Giving Tuesday: Jersey Style

After Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, a very important day in the holiday season takes place – Giving Tuesday. Started in 2011, #GivingTuesday is an international day of charitable giving at the beginning of the Christmas season – a time of year that has become all too focused on commercialism.

giving-tuesdayThere are a wide variety of worthwhile charities around the world. However, I would like to bring a few charities with a focus on New Jersey to your attention.

Arts Ed NJ: The arts are an important part of our culture. I regularly write about the importance of arts and music in school. I am the person I am because of the arts experiences I had throughout my public school education. Arts Ed NJ (previously the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership) was established in 2007 with the mission to provide a unified voice for a diverse group of constituents who agree on the educational benefits and impact of the arts, specifically the contribution they make to student achievement and a civilized, sustainable society.

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference: I love the outdoors. Fly fishing, hiking, nature photography – it is all important. After spending some time standing in a river or stream fly fishing, I feel renewed. Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with and supported parks by creating, protecting, and promoting over 2,150 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. Over 2,400 Trail Conference volunteers donate more than 100,000 hours of labor annually to keep these trails open, safe, and free for the public to enjoy. We also publish maps and books to safely guide the public through our trails. The Trail Conference is a nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs that have a combined membership of over 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.

A Helping Wing Rescue: Recently, my husband and I lost our beloved cockatiel after 22 years. We couldn’t just throw out his cage, unused treats, and carrier. So we decided the best way to honor him was to help out a bird rescue and donate everything. When it was time to bring his things to A Helping Wing Rescue, we saw first-hand how much this team cares for the birds that live there. These special birds all deserve homes. But while they are there, their team can all use help they can get.

NJ Italian Heritage Commission: I am an American, a New Jerseyan, and a proud descendant of Italian heritage. New Jersey was a hub of Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century and my family was among them. Although Italian Americans played an integral role in our nation’s development, many of their positive contributions are being forgotten and overshadowed by the unending negative stereotypes in the media. The NJ Italian Heritage Commission works to educate individuals about the important contributions those of Italian heritage made to New Jersey and America. It also works to promote Italian studies in school – an area of study and research that has continued to drop in recent years.

These are just a few of the worthwhile organizations in New Jersey. I hope you will consider them when deciding on where to make a donation on Giving Tuesday. No matter where you decide to donate, make sure it is something close to your heart. Also make sure it is worthy of your money. If you can’t make a donation, consider donating your time.

 

Get Ready for Small Business Saturday

Small Business SaturdayThis week officially kicks off the holiday season. Thanksgiving on Thursday, then Black Friday, and finally Small Business Saturday. I have never participated on Black Friday. Think about it – people get up at the crack of dawn to fight each other for a deal on a big screen television the day after they gave thanks for what they have.

Small business Saturday, however, is definitely something worth remembering. Do the big box stores sponsor your child’s softball team? Probably not. The local bagel shop, however, takes what happens in the community to heart. These business owners are our neighbors and friends. They deserve our support.

Every neighborhood and town offers great small business. I hope you will consider patronizing them as well during this holiday season:

Respectrum Books: Thankfully, independently-owned book stores are making a HUGE comeback. Respectrum Books is a great book shop in the town of Sussex that offers  new, used, and rare books covering a variety of subjects to inspire and inform. A carefully selected book is a wonderful gift!

Trinity Thrift Shop: I absolutely love going to thrift shops. And there are few thrift shops that are better than Trinity Thrift in Hackettstown. Run by Trinity Church, the shop offers a wide variety of unique items. I have picked up antique cameras there as well as Lenox china. Some may not thing shopping in a thrift shop is proper, but if you are looking for something specific or special, check out Trinity Thrift.

Gallery D’May: Whenever we head down the shore, we always make sure to stop in Gallery D’May. It is a favorite place for all things shore art. I have a piece we purchased them in my office. It reminds me every day of the beauty of Cape May.

Surprises in Store: From candles, to platters, to hostess gifts, Surprises in Store in Denville is one of my favorite and unique shops. They offer lovely and unique gifts for the hard to purchase individual on your list.

These are just a few of the many wonderful individually-owned shops throughout New Jersey. I hope you will considering “shopping small” this Saturday.

Researching History Using High-Tech

In my last post, I shared the story of a centuries-old dwelling in Paramus that is in danger of being torn down. I opined about my concerns when it comes to preserving New Jersey’s past. Well, I am happy to share a story about trying to learn more about individuals in unmarked graves in one of the oldest cemeteries in the country. And I am proud to say it is in my hometown of Belleville.

