On the Road Again

Over the past two years, our grantees and their partners have collaborated to meet the emerging needs of their communities, and adapted as the pandemic upended the work they planned to accomplish with our funding and support. As Spring comes into full bloom, so are the South Jersey community-focused collaboratives selected for funding through NJHI’s Small Communities Forging Hyperlocal Data Collaboratives initiative. With populations of fewer than 50,000 residents, these 10 communities might be small, yet they are mighty. Resident leaders, advocates, nonprofit neighbors, school administrators, municipal agencies, youth, libraries, healthcare providers and public safety personnel have been sharing available local data to inform their efforts to close gaps in education, employment and access to healthy food and green spaces, bring generations together, build a sense of social connectedness and more. On a broader level, they are sharing their accomplishments, exchanging lessons learned and building both relationships across South Jersey and capacity to engage residents, community members and decision-makers in meaningful, long-term change.

Like their fellow NJHI grantees across the state, these South Jersey collaboratives continually seek the input of their partners and neighbors while they identify approaches to safely bring their communities together. We are excited and honored that two of these communities, Burlington City and Lawnside, recently invited us to visit their towns in person and see their commitment to ensuring everyone has what they need to live the healthiest life possible — providing the best reason for us to safely get on the road again.

Breaking Ground in Burlington City

In March, we toured the building of the future Villages Community Marketplace with residents from the New Yorkshire neighborhood and partners from the Burlington City Food Access Network (BC FAN) as they broke ground along East Federal Street. As data indicates that two of the four grocery stores in Burlington City are closed, and the city’s two remaining stores operate in inconvenient locations for families who lack access to reliable transportation, the community envisions the Villages Community Marketplace as a “grocer-aunt” where nutritious, affordable food is available, career pathways are unlocked, and the community comes together. Villages Community Marketplace will have the feel of a market in a hyperlocal setting. Project leaders say that while community members were initially hesitant about the project, meetings now buzz with hope. The BC FAN’s perspective on what community development looks like has shifted, and the energy of its planning meetings and the groundbreaking ceremony are proof of the impact residents and community partners can have when they collaborate on a shared vision. BC FAN is already thinking about sustainability and have leveraged their NJHI award to secure additional funding for their work. They are documenting all of their work to provide a model that can be replicated in other locations and communities.

All-Ages Programming in Lawnside

We met community elders and youth at the Wayne Bryant Community Center and heard them encourage each other – and us – as everyone embraced their inner artists during a recent painting party. It was rewarding to see the generations come together and as they grew more comfortable with each other, the conversations shifted from art to technology as some of the seniors began asking the youth for help in navigating the apps on their phones and devices. The painting party, in addition to movie nights, gardening activities and more are the Lawnside community team’s intergenerational approach to improving health and well-being by building a sense of connectedness among residents and establishing the town as a welcoming, age-friendly one. Lawnside’s municipal partners, school administrators, faith-based and nonprofit partners have shared their intent to advance their collaborative work by engaging youth as the leaders and planners of future activities with the seniors. Lawnside is one of a number of communities in New Jersey and the nation that have prioritized building connections between seniors and youth to improve health for everyone.

The work of our grantees and hundreds of their community partners has always been an inspiration, and will continue to be. Everyone, in every community, deserves an opportunity to thrive. Making sure that opportunity becomes a reality for future generations was long-term work even prior to the pandemic. It is our privilege to learn alongside these New Jerseyans and their fellow NJHI grantees as they balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s goals and lead with compassion for their communities, their colleagues, their neighbors, families and each other.

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