Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Nonprofit Boards — When Missing Lunch is a Good Sign

Posted on by Kent E. Hansen, Pro Bono Partnership


Pro Bono Partnership is served a regular diet of questions about nonprofit board roles and responsibilities and about developing an effective board. We can help explain the legal niceties that apply to the first topic, and provide some practical ideas on both topics, but to combine the elements of both to form an effective board requires an engaged group of board members.

I recently met with a client’s board to discuss these two topics. I had a presentation that was designed to take slightly more than an hour. The client told me that the meeting venue was booked for three hours. I wondered how we’d fill the time; this is generally not heart-stopping entertainment.

After three hours, we were asked to leave the venue because it was closing for the day. We hadn’t yet had lunch. This had nothing to do with my presentation and everything to do with how engaged these board members were with their organization and their roles as members of its board.

I began the presentation by noting that nonprofit organizations typically must rely on intangible rewards, such as enthusiasm for the mission and personal fulfillment from serving others, to attract board members and keep them engaged. I also noted that people sometimes join boards with a specific agenda rather than an interest in the overall mission and often lose interest as a result.

It was quickly evident that the folks at this meeting had chosen to be on this board because of their enthusiasm for the organization’s mission, and that they were intent upon being an engaged and effective board.

Some of the legal niceties we discussed, which generally apply to all boards, were:

  • the statutory standard of conduct on which their actions as board members would be judged;
  • the fiduciary duties they have as members of a nonprofit board and some practical examples of how to meet those duties effectively;
  • the importance of adopting a corporate governance structure that is tailored to fit their organization;
  • corporate housekeeping suggestions on matters such as holding meetings, preparing agendas and minutes, and receiving information in advance on matters to be considered, as important methods for meeting their fiduciary duties; and
  • significant federal and state statutory requirements with which the organization must comply.

As to developing an effective board, just having this meeting, with the sole purpose of discussing these topics, was a productive step. Some of the ideas we discussed, that should be food for thought for all boards, were:

  • deciding as a board the process to be followed when seeking new board members;
  • having a well-defined mission to ensure that potential new members are enthusiastic supporters;
  • informing potential new members what is expected in terms of time, participation, fundraising, etc.;
  • structuring a process to orient and integrate new board members, including preparing a board book containing pertinent information and using a mentor or buddy system;
  • developing a process of self-evaluation, including annual reviews, to assess how the board is functioning;
  • having an annual board retreat at which members can discuss ways for the board to function that enhance not only the organization’s operations but also the board members’ satisfaction;
  • using a board member agreement; and
  • having “the talk” with any board member who is not participating effectively.

No matter the topic, the board members remained engaged in the discussion, seeking to determine how best to work together to meet their obligations, improve their effectiveness, and fulfill the organization’s mission.  They had a strong appetite for an exchange of ideas — but apparently not for lunch.

For resources on these and other topics, visit the Learning Center on Pro Bono Partnership’s website:

Kent 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.

Photo at top courtesy of Creative Commons/Kimberly Vardeman

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Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Photo by David González

Photo by David González

Welcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s say hello to Martín Espada.



When did you first discover poetry?

I wrote my first poem at the age of fifteen. I was a terrible student. I once failed English, in the eighth grade. I was sitting in the back of my tenth grade English classroom, with all the other young thugs, when our teacher, Mr. Vellecca, approached us. He said, “Young thugs, I have an assignment for you.” He held up a copy of The New Yorker magazine. He said, “I want you to make your own version of this magazine.” He left the magazine with us, and we passed it, hand-to-hand, down the hierarchy of thuggery. The biggest, toughest guy saw the movie reviews in at the front of the magazine and proclaimed, “Movies! I like movies!” He became our film critic. So it went, till it came to me, at the bottom of the food chain. The only thing left, at the back of the magazine, was a poem. I was very upset. I grumbled, “Oh man! A poem!” However, I didn’t want to fail English again, so I sat by the window and wrote a poem. It was raining that day, so I wrote a poem about rain. I don’t have the poem today, and I don’t remember anything about it except for one line—“tiny silver hammers pounding the earth”—to describe rain. I had just invented my first metaphor. (I didn’t know what a metaphor was.) I discovered something else that day: I discovered that I loved words. I loved banging words into each other and watching them spin around the room. I loved watching them leap out the window into the rain.

 What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?

We live in an age of hyper-euphemism, where language increasingly divorces itself from meaning, where “collateral damage” refers to civilians killed by bombardment and “enhanced interrogation” sanitizes torture. These phrases bleed language of their meaning; they drain the blood from words. Poets have the opportunity—the responsibility—to reconcile language with meaning and put the blood back in the words. Our language is powerful precisely because it is not the language of power. This society as a whole craves meaning. I have been called upon, many times, to speak at memorials, as if I were a preacher, to say the unsayable, to articulate what cannot be articulated in the face of grief or anger, to go beyond those infuriating words: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.

I once did a reading at a boxing gym in Willimantic, Connecticut, for a team of young amateur boxers, mostly Puerto Rican. The coach, Juan Pérez, loved poetry, and arranged for me to read there. When I arrived, everybody stopped training and sat down on metal folding chairs. I read between two punching bags. I had written two poems about boxing, so I started there. As I read, many of the young men wrapped their hands in gauze, as a kind of meditative activity, the way others might knit at a reading. Afterwards, they posed for photographs with me, fists upraised. At the end of the year, the boxing team sent me a Christmas card. The card said: Peace on Earth.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?

I was returning from the Festival of Literature and Free Speech in Stavanger, Norway, back in September 2007. I had to make a connecting flight from Amsterdam to Boston. Every passenger on this flight was screened outside the gate. My screener might have been the last Nazi left in Holland. During his overzealous interrogation, he asked me what I was doing at this festival in Stavanger. “I’m a poet,” I said. He rolled his eyes to the back of his head like a shark taking a bite out of a swimmer and roared, “A poet? Like Edgar Allen Poe????” The thought crossed my mind that I didn’t want to end up like Poe, dead of mysterious causes at age forty, and I almost blurted that out. Despite my uncharacteristically polite “yes” in response to his inquiry, he tried to keep me off the flight, but was overruled by his supervisor.

When was the moment that you thought, “I can do this,” about poetry?                       

It was August 3, 1986, four days before my twenty-ninth birthday. I took part in an improvised reading with Clemente Soto Vélez, a poet and former political prisoner with long white hair, who spent six years incarcerated for his advocacy of independence for Puerto Rico. Clemente read from his book Caballo de palo (The Wooden Horse). He then inscribed the book to me, in his crooked hand, as a “revolutionary poet.”  He meant this not in the sense of picking up the gun, but in the sense of passing the torch. This small ceremony grounded my identity as a poet in a history and a tradition. He would go on to be my first poetic mentor; I would go on to translate his work (with Camilo Pérez-Bustillo) for a book entitled The Blood That Keeps Singing. When Clemente died, I wrote an elegy for him. My son bears his name.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

My father died in February 2014. I knew I had to write something for his memorial service at El Puente, a community center in Brooklyn. I wrote a poem about his life and death, “El Moriviví,” and shared it with that audience, including people who had known my father for seventy years. That wasn’t the scary part. A week later, I flew to San Francisco and shared the poem with my eighty-three year old mother across her dining room table. Just as I opened my mouth, she said, “Don’t perform the way you usually do. Just read it to me.” I caught my breath, then read the poem. When I finished, she nodded and said, “You got him. You really got him.” Tough crowd.


Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published almost twenty books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His new collection of poems from Norton is called Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016). Other books of poems include The Trouble Ball (2011), The Republic of Poetry (2006), Alabanza (2003), A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (2000), Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (1993) and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (1990). His many honors include the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, an American Book Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Republic of Poetry was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem of his collection Alabanza, about 9/11, has been widely anthologized and performed. His book of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (1998), was banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies Program outlawed by the state of Arizona, and will be issued in a new edition by Northwestern University Press. A former tenant lawyer in Greater Boston’s Latino community, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.


Stay updated on the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival as information becomes available!


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CNJG: Launching the Newark Philanthropic Liaison 3.0

Posted on by Nina Stack, President, Council of New Jersey Grantmakers


Though it’s been nine years, it seems like only yesterday that far-sighted funders, the City of Newark and the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers came together to form the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison.

Our objective was to increase and maximize contributions philanthropy had long made in helping improve the lives of the residents and institutions in New Jersey’s largest urban center by creating a deliberate process and relationship with the Mayor and the City’s Administration.

The idea was simple but not easy — convene, connect and leverage local, regional and national philanthropic resources. Only the second formal partnership between a city and the philanthropic sector in the country, the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison continues to stand as a nationally acclaimed model for public-private alliances, having helped broker over $50 million in private sector support of initiatives focused on improving opportunities for Newark’s children and families in the areas of education, employment, safety and health since 2007.


Kevin Callaghan is the newly named Newark Philanthropic Liaison.

I’m pleased to report that the next chapter in the life of the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison begins now with the appointment of its new leader, Kevin Callaghan.

In this role, Kevin follows Jeremy Johnson who so ably served as the Newark Philanthropic Liaison from its inception under then-Mayor Cory Booker, and through the election, transition and start of Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration up until this past March.

Kevin will leverage his experience over the last five years as the Program Officer at the Foundation for Newark’s Future, the local arm of national philanthropic funding donated to the City of Newark to improve education opportunities for youth. He also most recently served as Project Lead on the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Kevin brings a passion for Newark and a real understanding of the value the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison brings to advancing the City.

There is much progress to build on.

A few examples offer insight into the success of the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison model. During the summer of 2015, the Office was able to broker over $3.82 million in support from philanthropic sources by virtue of homing in on the five priority areas of need cited by Mayor Baraka —summer youth employment, public safety, education and literacy, the challenges of men and boys of color, and access to City services and quality of life opportunities.

By working closely with the Mayor’s Chief Policy Advisor Tai Cooper, the co-chairs of CNJG’s key funder affinity groups active in the city — Newark Funders Affinity Group, Newark Funders Subcommittee on Education, Newark Early Learning Funders Group — and other collaborative community initiatives to focus on the five areas, the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison has been able to build a groundswell of collective impact. Here is just a sampling of these meaningful efforts:

  • This summer’s Youth Employment Program is employing 2,700 teenagers who have all received increased support through improved workforce training and the guidance of program monitors who mentor and coach them throughout the summer. In addition, the program has continued to partner broadly to provide linkages and exposure to college and career with four hundred of the teens participating in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative Summer Learning Institute on the campus of Rutgers University-Newark, and 50 taking courses on the campus of New Jersey Institute of Technology in 3-D printing and architecture and design.
  • The Safer Newark Council was launched in May of 2015 to address public safety as a public health issue by finding and implementing cross-sector solutions to reduce violent crime by 20 percent by 2020. Other initiatives stemming from the Council’s work have resulted in the launch of a national public safety campaign to reduce violence and the spurring of grantmaker investments in neighborhood-based Newark Community Street Teams that are assisting approximately 100 at-risk individuals to stabilize their lives and turn away from a life of crime through mentoring, life skills and case management.NewarkLias
  • Multiple ongoing efforts aimed at improving education opportunities and outcomes for Newark’s children and youth achieved milestones:
    • My Very Own Library Program, now an initiative of the United Way of Essex and West Hudson and a partner of Newark’s Office of Comprehensive Community Education’s Read and Believe campaign, was able to distribute books to every Newark Public School student in grades K-8 prior to the summer of 2015, up from 50 percent of students in past years.
    • The Newark City of Learning Collaborative was launched this past January with a vision to support, build, and strengthen postsecondary initiatives in the City of Newark and a goal to increase the percentage of residents with postsecondary degrees, certificates, and quality credentials from the current 17 to 25 percent by 2025.
    • NewarkLearnThe Newark Early Learning Funders Group, an affinity group of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers collectively committed to invest over $1.5 million in high-quality early childhood education for the children of Newark and the state of New Jersey. The Group was acknowledged as part of the White House’s Invest in Us initiative, which challenges private and public partners to “build a better nation by expanding high-quality early childhood education programs for children birth to five.

Newark CHeck

  • Newark launched its participation in the White House-led campaign My Brother’s Keeper, an effort to empower boys and men of color by strengthening the systems that ensure their success. This past February, Newark’s involvement in the program gained national exposure at the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge National Convening when former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder lauded Newark Central High School teen Taj Atkinson for his leadership.

There is much more to report about the activities of the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison in our 2015 Report to the Field. Suffice it to say that under the auspices of this innovative partnership, the strategy of driving collective impact throughout Newark for the benefit of all of its citizens and institutions will continue to thrive under the leadership of the Office’s new Liaison and with the robust engagement of so many supportive stakeholders.

I’m excited to see what comes next.


Nina Stack is President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association of more than 130 funding organizations working in and for New Jersey.

The Council is the center for philanthropy in the state, serving the leading independent, corporate, family and community foundations as well as public grantmakers of our state. CNJG supports its members by strengthening their capacity to address New Jersey and society’s most difficult problems. 

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Sustainable Jersey: A Better Tomorrow, One Rooftop At a Time

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

SJ Solar

Encouraging NJ solar consumers through municipal-level nudging

I’m often asked what will have the most impact on slowing climate change. Using less energy and generating new clean energy are the two meaningful ways to make progress. And in New Jersey, building on a strong base of public incentives, the adoption of solar power is a great way to go.

Sunlight is a one hundred percent clean and renewable source of energy, and solar is considered one of the purest forms and fastest-growing renewable energy alternatives in the country. But the solar market can represent a noisy, stressful, confusing and demoralizing shopping experience for consumers

Finding a contractor to fix a leaky faucet can be a challenge. Finding a contractor to install a still evolving solar technology, with a confusing array of incentives and financing, has become a major obstacle to adoption of solar energy. In fact, as the cost of solar panels has decreased, the soft costs associated with installing new solar systems has increased. Soft costs (meaning everything but the cost of the actual materials and labor, such as the cost of finding willing customers, acquiring financing and getting permits) have risen to the point where they constitute 50 percent or more of the total costs. This has become a major barrier to the spread of solar. Sustainable Jersey has just launched a new program to overcome this barrier that provides a simple, cost effective way for municipalities to engage homeowners and small businesses in adopting solar.

The Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge takes advantage of a new online solar marketplace developed by the firm EnergySage with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy. The EnergySage web-based interface offers consumers online comparison-shopping, providing an experience similar to buying an auto online. Because the online solar marketplace is open to all solar vendors who meet the EnergySage vetting criteria, consumers have access to multiple high quality contractors.


10 Municipalities will be Selected for the Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge

Applications to participate in the Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge are now being accepted; the deadline is August 26.

