Newark High School Poetry Festival: khalil murrell

Posted on by Victoria Russell

This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. khalil murrell is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.

khalil murrell blog photoHave you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

At least half of the things I write I’m afraid to share, but I share them anyway. Part of my draw to poetry emerged from attempting to push past my discomfort, to explore the things that made me afraid.

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

I actually began writing poetry in college. I saw this movie named Love Jones (1997), a love story that centered around two lovers who met in a speakeasy. Both of the main characters recited a poem, “Brotha to the Night” (Regie Gibson) and “I Am Looking at Music” (Sonia Sanchez). I remember hearing “Brotha to the Night,” thinking, “Man, I want to do something like that.” Later, I started performing at various spoken word venues around Philly.

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

I usually watch the NCAA tournament and NBA playoffs at Burger Walla on my block. I like the trash talking and the wings.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading two books by my favorite author, Kiese Laymon–a book of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance, and his recent memoir, Heavy.

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

Newark High School Poetry Festival: Nicole Homer

Posted on by Victoria Russell

This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. Nicole Homer is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.

Nicole Homer Blog PhotoHave you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

Yes! The poems that became the foundation of my book Pecking Order were originally just for me because I was trying to figure something out about being a mom and about how race played into how I experience that. A lot of it started with what happens to bodies naturally, medically, quietly. There was a large silence surrounding what I was going through, so I tried to write my way into the conversation I wished I had access to. The first time I read one of them out loud I was shaking. The collection I’m working on right now, Fast Tail, is taking shape this same way. I gave myself permission to write whatever I needed to write, and I don’t have to share or publish any of them. I needed to promise myself that so I could do the work I need to do. For me, that fear lets me know I’m exploring in the right direction but doesn’t mean I’m obligated to share it.

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

Share the poems you love. Start with work that moves you and brings you joy. We can worry about scansion and enjambment and form soon enough. When I was little, my grandmother recited her favorite poem, “Invictus,” for me, and she so visibly loved it. She told me why it moved her, what her favorite lines were, what they meant to her. It was not at all a technical explanation. I moved into a hunger for craft later, but it started with enjoyment. Teachers are in a hard, hard spot in terms of what they must do to meet requirements and what they know will benefit their students, because the two don’t always align. I think with poetry, whenever possible, privilege love of it over everything else because the everything else comes if there’s a love. The urgency of much of contemporary poetry can offer people a way of feeling seen. Poets are writing in context of and in response to this uncertain world; they are not flinching back from discussing race, politics, violence, bodies, gender, and more, so the things that we as humans are preoccupied with are the subjects of poems.

What are you currently reading?

In August, I tried #TheSealeyChallenged, named for Nicole Sealey who challenges us to read one book of poetry every day in August, so I’ve been reading a pretty wide selection of books, from revisiting old favorites to discovering new ones. This morning I read Gregory Orr’s The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write. Tomorrow, I’ll re-read Vievee Francis’s Forest Primeval.

Posted in Ask A Poet, Poetry, Poets | Leave a comment

“Contando Nuestras Historias / Telling Our Stories” with Wind of the Spirit

Posted on by Victoria Russell
Assistant Director of Dodge Poetry Director Ysabel Gonzalez welcoming everyone to the retreat. Photo by Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo.

Ysabel Gonzalez, Assistant Director of Dodge Poetry, says a few welcoming words while poets Ana Portnoy-Brimmer and Ruth Irupe Sanabria look on. Photo by Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo.

The Dodge Poetry Program kicked off an exciting new project in collaboration with Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center on October 5. “Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories” is an initiative providing space for members of Wind of the Spirit’s local Latinx immigrant community to collaborate with Dodge Poets in sharing and documenting their stories.

The seeds for this project were planted earlier this year, when Dodge Poetry hosted a free, public event called “Poetry and Democracy” in our office neighborhood of Morristown, New Jersey. Wind of the Spirit was one of the local social justice organizations we partnered with for the event; organizer Brian Lozano hosted a panel discussion with poet Rigoberto González and several members of the Wind of the Spirit Community, who shared some of their experiences as immigrants in this country.

Wind of the Spirit discussing "Poetry and Democracy," March 2019. Photo by Alex Towle Photography.

Rigoberto Gonzalez, members of Wind of the Spirit and Brian Lozano telling stories at “Poetry and Democracy,” March 2019. Photo by Alex Towle Photography.

Through continued conversations with Wind of the Spirit about the power of documenting and sharing these stories, we began to wonder what it could look like if together we hosted regular meetings where members could explore their stories in a safe and supportive environment, with guidance from experienced poets and artists, and a goal of preserving and more widely sharing the materials produced for generations to come.

And that’s how Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories was born.

On Saturday, October 5, Dodge Poetry staff, poets and members from the Wind of the Spirit Community gathered at the Quaker Meeting House in Chatham for a day-long retreat focused on getting to know each other and beginning to open up and do some generative work. Dodge Poets Grisel Acosta, Ana Portnoy-Brimmer and Ruth Irupé Sanabria, along with co-facilitators David Cruz, Dano Mendoza and Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo, led small groups in morning and afternoon sessions of sharing poems, conversing and responding to writing prompts through individual reflection and group sharing.

The whole group got together for ice breakers in the morning, a delicious Caribbean lunch catered by Morristown’s Hibiscus Restaurant in the afternoon, and a powerful closing session at the end of the day, where members reflected on what the day meant for them and their hopes for the coming months. They talked about the memories and experiences they were exploring in writing that day, how difficult and intense and yet necessary it is to talk about them, and how rare it is that they have the opportunity, time and space to explore their stories and art with others who listen and take them seriously.

For the next eight months, Dodge Poets and Wind of the Spirit artists and community members will be convening once a month. The goal of the meetings is to support Wind of the Spirit community members in telling their stories—primarily through the mediums of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, snippets, and oral storytelling.  Community members will share their stories in the language that feels most comfortable to them, primarily Spanish, sometimes English or Spanglish. We’ll also be recording some interviews for those who want an oral record of their stories.

We’re excited to work with Morristown & Morris Township Library to archive the materials that come out of this project, providing a home where stories of love and loss, bravery and resilience, sacrifice and growth, can live on to inform, inspire and enrich the lives of generations to come.  “Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories” is about a community coming together to say: “We are here, we matter, and our stories matter.”

Because this is a new project which Dodge Poetry and Wind of the Spirit are venturing on together for the first time, we’re still learning about how to do all of it and are open to seeing what works, what we can do better, and where it all takes us.

