Community and Complexity: Investing in Nuance, Building Trust and Engaged Journalism

Posted on by Dodge
Image via Unsplash

As part of research for Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation exploring how philanthropy can support diverse, inclusive newsrooms, I visited local newsrooms, interviewed experts and community groups, sat with journalists and listened.

This research sought to explore how local newsrooms and journalists cover communities in deep transition, the role of listening in community journalism and how philanthropy can support efforts to build diverse, inclusive newsrooms. To achieve that, I turned to experts leading important work on issues directly impacting communities in personal and profound ways. Themes emerged reflected pathways for media funders to engage impacted communities in stewarding inclusive journalism respectful of complexity and diversity. There is space to design funding opportunities that evolves how diverse communities are covered and champions meaningful local journalism.

Covering the Public Square: Healthcare at the Forefront

Healthcare is the issue that impacts every community and household in America. There has been no single piece of legislation in recent years that has influenced American life at every level more than the Affordable Care Act.

The rollout and initial enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act was met with technical challenges that were aggressively covered for news cycle after news cycle over the fall and winter of 2013 and early 2014. The stakes were astronomically high and the team that saved from falling off a cliff were heralded on the cover of TIME magazine. The volume of reporting, hot takes and punditry of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act was tremendous but the specifics, the actual data-driven reporting and analysis on how many (or how few) Americans were actually able to enroll on the exchanges were sparse. It was a national story that was not reported in a local context. While the data was publicly available, there were not many media outlets telling the story within the numbers of how the Affordable Care Act enrollment and implementation unfolded in local communities.

Charles Gaba is a Michigan-based web developer and self-described data nerd. He runs, a site he started during the inaugural Obamacare enrollment period in 2013. It hosts the most comprehensive publicly available datasets tracking the Affordable Care Act, measuring Obamacare enrollments, sharing data analysis down to local Congressional precincts levels. Gaba pulls together information from monthly HHS enrollment reports, healthcare interest data sources and updates issued from the states running their own exchanges. “I’m pretty good at taking those numbers and breaking them out in a way that explains the different variables without going over too many people’s heads,” Gaba explained in an interview.

He has come to expand ACASignups to include impact analysis should the ACA be repealed, using what public data is available to measure how many people in state and local communities stand to lose their healthcare. Gaba’s has become a must-read for healthcare policy wonks, journalists and politicians hungry for information on how the ACA is impacting communities they serve.

Gaba started the site as a hobby.

“I was expecting that there would be a daily odometer style thing or be like, ‘Hey, we’ve had this many people each day. Sign up!’ There was nothing. I knew the real reason is because the [enrollment] numbers were terrible. It later came out that only six people, six, signed up through on that first day. Not six million, not six thousand, six. What I was more astonished by was that of the major media outlets, places like the New York Times or CNN or whoever, none had a daily report about how many people enrolled. Because they love that stuff. They love colorful charts and graphs and all that. There was nothing. Or if there was something it was with data that did not inform anyone of anything or it was completely wrong.”

Gaba kept the site going because he was directly impacted by Obamacare.

Journalists began to take note.

In a 2014 piece wroteNew York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote, “Gaba, a website developer, realized that nobody was systematically keeping track of enrollment data for Obamacare, and has turned himself into one-stop shopping on the law’s progress. And he really fills a need: when you read news reports on Obamacare, you can tell right away which reporters have been reading Gaba and know what’s happening and which reporters are relying solely on official announcements — or, worse, dueling political spin.”

When the site launched there were a few healthcare data sites run by individuals, consulting groups or think tanks that tracked enrollment rates but over the years, those efforts have fallen off or been abandoned. Today major outlets such as the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Urban Institute also host datasets but none as comprehensive, with the level of local context or layered with analysis on related issues impacting the healthcare law in the same fashion Gaba’s site has become known for. Gaba blogs regularly and makes no attempt to hide his political point of view in his writing but maintains his data and analysis as strictly non-partisan.

“It is what it is. The data and analysis itself is non-partisan,” Gaba said. “I think the main reason why I get as much attention as I do is that it’s not just a matter of trying to be as accurate as I can. It’s also about citing my sources openly and when I do make a mistake and I realized that or somebody has called attention to it, that I have no problem owning up to it. And not only saying I made a mistake but also explaining here’s how I made the mistake. Here’s the methodology I used and it turns out that I forgot about this or didn’t know about that and I explain why. It’s not enough to just say, ‘Well, I was wrong’. It’s great that you admit that you’re wrong but that doesn’t help especially when we’re talking about data. It doesn’t help expand understanding.”

As a result, the value of his healthcare data analysis cuts across partisan lines and media markets. ACASignups has been cited in CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post, Vox, FiveThirtyEight, by Republicans, Democrats, in official Congressional records, even (bizarrely) by Donald Trump. During the 2017 enrollment period, a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors contacted Gaba to cross-check numbers with him. There are several resources for open data sites but in terms of pulling these multiple perspectives and providing an analysis and presenting them back out to the world, Gaba stands in a league of his own.

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It is striking that a major resource for data infrastructure analyzing legislation impacting the lives of millions of Americans, a law that occupies substantial space in every community’s public square and dominates media coverage across the country is run as an unfunded side project by a small business owner in Michigan.

Gaba is a web developer by training and notes the primary expense for running the ACASignups is timeTime to source data, synthesize reports, write up findings, speak with reporters, meet with community groups.

Time that has slipped from running his business, “I had devoted so much time. I had lost business clients,” Gaba explained. To mitigate this, the site now runs modest banner ads from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, participates in Google Adwords, hosts a GoFundMe and Gaba occasionally freelance writes.

But those funding channels do not make up for or reflect the value provides the public square. In 2014, after the first enrollment period concluded, the community behind the website DailyKos threw Gaba a retroactive fundraiser to thank him for his work filling a critical need. In his interview with me Gaba cited that fundraiser from 2014 as one of the reasons he was able to continue his work today.

Healthcare directly and viscerally impacts lives in every community. Resources that help journalists understand and measure the stories within the numbers, that help paint a clearer picture to how the Affordable Care Act is unfolding in communities they cover; it all adds necessary dimension and humanity to the stories they tell. It takes an issue often presented in the media as black-and-white and via split-screen punditry and adds nuance and complexity.

“Healthcare is all about nuance. The actual policy stuff, all the wonky stuff, is very nuanced. Politics does not like nuance and so I work to try to bridge that gap,” Gaba explained, “For journalists, I’d like more to look beyond the screaming headlines and look into what the numbers actually represent. These are people’s lives on the line.”

For media funders, this case is an opportunity to interrogate how data, infrastructure and resources shape how national issues are reported in local community narratives. How can media funders support local journalists in looking, as Gaba implores, “…beyond the screaming headlines”?

Invest in Building Trust

Chaédria LaBouvier is director of the Basquiat Defacement Project, a project exploring how the legendary artist addressed state violence against black people in his work. But before launching the Basquiat Project, LaBouvier was one of the first writers to regularly cover police brutality in mainstreamwomen’s magazines.

Image provided by Chaédria LaBouvier

Four years ago LaBouvier lost her younger brother, Clinton Allen, to police brutality.

LaBouvier is not only part of a community of those directly impacted by the police killing unarmed black men, but reflects a growing force of individuals frustrated at stagnated media narratives and slowly building their power and raising their voices to demand justice and truth. Their experiences navigating obstacles to achieve this reflect systems never designed to deliver truth nor justice to communities like hers.

