Plant A Tree and Schedule a Home Energy Check-Up

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey

Earth Day To-Do List

Sustainable Jersey logo

With Earth Day earlier this week, New Jersey Green Teams have been in full swing hosting green fairs and events to encourage community members to live more sustainably. With over 120 sustainability actions in the Sustainable Jersey certification program, we have a lot of ways for municipalities to become more sustainable. Here are a few ideas to get your personal Earth Day to-do list started.

Plant a Tree

In order to replace trees damaged and destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, the New Jersey Community Tree Recovery Campaign is kicking-off a multi-year campaign that will give away 500,000 trees to New Jersey residents.

This spring, 120,000 seedling trees are being distributed to residents in 18 counties to pave the way for restoration of New Jersey’s community forests for years to come. Sustainable Jersey connected our participating communities with the campaign to find municipalities and Green Teams to distribute the trees to the public. Seedlings are available on a first-come first-served basis; they come with instructions on how to store, care for and plant.

The Tree Recovery Campaign is a joint effort between the New Jersey State Forestry Service’s Community Forestry Program, the New Jersey Forest Nursery, New Jersey Soil Conservation Districts, Sustainable Jersey and the Arbor Day Foundation. Financial support for the program is being provided by the Arbor Day Foundation.

If you are interested in getting a free tree to plant, check the distribution events for a location near you:  Tree Giveaway Schedule.

Trees are unarguably amazing, but if you need a list of benefits here are a few: trees improve the look of neighborhood and shopping districts, increase property values, reduce home cooling costs, produce oxygen, remove air pollutants, reduce water runoff and provide wildlife habitat. With your help, we can restore the delicate tree and shoreline balance that makes New Jersey so unique.

Give Your House an Energy Check-Up

It’s time to schedule a check-up for a large energy consumer–your home.  Your home is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In New Jersey, the residential sector accounts for about 17 percent of the carbon emissions profile for the state as a whole.

The first step to make your home more energy efficient is to have an audit. Energy audits or assessments help you discover where and how your home is using energy inefficiently, and what can be done. The advantage of making changes to improve your home’s energy efficiency is that many of the changes do not involve a dramatic altering of your lifestyle. For example, changing your water heater temperature or sealing your windows is easy to do and has a big impact. You will save hundreds of pounds in carbon dioxide emissions.

You can find a professional energy auditor who, for a reasonable fee, will conduct a detailed audit of your home and use specialized equipment, like a blower door or an infrared camera, to find even the hard-to-detect problem areas. It takes about 3-4 hours and you are provided with customized recommendations and a plan to implement the changes.

The New Jersey Clean Energy Program has a rebate and loan program called Home Performance with ENERGY STAR to help homeowners implement the energy improvements. You can find a contractor to conduct the audit on the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR site or participate in one of the municipally led programs listed below.

Sustainable Jersey has two certification actions that guide municipalities through the process of creating a Town-Wide Home Energy Assessment Program and/or doing outreach to promote the program.  Four Sustainable Jersey towns have done exemplary work by implementing a town-wide home energy assessment program and providing a recommended energy audit contractor.  Highland Park, Woodbridge, Princeton and Glen Rock are working with a preferred home energy assessment provider that is currently offering a $49.00 home energy assessment.

Highland Park (Middlesex County): Sustainable Highland Park did one of the first pilot programs in 2012. Over the 15 month “In Our Power Highland Park” campaign, over 250 homes had audits performed with more than 60 homes implementing the recommended upgrades. Although the official program has ended, Highland Park residents can still take advantage of the $49.00 home energy assessment with the preferred energy audit contractor.

Woodbridge (Middlesex County): Greenable Woodbridge’s Home Energy Assessment Program has proven so successful that the town is planning a three year extension of the program. If you are a Woodbridge Township homeowner, you should learn more about the comprehensive home energy assessment available for $49.00. Watch this episode of Greenable Woodbridge that discusses the program: video link.