We’re so thankful to Wind of the Spirit and all of the members and artists who joined us for the beautiful retreat last Saturday to commence Contando Nuestras Historias. Thank you to Diana Mejia for her ever-open arms that make everyone feel welcome, and to Brian Lozano for his key role in creating this and doing so much translating between English and Spanish throughout today. Thank you also to Meghan Van Dyk, Dodge Foundation Informed Communities Program Officer, for introducing us to Diana and helping to make this partnership happen.

To learn more about Wind of the Spirit and the great work that they do, visit their website.

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Dodge’s Board Leadership Series is here to help advance your mission

Posted on by Wendy Liscow

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Calling all New Jersey nonprofit leaders.

You know your staff and board, and you know what you need to advance your mission. Dodge’s Board Leadership Series is designed to help you best support these needs.

We only have room for 10-12 organizations to participate, and spots are filling up quickly. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to be part of the Dodge learning community. The registration deadline for the series is Oct. 10.

We invite you to review the series brochure, where you will find a comprehensive and sequential seven-part series requiring team participation, with additional opportunities to attend webinars and access other support tools. We know it is a big commitment of time and energy, but we are confident it will be worth the investment.

After 10 years of offering the series, we have learned some things about how to maximize the impact of the series and manage the commitment:

  • This program is most effective when the executive director, board president and other board members attend as a team consistently for the whole series.
  • The board president should prioritize the first two workshops and the diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops called “Leading for High Impact”.
  • A good way to engage other board members is to have your board committee chairs take a leadership role at relevant workshops. For example, your Governance Committee chair can attend the Retaining and Recruiting workshop and your Fundraising Committee chair can attend the Fundraising workshop. If you have a vice-president or board member in line to become the next Board President, they should attend as well.
  • If your executive director and/or board president have attended the series multiple times in the past, consider sending a comparable senior staff leader and/or board member to attend the workshops as part of the organization’s team.
  • Above all else, no matter your team combination, decide how your team will share the information with others! Set up follow-up debriefings, schedule a portion of your board meetings to try the video exercises, and find ways to teach what you have learned.

Don’t forget, your commitment to the full series will yield multiple benefits.

First, here’s what we have heard from past participants:

“Though board governance can be learned about in books and blogs, the Dodge Board Series provides a unique platform of workshops and support for individual organizations to formulate their own strategies and action plans.”

“I learned the importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and that knowledge alone is not enough. Intercultural competency is a muscle you have to develop- I was glad to gain tools that I can take back to my colleagues.”

 “I brought three new trustees who have just joined the Board. It helped inform them on how to focus their efforts and be more effective.” 

“These workshops provided great networking with other New Jersey nonprofits. The peer-based days are extremely useful for sharing information with similar nonprofit organizations on similar issues.”

In addition, another benefit is that along with all the new knowledge and tools at your fingertips, your team will be eligible to apply for a “Day of Clarity” Retreat for your whole board. You can download a description of the full Board Leadership series that can easily be printed or emailed to your board leadership team here.

Please feel free to reach out to Judy Ha Kim or Wendy Liscow if you have questions or issues relating to fulfilling the commitment to the series.

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Dodge Trustees remembered for humor, friendship  

Posted on by Meghan Van Dyk, Informed Communities program officer, communications director

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is remembering the lives of two former trustees for their dedication to the mission of the Foundation — and each other.

lebuhnstephensJim Stevens died June 30 in Watch Hill, R.I., and Robert LeBuhn died about a month later on Aug. 9 in Denver, Colo. The pair had in common a passion for paying it forward as successful investment managers who supported the arts and education through board service, and were friends over the two decades their terms on the Dodge Board overlapped, said Preston Pinkett III, board chairman.

[photo at top: Robert LeBuhn, left, and Jim Stevens]

“We lost two Dodge heroes,” Pinkett said of LeBuhn and Stevens. “They were two pals and they passed away together as if they were reuniting. The work they did to contribute to what we have done as a Foundation is outstanding.”

At a recent meeting, Dodge board and staff paid tribute to LeBuhn and Stevens by sharing stories, favorite jokes, and a poem in their honor.

“Their devotion to each other mirrored their beliefs and the values of the Foundation,” said Kim Elliman, a board member and immediate past board chair. “They talked to each other weekly and came to derive a lot of support from each other.”

LeBuhn joined the Dodge Board of Trustees in 1980 as the 10th member and first trustee not appointed by the court order establishing the Foundation. Elliman said LeBuhn helped transform Dodge in many ways, including diversifying its board and helping to evolve the Foundation’s approach to philanthropy in New Jersey.

“Rob believed that philanthropy should address the promise of people, the potential of human nature,” Elliman said. “He believed in providing general support, to permit the grantees to define priorities and practices. He believed that informed common-sense overruled specialization, from investments to arts education. He trafficked in a world where theory would be grounded in outcomes, not output.”

An Iowa native, LeBuhn kindled his interests in investment management and corporate policy at the Wharton School of Business where he earned an MBA after serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He began his business career as a securities analyst with Cyrus J. Lawrence and Sons and became the president of Investor International in 1984, and was its chairman from 1992 to 1994.

Throughout his career, LeBuhn was on the boards of directors of airline, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies, and also served on the nonprofit boards of New Jersey Performing Arts Center, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and Reach Out and Read, among others.

“A little known fact about LeBuhn,” said Finn Wentworth, a board member, “was that he was a member of U.S. Men’s basketball team when it won a gold medal at the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City.”

“He was a great athlete and musician,” Wentworth said. “He was filled with gratitude and gratefulness for the community.”

“They both brought to the board a tremendous amount of humanity and great leadership,” said Barbara Moran, vice chair of the board. “Rob was dedicated to Dodge and what we did. Jim always brought levity when we needed it most.”

Stevens was on the board from 1993 to 2015. He was a strong believer in the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and in the power of poetry to transform lives, as well as an advocate for Newark’s revitalization.

A Massachusetts native, Stevens received an MBA from New York University and went on to work in banking and investment management, including a two-year stint in London at CitiBank. He rose to the ranks of president of Prudential in 1993.

Stevens was also on the board at pharmaceutical and communications companies, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and served on the nonprofit boards of the Deerfield Academy, New York Hall of Science, and The School of American Ballet.