Historically, media coverage of police brutality, excessive force and police killing unarmed black men has lacked measure, depth and humanity. In countless cases and media markets, the coverage of these killings only resulted in minimal or no press coverage. The rise of social media, movements such as Black Lives Matter and a more interconnected viral culture has dragged this issue out of the darkness and into the light. And even though, there are still shadows. Only in the last few years have federal agencies and newsrooms begun to track the data on police killings of unarmed men.

“People don’t understand what these statistics mean until they have a human face. What does it mean when people say that every 28 hours a black man is killed by the police? Do people know what a body with seven bullet holes looks like? What does it mean when they say the police are rarely indicted? Do people know how the victim’s families sob in the court hallways?” [She] hopes that by telling her story, people will understand — and act upon — those statistics. LaBouvier shares in the piece, Challenging Police Brutality.

LaBouvier turned to guidance from activists after facing obstacle after obstacle tracking down facts about her brother’s case and having to repeatedly correct the record with local media. “We were told that by activists.’You’re going to have to get national attention because you are on your own on a local level.’ And it’s true. In the South, particularly, the only time you get any kind of journalistic accountability is when the story becomes nationwide,” she explained in an interview with me.

This was no foundation of trust between impacted communities and local newsrooms.

LaBouvier built national media attention as she and her family navigated a personal nightmare by embarking on a reporting project. She pulled through open records of other outstanding cases of police brutality and through that began to weave an organizing network to demand justice and accountability for her family’s case and others like them. That organizing effort eventually evolved into co-founding Dallas-based community organization, Mothers Against Police Brutality.

“I just started interviewing people. Because we were organizing we started pulling open records requests. That’s how we found a lot of families. It was because we were pulling open records requests with our own money and we were like, ‘Okay, let’s find this victim and let’s find this person’s family.’ I would find people on Facebook or they would reach out to my mom. Because we were doing news interviews people started reaching out to us and other activists who had been working on this issue for a long time like Dallas Communities Organizing for Change. They also connected us to a lot of the families they knew and had been working with them for years. That’s how we got connected with people. This is how we built trust,” LaBouvier explained in an interview with me.

LaBouvier sought to build upon her experience reporting on police brutality and organizing impacted communities from specific local contexts through various efforts: 

One example includes a journalism project called the Allen Wells Project, examining the issue of police brutality as it impacts specific communities within cities, LaBouvier explains, “In San Francisco, in my process of research and activism, I saw how police brutality in the Asian community in the Bay area is a huge issue and no one talks about it. It’s about to get even worse because of the immigration situation, the raids and the climate of the country right now. There is a large undocumented Asian immigrants community in the Bay that are already hesitant to go to the police to report police brutality. So this issue of the immigration and the fear of raids is going to make it even worse. I actually met with a couple of Asian families about this. It’s an issue and no one talks about it. I wanted to look at police brutality in ways that people are overlooking.”

For LaBouvier her endgame is to use the power of her story, the power of her brother’s legacy to expand the humanity for how the media covers victims of police brutality.

“Journalists are missing the human story. It’s missing nuance. Everyone’s writing the same story. If there could have been this magic wand, I would have actual, in-depth conversations with victims and survivors of police brutality.”

When a graduate student grieving the loss of her brother to state violence is able to execute an organizing strategy to reach other impacted families through traditional investigative journalism methods it is necessary for funders to ask and examine this question:

What other the untold stories are being missed because there is an erosion of trust between local journalists and the communities they cover?

Invest in the Bridge Builders

Bryan Mercer is trying to build a bridge of trust over this gulf and increase understanding between local communities and journalists. He leads the Media Mobilizing Project, the organization works across social movements to increase media and communications capacity and run strategic communications campaigns.

The organizational ethos — movements begin with untold stories — reflects MMP’s strong track record equipping leaders from diverse, multi-generational, multi-racial and intersectional backgrounds with the training, skills and tools to own the power of their stories. Mercer describes the organization’s training programs as borrowing the best from community journalism and social impact documentary.

Media Mobilizing Project’s 2017 Movement Media Fellows. Image provided by Media Mobilizing Project

“One of the things that comes out of our work is because of the relationships we built with community organizations is we’re often a point of contact or connection for journalists. We see ourselves in relationships with journalists, but playing a different role because of the way that we’re embedded in community organizing work and are advocates for that work,” Mercer explained in an interview with me.

Mercer’s organizations champions storytellers within local community and leverages his role as a trusted expert, both by communities and journalists alike, to push for media that respects and reflects people’s full humanity”

“One outcome of this work that’s come up for us is the question of representation and how do you respect and uplift community stories. Something that we experienced struggle with journalists are narratives focusing on the problems that a community is facing without showing or really trying to interrogate the ways that communities are responding.

“We have a principle in our work to lift up the fight, not just the plight, as we talk about it.”

For Mercer, the challenge of building trust between communities and journalists is an opportunity for Media Mobilizing Project to equip impacted communities with the skillsets to own and drive their own narratives.

Overall, for media funders the themes in these cases reflect an opportunity to explore how to better support these bridge builders who improve local journalism ecosystem by providing necessary nuance, guidance, connection and humanity to complicated issues often at great personal cost.

Sabrina Hersi Issa
 serves as a Senior Advisor to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, where she leads research on journalism ecosystems and how philanthropy can support efforts to build diverse, inclusive newsrooms.

Posted in Community Engagement, Diversity, equity, inclusion, Media, Philanthropy | Leave a comment

Harvest Time: Youth reap the benefits of urban farming in Camden

Posted on by Kacy O’Brien, Director of Programming, Creative New Jersey

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Teresa Niedda, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Transformation (CFET), and Fredric Byarm, Founder of Invincible City Farms were two of the many inspiring people we had the chance to work with in Camden when Creative New Jersey was launching the city-wide engagement program, Creative Camden.

Over the past year, Teresa and Fredric have become valuable collaborators, not only to Creative New Jersey, but more importantly to each other.  Creative Camden gave them the opportunity to learn more about each other’s work and to see where their experiences and goals are complementary and synergistic.

When Teresa learned that Fredric is a trained chef, with ten appearances on the Food Network, she invited Fredric to work with CFET’s Eco Interns, Assistant and Senior Farmers in a summer-intensive urban farming job training program for Camden high school students– about growing their own food, cooking, and the foundation of nutrition.

I recently spoke with Teresa, her colleague Theo Banks, and Fredric about the two days Fredric spent with the Eco Interns, Assistant and Senior Farmers and asked them to sharetheir experiences.

“The problem with a salty, sugary and high fat diet,” says Chef Fredric Byarm, “is that it covers a multitude of sins: I could take cardboard, spray it with sugar, salt, and fat – your taste buds are going to respond to this – but you’re still eating cardboard.  When it hits your stomach, it will blow up and make you feel full, but you haven’t done any good for yourself.”

Fredric was speaking with a group of 14-19 year olds – part of the Center for Environmental Transformation’s (CFET) summer youth cohort, who were spending the day harvesting the vegetables they’d been learning to grow all summer, cooking their harvest, and then sitting down to share a meal with the CFET staff and Fredric.

“I could see the lightbulbs going off for the young people,” said Fredric.  “That first day, I wanted to pique their curiosity about nutrition and connect it to their lives.  The word ‘nutrition’ is not something you can put your hands on, so I talked with them about the energy component of food and supplying your body with what it needs.”