Princeton (Mercer County): Sustainable Princeton’s Energy Smart Homes Campaign started in 2013 and over 60 home audits have been done for residents’ homes with six homes completing upgrades.  Princeton is also working with a preferred energy contractor that is offering a $49.00 comprehensive home energy assessment for its residents.

Glen Rock (Bergen County): Last month Glen Rock launched their program called Energy Smart Rock Homes and already over a dozen residents have signed up for audits. Glen Rock is also working with a preferred energy contractor that is offering a $49.00 comprehensive home energy assessment for its residents.

When you lower your energy use, you not only save money, but you help the environment by reducing pollution and greenhouse gases that are created by burning fuels and by the production of electricity.  Individual choices can have an impact, and getting your home an energy audit and then implementing the improvements can have a significant impact.

Support Sustainable Jersey

You can also make a difference with a donation of your time or money! Consider making a donation to Sustainable Jersey this Earth Day to support sustainability in the State of New Jersey.  Or, if you are interested in joining a Green Team, visit the participating communities’ page to see if your town is registered with Sustainable Jersey. Select your town’s profile and then reach out to the person listed as your town’s Sustainable Jersey contact. If you need help connecting with a Green Team, contact us at

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4 Questions for: Wendy Liscow

Posted on by Dodge

This is our second installment of our new regular feature on the blog: interviews with Dodge staff. We’re going to check in with what they’re learning and thinking about as they visit with nonprofits around the state, and we’ll pepper them with a few fun questions too. We welcome your questions and feedback!

First up is Wendy Liscow, Program Director, Education.

Is there something that you’re particularly excited about?

I am very excited about and energized by the Dodge Foundation’s new Education guidelines and our board’s commitment to making New Jersey a national leader in arts education. While we have long invested in the arts and supported opportunities for children to be exposed to quality arts experiences, our new guidelines look to strengthen the system that will ultimately create and sustain a sequential and comprehensive approach to arts education and make the arts available to every child in our state.

Our new approach requires the development of working relationships with superintendents in order to achieve more sustainable and systemic results. If we can help districts develop comprehensive arts education strategic plans then maybe arts education programming will be less susceptible to the vagaries of budget cuts, staffing changes, and test-constrained scheduling. I am especially excited about a recent grant to the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership which will help them offer direct support services to school districts (including the development of arts education strategic plans) and strengthen the entire arts education sector.

I am looking forward to working with all our current and future grantees to really move the needle in the arts education arena.

How do you nurture creativity in your job and in your life?
I love this question! In fact, the exploration of this question is one of the reasons that the Dodge Foundation helped establish Creative New Jersey. (Creative NJ’s new website is under construction, but you can still check out their mission and vision…it is inspirational.) Every New Jersey citizen should be asking themselves this question, and if they are coming up with a blank or find they rely on passive creativity injections such as reading or television/movie viewing, I would challenge them to find a way to exercise their creative muscles by making something. It doesn’t have to be art-making. It could be gardening or cooking with an awareness of the creative process involved in the effort instead of doing the act in a state of drudgery and obligation.

When I look for inspiration to get my creative juices flowing I have used three resources: 365: A Daily Creativity Journal and Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work & in your Studio from Noah Scalin creator of the Skull-A-Day project. Check out his books and blog for artistic jolt. I am also a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. This book has helped millions of people unlock their creativity in both simple and profound ways.

As often as possible (and not as much as I would like) I attend a writing group under the expert guidance of writing coach and workshop leader, Deb Cooperman. We spend three hours responding to writing prompts and reading our pieces to each other in an atmosphere of pure support and encouragement. This is not a group focused on critique and editing; this is a group dedicated to tickling and nurturing our muses. It is the opposite of the highly self-edited and scrutinized writing I do for work. If you have ever wondered about joining a writing group, Deb’s group is open to all.