At board meetings, Stevens would pull a “joke card” out of his pocket with short phrases of 35 different jokes, which he cherry-picked from to lighten the mood, Moran said.

Several of the jokes involved a talking dog, like the one that starts off with a sign for a talking dog for sale.

“Clem would always ask for that joke,” Moran said, referring to the late Clement Price, a beloved former member best known as a historian and champion for Newark.

Cynthia Evans, Dodge’s chief financial officer and former interim president, recalled Stevens’ humor and his constant advocacy for supporting New Jersey’s nonprofit sector.

“Jim brought tremendous joy and fun to our work,” Evans said. “He believed in Dodge’s mission and in the nonprofit sector to advance change and improve people’s lives.”

In the spirit of community and joy to honor LeBuhn and Stevens’ lives and contributions to Dodge and the nonprofit sector, Martin Farawell, Dodge Poetry program director, read My Deepest Condiments by Taylor Mali.

 

My Deepest Condiments

Taylor Mali

 

I send you my deepest condiments

was in no way what my old friend

meant to say or write or send

the night she penned a note to me

one week after my father died.

 

Not condolences, or sentiments,

she sent me her deepest condiments

instead, as if the dead have need

of relish, mustard, and ketchup

on the other side.

 

O, the word made me laugh

so hard out loud it hurt!

So wonderfully absurd,

and such a sweet relief

at a time when it seemed

 

only grief was allowed in

after my father’s death,

sweet and simple laughter,

which is nothing more than

breath from so far deep inside

 

it often brings up with it tears.

And so I laughed and laughed

until my sides were sore.

And later still, I even cried

a little more.

Posted in Dodge Insights | Leave a comment

Join our team! Dodge Foundation launches search for next chief financial officer  

Posted on by Dodge

Featured News Image

 

We are excited to launch a search for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s next chief financial officer. 

For 25 years, Cynthia Evans, chief financial officer, has helped provide the financial and operational structure and support within which the Foundation’s staff and grantees could do their best creative work. Evans, who recently served as interim president and CEO, will be leaving Dodge at the end of 2019.   

As we move toward our new vision of an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, sustainable communities, we are looking for a chief financial officer to lead our finance function in support of our new strategic plan who will bring their deep commitment to equity, robust knowledge of financial management and accounting systems, creativity and big-picture thinking, and desire to build and nurture strong, collaborative relationships to our team 

We retained On-Ramps to oversee the search. Please see the official job posting to view a full description and how to apply. A summary is below.  

What you’ll do:  

  • Partner with the CEO to develop and refine organizational strategy and goals; advise the CEO on the organization’s financial performance and long-term financial planning 
  • Identify opportunities for innovation and advance board and staff learning around mission-aligned investments   
  • Oversee all finance and accounting functions, including day-to-day financial reporting, cash management, financial controls, and risk management   
  • Lead the process of reviewing current investment policy, asset management, and grantmaking portfolio through newly developed equity framework and to include mission-related investing   
  • Communicate a compelling vision and strategy for the finance team as well as the team and individual goals to drive successful execution of that strategy   

What you’ll bring to the job:  

  • You bring versatility, curiosity, humility, and a high level of cultural competence and thrive in a highly collaborative and learning-oriented environment. 
  • You possess strong analytical skills, with experience leveraging financial information to make strategic decisions and knowledge of the finance and accounting function (e.g., budgeting, forecasting, compliance), ideally with some experience with nonprofits or foundations, and an understanding of asset management and impact investing. 
  • You have experience working with an organization to make decisions through the lens of financial health, sustainability, programmatic impact, and equity, and can recognizes and anticipate future opportunities and challenges as they relate to financial strategy and systems 
  • You bring experience managing people, either small teams of direct reports or project-based resources, and enjoy nurturing the learning and growth of direct reports and colleagues 

Interested candidates can apply to On-Ramps at https://www.on-ramps.com/jobs/1745  

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is an equal opportunity employer and strongly encourages individuals of all backgrounds and cultures to consider this leadership position. The Foundation’s commitment to inclusivity encompasses but is not limited to diversity in nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and disability.   

Posted in News & Announcements | Leave a comment

Gallery at 14 Maple opens Expresiones Latinx I

Posted on by Morris Arts

MorrisArtsLatinx

Morris Arts will host a free opening reception for Expresiones Latinx I at the Gallery at 14 Maple’s 22nd exhibit from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12.

Curated by Virginia Fabbri Butera and Will Suarez, this exhibit is one of two paired exhibits conceived as part of LatinX ConeXiones, a project of the nearly 30 cultural organizations in the Arts & Culture Collaborative.

LOGO_B_Final-300x285LatinX-ConeXiones-logo-300x89The project showcases the arts and culture of Latinx artists in Morris County and other communities through more than 26 performances, fine art and craft exhibitions, music, dance, literature, poetry, theater, food, history, installations, and other creative disciplines through November 2019.

The events will take place in venues across Morris County. You can learn more by visiting  the Collaborative’s website as well as its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Expresiones Latinx I focuses on the themes of nature/environment, dreams, barriers, love, dance, music, sports, and the streets. It complements Expresiones Latinx II, also curated by Butera and Suarez and opening on Sept. 18=at the Maloney Art Gallery at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Convent Station. This exhibit more deeply explores themes such as home, family, memories, places, and religion.

For the Gallery at 14 Maple, the exhibition committee and curators selected works created by 21 artists who utilize paintings, watercolors, mixed media, prints, photographs, digital art and collage to express their art.

The exhibit features works by the following artists: Luis Alves of South Orange, Josephine Barreiro of Springfield, Gregg Bautista of Metuchen, José Camacho of Montclair, Marcela Claros of Glen Rock, Santiago Cohen of Jersey City, Carlos M. Frias of Bloomfield, Luz H. Gallo of Towaco, Juan C. Giraldo of Paterson, France Garrido of Weehawken, Luis Jesús Martínez Piar of Mine Hill, Maria José Navas-Espinal of Madison, David Oquendo of Landing, Walter F. Rodriguez of Budd Lake, Nancy Saleme and Patricia Cazorla both of Brooklyn, Will Suarez of Bloomfield, Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo of Jersey City, Raúl Villarreal of Gainesville, Fla., M. H. Yaghooti of Jersey City, and Layqa Nuna Yawar of Newark. Their artworks reflect each artist’s unique vision and mode of expression filtered through the lens of the Latinx experiences.