CFET’s job and leadership program is “an intensive job-training program for Camden youth, which uses urban gardening, cooking, and entrepreneurship as a vehicle to develop leadership capabilities among youth.”  In CFET’s holistic approach, youth are employed and paid to work in the gardens – which include 2 garden sites, a greenhouse, and two fruit orchards in the heart of Camden; run the Farmer’s Market; and learn commercial culinary skills by creating and selling their own hot sauce.  The youth receive training and education on nutrition, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, teamwork, and receive additional culinary training from the Community Food Bank of South Jersey.
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On day two with the youth, Fredric said there was less talking and more cooking, including sautéing, breading, knife skills, and veggie cutting techniques.  On the menu for the day were ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, fresh sliced tomatoes off the vine, broad-leafed green basil and sautéed carrots from CFET’s gardens.  Fredric’s approach to teaching cooking is hands-off: “I’m not showing them my skills – it’s about them getting their hands on the food.”

CFET’s Theo Banks, the FoodCorps Service Member, was there and agrees with the hands-off approach. CFET’s policy of ‘no sugary drinks’ meant the youth were going to have to come up with their own beverages, so Theo suggested trying flavored water; he offered no additional idea or instruction.  Voila!  Cucumber lemon water became the beverage of choice.  Theo said that many of the youth have tried new things and their food preferences are starting to change.

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The best part of the day, Theo continued, was when Fredric talked about growing up in Camden:

“I grew up four blocks from here.  I told them about where my culinary career was able to take me — the places I got to see and experience because of my degree in culinary arts.”  Fredric continued, “I wanted them to know that you’re not at a deficit just because you’re from Camden.  Believing that can stop you from having incredible experiences.  I wanted to show these young people that it’s possible to be from Camden and be on the Food Network 10 times, and have one of the top 10 restaurants at the Jersey Shore, like I have.”

“It is important for us to make sure that we’re providing role models for our youth who they can relate to, who have similar experiences of Camden, so when I learned about Fredric’s background I saw a natural way for us to partner,” said CFET’s Executive Director, Teresa Niedda.

Two of the youth leaders were in their final summer with CFET and heading off to college: CFET’s Senior Farmer, Dimitrius, came up through the program and predates the current staff.
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What’s most important, Fredric says, is for the young people to know that there are opportunities to use what they’ve learned at CFET and possibly turn it into a career, like the staff at CFET and at Fredric’s start-up company Invincible City Farms, which is in the process of acquiring 20-acres of land inside the City of Camden, with the mission of “addressing food insecurity and food deserts using the basic skills of farming, the basic necessity for healthy foods and the goodwill of humanity.”  Jobs for urban farmers will be available, and maybe some of CFET’s youth might see themselves there.

When I asked Fredric what stuck with him from those two days, he said, “I was really impressed by the level of curiosity in the young population.  They really want to know what’s going on past the headlines.”  In a conversation about one of the corporations in Camden, the students wanted to know what it means for them and for their City: “They asked: Were there environmental issues, security issues – this wasn’t anything I was probing them on.  They brought it to the table on their own, and I think that bodes well for Camden.”

There are many positive, healthy, creative and collaborative projects blooming in the City of Camden, and Teresa and Fredric’s work is one project whose harvest will surely pay dividends well into the future!

Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Director of Programming and is a Lead New Jersey 2015 Fellow.

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, collaboration, and inclusion 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.



Posted in Camden, Collaboration, Community Building, Creative NJ, Environment | Leave a comment

Celebrating Poetry with Newark High Schools

Posted on by Ysabel Gonzalez, Assistant Director of the Poetry Program

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The Dodge Poetry team thought long and hard about how we could sustain the energy and excitement from the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark this year, because of our deep commitment to and special fondness for the city. Having been raised in the North Ward, I know firsthand there is no such thing as enough opportunities to experience the arts and poetry throughout Brick City. Newark thrives on art and poetry—particularly with a Mayor committed to both. Especially downtown, Newark is expanding and growing at a very fast rate—so how do we, Dodge Poetry, continue to be present for Newark’s continued revival and its community? And, how do we give back to a city that generously offers its people, streets and venues as poetry resources throughout our four-day Festival? One easy answer is: do what we do best by bringing poetry into the schools.

Dodge’s Newark Poetry Festival was born out of the amazingly generous support of Newark Public Schools, the Victoria Foundation, Rutgers University-Newark, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. On Monday, October 16, 2017, the historic Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers University-Newark hosted close to 500 Newark Public School high school students and teachers which included thirteen high school campuses: American History High School, Arts High School, Barringer Academy of S.T.E.A.M., Barringer Academy of the Arts & Humanities, Central High School, Eagle Academy for Young Men, East Side High School, Malcolm X. Shabazz High School, Science Park High School, Technology High School, University High School, Weequahic High School, and West Side High School.

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Beginning at 9 a.m., buses began to arrive and there was a high-spirited buzz, with students wishing us all good morning, ready to get their fill of poems and music throughout the day. And our eight poets delivered the same excited energy back to these students! The day’s line-up included poets Marina Carreira (Newark native), Kyle Dargan (Newark native), Jonterri Gadson, Ellen Hagan, Robert Hylton (Newark native), Kurtis Lamkin, Jasmine Mans (Newark native), and Vincent Toro . (You can learn more about each poet by checking out our special Ask a Poet blog series, which ran from the end of the summer until the week of the Mini Festival.) It was important that our line-up’s diversity be reflective of this rich city, as well as some poets who started out just like these students—sitting in a chair in front of wordsmiths that mirror themselves.

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Schools had personalized schedules, and were greeted and guided room to room by NJPAC’s wonderful and cheerful volunteers. These schedules allowed them to experience one group reading in the main auditorium, as well as smaller break-out sessions where students could deeply engage with the poets in a personal way. Students had an opportunity to experience a little bit of all the poets’ styles, and sessions included: Poetry, Music & Storytelling; Poetry and Social Justice; On the Life of a Poet; and Brick City Roots, with Newark native poets discussing their poetic journey. Dodge Poetry even designed a special session in the Robeson’s Dance Theater, Giving Poems a Voice, where students were encouraged to share their own poems that they had brought with them, all facilitated by a poet. Each student also received a handy Student Kit for the day, which included pages filled with poems and bios of the performing poets for the day.

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This Newark Poetry Festival was indeed a celebration of poetry, as well as an opportunity for Newark Public School students to create, experiment, listen deeply, and be engaged provocatively. I remain hopeful that the day’s conversations and performances will have left students feeling positively challenged to see the world through yet another lens.

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Sustainable Jersey: Cost savings, collaboration and champions

Posted on by Dodge

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2017 school and district sustainability awards announced

This week, Sustainable Jersey for Schools celebrated the 91 schools that achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification in 2017 at an awards event attended by over 250 teachers, principals, green team volunteers, school board members and staff. In addition to the newly certified schools, we announced the three schools and two school districts that received 2017 Sustainable Jersey for Schools special awards.

Lawrence Township Public Schools gets revenue from the sun

Lawrence Township Public Schools received the 2017 Sustainability Makes $ense Award that recognizes a district that has made exemplary progress in sustainability resulting in cost savings to the school district. Located in the heart of central New Jersey, Lawrence Township Public Schools includes: Lawrence High School (1,150 students), Lawrence Intermediate School (920 students in grades 4-6), Lawrence Middle School (590 students in grades 7-8 attending) and four PK-3 elementary schools (1,300 students). Four of the seven schools in the district have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification.

Since 2010, Lawrence Township Public Schools has earned over three million dollars in revenue from energy generated by solar panels on all seven district school buildings. This revenue is in addition to the energy usage offset by the panels. The total solar panel revenue plus cost of energy offset by the panels totals over four million dollars.