A team of researchers from Rutgers are using high-tech equipment, including ground penetrating radar, to search for Chinese immigrants possibly buried in the basement of the Belleville Dutch Reformed Church. This church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Reformed Dutch Church of Second River, was founded in 1697. The church was rebuilt in 1725 and again in 1807. The current church building was built in 1853.

belleville_reformed_church.jpg

Belleville Dutch Reformed Church Photo by Jim.henderson – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58082293

Throughout its history, this church has been a place of significance. During the American Revolution, the church’s steeple was used as an observation post. There are over 62 Revolutionary soldiers buried in the adjacent graveyard – the most of any cemetery in the country. It was also used as a stop on the Underground Railroad, which helped those enslaved in the south find freedom as they traveled north.

Later on, Chinese immigrants made Belleville their home. Those immigrants believed to be buried on the church grounds worked on the Trans-Atlantic Railroad. After the work was complete, the immigrants returned to Belleville because of its growing Chinese community. Belleville was home to the original “Chinatown” in the United States. Earlier this year a marker was placed at the church to serve as a memorial to those who helped build the railroad and, in turn, expand America.

I am proud to call Belleville my hometown and am excited to learn what is discovered on the property of the Reformed Dutch Church of Second River.

The Importance of Protecting New Jersey History

As one of the original 13 colonies, New Jersey has a long and rich history. In 1620, a trading post was established at the site of Bergen, New Jersey, which would later be developed as the first permanent white settlement in the area.

Van Dien-Ruffgarten House

The Van Dien-Ruffgarten House in Paramus. The Paramus Planning Board is discussing a demolition permit for the site on Nov. 7. (Photo: Stephanie Noda/NorthJersey.com)

As time marches on, however, many of our oldest buildings are in danger of being wiped off the face of the map. In 2017, historians and concerned residents in Bellmawr, New Jersey, woke up to find the Revolutionary War-era home they had been trying to save had been destroyed at dawn by a construction crew, just one day after an attorney representing a group working to save the home filed a lawsuit to prevent the house’s demolition. Why? To expand a highway. The home that stood on that site since 1744 was razed before the process played out in court.

Each year Preservation New Jersey releases a statement of the 10 most endangered historical sites in the state. In 2016, one of the site listed was the Van Dien-Ruffgarten House in Paramus. This property is now one step closer to demolition. The Paramus Planning Board recognized a request by 113-117 West Midland Avenue LLC for a demolition permit for the site, 117 W. Midland Ave., at its meeting earlier this week.

The Van Dien-Ruffgarten House sits on a valuable nine-acre lot and is one of six remaining examples of a Jersey Dutch stone house in the borough. Built between the 1840s and 1850s, the one-room stone portion of the home was said to be occupied by members of a small enclave of educated and independent African-Americans.

Over the past several years, the Bergen County Historical Society Historic Preservation Committee has tried to negotiate in good faith with the town in an effort to save the centuries-old building.

We are now on the precipice of seeing another historical site demolished in our beloved state. If we aren’t careful there won’t be anything of our history left.

So what can we do?

We can let our government officials know how important these locations are to us. We can support our historical societies. We can attend planning meetings whenever historical sites will be discussed. We can continue to learn about and support our historical sites.

Don’t let Paramus eliminate an important part of New Jersey history.

Ramblin’ Around: Jersey Events this Weekend

In the fall there are plenty of weekend festivals. It seems like the third weekend of October are always full of great events. There are three specific festivals I would like to share with you.

StLucysThe Feast of St. Gerard: Saint Lucy’s Church on Seventh Avenue in Newark is the home of the National Shrine of St. Gerard. He was born in Muro, a small town in the South of Italy on April 6, 1726 and is the patron saint of expectant mothers. In the second half of 1890s, the predominant immigrant groups in the First Ward were coming from the Province of Avellino. They came with a sense religious life deeply expressed in a love for St. Gerard, who lived in the Province of Avellino during eighteenth-century. In 1899, immigrants from Caposele, Italy introduced the annual feast in honor of St. Gerard, who died October 16, 1755. In 1977, St. Gerard’s chapel in St. Lucy’s Church was dedicated as a national shrine.

Members of my family, like thousands of other families who trace their heritage through Italy, pay homage to St. Gerard each October during the Church’s multi-day feast. I remember fondly the first feast I attended with my cousin and Goddaughter. No matter where those families move, they all come back the weekend of October 16th to pray and pay respect.