“This is a wonderful chance for people to learn more about how our Latinx neighbors are responding visually to their myriad experiences in the United States as someone who is a recent newcomer or someone with deep roots here,” said curator Ginny Butera. “Will Suarez and I are thrilled by the intensity of meaning that emerged from the colors, forms, subject matters and styles as we were looking at work by dozens of New Jersey Latinx artists. Come and be amazed.”

The exhibit is open to the public Monday-Friday from 10am to 4pm and by appointment, and will remain on display until February 12, 2020. Visit www.morrisarts.org or call (973) 285-5115 for additional information, including the exhibit catalogue which contains details and sale prices for all works. The Gallery at 14 Maple is a barrier-free facility. Individuals needing special accommodation should contact Kaity DeLaura at (973) 285-5115, x 14 or kdelaura@morrisarts.org.

Posted in Gallery at 14 Maple, Morristown, News & Announcements | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Join a statewide conversation about the critical sustainability issues

Posted on by Sustainable Jersey

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Participate in a Sustainable Jersey listening session

Sustainable Jersey is at a crossroads. Each day, more and more people are confronting the unsettling fact that the ecosystem is more fragile now than at any time in our recent history. For some people, extreme weather has captured their attention and driven concern with renewed urgency; for others, it is the impact of plastics in all areas of our lives. Whatever your entry point into the issues, it’s important to understand that we’re about to enter into the most critical ten-year period of our lifetime and, most likely, of human history.

The challenges we face are sobering. From climate change to water, waste and equity issues; so many of the big sustainability concerns are reaching a crisis point. In the face of these issues, how do we create a new era of sustainability in New Jersey—one that secures economic, environmental and community well-being?

When you work with local municipalities and school communities as we do at Sustainable Jersey, listening is our gold standard. We all have opinions and aspire to do great work, but we can’t do it alone. A listening session is one of the best ways to get constructive feedback and point us in the right direction to implement the strategies that will make a difference in communities throughout New Jersey.

Sustainable Jersey Listening Sessions

SustainableJerseyTaskForceDiscussionJoin us at one of three listening sessions in September 2019 and share your thoughts on what the next ten years might look like for our state and the Sustainable Jersey program. If you work at the municipal level or are a member of a green team or task force, your participation at one of the listening sessions will help shape Sustainable Jersey’s future programming.

Our collective impact over the last ten years is significant and impressive. Help us envision the critical issues facing our municipalities and schools that Sustainable Jersey might tackle, how the program may better support the work you are doing on the ground and more.

  • Tuesday, September 10, 2019, 6pm-8:30pm. REGISTER

The Woodland (60 Woodland Road, Maplewood, NJ)

  • Friday, September 13, 2019, 9am – 12:00pm. REGISTER

The College of New Jersey, Business Building Student Lounge (2000 Pennington Road, Ewing).

  • Tuesday, September 17, 2019, 6pm-8:30pm. REGISTER

NJM Insurance Group (840 12th Street, Hammonton, NJ)

For the past decade, Sustainable Jersey has had an impact because we thought creatively and were laser-focused on having a measurable impact on communities. We want to continue to be innovative and push the envelope. As we look to the next ten years, what is the role of communities in securing the future? What should the role of Sustainable Jersey be? How can we work together to play our parts to solve these problems? We hope you will join Sustainable Jersey on this journey.

A Decade of Impact: Green Team Video Contest

Sustainable Jersey is also asking green team members to create a short video that highlights the positive impact the movement has had in their community. The entry deadline is September 8, 2019. Finalists’ videos will be hosted on the Sustainable Jersey website for public voting through October 20, 2019 and the selected winners will be recognized at the 2019 Sustainable Jersey Annual Luncheon on November 19, 2019 in Atlantic City. Learn more about the contest here.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

Posted in News & Announcements, Sustainable Jersey | Tagged | Leave a comment

Dodge staff summer reads: 45 books, articles, or podcasts to add to your list

Posted on by Meghan Van Dyk

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Dodge staff recently started an office book club to read adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, and began compiling a list of the books, articles, and podcasts to read and discuss together.

With summer upon us, we are excited to share that list, and more pieces that have been delighting, challenging, and sharpening our minds, many that address issues of racial equity as Dodge staff are developing program-level theories of change and new grantmaking processes after releasing a strategic plan and vision for an equitable New Jersey.

We invite you to tell us what books you are reading in the comments.

An American Marriage
By Tayari Jones
Recommended by: Victoria Russell

Tayari Jones’s captivating novel explores ambition, love, fidelity, and loss. While the context of racism and a broken justice system is weighty, Jones’s style sparkles with life, charisma and even humor. The intimate portraits she paints of the three main characters, connected by love, friendship, and loss are deeply intimate and human — the landscape is devastating. This one is difficult to put down.
—Victoria Russell

The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead
By Warren Berger
Recommended by: Margaret Waldock

Self-described “questionologist,” Warren Berger advises us to re-learn to ask questions like a 3-year-old child. The humble, beautiful question leads to more creative ideas and better solutions, and supports stronger, more trusting relationships. This book draws from the world’s foremost creative thinkers and provides practical tools – including a treasure trove of beautiful questions to draw from.
—Margaret Waldock

The Case for Reparations
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
Recommended by: Sharnita Johnson

This essay is essential reading for every American. If you’re taking a road trip, you can listen to it in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ own voice. Maybe you should do both.
—Sharnita Johnson

Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
by Richard Rothstein
Recommended by: Marisa Benson

The Color of Law details how government action, policies, and laws within the United States has contributed and continues to perpetuate systemic racial inequities and segregation including fostering discriminatory practices in housing, education, income, loan terms, taxes, wealth, among other areas. The book provides a powerful overview of this history and is a great read for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of systemic inequities.
—Marisa Benson

Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
By Zaretta L. Hammond
Recommended by: Wendy Liscow 

Okay, I know this may not sound like beach reading, but if you are thinking ahead about September and the new school year, you might be wanting to add some new approaches to your teaching practice or get a new prospective on what school can look like. Dr. Hammond connects the importance of culturally responsive teaching to building stronger learning relationships between teachers and students and how this approach can help students become independent learners.
—Wendy Liscow 

“The End of Empathy”
from NPS podcast Invisibilia
Recommended by Victoria Russell

This episode explores the dangers of empathy by showing how two different radio producers created two very different stories from the same interviews conducted with a man who claims to have renounced his affiliation with the Incel movement. The episode raises questions about whom we empathize with, and why, and how, and where we should draw the line. The producers’ transparency and self-reflection provide a powerful example of how we as individuals and organizations can employ curiosity and self-reflection to grow and adapt.
—Victoria Russell

