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  • Vanesa Pinto

Long Branch Comes Together in 2021

What a great year we had! Of course, this affirmation sounds so ironic considering that we are still suffering the effects and consequences of a global pandemic. However, there has been a learning curve that we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. For example, failure to see the costs of not having real neighborhood relationships has been the primary cause of weak communities and, this weakness has been eroding our ability to lead productive and satisfying lives.

Most of us have been feeling “neighborless,” individuals occupying space in an anonymous place. We don’t really know the people who live around us, except to say “hello.” Our children have been affected as well. If we really think that “It takes a village to raise a child,” unfortunately, we are going to have to call them “villageless” children since they have been feeling the isolation and disconnection to the world they knew.

Due to these circumstances and our new reality in the middle of a pandemic, we had to be strong, supportive with one another, more vocal and proactive when it comes to creating better living conditions in Long Branch, which were neglected even before the pandemic.

With active participation (planning, executing, evaluating, etc.) from community members, during 2021, we have been able to:

1) Conduct a weekly food distribution in our neighborhood since June 2020. We currently distribute to 340 families each week. Adult and teenage volunteers have been tirelessly working together to help their neighbors every week.

2) Conducted two community clean-ups (January and October) where children, youth, and adults were organized in teams to clean different places around the New Hampshire Estates area.

3) Participate and help organize a field trip and play days (January and December) for our youth. They not only had the opportunity to play, interact and socialize, but they also enjoyed an afternoon at Brookside Nature Center where they learned about natural habitats and why/how we should care about them.

4) Listen to community members share their thoughts and opinions during listening sessions, focus groups, and community meetings organized throughout the year. Adults and youth have been actively sharing their feedback regarding what is relevant and important, or what really interests them so CHEER can support their agenda.

5) Host two community advocacy walks (May and September) with government agency heads and elected officials. Community members presented current key problems in the community that require urgent attention from government agencies, politicians, and other institutions.

6) Meet with authorities and politicians to work on the follow-up of agreements and promises that have been made during advocacy walks.

I have been living in Long Branch since 2002. I never before felt all the attention and spotlight that we have been getting lately in the news and county media network.

More importantly, the improvements are tangible. They might not be advancing at the pace we would like it to go but, there are improvements. From the Montgomery Country Recreation Department, we have been getting interesting opportunities of programs and activities for our families and youth, including free passes for the Long Branch pool. More programming is to come, even in winter and even offering transportation for those who need it in case the program is conducted in other locations. From Montgomery Parks, there have been community festivals and fun activities for youth and children, reactivating local parks in Long Branch. From the Department of Environmental Protection, we have the presentation of a big project where seven of our parks will be renovated and improved. They even opened lines of communication for the community to have their feedback on what they would like to see in the parks. From the Department of Transportation, sidewalks have been replaced and fixed, some signs have been installed.

There is much more to do. There’s much more to advocate for. This change wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the participation and leadership of community members.

Once we saw the need for a strong, connected, productive local community, our basic building blocks were the skills, gift, passion, and knowledge of all our neighbors. It is these neighborly capacities that are often unknown to us. It is making these capacities visible and connected that is the basic task of a functioning 21st century … beyond assumptions.


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