If you have never been to St. Lucy’s or the Feast of St. Gerard, I highly recommend a visit. Sit quietly in the church. Take in the beautiful statues. Light a candle for your loved ones. And grab a sausage and pepper sandwich before you head home.

welcomepiratessign-smSeton Hall University Weekend: From the moment I walked onto the campus of Seton Hall University my senior year, I felt like I was home. And every time I’m on the campus since then, the feeling is still the same. I’ve written about Seton Hall Weekend before. It is a great event. I love sitting on the green, meeting the current students, and shopping in the bookstore. The last time I went to Seton Hall Weekend, I met current sorority sisters from Alpha Gamma Delta. I had a great time chatting with them in the library. There are a variety of events that take place during the multi-day event, including an art exhibit at Walsh Library, music performances, and carnival games.

Chester Harvest Celebration: The two-day Chester Harvest Celebration is currently in its 36th year. Originally know as Black River, Chester pre-dates the birth of our nation. Many of the original buildings are still on the main street and are now home to wonderful shops and restaurants. The Chester Harvest Celebration includes demonstrations of the way things used to be, including a blacksmith demonstration and apple pressing.

These are just three examples of all the great events that are taking place around the state. Check out many others on the New Jersey Monthly website.

Fall Festivals: Jersey Style

Van Ripers Farm

10/22/1975 Woodcliff Lake. The witches, ghosts, and goblins are making a return visit at Van Riper’s Farm in Woodcliff Lake as Holloween draws near. Photo Credit: Peter Monsees

Many people look forward to fall. The turning of the leaves. Picking pumpkins. Apple cider donuts. It helps make the thought of the cold winter on the way much more tolerable. As a child, I fondly remember going to Van Ryper Farms in Woodcliff Lake, carefully passing the scary witch, to pick the perfect family pumpkin and bring home a bag of hot cider donuts. Sadly, as Joni Mitchell laments, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Thankfully, there are still many great fall festivals up and down the Garden State. From the food and drink to pumpkins and cider, New Jersey has something for everyone! Here are some to wonderful events for everyone in the family.

Fall Fest Food Truck and Music Festival, Wildwood

Many times I have shared stories about my love of Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. Well, the fun “down the shore” doesn’t end on Labor Day. The Fall Fest Food Truck and Music Festival takes place on September 21st. This years Fall Fest will take place in Fox Park, from 11am – 4pm. There is a “kids zone” for the little ones and plenty of great food and music!

Fall Festival & Classic Car Show, Union

Enjoy some chili while checking out beautiful classic cars at the Fall Festival & Classic Car Show in Union. This is a relatively new event and takes place at Stuyvesant Ave from Vauxhall Rd. to the Cannon and it sounds like a lot of fun!

Cranberry Fest 2019, Bordentown City

The history of cranberries is older than the recorded history of America. Long before the first European settlers arrived, the Indians not only ate cranberries, but also used them as medicine and clothing dye. New Jersey is one of the top farming locations in the country for our this little tart berry. The Cranberry Fest in Bordentown City is in its 30th year and offers over 150 crafters, artists and vendors, and 40,000 visitors annually.

Bloomfield 2019 Harvest Fest

Right nearby my beloved home town of Belleville is the Bloomfield 2019 Harvest Fest. This wonderful event includes the best food from local restaurants, rides, and even a petting zoo for the kids!

So what are your favorite festivals?

 

 

9-11: Our Responsibility to the Next Generation

It seems each generation had a moment solidified in time.

Pearl Harbor

The assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We now add 9-11 to that list.

The children graduation high school this year were not alive when this day happened. Just like the generations before us, we have a responsibility. A responsibility to teach them about this day. To share our feelings and verbal histories. Make sure they understand what happened, what we felt, and how we stood together.

Nearly 700 of New Jersey’s own were lost on that day; and one from my hometown of Belleville: Antoinette Duger, age 44. There are over 150 memorials around New Jersey to remember those souls we lost that day.

9-11 memorialThe company I worked for at the time lost two of our own: Andrew Curry Green and Jeffrey Peter Mladenik. One of our colleagues lost a sister: Jeanette Louise Lafond-Menichino. Two other colleagues were on a flight that morning. Thankfully, they were not on any of the flights that met their fate that day. I remember us scrambling around, looking for their flight information. Calling their cell phones, not knowing until they called us to say they were on the ground and safe.

For those of us who were alive on this day 18 years ago, it is a day frozen in time. It was a morning much like today. Blue sky, pillow-like white clouds, warm, sunny, beautiful.

Then everything changed.

I think about a lot of things this morning. The heart aches for those who lost a family member, a loved one, a friend, a colleague. I think about the man I interviewed with many years ago after the first terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. He told me the job was not work from home. I would need to be in the office every day. I told him I wasn’t concerned because “lightning doesn’t strike twice.” I wonder if he was still working there. I wonder if he made it out. I think about my partner in crime from high school. How her father made it out alive. And I thank God he did.

Those of us who lived through this day 18 years ago have a responsibility to share with this new generation. To make sure we never forget.