Municipalities will be selected based on their capacity to conduct a strong solar outreach campaign, in addition to other qualifications. The ten towns selected to participate will be featured on the Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge website which will track the number of solar installation contracts that have been executed by local homeowners and businesses through the online marketplace.

The program will run from October 2016 through May 2017. The community with the highest number of signed contracts for solar installations by the conclusion of the program (based proportionally on number of households and businesses in each community) will win a $10,000 award that can be used for an energy related project in their community.

What are the benefits to municipalities participating in the Solar Challenge?

In addition to the satisfaction of knowing the community did something to combat climate change while making it easier for members of the community to get solar power, participating communities receive:

  • A $3,000 grant and technical support to set up a local Solar Challenge
  • A custom online solar marketplace dedicated to each community and its local program
  • Pre-designed customizable marketing materials (email templates, brochures)
  • Opportunity to earn Sustainable Jersey points toward certification
  • Eligibility to win a $10,000 award for the local Solar Challenge campaign that achieves the highest number of solar contracts.

Woodbridge Township Solar Challenge

Solar Challenge pilot programs have started this summer to prepare for the launch of the official fall program. John McCormac, the mayor of Woodbridge Township said, “We’re proud that Woodbridge Township is an energy leader. There are over thirty public buildings with solar-panels which include schools, fire departments and municipal buildings and we have implemented a successful residential home energy audit program. We see the Solar Challenge as a natural progression for reducing energy use in the community and look forward to promoting solar to our residents and small businesses.” With a population of over 100,000, Woodbridge Township is a great launching place for the program and the township has a strong commitment to sustainability. Woodbridge Township has received the Sustainable Jersey Sustainable Champion award six times for achieving the most certification points and has been certified at the silver-level certification for six years.

In the first Woodbridge Township planning meeting for the Solar Challenge, participants included municipal staff, a representative of the town council and Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and a financial institution. Mayor McCormac went on to say, “Our residents and small businesses will be able to comparison shop for competitive quotes from pre-screened installers and financiers. The Solar Challenge program raises the curtain on the process of vetting solar options so that people will not feel overwhelmed. It will make the process transparent, easy and affordable.”

The Solar Challenge pilot programs and the grants to be distributed to the ten selected municipalities are funded by the Gardinier Environmental Fund. Gardinier Environmental Fund President Gene Wentzel said, “The Gardinier Environmental Fund is committed to conserving the earth’s energy resources and enhancing renewable energy measures. We are proud to stand alongside Sustainable Jersey, and to continue to fund worthy projects that support our mutual goals in New Jersey.” To date, Gardinier Environmental Fund has provided $585,000 to the Sustainable Jersey Small Grants program.

New Jersey has one of the strongest solar markets in the country. Solar power is more economically viable than ever before, so let’s tip the scales and keep the momentum going.  I hope you will encourage your municipality to apply for the Solar Challenge and then use the program to shop for solar in the fall.

Sustainable Jersey Solar Challenge Application Deadline for Municipalities: Friday, August 26, 2016


Randall Solomon has 20 years of experience working in government, academia, and the non-profit sector. He is one of the principals that founded and directs the Sustainable Jersey Certification program and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog.
For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

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Creative New Jersey: Leaning in to Lean Data

Posted on by Kacy O’Brien, Program Manager, Creative New Jersey



I’ve recently been wrestling with questions about collecting data, as do all many of us in nonprofits across our state: What do we need to know and why?  What are we going to do once we know?  How can the data we collect lead to more creative problem-solving, and free us up to be more innovative in the delivery of our service or product?

We all know data collection is important, necessary, and often overwhelming due to stretched resources, time, personnel and technology.  So how do we collect relevant data in a manageable way?  Over the summer I was introduced to a series of free online courses developed and/or curated by +Acumen — an initiative started by the nonprofit venture fund, Acumen, whose investments help companies tackling poverty around the world, to answer just that question. paper

The course I took, Lean Data Approaches to Measure Social Impact, focuses on the philosophy behind collecting and using data efficiently and effectively, and most importantly, only collecting data that will actually help to affect decision-making.  My main takeaways from this course are:

  • Know “why” you are collecting data and only collect the data that will allow you to make decisions about your “why;”
  • Articulate your organization’s top priorities;
  • These top priorities enable you to fully articulate your “customer promise” – i.e. what benefits you say you deliver and to whom you deliver them. (Also known as your “Social Value Proposition”)

Understanding if and how well you are delivering on your customer promise will ultimately influence your ability to creatively problem-solve for the best solutions to your questions.

While the idea of “lean data” or “lean implementation” practices aren’t new, especially to entrepreneurs and social enterprise sectors (see the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s 2015 articles on Lean Experimentation), the first of three modules I completed in this course was incredibly helpful in reframing the way I thought about data collection, particularly as pertains to breaking down assumptions about our “customer promise.”

The first module started with an exercise to debrief past data collection practices, forcing me to think about the “5Ps:”

  • Project (Focus on a project where data collection was implemented.)
  • Purpose (Why were you collecting data?)
  • Past Experiences (What methods were used to collect the data?)
  • Plans to Use Data (What action did the data spur?)
  • Pitfalls (Where did the process fall apart, and what can be learned and improved upon?)

By starting from an analysis of past experiences, I found myself in a much better position to think about my organization’s deliverables – the “customer promise” or “social value proposition.”


The customer promise, according to this course, is not necessarily the same thing as an organization’s mission, though it seems to me that the more closely aligned they are, the better.  The customer promise is designed to articulate the impact you are trying to achieve and which can be measured to determine the success of delivery.

So what kind of data do you need to determine your success?  That depends on asking questions about your customer promise.  The example +Acumen uses is a customer promise for an Indian company, who “provides high quality, reliable ambulance transport to ALL Indian citizens that can save lives.”  The questions to ask include: “Do my customers see my product as high-quality?” or “Are my customer’s lives being saved?”

Once you have identified the questions that will test your customer promise, you can more accurately determine the types of data you need to collect and the approaches you use, such as:

  • Limiting the number of questions you ask to be laser focused on getting answers to specific questions about your customer promise, which eases the burden on your customers and honors the time they spend on answering your surveys;
  • Streamlining the method of delivery — using SMS text surveys that can be delivered right to a customer’s mobile device, for example. +Acumen partners with organizations like com to train you in mobile device survey programming, though the free trial doesn’t allow you to test SMS text surveys;
  • Testing ideas and assumptions with regular feedback from your customers allows for multiple iterations before investing lots of time and money on programs or services that are new.



By “leaning in to lean data,” I am discovering ways to improve our customer promise and our methods of collecting data in ways that engage and honor the people and communities we’re serving.  The lean data method is helping us to innovate and approach problems creatively by giving us a solid base from which to launch better programs and services.

How about you?  What ways are you using data and lean approaches to advance your work in New Jersey?  What are the programs or software you utilize to help you with your data collection?  And how are you using your data to approach questions and challenges creatively?  Let’s get a list going in the comments section as a resource for our New Jersey nonprofit community!

*The term ”customer” can be thought of as clients, patrons, or constituents.

Kacy O'Brien

Kacy O’Brien

Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Program Manager and is a Lead New Jersey’s 2015 Fellow.

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.

 Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.



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Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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AsgharBWWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s get to know Fatimah Asghar.



What are you reading?

Right now I am reading My Wicked Wicked Ways by Sandra Cisneros. The book is so good; I love the way that she uses language. Sandra is never afraid to say something bluntly, stripped down, straight on. I love that kind of frankness.