The benefits of this group writing experience are similar to the ones I used to get when I was disciplined to write Julia Cameron’s prescribed “morning pages.” Cameron calls them the “bedrock of creative recovery.” Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Julia is clear that “there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages–they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. “ It is time well spent and it is the first thing I recommend to friends, family, and myself when feeling stuck.

What books / magazines / e-books are on your (real or virtual) nightstand?
I am reading Yes, Yes, Good: the HeART of Teaching by Cheryl Hulteen. It is an important book that every superintendent, principal, teacher and parent should read. Ms. Hulteen is an outstanding teaching artist and trainer of educators. In this book she shares her experience at a Harlem school where she used improvisation techniques to reinvigorate teachers and get disenfranchised students to engage in authentic learning. She teaches the improvisational principles of “Yes, Yes, Good” which in a nutshell are: I say “yes” to your ideas, you say “yes” to my ideas, and above all else, we make each other look good. Imagine the implications of this in a classroom! I have seen her turn around the culture of classrooms and schools with her process. An added bonus: the story Cheryl tells is a page turner.

What are some of your favorite media sites/resources?
It seems like I am injecting more news into my life than ever before. I get the Star Ledger and the New York Times at my doorstep and on all my electronic devices. On my way to and from work, and traveling to grantee site visits, I am listening to NPR on the radio. When I fire up my email every morning I get a curated round-up from the NJ News Commons and WNYC Morning Brief. And because I want to guarantee that I always have a dose of positive news or inspiration to start my day, I subscribe to the Then, of course, I use my twitter feed to get recommendations from my twitter experts/friends who have been busy devouring news from hundreds of other sources.

Education Week keeps me up to speed on what is going on in the national education scene and NJ is a go-to source for local New Jersey education updates.

Regarding creativity resources, I rely on the National Creativity Network’s weekly listing of creativity and innovation quotes, videos, events and articles of interest. I recommend you get on their mailing list. There have been dwindling means to get information about New Jersey’s great arts and arts education happenings, so I am very grateful for NJTV’s wonderful new The Arts Project series anchored by Maddie Orton and Susan Haig’s NJ Arts News.

Posted in Arts, Arts Advocacy, Arts Education, Education, Philanthropy | 2 Comments

Big News Next Tuesday!

Posted on by Dodge

We will have some major Dodge Poetry Festival announcements to share with you next week! Stay tuned for information on the 2014  poet lineup, special events, ticket sales, special hotel rates and much more!

Keep in touch on social media with Facebook, Twitter #DPF14, and Instagram, or sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a Festival announcement!

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Spring into Action—Celebrate the Arts and Thrive!

Posted on by Ann Marie Miller, Executive Director, Art Pride NJ Foundation

Daffodils are blooming and arts events are filling calendars all the way until the first day of summer. We’ve survived an exceedingly long and demanding winter season, so now is the time to get out of the office, network with colleagues and renew your perspective and energy!

Two events not to be missed are Arts Day on May 1 in Trenton and the Thrive 2014 arts conference on June 5 at Princeton University.  Arts Day activities are condensed this year to create less of a demand on busy workday schedules, so the celebration commences at 2 pm with ArtPride NJ’s annual membership meeting.  This is the perfect opportunity to learn what New Jersey’s state arts advocacy organization has been up to on behalf of the non-profit arts industry.  From intensive grassroots advocacy campaigns to programs that help arts groups perform at maximum capacity, attendees will get the lowdown on what is new and on the horizon.  Following last year’s abbreviated but highly successful Creative Convening coordinated by Creative NJ, speaker Faisal Hoque will help Arts Day attendees gain a more personal perspective on how to lead in this age of creativity, innovation and sustainability.  Faisal, an entrepreneur and author of Everything Connects, is no slouch and commends, “To be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to jump into the deep end…”  As arts groups are increasingly embracing the entrepreneurial business model, Faisal is certain to offer inspirational insight based on his own far reaching experiences.  Arts Day continues with Awards to Distinguished Arts Advocates, a Movers & Shakers reception for Advocate members, and wraps up with even more inspiration as the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership presents the 34th Annual Governor’s Awards in Arts Education to a host of well deserving and talented students and adults. Please join us in Trenton for this statewide arts celebration!

