A New Chapter Together

NJHI 2020: Small Communities Forging Hyperlocal Data Collaboratives Burlington City Food Access Network

We laugh. We listen. We learn. We build. In the later part of October 2021, we began our community engagement meetings with the intent of welcoming community members to be a part of the solution and active in realizing a better state of health and health equity. The energy from these meetings has been nothing short of amazing. Success can be measured by transforming a community from hopeless to hopeful. We meet as a community one night each week at 8:15 p.m. During this hour-long conversation, we are very intentional with the flow and our direction from week to week, with goals and objectives outlined. It is our goal to design the look, feel and ultimately, the concept of what a community marketplace looks like in a hyperlocal setting. We are also careful to document our materials in this process to possibly replicate our efforts in potential locations/communities in the future.

Success can be measured by transforming a community
from hopeless to hopeful.

Villages Community Marketplace resident meetings have become more than a gathering of minds invested in the development and execution of a grocery store. At the onset of our meetings, residents and community members seemed a bit hesitant as to how this was all going to work. The common denominator of individual involvement began with Coach O, as our project director is affectionately known in the community, and the recognition of The Opportunity League. However, the word soon spread beyond the recruitment of our organization. After the first two weeks of our meetings, more community members started to recruit their friends, families, neighbors and colleagues for skills needed within our project. Now meetings have come alive, buzzing with life, energy, compassion and hope. They have become what members call “therapeutic.” That is, when members leave, they believe they have contributed to something bigger than themselves, utilized their strengths and explored their passions, and have been inspired by the love and connection we share. The true power of these meetings is found in the diversity of individuals. Every week, new members join from different walks of life, and they have incredible insight and experience to offer. We capitalize on this diversity to facilitate rich, robust conversations and action. Here is an overview of our community’s accomplishments:

  • First, we identified seven key focus areas needed to complete this project
  • Those seven key focus areas have been assigned dedicated teams that are committed to researching information, soliciting input, or whatever are the necessary next steps
  • We have developed and distributed motivational and informative media by way of YouTube and MasterClasses
  • We have mapped out four tiers of fundraising initiatives
  • We started developing our social media presence 
  • Currently, we are planning a celebration for when we break ground in the first quarter of 2022

These community meetings have shifted our perspective on what community development looks like. They help us understand that true power lies in the ability to connect, motivate, listen to and mobilize our community. As a result, we know now more than ever, that the project we set out to accomplish is both welcome in the community and achievable. 

In addition, throughout November, our Dream Team collected hundreds of canned goods and non-perishable items, thanks to the help of generous community members and the participants in The Opportunity League’s youth programs. Adults and students had the opportunity to give back to their community by providing baskets and serving hot meals to more than 300 individuals and families in Burlington City, Camden and Pemberton, New Jersey. New partnerships were strengthened with our local administration and community members, and new relationships have been forged with the Heart of the City, Ruff Ryders Motorcycle Club of Burlington County, the Deputy Mayor of Evesham and several others.

As we look toward what 2022 has to offer, we are extremely grateful for the opportunities and resources this initiative has provided our community. More importantly, we recognize the inspiration a collaborative effort like this creates and the method in which this project has been managed should be replicated for future funding programs. That said, we invite our co-creators, neighboring communities and partners at New Jersey Health Initiatives and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to attend our groundbreaking event for the Villages Community Marketplace this spring and witness the power of collective hope.

Seigha and Shenee Omuso
The Opportunity League