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

I work as a teaching artist in high schools, and often when I come into a classroom and I say I’m here to teach poetry the students think poetry is only Shakespeare, or something that is not relevant to them that they can’t understand. I think there are a lot of misconceptions that poetry is only for the elite, and that you have to be very academic in order to understand or enjoy poetry. That’s not true: poetry exists in every day moments, poetry is what we hear on the trains, from our aunties and uncles. Poetry doesn’t need to sound a certain way, but I think that a lot of people, particularly from marginalized backgrounds, are made to feel that their language is not worthy of being considered poetry. That is simply not true.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem?

I think that depends on the mission of the individual poem and the audience that is dealing with the poem. Every poem contains a certain type of cultural coding that you need to decipher, even if it considered accessible or straightforward. Often when I read poets who are considered to be foundations in the cannon, I don’t always understand their references. That’s because a lot of their references are to Christian imagery, or center white people and white experiences. I’m not Christian, I’m not white. So I have to look up those references. I have to solve those poems for myself. I don’t know if those authors ever considered an audience like me, considered that someone like me would be reading their work. I try and make work that is accessible to the audience and people that I care about. I’m not going to center whiteness, or center Christianity in my work, because that’s not who I am. I am going to center myself and people I love and care about. I’m trying to create work that is both specific and universal. I grew up around a lot of different languages, all of which are in my poems. There might be words in my poems that some people don’t know. I know that might exclude some people, and those people might need to work to ‘solve’ my poems. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m not stranding you in the middle of a poem with nothing and asking you to solve it; I’m providing you a legend or a map that will  help you work out what I am talking about.

Fatimah Asghar is a nationally touring poet, photographer and performer. She created Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first Spoken Word Poetry group, REFLEKS, while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-violent contexts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY Magazine, PEN Poetry Series, Academy of American Poets, The Margins, and Gulf Coast. She is a Kundiman Fellow and a member of the Dark Noise Collective. Her chapbook “After” was released on Yes Yes Books fall of 2015.


Stay updated on the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival as information becomes available!


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Arts Ed Now: Ambassadors and Trailblazers, Let Us Hear Your Voice!

Posted on by Dodge



Since last September, when many of New Jersey’s devoted arts education leaders were introduced to the Arts Ed Now campaign, arts advocates have been abuzz. When the Arts Ed Now campaign launches next month, it will mark the official start of a multi-year effort to increase participation in arts education throughout New Jersey.

The New Jersey Arts Education Partnership (NJAEP) has heard from many that the campaign message is a timely one. You may recognize the rally cry—Active creative learning is good for all students and good for New Jersey. Let’s do more!

And with the official campaign launch scheduled during National Arts in Education Week (September 11-17, 2016), Arts Ed Now is ready to flourish.

We have seen organizations download the colorful logo to include on their website, on billboards, and printed promotional materials; we have watched students display Arts Ed Now stickers on everything from backpacks, to cellphones, to instrument cases; we have watched the Arts Ed Now banner travel to events across the state. And this is just the beginning.

This month NJAEP’s newsletter, The Beat, features a selection of action items that you or your organization can take to mark the official launch of the campaign. Another highlight of the August issue—an insightful interview with Michele Russo, President and CEO of Young Audiences New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

For the campaign to truly thrive, we also need to hear from YOU directly. NJAEP hopes to engage with every Arts Ed Now Ambassador, in order to reflect the collective voice of our field.

We want to hear plans for Arts Ed Now launch week, and updates as you actively champion arts education. Are there places or programs in your community or organization that will shine especially bright during Arts in Education Week? We are eager to know, so we can share your work with others!

And, finally, please tell us what might help you to become an even stronger Ambassador for arts education in New Jersey. It’s an exciting time, as many #ArtsEdNow trailblazers stand and lead the way forward, step-by-step.


kcampoKira Campo is the Program Development Manager at the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership (NJAEP). She can be reached at The NJAEP was established in 2007 to provide a unified voice for a diverse group of constituents who agree on the educational benefits and impact of the arts, specifically the contribution they make to student achievement and a civilized, sustainable society. For additional details about the NJAEP, visit

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ArtPride NJ: Summer Reading 2016 — The Arts and Beyond!

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reading on the beach

As I eagerly await a week’s vacation in just 12 days on the beach of glorious Cape May, I’ve begun to sift through the pile of books that are stacking up on the bedside table and deciding which ones take the trip with me.

President Obama is reportedly going to read “a pile of books” while on vacation over the next two weeks. I don’t know how much of a dent I’ll make in this stack (I have only one week), but thought it would be fun to share what is demanding my attention, and thinking readers might be surprised at what titles interest a career arts administrator. And yes, there’s at least one arts-related book in the bunch. …Okay, maybe three.


Ann Marie Miller’s Summer Reading List:

1)American Amnesia

How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper

By Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

This one is all about how government matters and having worked for it for over 10 years and studied it for decades since, I’m looking forward to a read that is a counterpunch to government bashing, and instead offers hope for a progressive future that has populist appeal.

2)They Told Me Not to Take That Job
Tumult, Betrayal, Heroics, and the Transformation of Lincoln Center

By Reynold Levy

Having heard Mr. Levy speak about this book and his career at Grounds for Sculpture earlier this year, this title promises the combination of inside baseball along with  insight into the fundraising challenges of one of our nation’s preeminent cultural institutions. Mr. Levy was an engaging speaker, so this book holds great promise as a pageturner.

3)Between the World and Me

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Because I just have to. Period.

4)Crazy Rhythm

From Brooklyn And Jazz To Nixon’s White House, Watergate, And Beyond

By Leonard Garment

I’ve begun this book that was recommended by a colleague and is being shared with another and it’s written so well that I’m curious to learn more about how a son of Brooklyn immigrants, who crossed paths with many jazz greats, became chief counsel to Richard Nixon. Since the National Endowment for the Arts saw such remarkable progress with appointee Nancy Hanks at the head during the Nixon administration, I’m curious about the connections that are inevitable.


The Revolution

By Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Wait for it (sorry, couldn’t help myself).  This has become my go-to book when I get depressed or just plain tired.  It is such a well written “behind the scenes” account of the extraordinary musical I had the privilege of seeing twice. The reference footnotes by Lin-Manuel are priceless and besides the compelling narrative, the book is just plain beautiful with its Revolutionary era feel. It’s coming with me to Cape May and my earphones will play the soundtrack as background music on the beach.


Book and sunglasses on the beach for summer reading and relaxing

Book and sunglasses on the beach for summer reading and relaxing

There’s more, but remember I only have one week. If time wasn’t an issue, here’s what else I’d bring:

M Train by Patti Smith is a Christmas gift from a colleague I’ve yet to tackle, but loved Just Friends so much and this Jersey girl can write not only songs and lyrics.

Two others are companion books of a sort — United by Cory Booker and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

I was fortunate enough to get my copy of United signed by the Senator at Rutgers University early this year when he launched his book tour and enjoyed the conversation he had with fellow Jerseyan Bobbi Brown at the Eagleton Institute where he touched on many of the chapters that spoke of his roots in Harrington Park and Newark. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was a Booker Book Club recommendation in June when the Senator joined the author in a live Facebook Q&A. As many already know mass incarceration is one of Senator Booker’s priority issues, and having read a sample on ibooks, this title is not only revealing but emotionally charged as it tells the stories of death row inmates and the author’s role as an activist lawyer and co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Heavy reading? Maybe, but it is important to keep informed and maintain not only a broad perspective of current events, but a steady grip on public policy and because back at work after vacation the job is revealing how arts and culture tie into it all, because the arts aren’t only about paintings and plays and dance, but about ALL the things that matter in life.