On June 5 at the Friends Center of Princeton University, over 200 arts professionals will convene at the 2014 Thrive arts conference  to discuss the ever-present issue of how New Jersey’s arts community can  use data to best advantage. We are all engaged in using social media, analytics, statistics, data mapping and visualization, but we also have organizational capacity limitations that include both time and human resources.  Thrive  will offer practical ways to make these tools work in the most challenging of environments and provide focus to using and managing data in light of swiftly changing technology.  Andy Goodman of the Goodman Center will help establish the direct connection between data and storytelling and attendees will also hear about current national research from Sunil Iyengar of the National Endowment for the Arts and about New Jersey’s changing demographic from Patrick Murray of Monmouth University’s Polling Institute.  There’s much more to 2014 Thrive, so be sure to check out the full day’s offerings and register now!

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

The Power of Voice – Reflections on the GIH Conference

Posted on by Michael Bzdak, Executive Director, Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson

I learned a great deal about the power of voice last month in Atlanta. Many funders use their voice and influence to: improve the livability of our communities; search for game-changing ideas; test new program models; and demonstrate philanthropy’s unique power to coalesce resources around an issue. As Faith Mitchell, the President and CEO of GIH (Grantmakers in Health) reminds us, “Voice is one of the most important non-financial tools foundations can use to support change.”

Michael Bzdak speaks at the GIH Conference

Globally, there are a small number of membership organizations that have the power to convene health funders. Since Johnson & Johnson has been a long-term GIH member, we try to participate regularly in these convenings to share our work and to learn about the work of others. We appreciate that GIH provides a forum to be inspired, learn new things, train our voices and to make new funder friends.

Since the theme of this year’s meeting was The Power of Voice, we proposed a session to highlight the voices of our community partners. Fortunately, our session “Transforming Health Leaders into Change Agents” was selected and we were able to invite four community healthcare leaders from three of our leadership programs.

Francis Afram-Gyening at GIH Conference

Our primary reason for designing a session was to highlight the issues of leadership and management development as a means to empower leaders across diverse sectors including early childhood health/education, K-12 school health settings, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), Community Health Centers, and Community-Based Organizations working on disease-specific issues. Our four partners/panelists explained how participation in these Johnson & Johnson-funded training programs gave voice to them as individual leaders, and to the agencies they lead and the populations/communities they serve.

We believe that equipping individual health professionals with the leadership and management skills to actualize personal voice within their organization will ultimately deliver better health outcomes among their targeted populations.

As our partners shared their stories of increased confidence, personal success and leadership victories, it was clear to me that their voices were hard to ignore. It was also apparent to me and to the audience that they developed their own powerful voices in order to speak for those without a voice.

As Faith Mitchell pointed out, “…not every important story gets told—or the hearing it deserves. Too often, it is the stories of unserved and underserved families and communities that we do not hear. Too often, they are voiceless.”

As an Executive Director of Corporate Contributions at Johnson & Johnson, Michael Bzdak manages the Corporation’s building healthcare capacity initiatives throughout the world.  He is also responsible for the Corporation’s volunteer support program as well as managing the metrics and evaluation efforts of Contributions team.   Michael has been an employee of Johnson & Johnson since 1990.

He serves on the Council on Foundations Corporate Committee, the Conference Board’s Business/Education Council, as well as New Jersey’s Governor’s Advisory Council on Volunteerism and Community Service and just completed a term as chairman of the New Jersey AIDS Partnership Advisory Committee.  Additionally, he has served on the board of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation as well as the New Jersey Council for the Humanities where he completed a term as chairman of the board of directors.  Michael is also an adjunct professor at Rutgers University as well as New York University.

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