Dr. Crystal Edward, Superintendent of Lawrence Township Public Schools explained the process, “We were delighted in 2008 when our Board of Education proposed and the Lawrence residents supported a referendum to place solar panels on the roofs of all seven schools. Since that time, revenue generated and savings earned by energy usage offset by the panels is passed to Lawrence residents in the form of tax relief. To be recognized by Sustainable Jersey for Schools with a Sustainability Makes $ense Award for this green initiative is the icing on the cake.”

Municipal and school green teams collaborate in Delran Township

Delran Township Schools received the 2017 Green Team Collaboration Award that recognizes municipal and school green teams working together to advance sustainability. The Delran Township School District, located in Burlington County, includes four schools that serve students in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. All four of the schools in the district have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification.

Erica DeMichele, Delran Township School District, K-12 Supervisor of Science, Technology, Engineering, STEM Program Co-Coordinator, and Sustainability Program Coordinator said, “Delran Township Schools and the Delran Municipal Green Team began their collaboration at the infancy of the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. That work includes education to the broader community at events like Delran Day, the Delran STEM Fair, planting 1,800 native species in the Millbridge School rain garden and planting wildflowers in the community.

One notable success is the biodiversity audit completed by the middle school green team and seventh grade class last year, in conjunction with the Municipal Green Team’s task force on collecting data to stop the invasive Emerald Ash Borer.” In addition, the student green teams are impressive, with over 250 active participants at the four schools.

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Three schools in Long Branch School District get Sustainability Champion Awards

The Long Branch Public School District is a leader in sustainability. Long Branch is a beach-side city in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The school district has nine schools and an enrollment of 5,396 students. All nine schools have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification and two schools–George L. Catrambone Elementary School and Long Branch Middle School–were each recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Green Ribbon School.

Three schools from Long Branch School District were recognized as 2017 Sustainability Champions for making significant progress toward sustainability and earning Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification with the highest point level in their category. The 2017 Champions are: George M. Catrambone Elementary School, Long Branch Middle School and Long Branch High School.

The school district has embarked on a successful district-wide sustainability program. Solar panels were installed on eight schools and green initiatives were implemented district-wide. Dr. Michael Salvatore, the Long Branch Superintendent of Schools said, “It is truly an honor for our school community to be recognized for actively engaging our stakeholders in sustainable practices. Our children are learning important lessons that will have a lasting positive impact upon our world.”

To date, 279 school districts and 693 schools are taking part in the Sustainable Jersey program. The district participation has grown to include 46 percent of all New Jersey school districts. From energy audits to integrating sustainability into student learning, and boosting recycling efforts, the past year has been exceptional.

Over 2,700 sustainability actions were completed by schools and districts participating in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program and over $1.2 million in grants have been awarded to schools and school districts.


For more about Sustainable Jersey for Schools: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

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Ask a Poet: Vincent Toro

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

Since the end of the summer, we’ve been posting short Q&As on the Dodge Blog each Friday, featuring poets who participated in our Newark High School Mini Festival earlier this week. 

Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, these poets engaged with over four hundred Newark public high school students at the Rutgers-Newark Paul Robeson Student Center. 

For our last Ask a Poet feature of this series, we’re talking to Vincent Toro.  

Vincent Toro is the author of STEREO.ISLAND.MOSAIC., which was awarded Ahsahta Press’s Sawtooth Poetry Prize and The Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. He has an MFA in poetry from Rutgers and is contributing editor for Kweli Literary Journal. Vincent is recipient of a Poet’s House Emerging Poets Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, The Caribbean Writer’s Cecile De Jongh Poetry Prize, and the Metlife Nuestras Voces Playwriting Award. He teaches at Bronx Community College, is writing liaison at The Cooper Union’s Saturday Program, and is a poet in the schools for The Dreamyard Project and the Dodge Poetry Program.

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 vincent_toroWhat was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?

I grew up in a working class community and family. There were no books in my home, and the arts in general were not encouraged at school or in the home. But I had a very difficult childhood and adolescence, and the only thing that got me through years of abuse and ostracism was music.

Poetry came to me through music….I was very much into hip hop mc’s like Chuck D from Public Enemy and Run DMC, and rap is in many respects poetry. Also, my favorite rock band was The Doors, and the lead singer of the band, Jim Morrison, openly declared himself a poet in his interviews and referenced poets, poetry, art, theater, and philosophy in them (something that seems to almost never happen anymore with rock and pop stars).

I read every writer Jim Morrison referenced in an interview, and then I would read the writers those writers referenced, and on and on. Then when I was 15 my mentor gave me a copy of “Puerto Rican Obituary” by Pedro Pietri. I read that book a thousand times. It was the first time I read poetry that spoke openly about being Puerto Rican. I had never seen writing written by other Puerto Ricans. It really changed everything for me. After that, all I wanted was to be the next Pedro Pietri (or the Puerto Rican Jim Morrison, or the Boricua Chuck D). So I just started filling up notebooks with my bad rhymes and weak philosophical musings. It got to the point where I was getting in trouble in school for writing and reading, because I wasn’t writing the assignments and I was reading books that weren’t assigned by the teachers.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Find work to share that is shocking. Not superficially shocking with curses or explicit sex or something trivial like that, but work that is so startlingly, brutally honest that it’s frightening or exciting. I find work by Audre Lorde, Leonel Rugama, and Taslima Nasreen, for example accomplish this. I’m talking about work that got some of these folks jailed, exiled, or even murdered, like Lorca. Because it shows them the power of poetry and what people have done and been through just to write and share it. And I contrast that with work that is just downright fun and relatable, like Maggie Estep’s “The Stupid Jerk I’m Obsessed With.” High schoolers ALL can relate to that one. Don’t start with the dead white men of academia (try to avoid them entirely), start with bringing in rap music and spoken word poetry, jazz poems, poems by people of color and LGBTQ poets. Poetry that matters NOW! Show them what makes you excited about poetry. Find audio and video of legendary poets. Find poetic influence in other artists, such as the rap group Blackalicious’ interpretation of Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping,” or Benjamin Bratt’s performances of Miguel Pinero’s poems in the film “Pinero.”

I hope this helps.

Do you have a favorite memory from time spent in Newark?

Too many to identify one, but my two years in the MFA Program at Rutgers was magical, and the two years I spent as an 8th Grade English teacher at Rafael Hernandez Elementary made me the man I am today.

What are you currently reading?

As a voracious reader, which every writer NEEDS to be, I am always reading multiple books at the same times. I usually have at least one poetry, one fiction, and one fiction book I am reading simultaneously. Right now those books are:

Flood of Fire” by Amitav Ghosh
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” by Julia Alvarez

The Femicide Machine” by Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez
Geek Sublime” by Vikram Chandra

“Notes on the Assemblage” by Juan Felipe Herrera
“Afterland” by Mai Der Vang
The January Children” by Safia Elhillo



Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An update on our 2018 grantmaking

Posted on by Chris Daggett, President and CEO

It’s been a disruptive year. We’ve all had to adjust as the ground shifts beneath our feet — in business, technology, government, our personal lives — and even literally, in hurricanes and earthquakes. 

Every day seems to bring new challenges around what we thought we knew about our society and our democracy. It has led all of us to ask many questions about the future and our roles in it. 

At the Dodge Foundation, we’ve been taking in these questions as we look ahead and think about the long-term impact we want to have in New Jersey, our cherished home. Since completing our 2017 grantmaking in June, we’ve geared up a strategic planning process, reviewing our vision, values, and mission, and thinking about what we might do differently to better meet the challenges facing our communities.  

As we continue this work, I want to share two key decisions we’ve made about our grantmaking. 