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us
By Hanif Abdurraqib
Recommended by: Meghan Van Dyk

They Can’t Kill Us is a joy, a collection of essays you can read enthusiastically in small bites. Having once dreamed of a career as a music journalist, I was excited to dive into Hanif Abdurraqib’s essays blending music journalism, cultural critique, and race, where the author challenges readers to experience a Bruce Springsteen concert at Prudential after having just visited Michael Brown’s memorial plaque in Ferguson and more. My copy is filled with triple underlines, stars, boxes, and exclamation points marking beautiful, succinct, poignant language that seems to perfectly capture this moment we find ourselves in in America.
—Meghan Van Dyk

White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
By Robin J. DiAngelo, Michael Eric Dyson
Recommended by: Marisa Benson, Cynthia Evans, Wendy Liscow, Meghan Van Dyk, Margaret Waldock

White Fragility is a great book for anyone interested in examining white culture, which is defined by its ever-present dominance and insistence that it not be named, recognized, or acknowledged. The book offers language to describe many familiar experiences I’ve found myself in growing up in suburban New Jersey as a white woman navigating mostly predominantly white spaces, and has helped me reflect and understand how and why white people talking about race are unique, but not special.
—Meghan Van Dyk

Who Belongs? Targeted Universalism
By Haas Institute with guest john a. powell
Recommended by Kathleen Hofmann

The Who Belongs? Podcast is produced at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. This episode features the Institute’s director, john a. powell. Renowned for his ability to act as a bridge between people with differing backgrounds and worldviews, powell explains the targeted universalism approach in a way that is easy to understand. Well worth a listen.
—Kathleen Hofmann

Why Is This Happening? Building a movement with Rev. Dr. William Barber II
By Chris Hayes
Recommended by Naeema Campbell

In this episode, Chris Hayes talks with Rev. Dr. Barber about how and why he is working across racial and economic lines to spur a movement towards a multiracial democracy. If you have heard of the Poor People’s Campaign and the Moral Mondays, this will be right up your alley. It is a thought-provoking and approachable — and funny — discussion on complex issues such as voter suppression, voting rights, systemic racism, and poverty.
—Naeema Campbell

35 MORE BOOKS, ARTICLES, AND PODCASTS ON OUR SUMMER READING LISTS:

  1. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gaye
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
  5. Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed
  6. Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization? by Aaron Digman
  7. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
  8. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado, Jean Stefancic
  9. Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance by Edgar Villanueva, Jennifer Buffett
  10. Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown
  11. Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count by Phil Buchanan, Darren Walker
  12. Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
  13. Hunger by Roxane Gaye
  14. Invasive Species by Marwa Helal
  15. Just Giving, Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better by Rob Reich
  16. Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color edited by Christopher Soto
  17. New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms
  18. Odd Boy by Martin Jude Farawell
  19. On Intersectionality: Essential Writings by Kimberle Crenshaw
  20. Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by Eric Klinenberg
  21. Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Institutions, Values by Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli
  22. Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society by john a. powell
  23. Radical Transformational Leadership: Strategic Action for Change Agents by Monica Sharma
  24. The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist
  25. The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics by Cyndi Suarez
  26. The Soul of America by Jon Meacham
  27. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  28. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
  29. Torch by Cheryl Strayed
  30. Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai
  31. Waking Up White by Debby Irving
  32. When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz
  33. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  34. Wild Invocations by Ysabel Y. Gonzalez
  35. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
Posted in Diversity, equity, inclusion, Philanthropy | 1 Comment

Reflections on the past year from Dodge’s interim president

Posted on by Cynthia Evans, Interim President and CEO of the Dodge Foundation

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As the interim president of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a mid-year update.

First, on behalf of the staff, we want to thank the community for its patience and support. It’s been just over a year since Dodge released its strategic plan and set ambitious goals for an equitable New Jersey through creative, engaged, sustainable communities. Since that time, we have transitioned leadership, maintained relationships with our current nonprofit partners as we have built new ones, and begun charting the course for the changes to come.

This has been a period of reflection, learning, and planning as we continue to ask ourselves: What are Dodge’s responsibilities and areas of influence in helping to create an equitable New Jersey? How can we set realistic goals for change? How can we — and philanthropy as a whole — do better for nonprofits and communities that have been historically marginalized? Together, our Board and staff are building on the successes and leadership of the past as we look to the future.

On a board-level, our Trustee Search Committee is leading the effort to identify Dodge’s next president and CEO. We are excited to welcome Dodge’s fourth leader this fall, who will help lead us into the foundation’s fifth decade through our new commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

We are immensely grateful to our Board for their feedback and support of our work with our consultants at Hillombo and Dragonfly Partners, who are guiding staff in the development of program-level theories of change and framing a broader organizational equity focus. This work has been invigorating, often challenging, and pushes us to explore new terrain.

The Dodge staff has also been focused on advancing our intercultural development and racial equity skills through readings, trainings, fellowships, and internal action learning groups. As a team, we read Emergent Strategy, attended Race Forward’s Facing Race conference, examined and reshaped our onboarding and professional development practices, and began learning about intersectionality and other topics in Critical Race Theory. We’re excited to share even more of the books, articles, and podcasts that are expanding our thinking and bringing us delight as part of our Dodge Summer Reading List (stay tuned).

In addition, we are excited that our grants management team recently launched a new online application system that will improve transparency and community between organizations and the Foundation, and that the Dodge Poetry Program is opening up submissions for Dodge Poets.

It has been my pleasure to serve in this role at this moment in Dodge’s journey to equity and keeping us engaged in working through difficult questions. We are learning to be open to new thinking from ourselves and others, to lean into discomfort, to struggle together, to bring humility to our work, that there is no such thing as perfection, and no quick fixes.

Transformative equity work takes time and must be responsive and iterative. We will be adjusting and adapting our approaches to respond to opportunities and investments that get traction or have the most impact.

We invite you to share information, lessons, and insights with our staff as our collective work and opportunities to collaborate in places, on issues, or projects emerge. In the coming months, we look forward to sharing further updates with you, the community that  informs us, inspires us, and holds us accountable.


Cynthia Evans is interim president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Chief Financial and Administrative Officer.

Photo at top: Dodge staff recently visited the Franklin Parker Preserve to learn about and explore the effort to rewild this former cranberry bog in the Pine Barrens.

