Originally posted on the Geraldine R. Dodge Blog.
On an alternately rainy and sunny April 12th, Creative Hammonton’s second Call to Collaboration – a town-wide, cross-sector gathering of people from local business, environmental, social service, arts and culture, faith-based, education and government sectors, among others – welcomed participants to St. Joseph High School, our venue host, for a day of network weaving, action-oriented problem solving and collective impact.
This day-long meeting of collaboration and creative thinking was the continuation of the Creative Hammonton Call to Collaboration in January 2016 (you can read more about that from an earlier blog here), tackling the central question:
“How can we creatively strengthen and expand the connections of our increasingly diverse community, improve collaborations, and capitalize on our economic, cultural and natural resources to cultivate a thriving Hammonton?”
At the top of the day we heard from members of the community about ideas that had gained fuel or formed since our January gathering, including:
- A group of individuals with representatives from the local MainStreet organization, Stockton University, Chamber of Commerce, as well as a local artist, restaurateur, and faith-leader formed a task force focused on capitalizing on the Hammonton train station through tourism, marketing & branding to increase ridership, and coordinating events with the train schedule for added convenience. In the two months between January’s and last week’s convening, this group created a working agenda, met several times, and found new members during our second day in April.
- A Welcoming Committee formed during the first day of Creative Hammonton to help tourists and new residents get connected to the town. This group of people will act as ambassadors to introduce newcomers to area restaurants and attractions, family activities, and neighborhood groups and committees. In the two months between sessions, this group met several times and attracted new participants last week.
- A local artist and studio owner had the opportunity to take over a disused 3,000 sq. ft. space which will be called the “Art Mart” and will include artist studio space, classroom space and community gathering space, which she offered for future Creative Hammonton and other group meetings. The space is under renovation and is scheduled to open in May 2016.
Many of those groups continued to build out their ideas and projects over the course of the day while others proffered new topics for discussion, which ranged from helping to prepare autistic children for college and beyond to fostering community service and youth involvement, from using multi-media platforms such as podcasting, blogs and video blogs to solidify Hammonton’s identity for tourism and businesses to protecting and maintaining the health of and access to Hammonton Lake, among many more.
A compendium of the Complete Notes from the January and April convenings are available here on Creative Hammonton’s section on CNJ’s website.
We were also joined by statewide partners and colleagues from NJ Future, Media Mobilizing Project, New Jersey Community Capital, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, who were able bring knowledge of resources and demonstration projects from around the state to lend to the conversations in Hammonton.
The Hammonton business community also lent their impressive support for the day by providing participants with a wonderful variety of breakfast and lunchtime food, including eclectic dishes from newly-opened restaurants La Cubana (whose Chef also attended both Calls to Collaboration) and Touch of the Caribbean, alongside established purveyors such as Marcello’s Restaurant and Annata Wine Bar. We also could not have done this Call to Collaboration without very generous support from Stockton University and Lucca Realty.
We saw connections and collaborations deepen during the day, and the energy around new spaces, new endeavors, and new appreciation for the power of individuals to make a difference.
One participant, a long-time resident and commercial developer in the area, remarked during the closing circle that she was originally skeptical of our community engagement model though willing to give it a try. She announced to all that her opinion was completely changed by the end of the convening. She affirmed our values of creativity, collaboration and inclusivity, and stated the best way for Hammonton to realize a prosperous and sustainable future is by including as many residents, workers, and students as possible in the strategizing and decision-making.
“You all — everyone in this room,” she said, “Are going to make change happen.”
We’ll celebrate that!
Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Program Manager and is a Lead New Jersey 2015 Fellow. Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.
Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.
Photo credits: Kacy O’Brien