First, we will continue to make grants in 2018 based on our current strategies and guidelines. Current grantee organizations will be invited to apply in the same cycle as they have in the past, with the same deadlines and with a streamlined application 

Second, we will remain committed to our current program areas for the next three to five years, although our priorities and approaches may shift based on the outcomes of our review.  

Our goal is to complete our strategic planning by March, and to integrate these efforts into our guidelines, grantmaking and internal operations during the remainder of 2018. Any new guidelines and policies would take effect in 2019.  

I also want to take this opportunity to share what we heard from many of our grantees this spring through a Grantee Perception Survey conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

You continue to think of Dodge as a supportive, thoughtful, innovative, engaged funder. You believe our program staff understand your organization’s work, your field, and the challenges you face. You remain grateful for long-term, general operating support and our comprehensive technical assistance programs.  

But we also heard that we have work to do: We need to better explain our vision and the role your organization plays in our strategies. We need to better understand your communities. And, we need to streamline our application process to better align the amount of time you spend seeking a grant with the size of the grant.  

During the rest of the strategic planning process, we will continue to reach out to grantees and other stakeholders to solicit your thoughts on how best to shape the work of the foundation. We will share more of our findings in the coming weeks and months.  

For now, I want to thank you for your help to date. We greatly appreciate your thoughts and advice. You’ll hear more from us about how we got here and what we’re thinking about as we move forward.  

Chris Daggett

Chris Daggett

Chris Daggett is president and chief executive officer at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. 

Posted in Dodge Insights, News & Announcements, Philanthropy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: A Title Conundrum

Posted on by Kent E. Hansen, Pro Bono Partnership

CEO Scott Schiller

I often wonder if it is productive to try to fashion a catchy title for a post, particularly when you could be the only person who thinks it is catchy. This one’s a stretch.

The driver for this title is that I recently encountered several nonprofits with approaches to the use of officer titles that I found to be a potential source of confusion, both internally and for unrelated parties dealing with these nonprofits. In some cases, the approach was also inconsistent with statutory requirements.

This prompted me to revisit the relevant New Jersey statutory language and to give some thought to the subject of management structure and officers and their titles and responsibilities.

The titles given to officers are not as important (but see below) as the description of responsibilities and reporting relationships. Although the responsibilities signified by some titles, such as president, secretary, and treasurer, are commonly understood, the responsibilities and reporting relationships still must be considered by the board and adequately described.

Some of the unusual (in my view) structures I have recently seen include an organization having an individual with the title of President and CEO who is not a corporate officer. Another organization has a position titled “CEO/Executive Director” that is not listed as an officer position in the bylaws but the duties of which are described in the bylaws. Outside parties dealing with someone whose title includes “CEO” will quite logically believe they are dealing with an officer, indeed the principal officer, of the corporation.

The New Jersey Nonprofit Corporation Act requires that all nonprofit corporations have a president, secretary, and treasurer. If the nonprofit chooses different titles for the three required officers, it must indicate in the bylaws what alternate titles correspond to president, secretary, and treasurer.

The statute also describes additional officers that may be considered, including a chair of the board, an executive director, and vice presidents, as may be prescribed in the organization’s bylaws. Certainly, chief executive officer is a title often used. In the nonprofit world, the executive director title is used more often, but both titles are generally understood to identify the principal executive officer of the corporation.

Generally, the officers are elected by the board of trustees, but the bylaws can provide otherwise. Their duties may be provided in the bylaws or in resolutions adopted by the board.

There is no requirement that the officers also be trustees, although in some cases that might be advisable. For example, it would be quite unusual and a difficult structure in practice to have a board chair who is not a member of the board. Members of the board of trustees of small nonprofits with no paid staff will, of necessity, hold corporate officer titles.

The board, in conjunction with the principal executive officer, should determine the most appropriate organizational structure for the nonprofit’s operations and the skill sets of its management team, including skill sets that need to be added. Officer titles and responsibilities will flow from that structure.

Most bylaws describe in a general way the duties of corporate officers. They don’t always cover reporting relationships. To avoid confusion internally and externally, the responsibilities and reporting relationships of the nonprofit’s management team should be clear. It may be a good practice to have job descriptions in addition to and more detailed than those in the bylaws that make clear each position’s roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships.

A clear description of roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships is important in small nonprofits as well as large organizations. Even with board members who are also officers, it is essential to define responsibilities and reporting relationships to avoid confusion and provide for operational efficiency.

The management structure should be reviewed periodically and changed as necessary or advisable. If activities or people in senior level positions change, the board should determine whether the management structure should be changed as a result.

The key is for the board, and the principal executive, to be thoughtful about the management structure and see that roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships are sufficiently described to ensure a management team that functions well together.

An Unrelated Note on Committees and Trustees

While officers need not be trustees, all board committees that are empowered to act on behalf of the board must only include trustees.  If a nonprofit wants to involve nontrustees on committees, those committees must be advisory only.

An Unrelated Concern Regarding Corporate Bank Accounts

I also want to share a story unrelated to the subject of this post.  Over the last several weeks, I have had two clients ask for assistance due to an inability to access their bank accounts.  In both cases, the clients had small business corporate accounts with a major bank, with one signatory on the account.  The signatories became unavailable and the bank did not permit the clients to access their accounts.

I spoke with two different departments at the bank and the managers of two financial centers (branches), emphasizing that these are corporations; the accounts are not the property of the signatories.  Each time, I was told that the nonprofit owner of the account would not be permitted to access the account unless the signatory was involved.

Curiously, I was advised that the nonprofit could open a new account, close the existing account, and transfer the funds to the new account without the signatory’s involvement.  I’m not quite sure how that is different from simply accessing the funds in the existing account.

In any event, it may be wise to check with your bank and make sure that your account relationship is structured in such a way that a change in personnel will not have an impact.


Kent Hansen-PhotoKent E. Hansen is a senior staff attorney with Pro Bono Partnership, Inc.  Pro Bono Partnership provides free business and transactional legal services to nonprofits serving the disadvantaged or enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Posted in Nonprofit, Pro Bono Partnership, Technical Assistance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why arts education is vital to the workforce of tomorrow

Posted on by Atiya Weiss, Executive Director, The Burke Foundation



Recently I was asked to speak about how the arts — and specifically arts education — will contribute to the workforce of the future. The convening at which I spoke was primarily concerned with STEM education and its importance to the future of this country, and we took pride in not only affirming that importance but pushing for the arts to be acknowledged for their value as well.

The world is changing rapidly, and the skills needed for college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century are different from those currently being emphasized and tested in our schools. We also know that we need to produce students who can think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, and collaborate versus simply scoring well on tests. In addition, we want our students to be engaged, passionate, and given ample opportunity to explore their interests.

Our business leaders — from Jamie Dimon to Jeff Bezos — are desperate for innovators who are intellectually curious, capable of overcoming adversity, and willing to take risks. In light of that fact, it is especially saddening that we lose our curiosity at too early an age. Four-year-olds constantly ask questions, wonder how things work, and test their assumptions about the world around them.

Unfortunately, the evidence reveals that by the time children are 6 ½ years old, they stop asking questions because they have learned the “right” answer is prioritized over the provocative question.

At the Burke Foundation, we’ve chosen three key areas in which to invest our resources: Early Development, Children’s Health, and Achievement Through Arts.

We’ve learned that the arts are a vital component in fostering curiosity, self-expression, and risk-taking. Yet, despite the many positive returns on the arts, they remain consistently underfunded and are the first to be cut in a crisis. This is one area where we as philanthropists can make a difference in guiding and supporting the development of well-rounded children.

