Community Re-Engaged

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

We are not finished with this pandemic, or maybe I should say that the pandemic is not yet finished with us, but it sure feels as if most of us have moved on. Maybe it’s the amount of time that has passed since Covid-19 overwhelmed us, maybe it’s the pace of the vaccine rollout, or that nagging sense that masks and virtual meetings are now our new way of life. Whatever it is, we’ll never quite be the same, but we’re adjusting.

One thing we have to reacquaint ourselves with is our sense of community. It’s not that we lost it, but it went underground over the past year and we’ve had far less of those events and opportunities where we can nurture our sense of community and civic pride. One recent event that did my heart good was the community clean-up that took place on March 27.

I, along with City Council led by Councilman President Ed Bethea, coordinated with officials and students from Bridgeton Public Schools on the community-wide clean-up that saw some 85 people take part gathering and filling some 200 bags of trash (76 bags of recyclables) from all corners of the community. As gratifying as it was to have a cleaner community, I was especially taken with the students who took part in the Bridgeton Beautification Poster Contest to kick off the clean-up event.

Under the guidance of Public School Arts Supervisor Kerri Sullivan, these students took the time to think through what they wanted to express about their community and what beautification means from their perspective. The winning entries were provided by Iris Martinez from Quarter Mile Lane School; Mea Wagner, Josh Wagner, Jaelyn Lopez Diaz, and Noah Hughes from Broad Street School; Samantha Torres from Indian Avenue School; Lissandra Alavez from Cherry Street School; and Destiny Hughes and Harmony Hughes from Bridgeton High School. We were pleased to formally recognize these students at the April 20th Council meeting.

Having our young people help express what we need to accomplish gives us a big lift. It is the young who will inherit the community and having them participate in civic efforts such as a community clean-up will hopefully instill a sense of ownership, a seed best planted in the early years so it can germinate and bear fruit as they grow and become the leaders of tomorrow.

While everything is dependent on guidance from health officials, Bridgeton Main Street is planning a wine tasting event for later in the year. In addition, Main Street is working through plans for a holiday parade and a WinterFest event in conjunction with the holiday house tour.

As the weather heats up, we’re making preparations to have Zoo Camp within the limits and guidance set forth by public health officials. More generally, visitors to the park will be able to enjoy the zoo a little more than was possible last summer. While guidance could change, we’re planning to have fireworks on July 4th and the Splash Park is being readied for the hot weather.

As we emerge in fits and starts from the pandemic, we hope to see more and more of our youth engaged in healthy activities of all types in City Park. Since January, we have been working behind the scenes to support volunteers in the community as they provide outlets for youth whether it’s football, baseball, softball, kickball, or basketball. It’s a balancing act in terms of how to do it safely and while we won’t always get it right, we will learn as we go. But it’s time.

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