And don’t forget Lin-Manuel Miranda read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow on vacation about six years ago, and look where that lead!

annmarie1-150x150Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Email her at Click here to visit ArtPride’s website.


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Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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BeckerWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s get to know Robin Becker.


What are you reading?

Right now I’m reading The Goshawk by T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, a novel I loved as an adolescent. In this novel, the narrator writes about trying to train a hawk, and readers see the struggle for “mastery” in which bird and human engage. White writes frankly about failure and disappointment.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to read poetry?

I discovered poetry in junior high, when my teacher, Miss Bickley, read William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” aloud to our class. Though I didn’t understand the long and complex sentences, the rhythms and rhymes captivated me. Later, we read some Milton and Shakespeare, and I recall loving the sounds without necessarily knowing the subjects or themes.

What is the role of poetry in the twenty-first century?

Like all the arts (dancing, film-making, painting), poetry can mean many things, do many things, serve many purposes. Art–in all of its forms–works against the machinery of bureaucracy. It opens up a space for creativity. For example, the human impulse to “make something” in the face of personal and social loss exists alongside the desire to celebrate and memorialize. Thus, the “role” of poetry may have personal as well as larger social aims.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience. 

Years ago, I accepted an invitation to give a poetry reading at a conservative Christian college in rural Georgia. I read in a chapel filled with students who had purchased and read one of my books. At the Q & A after the reading, students asked me the following: “Why do you write about being Jewish?” “Do your parents know that you’re a lesbian?” Answering these questions with thought and respect for my audience showed me what good teaching can do. I believe that we all (students, faculty, visiting poet) came away from the experience changed.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

When I was in graduate school at Boston University, I wrote a poem about being in love with another woman. Because I feared my classmates’s reactions, I deleted all the pronouns. In 1973, I had not yet come out, and my poems reflected my timidity.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem? 

As I said earlier, poetry can do many things and serve different purposes. Some poets may value the music of the line and fill their stanzas with subtle sounds. A reader might appreciate the poem without knowing that the poet has worked hard to embed meaningful music there. Some poets want to tell a story and want readers to “get” the story. Other poets enjoy using unfamiliar or arcane language, requiring readers to look up definitions or names or places or historical information. Readers, over time, learn about their own tastes, and over time those tastes may change. Some may enjoy “digging” into the unfamiliar. Others may prefer more accessible poems. Reading is an “active” process which our lived experiences continue to shape.


Liberal Arts Research Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State, Robin Becker has published five books in the Pitt Poetry Series including, Giacometti’s Dog, All-American Girl, The Horse Fair, Domain of Perfect Affection, and, most recently, Tiger Heron (2014). Recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bunting Institute at Harvard, Becker writes the poetry column “Field Notes” for the Women’s Review of Books where she serves as Contributing and Poetry Editor. In 2000, she won the Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching from Penn State, and during the 2010-2011 academic year, she served as the Penn State Laureate. Becker’s recent book reviews and poems appear in The American Poetry Review, The Georgia Review, The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker.



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Welcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s get to know Anne Waldman.


With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?

Poetry has a way of ritualizing the day, making it expand into imaginative realms that escape the mundane, the  driven world of  duty, and obsessive attention to electronic devices, social media, and the slow drip of daily bad news and media worlds. Our overwhelming  Distraction Culture! But it’s not about escape, it’s about a deeper understanding of the human struggle. I’ve always been drawn to shamanism and vision. Poetry can be the true news. The tragedies of war, violence, and ever more palpable sufferings are elucidated, mourned, through poetry. And transformation can occur. One can still see light through the darkness. Beyond sentimentality. And I mean both the reading and writing of poetry.  And poetics essays as well. You can slip into a more tactile, sensory awareness of the “minute particulars” as William Blake has called them, of reality. Notice things you never noticed in the nuances of shifting tone and genre and meaning of your world and the shimmering play with language. Reading for a half hour can change your mental frequency. I’ve been revisiting the Beat Literary Generation writers such as Gary Snyder as a way to reflect on climate change. I have been reading Amiri Baraka and Claudia Rankine who address race and struggle and feel so prescient, contemporary and fierce in their intelligence and conviction. If you are writing poet you need to spend every day in a mind of poetry, and make time for the practice and discipline, and read tons of books!

What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?

I think the role of poetry in the 21st century is to continue to help wake the world up to itself. To be in touch in a profoundly sensory way with the current poetic communities and experimental movements and to read poetry from a range of cultures other than one’s  own. To seek out other traditions and genres and forms. I’ve been inspired by Native American writers such as elders Simon Ortiz, and Joy Harjo, as well as  younger innovators Sherwin Bitsui, Orlando White, DG Opik, Cedar Sigo and Layli Longsoldier. The role of poetry should be a bridge across cultures. Because I travel a lot I have been reading Chinese poets, Indian Poets and poets from all over Europe. I think poetry has to be more embedded in our entire educational system in the US of A. Rigorously supported and appreciated. There are endangered languages all over the world, just as there are endangered species. Keeping the ancient continuum of poetry alive is a humanitarian responsibility, just as one would preserve art, architecture, music. And we need to do a better job with all of these legacies. The role is to guard the beauties and subtleties  and sorrows and penetrating insight  of our existence reanimated through poetry.

What poem are you proud of having written?

I am proud of my book- length poem Manatee/Humanity (Penguin Poets) that takes on an endangered species with personal encounter, documentation, dream,and a parse of Buddhist principles and ritual. “The manatee has more grey matter than man”. I write in the poem and also that  that the manatee is thinking more “archivally deeper than man”. It was an expanded vison that came to life and describes a 3 day ritual that “includes the manatee” as a kind of guide to a larger sense of rhythm and interconnected frequencies. The manatee stands in for all endangered creatures, the non-human elementals we share this planet with. This is an ancient life form closely related to the elephant, known for its empathy and inquisitive playfulness. I tried to have the language reflect the ebb and flow of life-in-water. The origin of the word manatee, is manitou, a Carib word meaning “breast”. The poet Kamau Braithwaite has spoken of “tidelectics”, the rhythm/pulse of moon/tides.

Anne Waldman has been a prolific and active poet and performer, editor and professor many years, creating radical new hybrid forms for the long poem, both serial and narrative, as with Marriage: A Sentence, Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, and Manatee/Humanity, and Gossamurmur, all published by Penguin Poets. She is also the author of the magnum opus The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment (Coffee House Press 2011), a feminist “cultural intervention” taking on war and patriarchy which won the PEN Center 2012 Award for Poetry.  Her most recent book-length poem is Voice’s Daughter of a Heart Yet To Be Born , from Coffee House Press, 2016, inspired by William Blake’s Book of Thel. She has been deemed a “counter-cultural giant” by Publisher’s Weekly for her ethos as a poetic investigator and cultural activist as well as her innovative poetry and performance, and Allen Ginsberg often referred to Waldman his “spiritual wife”.  She is a recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellow for 2013-14 and a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. She recently received the Before Columbus  Book Award for life-long achievement.  She is a co-founder of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics MFA Program at Naropa University in Boulder Colorado. She is the former Director of The St. Mark’s Poetry Project in NYC.  She collaborates with dancers, musicians and artists such as Douglas Dunn, Thurston Moore,  Pat Steir and Meredith Monk. And is the founder with her son Ambrose Bye and nephew Devin Waldman of Fast Speaking Music productions.  Website:


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Jane Hirshfield HD photo (c) Curt Richter

(c) Curt Richter

Welcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s get to know Jane Hirshfield.