Each of us has sat through a beautiful, inspiring performance — whether being drawn in by a theater production or moved at a concert. I have two young boys and had that magical feeling when watching my kids’ preschool class perform Where the Wild Things Are. I loved seeing the colors, costumes, and children finding their voices and having a chance to push their boundaries and express themselves. It was as magical for them as it was for me.

The impact of the arts on us isn’t just an intangible, and we’re learning more every day about the effect they have on us from a neuroscientific perspective.

The Washington Post featured an article called Your Brain on Arts and shared: “While art is considered the domain of the heart, its transporting effects start in the brain.”

We now know that when we watch a performance next to other people in an audience, we feel a strong sense of social connection and are attuned to the emotions and reactions of others around us.

In addition, given our brain’s capacity for empathy, we get a neural rush when art tells us a story—whether it’s through dance, visual art, theater, poetry—that speaks to the human condition. We generally laugh more, cry more, and enjoy ourselves more at a live performance than watching something at home.

Being new to the Burke Foundation, I wanted to understand how to unleash this potential and delve into complex questions about the value of the arts. I wanted to understand how that value can be measured and communicated. I also wanted to know how we, as a foundation, could stand to make a meaningful impact in the lives underserved youth in New Jersey and New York through arts education programming.

Since my arrival at the Burke Foundation, we’ve been engaged in a field scan process to guide our approach, and I’ve found that my perspective on the importance of arts education has deepened through conversations with more than 30 researchers, practitioners, and foundations active in the field.

Here is some of what we found:

We began by looking at the systems in place. Poverty is increasing in New Jersey, and it’s one of only three states where the number of families living in poverty is growing. In addition, New Jersey currently has one of the largest achievement gaps in the US when comparing low-income kids versus their higher income counterparts.

We also learned that closing that achievement gap in our schools is harder when students suffer from poor attendance, are not engaged in the classroom, and have parents that are not involved in their education.

In our search for productive approaches to get students more engaged, and to provide them with a reason to come to school and participate, we realized that music, dance, and theater programs give students a sense of mastery and excitement that is hard to find in other disciplines. We found that arts education can be a powerful tool for getting kids engaged in school and helping them see it through.

As part of our research process, we also dug into the evidence base. We spent some time with Professor James Cattarall, a giant in the field of research around arts education and creativity. He recently passed away, and while we don’t know him well we are grateful for the guidance he offered us and touched by his passion for supporting and empowering young people.

Cattarall’s research has indicated that low-income students with a high engagement in the arts had a school drop-out rate of just 4 percent, compared to 22 percent for low-income students with a low engagement rate in the arts. He attributed the lower drop-out rate to various factors. He hypothesized that the arts reach students who might normally fall through the cracks, speaks to students who have different learning styles, and creates more opportunities for student engagement.

Professor Catterall found that underserved youth who have high levels of arts engagement show more positive outcomes in a variety of areas than their low-arts-engaged peers. Importantly, his research also found that underserved young people with a history of intensive arts experiences showed achievement levels closer to, and sometimes exceeding, the levels shown by the general population.

We learned about many impressive results when the arts are integrated into education, such as:

  • Students not wanting to miss school on a day that there is arts programming
  • Better rates of homework completion in classes with an arts integration focus
  • Teachers reporting connecting better with their students and often saw them in a new light
  • Greater involvement by parents who come to see their kids’ performances

One of my favorite examples involves a theater and dance program, ArtsConnection’s DELTTA, that allows English language learners to excel and learn English much faster than a regular class.

These findings tell us that anyone considering ways to close the achievement gap should look to arts education as an option. It’s a proven vehicle to engage the three key stakeholder groups necessary to improving kids’ academic outcomes: students, parents, and teachers.

During our field scan, our experts repeatedly came back to the notion that the arts have a unique ability to engage the whole child. And while the arts share similar characteristics with activities like sports — which fosters teamwork and friendships and requires grit and dedication — it can also offer something truly unique by being an avenue for self-expression, communication, and creation.

At the Burke Foundation, we believe the arts serve as a powerful gateway for engaging the minds of at-risk youth and contributing to their cognitive, socio-emotional, and personal development. We learned the intrinsic and extrinsic qualities of arts education collectively play a critical part in helping underserved kids thrive, by keeping them engaged in school, giving them a safe space to express themselves, teaching them critical thinking and collaboration, developing their cognitive skills and social-emotional core, and giving them a sense of community, among so many other things.

The arts can prepare them for a wide variety of jobs in the modern world, many of which are as focused on persuading others, operating within teams, and crafting new solutions to pre-existing problems.

The arts offer many tangible benefits to young people, but there is also something distinctly human about them that we can’t forget. It is an opportunity to make sense of one’s life, create and express meaning, and cope with remarkably difficult circumstances.

The Burke Foundation, a member of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, was founded in 1989 by the late Jim Burke and Diane Burke with the mission of improving the health and well-being of children in the NJ/NY region. Over the last year, the Burke Foundation has expanded significantly in its grantmaking capacity and intends to fund research-backed interventions that will have an outsized impact.

Posted in Arts, Arts Education, Philanthropy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ask a Poet: Jasmine Mans

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Jasmine Mans.

In 2012, Jasmine Mans was chosen by Glamour Magazine, as one of their Top 10 Most Influential Woman in College. Later, Lyon Magazine would call Jasmine “Your New Favorite Poet on the Internet.” Blavity, Saint Heron, and Billboard would cover Mans’ poetry, all commenting on the intensity and honesty safe guarding her work. Jasmine has also successfully competed in HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voice and Knicks Poetry Slam competitions. Jasmine has opened for artists such as Goapele, Mos Def, and Janelle Monae. Her work has appeared alongside other artists such as NoMalice of Clipse and Pharrell. Her artistry has brought her to theatres and stages including the Kennedy Center, Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theater, the Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion and the Sundance Film Festival, amongst others. In 2016, Mans opened up for group Disbatch before 30,000 fans in Madison Square Garden. Jasmine Mans is a classically trained poet and orator whose toured London, Manchester, and, of course, the United States of America.

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Mans Author PhotoWhat is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I recently discovered that poetry can live in many spaces. Poetry should not be confined to just the page. It belongs on billboards, bodies, on the ground, etc. I am learning every day, and asking myself, “In which ways do I want my work, my poetry, to take up space?” I recently discovered that my poetry is allowed to take up space, once I allow myself to.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

Most of the poetry that I write, I am afraid to share. We are all worried that we will be misunderstood. And, moreover, we are worried that our truth will hurt the people we love.

However, the state of being “afraid” only speaks to a premature stage of growth. May I mention, after “fear” comes possibility, exploration, and chance.

I’m often afraid of writing about my family. I am often scared of making the people who love me unconditionally look “flawed.”

But then, I think, the most valuable question is: what do we owe fear and what do we owe truth?

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage in poetry?

Yes, my advice for those who are trying to help students engage in poetry is:

Vulnerability: Poetry begins with honesty.

Storytelling: At its core, poetry is simply storytelling. It is important to invest in how students already use their voice and tell their story. It is important to empower the language that’s true to their “literary voice,” and to shift the language that doesn’t channel their true intention.

Identity: Personal identity will always be important to the poet. Who or what is the reader identifying with?

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading The Underground Railroad, a novel by Colson Whitehead.

Do you have a favorite memory of time spent in Newark?

