Much has been experienced and written about in the past year in response to the pandemic. One of the many difficulties COVID-19 has brought upon us is the challenge of staying connected to our extended families, friends, colleagues and neighbors during this time of needing to stay physically-distanced. Personal connection has never been more important; community connection has never been more needed. And while we all miss the opportunity to come together in-person, we are grateful for the existence of the virtual world enabling us to continue our work in communities in New Jersey.
After six months of engagement and planning, we began 2021 with the launch of the Perth Amboy Alliance for Community’s (PAAC’s) virtual Call to Collaboration. This was a dynamic gathering of committed, resourceful, and imaginative people – all in the same “Zoom room,” strategizing on solution-based, community-rooted actions in support of ideas for the new neighborhood 10-year master plan.
We were so pleased to work alongside anchor nonprofit Jewish Renaissance Foundation, in cooperation with the newly established community group Perth Amboy Alliance for Community, to implement our Call to Collaboration (C2C) program. These organizations invited us into Perth Amboy to support the community engagement component of their new NRTC Neighborhood Master Plan with the CNJ method of engagement.
We worked with this team to build a larger Host Team consisting of residents, business owners, and nonprofit and local government representatives. These community partners brought their knowledge of the community and their influence and connections to the work. Together, we crafted a central guiding question which focused the community conversations that took place during the virtual Call to Collaboration. This guiding question was:
What new ideas and solutions can we focus on to support our PAAC neighborhood and contribute to the health and well-being of our families, business owners, and organizations in order to create social, cultural, and economic opportunities that benefit all who live, work and play here?
The Host Team collaboratively identified a highly-diverse group of individuals from throughout the neighborhood and beyond to join the C2C, to propose topics for discussion, and to lead small group conversations. The community members brought a wealth of different lived-experiences, expertise, knowledge, and needs to the virtual community meeting, and their opinions and ideas formed the agenda for those days. The Call to Collaboration helped to bridge the gap between decision-makers and community members; between educators, social service staff, business owners, faith-based leaders, city government personnel and residents.
Spanning two days with evening and daytime sessions, breakout session topics – and ideas for community-based solutions – ranged from safe, affordable housing, to increasing access to services, to supporting local business owners and employees through investment and training, to finding community spaces for learning and recreation, among others – download the collected notes to learn more about the vision and commitment from this neighborhood’s community members.
Our work in Perth Amboy and with this Host Team enabled us to reach another milestone in our commitment to operating in both English and Spanish. For the PAAC C2C, all of our promotional materials – which included written and multimedia materials – were produced in both languages. Furthermore, we created a more inclusive experience during the C2C by engaging a Spanish-language interpreter who offered simultaneous translation during our community meeting’s opening and closing sessions. Additionally, multiple breakout sessions were conducted bi-lingually, and all of our support staff hired to manage the breakout sessions and capture notes of what was being shared were fully bilingual. We’re excited about this advancement and will continue to build upon it in future communities.
We never cease to be amazed by the resourcefulness, commitment and compassion of people to change their communities for the better. These conversations matter—and when coupled with commitment, creates the launch pad from which community-driven solutions can thrive.
We thank the people of Perth Amboy for inviting us to support their community-based action planning and we look forward to their continued impact!
Elizabeth, Kacy, Jeanette, and Alyssa
Creative New Jersey Team
PAAC C2C Host Team Members
Our Partners / Nuestros Colaboradores
Jenny Alvarez – Bayside Family Success Center (JRF), Noelia Colón – Business Improvement District
Douglas Dzema – Perth Amboy Housing Authority / P.A.R.T.N.E.R., Bernice Gedeon – PAAC Resident
Sherri Goldberg – JRF, Steve Jobin – YMCA, Lisett Lebron – Gateway Neighborhood Collaborative, P.A.R.T.N.E.R., Eulices Montiel-Fernandez – George J. Otlowski, Sr. Center for Mental Health, Kenny Ortiz – Human Services / Recreation Dept., City of Perth Amboy, Rebecca Pauley – YMCA, Jennifer Pena – PAAC Resident / Perth Amboy Alliance for Community (PAAC), Betsy Rodriguez – PAAC Resident / Holy Trinity Church, Melvin Rodriguez – PNC Bank, Yolanda Swiney – PNC Bank, Brieem Towns – PAAC Resident / Perth Amboy Public Schools, Helen Varvi – Wellspring Center for Prevention, Tashi Vazquez – Economic & Community Development, City of Perth Amboy, Carolyn Zumpino & Steve Kehs – Triad Associates.
Creative New Jersey fosters collaboration, community inclusion and creative thinking by convening highly-diverse groups of people with varied cross-sector skills, viewpoints, backgrounds, and lived-experiences, in order to advance a community dialogue around critical issues, build and strengthen diverse community networks, encourage cross-sector and multi-cultural partnerships, and foster equitable community-based solutions.