What are you reading?
Just now, two very different posthumously published books by poets we lost this year: C.D. Wright’s Shallcross and Jim Harrison’s Dead Man’s Float. I’ve recently finished Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, translated by Forrest Gander, and also rereading several translated collections by another great poet who died this year, the Swedish poet Lars Gustafsson.

When did you first discover poetry?  What poets made you want to write poetry?
When I was eight years old, I bought my first self-chosen book– a Peter Pauper Press edition of Japanese haiku, found on a wire rotating rack at the front of a stationary store on First Avenue in New York City. I can no longer guess what experience I, a child of sidewalks and brick, took from those poems, their speech made of blossoms and frogs and trees. But those poems were a life-door I slipped through and never looked back.

What is something you have recently discovered about poetry?
Even the already-known becomes in newly-read words a new discovery. Partly that’s because poems hold things you can’t quite remember—things that slip through the mind and heart as soon as you aren’t fully present inside them. I suppose it’s like any other kind of sustenance. You can’t actually remember a sandwich or a bowl of ice cream. They can only be known on the tongue. Yet you take them in, and they become you; you say them to others, and they become in that moment the listener’s own heart and mind, knowledge and life. That’s what the Dodge Festival does: it gives its attendees word-world after word-world after word-world to live in, and recognize as their own lived-in life.

With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?
Ours is an age that tramples silence, privacy, interiority. Some reasons for these outward pressures are incontrovertible and noble. The need to address the threat to the living planet’s biological continuance. The need to refind and create in larger ways any sense of mutuality and shared fate. These are crises that cannot be solved except in the realms of communal conversation, communal action.  They are pressing, unignorable, exigent. Other forces that distract from and consume our inwardness are less noble. Exhaustion. The harshness of current economic life for so many. The seemingly-endless shouting meant to drown thoughtfulness and the seemingly-endless, frivolous, deliberately addictive seductions of shallow entertainment.

Seriousness is scoffed at, compassion defined as weakness, the vulnerability of an open heart called foolish. How do we make time for poetry, amid such demands? For me, the question is more, “How can anyone not?” When shouting exhausts itself, poetry is language that stays on, listens, renews. Poetry is a way we can notice that the blunt can sometimes be changed only by the subtle—the small collaborations of water and gravity that carve out of rock walls a canyon of vertiginous depth. Poetry is antidote to the loneliness of generic groupings; it is the way we become able to see and feel our shared humanness, our shared existence with all other existence, without losing the particularity and scent of the single, unrepeatable, individual life.

Time in any case isn’t “made,” it is always here. What we do with it isn’t always ours to choose.  But when it is, a starving person will not turn away from wanting food. Poems are the pemmican of the soul: a sustenance intensified, portable, lasting. It takes only a few quick seconds to take in a poem. Yet in those few moments a whole day can be altered, and everything in it we might go on to do and say can be altered as well.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
I haven’t a single most-favorite experience, there are so many—among them, reading one year to 3,000 people in the old Dodge Festival’s huge white tent, while beyond that lofting fabric it rained so relentlessly the whole weekend felt more an aquarium than terrestrial life.

Still, here is a more recent one. This May, I was in Svalbard, in the world’s northernmost inhabited town, where the world’s agricultural DNA is stored in a Global Seed Vault. That arctic island is felt to be the safest storage place on earth—difficult to reach and out of war zones, in a place beyond any reason for war, in the permafrost of a high mountain glacier, above two hundred years of the worst imaginable sea level rise.

I was there for a meeting of people from many countries on behalf of the environment—economists, historians, political leaders, a group founding an eco-village in China. Our closing session was held outside the entrance to the Seed Vault, a striking architectural doorway that can be seen here:  

Before the final remarks, the group was given some time to simply take in this place for a while, knowing what lay unseen within the snow-covered hill. I slipped off to the side by myself, and read the Seed Vault itself three poems—one by the Korean poet Ko Un, “Snow”; one by the Norwegian poet Rolf Jacobsen, “Letter to Earth”; and one of my own. How could such an act make any difference? It cannot.  I had earlier in the meeting read poems to the gathered group, knowing that also could not be weighed for any practical effect. Yet I wanted to bring this ephemeral offering to this site made against disaster, to the 24-hour unremitting brightness of the summer arctic, to the snow and rock, and to what they sheltered in year-round, unseen seclusion. Poems are also the stored DNA of existence, a way that life’s accumulated knowledge can be saved past its own duration, to nourish others. It was an offering of one kind of seed to another.

Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Beauty (Knopf, 2015), long-listed for the National Book Award; Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011); After (HarperCollins, 2006); and Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001), finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is also the editor and co-translator of four books presenting the work of world poets from the deep past, and author of two essay collections, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Knopf, 2015) and Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperCollins, 1997). Her many honors include the California Book Award, the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. Her work appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Orion, Paris Review, Poetry, and eight editions of The Best American Poetry. A current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she was the 2016 Mohr Visiting Poet at Stanford University.


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What We’re Learning: What Effects Are Rising Sea Levels Having on New Jersey?

Posted on by Naeema Campbell
A flooded street in The Heights Section of Jersey City.

A flooded street in The Heights Section of Jersey City.

Sea-level rise and coastal flooding are two threats challenging New Jersey’s economic and cultural prosperity.

That was an eye-opening takeaway from the hard-hitting keynote at Sustainable Jersey’s New Jersey Sustainability Summit delivered by Benjamin Strauss, vice president of Sea Level and Climate Impacts at Climate Central.

The challenges created by rising ocean temperatures, melting ice sheets and melting small mountain glaciers put New Jersey residents at risk. Scientists estimate a sea-level increase of 2 to 3 feet per century, according to Strauss. Since 1950, scientists have recorded 9,726 floods in the United States and determined that an overwhelming majority — 67 percent — were caused by humans.


When you think of extreme weather occurrences, you probably think of hurricanes and tropical storms, which cause severe flooding that destroy property, damage natural habitats and sometimes claim lives. Here in New Jersey, where Hurricane Sandy is fresh on our minds, we know that too well.

But just as dangerous, Strauss said, are nuisance flooding events that occur at low tide and during normal rainfall. The nuisance flooding causes damage to homes, roads and major transportation corridors on a regular basis. Take, for example, Atlantic City, which experienced more than 150 days of  human-attributed nuisance floods between 2005-14.


Can you imagine what the enormity of the inconveniences suffered by our coastal communities and densely populated cities amounts to because of these preventable occurences?

New Jersey’s coast is highly developed, meaning millions of people and property are vulnerable to the rapidly changing environment.  To help municipal officials, residents and policymakers understand what kind of vulnerabilities their community might face Climate Central developed, Risk Finder. It is an online tool with easily accessible, science-based, local information to help you understand and respond to the risks of sea level rise and coastal flooding.

In addition to the the possible property damage, consider the many contaminated sites throughout the state that are susceptible to flooding.

Last fall, the Toxic NJ reporting series highlighted that there were 15,000 active or pending contaminated sites and 114 are Superfund sites – considered the most severely polluted.

