Raising Social Consciousness Through Community Service

Posted on by Donna Drewes, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

Sustainable Jersey partners with the Bonner Institute

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Middletown’s Murray Pond: Wading in and getting dirty

Do you know who serves on Sustainable Jersey green teams, task forces and the Board of Trustees? Volunteers do; committed and dynamic people from communities across New Jersey. They are the backbone of our program and the sustainability movement. It’s definitely in our best interest to find ways to develop and support the next generation of active citizens.

Sustainable Jersey and the Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at The College of New Jersey have joined forces to provide an opportunity for participating Sustainable Jersey communities to enlist students from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) to support the municipality’s green team on a specific project. To date, nearly 200 students have supported New Jersey sustainability efforts. Below are highlights from a few of the projects done this spring.

On April 25, 2015, a group of eight TCNJ students and three Bonner students assisted Sustainable Middletown with the stabilization of a pond in Poricy Park.

Students waded into Murray Pond to establish stable shores and habitats for plant and animal life.

“For the many visitors to the Park, it looks like someone may have waved a magic wand to have caused such a dramatic transformation in such a short period of time…we truly hope that the students are able to include this experience as one of the memorable moments of their life and that they will continue to make a difference and seek out opportunities to do so,” said Joyce Ferejohn, the executive director of the Poricy Park Conservancy. And, most likely, these students will continue to make a difference. Youth who take part in volunteering activities become more involved in their communities and tend to care more about what happens in those communities. Often, students who have participated in community service will grow up and remain involved in their communities throughout their lives.

In Washington Township, Hunterdon County, another group of students assisted with park development. On April 18, 2015, a group of ten TCNJ students and three Bonners assisted Sustainable Washington in clearing brush and planting trees at a future park site. As Gary Pohorely, vice chair of the Washington Planning Board, remarked afterwards, “It was a pleasure having the students and I’m glad to see young people interested in helping out.”

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Haddon Heights Borough: Taking a good look at the trees
On April 18, 2015, a group of 20 TCNJ students and five Bonner students assisted Sustainable Haddon Heights to conduct a tree inventory. A tree hazard inventory identifies tree hazards and evaluates risks posed by structural defects, disease and pests to the community tree resources.

The inventory is an invaluable tool to manage municipal tree care programs. With this work, the community service activities brought student learning beyond the classroom. The students were trained how to measure tree height and identify species and then logged the information into a central database.

Sustainable Haddon Heights will use the information to help the municipality with Sustainable Jersey certification actions including: i-Tree Assessment of Municipal Trees (10 pts), Tree Hazard Inventory (10 pts), Climate Adaptation-Flooding Risk (20 pts) and Natural Resources Inventory (20 pts).

Borough of Madison: Establishing a forest garden guild
On April 25, 2015, a group of 18 TCNJ students and three Bonner students assisted Sustainable Madison in developing a newly established recreational and educational area. The total restoration project covers 20-acres, with six acres of deciduous wetlands and fourteen acres of a mature deciduous forest.

The students began their service with a walk through the area to get a feel for the totality of the overall project. Next, they were provided with a demonstration of proper tree planting and an explanation of the basics of using seven distinct layers of the forest to support biodiversity of flora and fauna. Each plant in a forest garden guild functions to provide benefits to the entire grouping of plants. The garden as a whole benefits the surrounding area, the wildlife and the human function of food production.

The students cleared brush, planted seedlings and trees and helped start a project to establish a forest garden guild. Stephan Stocker, Madison Environmental Commission member and a dedicated volunteer reported, “I believe they all had a good time and many of them now know how to plant young seedlings and horseradish. The impact of this project will advance our reforestation efforts in the area and augment the property’s ability to support wildlife and species biodiversity. The students helped the property better recharge the Buried Valleys Aquifer system from which Madison gets its water. To me this is an exciting moment. It marks the first step in the restoration process that will take five years to show tangible results.”

The Sustainable Jersey and Bonner Institute partnership is a great example of how working together makes all of our collective actions better. Thank you to the students that worked hard and for the green teams that supported and mentored them. As face-to-face social connections seem to be losing to virtual ones, I see this partnership as a win for the power of community service and volunteers!

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