I grew up in Newark. I would say that most of my valued memories were cultivated here. I attended Arts High School. I thank Arts High for my creative palette. It was during my time there that I discovered, subconsciously, my love for sound, dance, and poetry. That high school gave me access to an idea of talent that was surreal, yet ever so possible. Arts High taught me that you don’t have to be rich to gain a wealth of talent.

Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged | 2 Comments

Water is vital to our everyday lives, so why aren’t we doing anything about it?

Posted on by Margaret Waldock


Imagine your typical morning and the multitude of finely choreographed steps you take to get out of the house on time.

You wake up, turn on the tap to wash your face and give your teeth a brush. You turn on the shower, adjust the temperature so it’s just right. After finishing up and getting dressed, you fill and turn on the coffee maker, the warm toasty coffee aromas filling the air. That first sip simultaneously relaxes and propels you out the door, prepared for whatever else there is to come.

Now imagine that morning routine without water. You turn on the taps, try to flush and — nothing.

What if you own a business, a restaurant, or hotel, or you run an institution like a hospital or a university, and there’s suddenly no water? There’s no doubt that just a day without water can range from minor inconvenience to crisis, and while unimaginable for most of us, there are many communities that are living right now without access to clean and safe water — from man made tragedies in Flint, Mi., to water shortages in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

With all the emphasis on what divides us, a concern for water and water infrastructure is among those issues that cuts across political and geographic boundaries.

Some 91 percent of New Jerseyans put protecting the drinking water supply at the top of the list of priorities, according to a 2011 Monmouth University poll. Imagine — New Jersey residents ranked clean water more important an issue above reducing property taxes. We know how much New Jerseyans care about that.

Across the country, Americans also value the importance of water infrastructure to reliably and affordably deliver this vital resource to our homes and businesses. Some 71 percent of Americans polled in a recent U.S. Water Alliance study deemed it “very important” to improve and modernize the water infrastructure system.

So, why then, do some of New Jersey’s cities still rely on water infrastructure built over 100 years ago?

Want to read more about this issue? Check out New Jersey Future’s Ripple Effects report.

The problem is multi-faceted, and solutions are expensive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that New Jersey will have to spend $27 billion over the next 20 years to modernize our water infrastructure. That’s a big price tag for any state, but especially daunting for one with New Jersey’s budget woes and tax fatigue.

But let’s, for a moment, consider the cost of not investing in our water systems. An economic study conducted by the Value of Water Campaign found that just one, single nationwide day without water service would put $43.5 billion of economic activity at risk. And certainly, the experiences of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico right now should serve as a serious wake-up call to us all as to the connections between water infrastructure and resilient communities.


Water is a public health issue, an economic issue, and an environmental issue, and every New Jerseyan is dependent on a safe, reliable water system.

That is why on Oct. 12, we are joining with hundreds of groups across New Jersey and the country to Imagine a Day Without Water, because we want people and decision makers to pay attention to our water systems.

We will share our thoughts on a Day Without Water on our Facebook page and Twitter accounts, using #valuewater, and we hope you will join us and tell your water story.

What is the value of water to you?






Posted in Environment | 1 Comment

Sustainable Jersey: Making sustainability change stick

Posted on by Lauren Skowronski, Program Director for Community Engagement, Sustainable Jersey

SJ October

Sustainable Jersey Regional Hubs meet to advance collective leadership

What drew leaders from Sustainable Jersey’s Regional Hubs to an indoors five-hour gathering on a recent beautiful fall Saturday?

Consider the range of responses ticked off as we went around the room:

  • “I want clean water, clean air and clean food to be available on my 104th birthday.”
  • “I need new ways of organizing people to address our issues.”
  • “I get energy meeting other people with a shared passion for sustainability.”
  • “Because sustainability is no longer a choice, it’s a must. The planet is warming and the consequences are dire.”

The people who attended the meeting are leaders in their community working with their individual municipal green teams, sustainability organizations and as part of a Sustainable Jersey Regional Hub. Nearly half of the attendees have been named a Sustainability Hero for their outstanding accomplishments as part of the Sustainable Jersey recognition program. Overall, these folks are not flashy attention seekers — they are committed, hardworking individuals who have prioritized sustainability as an issue they value.

Strengthening green teams through regional hubs

Sustainable Jersey works with eight active regional hubs: Atlantic-Cape May Hub, the Hunterdon Sustainability Team, the Mercer County Sustainability Coalition, the Middlesex County Hub, the Monmouth County Hub, the Somerset County Green Leadership Hub, Sustainable Essex Alliance and the Tri-County Sustainability Alliance (Camden-Burlington-Gloucester).

To make New Jersey more sustainable, we need our green teams to have the ability to think together and to cooperate across community borders. To tackle our biggest challenges, it will take the leadership of many individuals working towards a similar goal on a collective scale. Building committed teams of leaders is the underlying goal for the regional hubs and the meeting.

Sj Oct 2

In 2014, Sustainable Jersey started the regional hubs as a way to help green teams build capacity through training, best practice resources, and networking. In keeping towns connected to each other, green teams gain the opportunity to learn what has been successful elsewhere in the state and partner on projects with neighboring towns and schools in order to boost limited resources.

The hubs are independent and approach issues in different ways. For example, the Somerset County Hub is led by the county staff, while other hubs are completely volunteer driven. Some of the hubs are focused on mentoring towns in their region and other hubs are working on projects like community energy aggregation in Essex County and a regional Arts and Creative Culture Team in Hunterdon County.

Resources are shared like the plastic bag monster costume that is used across the Tri-County Sustainability Alliance members and worn at different community events to further plastic bag reduction awareness. Some hubs have logos and extensive social media while others have regular social events. For example, the Atlantic Cape May Hub has a green team mixer planned for October 3, 2017 at the Little Water Distillery in Atlantic City, register here.

Tenacious change is change that sticks, stays and is “roll back” resistant

For the September 16, 2017 Regional Hub leader gathering in Asbury Park, Sustainable Jersey brought in Tom Klaus, of Tom Klaus & Associates to share his ‘Tenacious Change” initiative. Tom’s work is based on original community engagement research on the Roots to Fruit of Sustainable Community Change framework.

Tom describes tenacious change as positive community change that is resistant to snapping back to the way things were before. It is an approach to organizing and working together to solve complex social problems through collective leadership, community engagement and coordinated action.

Tom walked the regional hub leaders through the two key aspects of community change. First, the “roots” are the community’s infrastructure and key stakeholders needed for the change to happen and then the “fruit” of community change are the acts of community engagement and mobilization. The community engagement work focusses on building relational trust through social networking and leveraging personal relationships. In other words, sending out a promotional mailer alone will not build a committed community of sustainability enthusiasts that will stick. It takes time and relationship building.

Tom said there are two groups to engage and mobilize: the content experts and the context experts. Context experts include the citizens, population or groups that are most directly impacted by the issue or problem and the “grass root” influencers like the gurus and citizen leaders. The content experts are the professionals, providers, program partners and the “grass top” influencers such as the funders, business leaders and elected officials.

The discussion was lively and the participants walked away with new tools.  The group especially liked a three-minute video that Tom shared called Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy – How to Start a Movement. It is definitely worth a watch!

Sustainable Jersey will report the success stories of the regional hubs moving forward and annual meetings are in the works for the hub leaders. The hubs are a powerful force in sustaining the sustainability movement in New Jersey. Sustainable Jersey is lucky to be working with these individuals who understand that community engagement leads to community change.


For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

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Ask a Poet: Kurtis Lamkin

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Kurtis Lamkin.