As a result of New Jersey’s industrial past, low-income urban areas such as Newark’s Ironbound, Camden, Trenton and Paterson are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change and pollution. In a report produced by the American Journal of Public Health it was determined that minority and low-income communities had disproportionately higher levels of exposure to environmental stressors compared with those for the general population. Within those communities, sites could be located near a waterway, school or public open space thus putting the health and environment of numerous residents at risk. A number of our grantees are working in these areas to address these environmental justice issues. For example, the Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) worked with the Clean Water Fund and NJ Environmental Justice Alliance to create the Newark Resiliency Action Plan. The plan focused on five community-identified priorities: reducing toxic flooding, mitigating air pollution, creating energy efficiency and alternative energy programs, preparing for and responding to extreme weather events, and addressing the urban heat island effect. The Camden SMART team and their partners have focused on managing storm water through the installation of green infrastructure solutions. One type of solution has been the installation of rain gardens that are designed to capture, treat, and infiltrate over 800,000 gallons of storm water each year.

Although I have given you many dismal facts to absorb, there are encouraging changes taking place throughout the state. In an afternoon session about health, equity and environmental justice, Janet Curries of the Center for Health and Wellbeing noted that pollution has been decreasing over time and inequalities in health outcomes are also falling and have the greatest impact on children from disadvantaged households. And to hear that information as a grantmaker, it was reassuring. I now have a better understanding of how each grantee’s approach to address climate change, flooding and environmental toxicity are changing communities throughout New Jersey for the better.

Campbell _Small_Web

Naeema Campbell is a program associate for the Environment and Informed Communities programs at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Look for more lessons Dodge staff are learning as they visit with nonprofits throughout the state right here on the Dodge Blog.

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Sustainable Jersey: In a zombie apocalypse, it’s good to know where your food comes from

Posted on by Sustainable Jersey

SJ JPS High Garden

The John P. Stevens High School Greenhouse opens a world of opportunities in Edison.


Laura Holborow begins the food science unit in the biology class she teaches at John P. Stevens High School the same way, by asking, “Where does your food come from?”

Students answer, ‘the supermarket’,” said Holborow, an environmental science and biology teacher at the Edison Township school. “I’m on a mission to teach where food comes from, before it gets to the store. To pique student interest, I like to mention that knowing how to grow food is a key survival skill in the event of a zombie apocalypse,” she added with a laugh.

SJ JPS Garden 1

Holborow is a member of a creative team of sustainably-minded individuals who have brought a greenhouse project to John P. Stevens High School. The project was made possible through a partnership between Edison Township, Edison Township Public Schools and the John P. Stevens High School located in Middlesex County, New Jersey.

Much like a traditional barn raising, the greenhouse has brought out the best in this community. The 30-foot by 60-foot greenhouse was constructed with the support and participation of teachers, school administrators, school district and township staff, residents, students, funders and community group members.

The greenhouse has five raised growing beds including one that meets ADA accessibility needs. It is equipped with running water, electricity, a hydroponics system and drip irrigation. Outside the greenhouse, an additional eight growing beds are overflowing with organic vegetables, spices and flowers.

Meredith J. Quick, assistant principal at John P. Stevens High School and a greenhouse team member explained, “In the not too distant past, families had a much stronger and healthier connection with their food. With the addition of this greenhouse we provide a learning environment that allows students to actively participate and fully understand where food comes from, and so much more.”

Assistant Principal Quick is no stranger to food production; she grew up on an 800-head dairy farm in Somerset, New Jersey.

SJ JPS Garden 2

Beware of Falling Cucumbers and Disappearing Strawberries: For many of the students, this is the first time they have used a shovel or watched the growth of a rampant cucumber vine like the one that has stretched to the greenhouse roof. The students like to speculate on the odds of being hit by a falling cucumber. One student was waiting for the carrots to grow, but she was not seeing any visible progress. She was surprised to learn that carrots grow underground.

Assistant Principal Quick said, “The strawberries disappear fast around here but it’s ok. I love that the kids are excited about the produce and I encourage them to enjoy the strawberries.”

Beyond the feat of funding and constructing the greenhouse, the educational applications of the project are also impressive. The greenhouse will provide a cross curricular opportunity to grow food that all of the 2,300 students will use in cooking classes, investigate in scientific studies and share with the community.

SJ JPS Garden3

Worm Wigwams to Genetics for the Environmental Science and Biology Classes: Students in environmental science classes will study the process of photosynthesis in action, collect water from rain barrels to water the plants and facilitate and implement the use of worm wigwams in the cafeteria for students and staff to reduce waste. The worm wigwams will turn garbage into fertile soil that will be used in the greenhouse.

Biology students will analyze various aspects of genetics, photosynthesis and biodiversity. Students will investigate inheritance trends by planting “Wisconsin Fast Plants” for a hands-on approach to genetics, conduct experiments to further understand the process of photosynthesis and cross pollinate plants to explore how traits are passed through generations.

Farm to Table Learning for the Culinary Arts Classes: The culinary arts classes will experience the farm to table concept by growing the produce and spices they will use in their cooking. Local farmers will teach students a variety of farming techniques to encourage a more plentiful yield of fruits and vegetables. To help support the greenhouse, students will cook with the produce, creating breads, pies and salads to sell to the community.

SJ JPS Garden 4

Greenhouse Maintenance and Farm Stand Operation by the Students in the Multiply Disabled Program: “The students in our Multiply Disabled program have been involved in the project since we broke ground,” said John P. Stevens Special Education Teacher and Greenhouse Team Member, Marissa Freeman. “They’ve planted, pruned, weeded, watered, harvested and as of last week, sold the greenhouse produce at the John P. Stevens Farm Stand. I could never have imagined that I would be a part of a greenhouse project. It’s a phenomenal effort that opens new doors for how we teach.”

The students in the Multiply Disabled program will assist with maintaining the greenhouse and operating the farm stand. Working closely with the community and their peers, counting money and advertising, maintaining budgets and financing, as well as keeping inventory of products will provide students the opportunity to practice life skills in real-life settings.

In addition, the greenhouse produce will be used by the ShopRite Supermarket Careers program at Edison High School, a self-sustaining supermarket run by students with disabilities. The high school art department is designing a logo for the farm stand and the students in the Multiply Disabled program plan to use the designs to create apparel and accessories to be worn by farm stand employees and marketed to community members.

Sharing the Harvest: When the team realized that the greenhouse would yield more produce than the high school could consume, the group shifted the learning goal to focus on how the students could influence the health and wellness in the local community.

In the new school year, the team will focus on bringing free and affordable produce and education about farm-to-table eating to the community at large. They are putting together a program for Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program funding and applying for grants to get the program started. The goal is for families that receive Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program services through the state of New Jersey to receive weekly free produce, community members to have access to organic produce at a low cost and for excess produce to be donated directly to local food pantries.

Grant Writing and Fundraising: The greenhouse project is being funded through events, grants and donations. In the past year, fundraising and donations totaled $17,000 and awarded grants totaled $22,000. The project was strengthened when Edison Township partnered with the Edison Township Public School District to find funding. Chris Mazauskas, Edison Township’s resource development officer, collaborated with Assistant Principal Meredith Quick to write grants and develop the coalition of partners.

Chris Mazauskas, in addition to leading and founding the Edison Sustainable Jersey Green Team, explained that he has a personal connection to the greenhouse; he said, “My father was a first generation Lithuanian-American who was raised on a farm near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. When I was growing up in Irvington, he worked hard as a warehouseman and truck driver for Budweiser in Newark. We always had a big garden and he instilled in me the importance of tending the yield. I want the students to experience what I had growing up–a connection to and appreciation of home-grown vegetables, herbs and fruit.”

Mazauskas led the proposal effort that resulted in Edison Township receiving a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant funded by the PSEG Foundation. This grant provided momentum and funded a major piece of the greenhouse project.

