turn our attention toward future phases of development that will provide AIC with the infrastructure to offer a broader range and greater capacity for programs and services.

Ivette stated, “For the past several years, I had struggled to gain access to the capital and mentors necessary to develop AIC’s mission. Creative New Jersey and Earl’s investment in supporting Allies in Caring offered access to a support system that has opened many doors.”

We’re thrilled to be able to help and thankful for the work that Creative New Jersey has done to bring us, and others like us, together to move New Jersey forward.


Earl is Principal of the Earl Jackson Architecture Workshop; the professional practice of Architecture and Urban Design that focuses on an artful approach to solving building, city, and campus design problems. His mission is to create places where people love to be. His workshop is licensed to practice Architecture in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. He graduated from the NJIT College of Architecture, was engaged in Architecture and Urban Studies in Siena, Italy, and earned a Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University. He has taught at NJIT and has served as Associate Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation since 2009 where he has taught in both MArch and MSAUD Programs. In 2009 he was a recipient of the NJIT Alumni Achievement Award. Earl was formerly Partner and Design Director at Cooper Robertson, Associate Director at Skidmore Owings and Merrill, and Designer with Michael Graves.

In the wake of Super Storm Sandy, he served as a design lead for Mayor Bloomberg’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, Governor Cuomo’s New York Rising, HUD’s Rebuild By Design, and as an advisor for the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative. He has led urban design and architecture projects for diverse cultures all over the world in an effort to create successful Mixed-Use & Transit Oriented Developments, College Campuses, Waterfront Developments, Civic Architecture, Public Open Spaces, and Streetscapes. Earl’s workshop strives to create projects that are timeless, authentically local, and that are driven by a tailored process that is responsive to climate, culture, and context.




“Communities in Conversation give small entrepreneurial businesses a chance to make connections that yield big changes.”

– Lisa Charles, Author & CEO, Embrace Your Fitness, LLC (Newark)