Kurtis Lamkin is a poet from Philadelphia who plays the Kora, a beautiful West African instrument. He has produced several cds, the latest of which is called Kora Poems, as well as a book of poems entitled Golden Season. Recently he was selected as a 2013-2014 Poetry Fellow by the Jubilation Foundation; and he is a 2014 grantee of the New Music Foundation for a new project, Big Fun. He is lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

*   *   *

Dodge Poetry Festival 2012 113..Dodge Poetry Festival 2012.Newark, NJ 10/11-14/12.Photograph © T Charles Erickson.

Dodge Poetry Festival Newark, NJ 10/11-14/12. Photograph © T Charles Erickson

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?

My high school experience with poetry became massive when my tenth grade teacher took my class to the First International Haiku Festival which was held at the University of Pennsylvania. We were immersed in Japanese culture for the whole day and I loved the feel of the poems because they reminded my of the blues, way out in the fields blues with their clean elegance that invited my imagination into the words. Matsuo Basho and Langston Hughes influenced me. And from looking at my early journals it seems that I wrote a lot about loneliness

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

It’s hard to recall anything. I wasn’t afraid to share because so many things can happen to a poem when you let it go into the wild wild world.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Whatever exercise for a poem you give to a student, write your own with them.

Do you have a favorite memory from time spent in Newark?

The last time I saw Amiri Baraka perform there; he was already a master but even after 50 years he was still getting better, surging forward just as young poets do.

What are you currently reading?

A non-fiction book called The Color Of Law by Richard Rothstein.


You can watch Kurtis Lamkin play the Kora and recite his poem “jump mama” below:




Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ask a Poet: Robert Hylton

Posted on by Rebecca Gambale

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Robert Hylton. 

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Robert Hylton has been performing poetry since 1996. He has been an English teacher in Newark NJ for over 17 years as well as a poetry club curator in many public schools, universities, community centers, and churches in the tri-state area. He has performed at renowned venues, such as, the former Serengeti Plains, The Poet’s Corner (Bogies), Euphoria Café and NYC’s The Nuyorican Poet’s Café. Respected by his peers and younger poets alike, Hylton prides himself in mentorship and introducing writing and the art of slam poetry to young people across the tri-state area.

*   *   *

Robert Hylton cropped photoWhat was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?

I discovered poetry in high school. I remember well, grade 10. My teacher, Ms. Banks noticed that I took an interest in poetry. I was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe as well as the Beatnik poets like LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, and many Renaissance poets.

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

People always think a poem is about the author. People think a poem should sound a certain way. A poem can sound like whatever you want it to sound like, or look like what you want it to look like.

What is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I’ve recently discovered that writing poetry is truly God’s gift to me, and that I’ve been selling God and myself short all this time.

Do you have a favorite spot in Newark? A park, restaurant, open mic venue, etc.?

My favorite spots in Newark are the poetry venues. I pop in from to time to time and catch up with old friends, fellow poets, and students alike. Halsey Street has many.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

For any teacher trying to engage students with poetry:

  • invite live poets to the classroom
  • find interesting, cool, real-life poems that teenagers might like
  • have a poetry reading in class (with snacks, dimmed lights, couches/comfortable chairs, a mic… make it feel special)
Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Sign Up for Imagine A Day Without Water 2017

Posted on by Naeema Campbell

Join us to…



What would a day in New Jersey look like without water? For a city, a business, a school, or an artist? On October 12, the Dodge Foundation is joining hundreds of other organizations across the country to show the value of water to our everyday lives as part of the Imagine a Day Without Water campaign.

And we are inviting you to join us to add your creative voice to the campaign.

We know that safeguarding our water requires leadership and action, and we believe that people are inspired to protect and invest in what they love and value. So, we invite you to share with us in imagining a Day Without Water here in New Jersey.

Through social media, public events, media outreach and other activities, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the value of water to our lives, businesses, communities, and the environment. Click here for ideas on how to get involved.

We’re encouraging organizations and individuals across sectors in New Jersey — from artists to educators — to post a photo or message on their social media accounts using #valuewater or to plan something bigger like a neighborhood catch-basin clean-up or mural painting event.

At the Dodge Foundation, we invite you to follow along with our take on what a day without water might look like on our blog, Facebook page, and Twitter.

We’d like to collect and share your stories, too. If you would like to be included, please connect with Naeema at by October 9.

Get involved and sign up today!

Naeema Campbell
Environment Program Associate

Margaret Waldock
Environment Program Director












Posted in Environment, News & Announcements | Leave a comment

Creative New Jersey: Beautiful Questions

Posted on by Kacy O’Brien, Director of Programming, Creative New Jersey

woodblock questions

In an age of declarations, assumptions, and sound bites it’s refreshing to come across a book like Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas where curiosity reigns and questions are the goal, not answers.

Berger’s search for beautiful questions – questions that he defines as, “an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change,” takes the reader through an exploration of the science behind questioning, into the minds of breakout innovators, and practical approaches to becoming a better questioner in our work and our lives.

Creative questions like these populate the book:

  • If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a decent foot? (Van Phillips designer of Olympic-athlete prosthetics)
  • What if a video rental business were run like a health club? (The birth of Netflix)
  • What if we spend the next hundred years sharing more of our stuff? What if access trumped ownership? (Questions the founders of Airbnb are now asking)
  • Can a school be built on questions? (Deborah Meier, pioneer of “small schools” movement, and MacArthur “genius” award winner)
  • How do we continually find inspiration so that we can inspire others?

Van Phillips’ talk at the 2011 Cusp Conference outlining his experiments to develop, cheap, easily assembled and customizable prosthetics for people in poverty around the world.

Berger looks at innovators such as Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, and organizations like The Right Question Institute, IDEO, Acumen and Gore (creators of Gore-tex fabric) among many others in his search for common ground on what makes an innovative questioner.

Strategies and examples of how to increase divergent thinking, connective inquiry (the idea of taking bits from seemingly unrelated topic areas and putting them together to solve problems), and collaboration with diverse teams pepper the pages, which Berger argues makes your questions stronger and your solutions more creative.

Berger poses a loose framework for creating beautiful questions in three stages, referred to as the, “Why? What If? and How?” phases of questioning. And if you’re feeling stuck, Berger includes a “Questions Index” that includes every question posed in the book for a quick inspirational kick-start.


In our work at Creative New Jersey, we start our community gatherings by posing questions for discussion, because questions work to open up our minds to different points of view, to ways we’ve never thought before, and yes, to the possibility that what we think we know may not be the full story. And for me, that’s exactly what makes those gatherings so beautiful. There’s a particularly juicy question I discovered in Berger’s book that was posed by education innovator Deborah Meier about encouraging skepticism and empathy in her classrooms:

I believe you have to have an open-mindedness to the possibility that you’re wrong, or that anything may be wrong. […] If you can’t imagine you could be wrong, what’s the point of democracy? And if you can’t imagine how or why others think differently, then how could you tolerate democracy?

My role at Creative New Jersey is to help bring people in communities with different life experiences, different backgrounds, philosophies, training, professions and passions together.

Each time, I see Berger’s questioning framework playing out – Why, What If, How? I watch as people listen, ask questions of each other, get past the declarations, assumptions, and “easy answers” (because there aren’t easy answers to complex questions) in order to collaboratively tackle issues. Those beautiful, ambitious, actionable questions that seek change light up the people in the room.

So tell me, what’s your beautiful question?  Send your questions to us – we want to start a Question Index of our own! Email me at with the subject line “My beautiful question.”

Kacy O'Brien

Kacy O’Brien

Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Director of Programming and is a Lead New Jersey 2015 Fellow.

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, collaboration, and inclusion 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.




Posted in Creative NJ | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment
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