Posted in Dodge Insights, News & Announcements, President's Message | Leave a comment

Community solar pilot program now accepting applications

Posted on by By Joseph L. Fiordaliso, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities president

solar

As the cost of renewable energy continues to drop, “going solar” becomes a viable option for more New Jerseyans.

Over 100,000 homes and businesses in our state now benefit from solar, many of which are seeing savings on their utility bills. Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities are advancing renewables in the Garden State. However, not everyone is able put solar panels directly on their roof. To address that, New Jersey just launched its first Community Solar Energy Pilot Program, and started accepting applications in April 2019. This Pilot Program is intended to increase access to solar energy for New Jersey ratepayers.

The community solar model is being adopted nationwide because it provides more equitable access to the clean-air and money-saving benefits of solar. Unlike traditional solar installations, a community solar project does not need to be placed directly on a ratepayer’s own roof. As long as it is located within the subscriber’s electric utility service territory, the system of panels can be installed—for example—over a neighborhood parking lot, atop an apartment complex, or even on a municipal landfill or brownfield.

The power produced by the solar installation is divided among multiple participants, known as subscribers, who can choose either to purchase an ownership share of the system or sign up for a monthly subscription. Community solar subscribers – who can be residential, commercial, or industrial – receive a credit on their monthly utility bills equivalent to their share of the solar energy produced.

The flexibility of community solar makes “going solar” accessible for more customers, especially those who previously could not install solar for reasons like cost, roof unsuitability, or lack of roof control. This segment of customers often includes renters, apartment dwellers, and low-income households.

In New Jersey’s Community Solar Pilot Program, which is administered through NJBPU’s Clean Energy Program, each community solar project must have at least 10 subscribers. Landlords of master-metered multi-family buildings may apply, but must provide proof that they will pass the savings on to their tenants. Subscriptions are portable within the geographic limits of the project, and may be sold back to the project owner.

New Jersey’s program will allocate 40 percent of the program capacity – a number much higher than many other states’ programs — to projects that serve low- and moderate-income communities. This will allow underserved households and environmental justice communities to benefit from renewable energy while seeing credits on their electricity bills that are equal to or greater than the amount of their subscriptions.

More details about the Community Solar Energy Pilot Program and application forms are available on the Clean Energy Program website’s community solar information page. Applications will be evaluated for completeness, and scored based on the criteria found at the end of the application packet. The deadline for applications is September 9, 2019. Questions and requests for more information may be emailed to NJBPU’s Clean Energy Program.

Posted in Environment, Sustainable Jersey | Leave a comment

Accepting Submissions for Dodge Poets

Posted on by Victoria Russell
Poet Roberto Carlos Garcia visiting students at Malcolm X Shabazz High School in 2016.

Poet Roberto Carlos Garcia visiting students at Malcolm X Shabazz High School in 2016.

Beyond the Festival

You probably know that we host the largest poetry festival in North America, held every other year in the downtown arts district of Newark, New Jersey.

You may not know that we offer poetry programming throughout New Jersey between Dodge Poetry Festivals:

  • We bring poets into New Jersey high schools for poet visits and “mini-festivals” , with an increasing focus of our resources on some of our most economically-stressed districts and regions.
  • We produce poetry readings and community events open to the public, such as a summer reading series at Military Park in Newark, performances at NJPAC, and day-long gatherings focusing on specific themes, such as Poetry and the Body and Poetry and Democracy.
  • We organize poetry reading/immersion groups to practice “Giving Poems a Voice
  • We offer professional development opportunities to New Jersey teachers through Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain and other programs.
  • We offer an annual, free, week-long online poetry program called Spring & Fountain Online during National Poetry Month

(To keep up with Dodge Poetry news and events, sign up for our mailing list!)

The Dodge Poet Roster

Dodge Poets play a pivotal role in helping us do this work, and their recommendations, innovations, feedback and participation have helped shape Dodge Poetry throughout its ongoing evolution. They visit high schools, facilitate groups, give readings, host events, and meet with us to review and discuss their experiences in the field and the impact of our programs.

In the past, when poets asked, “How do I become a Dodge Poet?” we’ve invited them to send poems and resumes for us to keep on file for review as needed. There was no formal submission process.  Some poets came to us through referrals or recommendations, but far more through our own reading of regional journals and anthologies, and attendance at poetry readings, festivals and other poetry events.

For the first time, we are opening a formal submission process for those who would like to apply to work with Dodge Poetry in New Jersey schools.  Why now?

Over the last decade, we have shifted away from the program’s earlier practice of engaging with school districts that reached out after learning about us, and turned toward a more proactive approach.  We are actively seeking to bring opportunities to economically stressed school districts and regions of the state. The Dodge Foundation’s new mission and vision inspire us to deepen our commitment to these efforts.

In the process, we have gained a clearer picture of how diverse New Jersey is, and how segregated.  To create a roster of Dodge Poets that more clearly reflects the diversity of New Jersey, we are initiating an open submissions process to invite poets of all backgrounds and orientations to submit.  We encourage submissions from groups that are often under-represented in the poetry traditionally taught in high schools, such as African-American, Latinx, Asian-American, Native-American, Middle-Eastern, and Indigenous writers; disabled writers; and writers from the LGBTQ community.

Applying to Join the Dodge Poet Roster: What You Need to Know

If you or someone you know is interested in applying to join our roster of Dodge Poets, there are a few important things that you should keep in mind:

  • Dodge Poets don’t receive full-time or even part-time work from the Dodge Poetry Program.

We value treating poets with professional respect and courtesy, working with schools to ensure visiting poets are not unduly burdened, and typically offer a per diem of $300 per day, with a small travel stipend when warranted. Opportunities for working with the Dodge Poetry Program, however, average out to just a few days of the year for most Dodge Poets.

  • Dodge Poetry school visits aren’t workshops.

We do not send Dodge Poets into schools to conduct writing workshops, give lectures or present academic lessons about poetry. The Dodge Poetry Program strives to celebrate poetry as a living, breathing, art, and to create encounters where students can experience a personal connection to poetry and poets. This may or may not include writing it themselves. It definitely includes sharing poems, reading aloud to each other, and engaging in Q & As and conversations with poets on a wide range of topics.

  • Poets who already are part of the Dodge Poet roster don’t need to apply.

We will still be working with the many wonderful poets who have been doing excellent work with us for years. This is simply an opportunity to expand and include more voices and perspectives from the communities that we seek to serve.