The John P. Stevens school community including the Classes of 2013 and 2014 and the Edison Parent Teacher Organization raised $15,000 in donations. Fiskars Corporation provided a grant to pay for gardening tools. BASF Corporation provided a grant for supplies and the Kean University Horticulture Program donated seedlings and organic fertilizer. The full funders list is located here.

The list of community supporters, includes: Edison Clean Communities Program, Edison Township Environmental Commission, Edison Sustainable Jersey Green Team, Edison Open Space Advisory Commission, Edison Greenways Group, Edison Wetlands Association, Rutgers University Horticultural Therapy Program, Edison Township Public Schools, Triple C Farms, Liberty Farm, Kean University Horticultural Program, the John P. Stevens Students for Environmental Awareness and the John P. Stevens National Honor Society.

The Edison Clean Communities Program and the Edison Township Environmental Commission were among the first partners and financial supporters of the project; both organizations made $1,000 donations.

>>To donate to the John P. Stevens Greenhouse, go to: JPS Greenhouse

Also, the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Small Grants program will be announcing new grant opportunities this year, so dream big, develop your partners and sign-up for Sustainable Jersey for Schools updates to get the latest news on available grants.

Donna Drewes

Donna Drewes

For more about Sustainable Jersey:

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Posted in Community Building, Education, Environment, Food & Food Systems, Green Ideas, Sustainable Jersey | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Thinking About a Merger? Good Reasons to Get Legal Advice at the Start

Posted on by Dodge

one to one metuchen


So you’re thinking about a merger.

Your board and staff meet with the other board and management, decide that the benefits of combining are substantial, and are ready to move on to next steps. You are working with a merger consultant; you don’t need a lawyer yet, right? They’ll just slow things down and make risk-averse board members unnecessarily worried. Let’s bring them in when we’re ready to “paper” the deal.

Think again. A good legal team will help you make informed decisions, avoid unnecessary steps, and facilitate reaching your mutual goals.

The reasons behind nonprofit mergers are as varied as reasons for any business.  Organizations with complementary missions combine to improve the efficiency and scope of services they are able to provide together rather than separately. Or, organizations delivering similar services to the same served community (e.g., shelter for transitionally homeless) might combine to improve their collaboration in delivering needed services while eliminating their competition for funding sources.

Whatever the reasons for considering a merger, the process of organizing the legal and practical aspects of combining two or more nonprofit organizations involves hard work and often unfamiliar requirements.

But nonprofits often tell us that they “don’t need a lawyer yet,” sometimes followed by an explanation of why they think a lawyer will stifle the process or overly formalize mutually beneficial discussions. But our experience has been that involving lawyers from the start results in better outcomes and smoother transitions. In fact, many of the legal tasks can be accomplished during the business negotiations, thus paving the way to a quicker and smoother conclusion.

Pro Bono Partnership recently assisted a number of New Jersey literacy organizations to merge to form Literacy New Jersey.

Independent teams of volunteer lawyers that Pro Bono Partnership recruited advised eight of the nine merging literacy organizations, so that their boards and staff could understand the implications of the decision on their specific constituency and region.

“It was our job to define how we wanted the merger to proceed,” said Jessica Tomkins, Literacy New Jersey’s COO. “For each of us, it was important that the merger negotiations were collaborative, inclusive, and positive and that they would set the tone for the culture of our new organization. The legal teams were there to help each nonprofit implement that vision by translating those values into a set of legal steps and documents.”

These nonprofits got attorneys involved early in the process, to ensure that not only were the right business decisions considered, but also that the legal pieces would be ready when the actual merger occurred.

“The lawyers helped us keep the process moving forward,” Jessica said. “While we were busy meeting to design our new organization, our lawyers were working with each other on a parallel track, collecting and reviewing due diligence documents and handling other legal aspects.”

Most importantly, Literacy New Jersey is now able to bring more and better literacy services to people throughout New Jersey! Literacy New Jersey noted that the pro bono legal assistance allowed the project to succeed since none of the organizations possessed the legal expertise or could afford the legal costs.

The bottom line is, there are a lot of issues to consider and address in any potential merger. Lawyers will not slow it down, or “mess it up” with unreasonable demands! A good team of lawyers will work with the organizations to make sure that the vision of a unified, efficient, and effective entity is achieved.

>> For more information on mergers, please see our New Jersey Nonprofit Merger FAQs in the Dodge Technical Assistance Resource Library.

20160108_Nancy_025cNancy Eberhardt is New Jersey director of Pro Bono Partnership and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. 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. Learn more here.

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

What Good Would You Do with $100 Million? Join us Thursday for our next Twitter Chat

Posted on by Meghan Jambor

100 Million Twitter Chat

Join us at 2 p.m. Thursday for a LIVE #BetterNJ Twitter chat to imagine the good you’d do with $100 million right here in the Garden State.

The MacArthur Foundation will award $100 million to an organization to solve a critical problem as part of its #100andchange challenge. It’s open to organizations working in any field anywhere.

So what issue would you tackle? Would it be ending homelessness through the arts? Cleaning up our waterways? Ensuring every child has access to the arts in their schools? Making your local library a hub for community?

Join the conversation and maybe you’ll spark an idea or meet a partner to work with when your organization is selected as the $100 million winner.

#BetterNJ Twitter Chat – What Would You Do With $100 Million?
Thursday, July 21, 2016
2:00 – 3:00 PM

We want to know:

  • What problem would you solve?
  • Is $100 million enough to do so?
  • Who would be your dream partner(s)?
  • What would success look like?
  • If you were the winner, how would you get started?

The 100 and Change challenge is open to any organization working anywhere. Applicants must identify both the problem they are trying to solve, as well as their proposed solution.

To be considered, grant seekers have until Sept. 2 to register and until Oct. 3 to submit a detailed proposal. A panel of experts from across sectors will choose finalists next summer.

According to the challenge rules:

  • No single field or problem area is designated; proposals from any sector are encouraged.
  • Proposals should articulate both the problem and the proposed solution, and must have a charitable purpose.
  • Competitive proposals will be meaningful, verifiable, durable, and feasible.

Why is the Dodge Foundation hosting a Twitter chat?

Simply, Twitter chats are about connecting and learning. It’s an easy way to hit pause in your work day from where ever you are and share ideas and best practices with peers from across the state.

Moreover, you never know what connections you’ll make or who’s reading, and it’s a great way to try out new tools and ways to reach your audiences.

All are welcome to join the chat. The more voices, the better the conversation!

Tips for Participating in a Twitter Chat:

  • Use Twitter to follow #betternj — or better yet, try at
  • Don’t be afraid to jump in!
  • Always use #betternj in your tweet
  • When the moderator asks the first question, it will begin with “Q1”. Be sure to respond by beginning your answer with “A1” and so on…
  • Chat with other participants by replying directing to them and RT if you’re digging their responses
  • Include a “.” in front of an @ like so [.@] if you want your tweet to show up in all feeds
  • Feel free to dip in and out of the chat
  • Be polite and positive
  • Follow up with people after the chat and keep the conversations going!

Set a reminder on your calendar to join us. We hope to see you on Twitter at 2 p.m. Thursday as @grdodge!

So, what could you do with $100 million?



Meghan Jambor is the Dodge Foundation’s communications manager. Follow her on Twitter @MeghanJambor.  


Posted in #BetterNJ Twitter Chat, News & Announcements, Philanthropy, Twitter chat | Tagged , , | Leave a comment