The Dodge Poet application is live now via Submittable. You can find it here. The deadline to apply is September 1, 2019. Once you apply, you will receive a confirmation that we received your application. By the week of December 9, every applicant will hear back from us regarding whether we will be inviting them to join the roster for the coming year.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to us at poetryprogram@grdodge.org or call (973) 695-1190.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | Leave a comment

Dodge Foundation to launch new Salesforce grants application portal

Posted on by By Hesham Tamraz and Marisa Benson, Dodge grants management team

The hands of two colleagues in a meeting at work by Gender Spectrum Collection

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is delighted to announce the launch of a new grants management system that our partners can access starting Tuesday, July 23.

FoundationConnect, the new system, features an improved online portal for organizations to apply and manage applications, along with advanced tools for our program staff. For existing and potential grantee organizations, this will mean greater transparency and communication between their organizations and the Dodge Foundation, along with some new features.

Designed for use by foundations, FoundationConnect leverages the benefits of Salesforce, a technology and contact-management platform used by many nonprofits. The system will enable grantees to engage Dodge staff during the application process, add collaborators to work jointly on their application, and provide access to applications entered in the system along with real-time status updates throughout the review process.

Returning grantees may notice many aspects of the application process remain similar to our 2019 streamlined application.

Applicants applying for the September 9, 2019 deadline and going forward will need to register and apply through this new Dodge grants portal.

To access the new system, applicants, including current grantees, will need to complete a simple user registration process. This will enable login to the portal where grantees may process and submit grant applications.

Dodge hosted a webinar for current grantees to view a live demo of the user registration and application process.

If your organization is seeking funding but is not currently a grantee, please refer to our website for an overview of our process, FAQs, and more information.

Our new grants management system was designed with the aim of making our communication with future applicants and current grantees more transparent and responsive.

We welcome your insight on how we can make this new system more equitable, accessible, and easier for applicants. If you have any questions or feedback, please reach out to our grants management team at questions@grdodge.org.

Posted in Events & Workshops, News & Announcements | Leave a comment

Sustainable Jersey: Few thought it was possible — let’s do it again

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Executive Director, Sustainable Jersey

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Sustainable Jersey celebrates progress and envisions the future

 Sustainable Jersey’s 2019 Sustainability Summit and 10th anniversary celebration drew over 650 change-makers from across New Jersey who came together to advance sustainability strategies for New Jersey and their local communities.

We have made great progress over 10 years. I can tell you that nobody is more surprised at the impact Sustainable Jersey has had than me.

sj summit 2Few people would have thought that the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, together with a bunch of non-profits and academics, would want to aggressively collaborate. But they did.

Few people would have thought that the New Jersey School Boards Association and New Jersey Education Association would vociferously agree to support schools and teachers working to advance their sustainability goals. But they did.

Few thought that busy municipalities and schools would jump at the chance to put together sustainability programs and document their work online to achieve certification. But they have.

The Sustainable Jersey founders had an idea. We believed there was something special in local communities that could be cultivated. There were a lot of important people and organizations at the state level and a lot of passionate people at the local level who wanted to find a way to cooperate and support local action for statewide and global impact. So, with not a lot of money and no enabling legislation, we tapped into the existing frustration and good will and launched the effort that turned into Sustainable Jersey.

Together we have made New Jersey one of the most active and progressive states working from the bottom up to make change. Now, nearly 90 percent of the New Jersey population lives in a registered or certified Sustainable Jersey community. Currently 450 municipalities and 871 schools are registered with Sustainable Jersey.

Where once sustainability was not present in the local conversation, now there are hundreds of green teams created as formal bodies of local government that are charged with driving change on sustainability issues. Collectively, participating communities have implemented and documented over 13,000 discrete actions from the list of Sustainable Jersey best practices.

Sustainable Jersey launched nine regional hubs. The Hubs include the green team leadership from all the communities in a region banding together to build a movement, learn from each other and do collaborative projects. The Hubs are hotbeds of activism and energy. Working through collective action between municipalities, county agencies and nonprofit partners, the regional hubs are making significant progress on important issues.

Since 2009, the Sustainable Jersey Grants Program has distributed over $4.9 million in grants to municipalities, schools and school districts for over 900 community-based projects that improve the quality of life in New Jersey.

One of my favorite markers of success is that Sustainable Jersey is being emulated in other states. Believe me, no one likes to say that they are copying New Jersey; but there are four states — Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York — with programs modeled after Sustainable Jersey and another half dozen that loosely follow our model.

sj summit 3

Sustainable Jersey Listening Sessions

With a strong movement in place after 10 years of hard work, we want to engage all of our partners and all of you, to think about how we can rise to the occasion of the next 10 years. From climate change, to water, waste and equity issues; so many of the big sustainability concerns are reaching a crisis point.

Join us at one of three listening sessions this fall and share your thoughts on what the next ten years might look like for our state and the Sustainable Jersey program. Help us envision the critical issues facing our municipalities and schools that Sustainable Jersey might tackle, how the program may better support the work you are doing on the ground and more.

The challenges we face are sobering. We need everyone on board to work together and build a common agenda for a sustainable New Jersey. We’ve had success, but we are about to enter into the most critical 10-year period of my lifetime, and probably of human history. Is that too dramatic? I don’t think so.

Sustainable Jersey has had an impact because we thought creatively and were laser-focused on having a measurable impact on communities. We want to continue to be creative and push the envelope. As we look to the next 10 years, what is the role of communities in securing the future? What should the role of Sustainable Jersey be? How can we work together to play our parts to solve these problems?

The process will end with change. This is not just process for the sake of process. We are committed to this being a meaningful exercise and are committed to finding and enacting big and small ideas that can help us rise to the occasion of the next 10 years.

I hope you will join Sustainable Jersey on this journey.

Register for a Sustainable Jersey Listening Session.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

Posted in Collaboration, Community Building, Community Engagement, Environment, Sustainable Jersey | Leave a comment

What we’re learning: Celebrating the garden that changed my life

Posted on by Meghan Van Dyk

Grow It Green Morristown this year is celebrating 10 years of bounty from its humble beginnings rooted in Morristown dirt.

On the heels of the financial recession, before the town’s redevelopment boom, when community and school gardens were still new enough to pique the interest of a local reporter, Grow It Green Morristown’s Early Street Community Garden emerged as an oasis that would transform the town.

What I didn’t know when I first entered the garden’s flower-lined fence eight years ago seeking to meet its denizens and bring to life its sense of community for a story in the Daily Record, where I worked as an editor at the time, was how the garden would come to transform my own life and shape my relationship with community.

Grow It Green Morristown was founded by friends Samantha Rothman, Carolle Huber, and Myra Bowie-McCready, who rejected local leaders’ vision to make Morristown a grey, unwelcome town of banks with a police force deputized as immigration officers. They drove past the junkyard off Speedwell Avenue, offers of peace were exchanged with the land’s owner, and, after a lot of hard work cleaning it up and putting down plots, their collective dream was realized.

Christian Schuller, then-community garden manager and the filmmaker behind “Growtown Motown,” gave me a tour and introduced me to gardeners as he helped them identify common pests, doling out organic treatment advice and encouraging words. On one of my first visits, I joined gardeners for a Sunday workday and potluck, hauls of fresh dirt in wheelbarrows being shoveled out as neighbors stopped by the front picnic tables like bees to nectar.

I soon met Huber, Rothman, Farmer Shaun Ananko, and other local legends who rallied around the garden in its early years, including Kendra Arnold, Rebecca Feldman, Andrea Lekberg, and the late Marty Epstein and Marianne and Mark Tobler, whose giant pumpkin surely holds a record to this day.

“There is a magic to this place beyond what we could ever imagine,” Rothman told me at the time, in 2011. “We set up the infrastructure, but it’s the people who use the space that make it what it is.”

Many of the people I met through Early Street became my Morristown ambassadors and good friends. They are who convinced me to move to the town to put down roots, become even more engaged in the community I once only knew through the lens of journalism.

I attended Grow It Green’s bike-in garden movies under the stars, summer pizza parties at the Urban Farm at Lafayette, ladybug releases, the organization’s springtime Diamonds for Kale gala, its parking spot takeover on South Street, and its solstice celebrations.

With friends made through the garden, I have attended backyard shindigs, book clubs, town council and planning board meetings, marches for the movement of black lives and immigrant rights, and rallies outside my local Congress representative’s office.

I became a Grow It Green Morristown supporter and a volunteer helping to harvest vegetables at the Urban Farm for its farm stand sales. I frequented their table at Morristown’s Winter Farmers Market and bought their produce, teas, and whole ears of corn you can pop in the microwave — still one of the coolest things I’ve ever done with a vegetable.

When I first visited Early Street, the garden was on borrowed time, every season could have been its last before becoming Morristown’s newest luxury apartment complex. But Grow it Green, Mayor Tim Dougherty’s administration, the Morris County Preservation Trust, and the Trust for Public Land saved it from development and preserved it for the public good.

That act meant four years ago, with the expansion of the garden, doubling the number of plots to more than 100, my name got called up from the wait list.

By then, I had several years’ experience eating seasonal vegetables through a local CSA and two years tending two garden beds in a sprawling backyard complete with chickens and bees owned by a former landlord. But my time at Early Street has been the most rewarding.

Gardens always need tending. They require tilling, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, bug squashing, and, the toughest task of them all, clearing after a long season. Having a plot at a community garden, as opposed to a home garden, means you likely have to go out of your way to get there.

But community gardens offer their own benefits. No garden is grown alone. There are neighbors with which to pass the time and learn about different approaches, soaking up their wisdom. Helpers who turn the compost, mow the grass, take in your squash when you can’t possibly eat any more. There are the angels who surprise you by watering your plot on the hottest of days, who leave you trinkets and gifts like painted rocks, or who let you snack on their raspberries.

In the heat of summer, I promise you there is nothing better than getting up early to water your plot as you soak in the beauty of it all, of 100 plots together, and plucking basil and fresh tomatoes off their stems for dinner. This joy never fails to eclipse the disappointment of a cucumber plant that never grows, a tomato plant that wilts and dies with disease, a sprawling squash plant ruined by an invasion of beetles — all lessons for next year.

In the years since I first stepped foot in the Early Street Community Garden, it has changed a great deal. Modest homes across the street have been torn down to make way for two high-rises. Its recent overhaul, undertaken after its preservation, added a public parklet with inviting flower beds and lounge chairs in front and a solar-powered pavilion in the back, a walking path, apiary, bike repair station, and public art project, The Gateway Totems, commissioned by Morris Arts, created with input from the longtime residents in the surrounding community to honor Morristown’s immigrant history. In the center is a large rain garden to absorb the runoff that once nearly flooded out my back plot.

My life has changed a great deal, as well. I got a new job. I married and moved to Morristown, then moved away after a divorce. I downsized my plot. Friends have disappeared from the garden to tend to their growing families, we get together less. I sometimes feel like I have lost the connection I once had to this community.

But like the start of every spring, I returned to Early Street this growing season with excitement to see what the year will bring. On the May morning I arrived to weed my plot, I chatted with old and new garden neighbors as if winter never happened. We traded spare lettuces, salt hay, and wine. I advised a new gardener on how to efficiently rake out weeds and accepted aspirin to plant near my tomatoes’ roots.

Without a plan this year, I put my hands in the dirt and have slowly filled — maybe overfilled — my plot with flowers, herbs, and vegetables that are quickly growing.

I look out from Early Street Community Garden today and feel amazement at how unique this space off Speedwell Avenue is, steps from a high school, senior center, and vibrant Latin American businesses, and how it survives such change in every direction.

This garden is but one of the ways Grow It Green Morristown has built community, the thing that has had the biggest impact on me. Its Urban Farm at Layafette has reached even further, giving nearly a decade of students in Morristown a first-hand experience with real food and the natural world around them. Its CSA and generous donations of bounty has helped stock the fridges and pantries of thousands of struggling families who needn’t know hunger in such a bountiful state.

To the founders and board members and past and present leaders, Erica Colace, Farmer Shaun, and Abby Gallo, and all those who have helped Grow It Green Morristown flourish, I extend my sincere and deep gratitude for all you’ve done with humble dirt.

What you have grown is more than flowers and vegetables, you’ve truly created a space for people to find and create community, for magic to emerge.

I cannot wait to see what the next decade brings.


Meghan Van Dyk is Dodge’s Informed Communities program officer and communications director. All photos are by her. Full diclosure: Dodge supports Grow It Green Morristown through its Morristown initiatives. 

Posted in Community Building, Environment, What We're Learning | Tagged , | Leave a comment
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