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Making a Difference in the Heart of Vailsburg

By: Kamieha Greene

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I experienced something new and very different at the Heart of Vailsburg (HOV) Block Club Coalition General Assembly on Wednesday, July 13th. I have never witnessed people meeting together to express concerns about their block. There were even City of Newark officials present representing Councilman-At-Large Eddie Osborne and West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum.

It was very surprising hearing the honesty of the challenges residents face while city officials were present. It takes courage to speak out to express how you feel, when people in power are there perhaps even judgment. For example, an elder who resides on Alexander Street shared a story about how she feels the issues on her block are not being taken care of. She expressed frustration to a city official the previous week at another community meeting and that official told her, so why don’t you move. The woman was visibly upset and yet still came to the General Assembly.

Another senior who lives on Boylan Street brought up a concern about trees looming over her house. A city official from Councilman Osborne’s office went outside to obtain the address while the issue was also added to the HOV Accountability Document.

Almost everyone present took some kind of notes, asked questions, and contributed to the meeting. The HOV Steering Committee offered many helpful tips on how to improve the Vailsburg we see everyday. I also learned that an elder and Steering Committee member, Richard Hart, maintains the Healthy Haven Gardens especially the 18th Avenue Haven.

The meeting also showed me that people who want to better Vailsburg volunteer their time to go to the Block Club Coalition General Assembly to make sure their voices are heard. I think it’s very important for residents to come out to meetings because by doing that, they are collectively making a huge difference.

The Heart of Vailsburg Block Club Coalition meets every first Wednesday at 6PM at the Love of Jesus Church located at 88 Boylan Street in Vailsburg. I encourage all my neighbors young and old to join together. One person can make a difference, dozens can change a community. If you are interesting in joining the HOV team, you can email the Steering Committee at Follow HOV on Twitter @HOV_BCC and on Instagram @HeartOfVailsburg_BCC.

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Youth Park Rangers Visit Healthy Haven Gardens

By: Nia Alexander

On Tuesday, July 19, 2016 a group of youth Park Rangers from the Jessie Allen Park (JAP) Summer Program took a tour through the Heart Of Vailsburg (HOV) Healthy Haven Gardens located at 69 Norwood Street and 1068 18th Avenue in Vailsburg. The JAP Park Rangers were given a tour by the UVSO Department of Community Outreach & Planning’s (DCOP) Outreach Coordinator, Pamela Daniels and DCOP interns Jenia, Nia, Ny’Janah, Kamieha, and Taylor.

At the Norwood Garden Haven, the Park Rangers learned about the different plants growing in the garden and found out that they were organic and edible. They learned that there were herbs and vegetables in both gardens, and that the Vailsburg Garden Committee has managed both gardens for five years.

The rangers were given tips on how to use the herbs in the garden, which were Rosemary, Spearmint, Basil, Thai Basil, Parsley, Sage, Dill, and Oregano. Some chose to harvest herbs, while others harvested Collard Greens, Cucumbers, and Tomatoes. A myriad of pictures were taken of the rangers enjoying the scenery. Some of the rangers were from the neighborhood and never knew the garden was there! Those who harvested were eager to take home their goodies and put them to good use!

At the conclusion of the tour, which ended at the 18th Avenue Garden Haven, the JAP program director, Rhenotha Whittaker, quizzed her students on what they learned. She started out simply with, “What does HOV stand for?” One of the Park rangers answered, “Heart of Vailsburg!” and was rewarded with “You’ve earned your snack!” The next question that was asked was, “What color tomatos did they pick?” Another Park Ranger answered, “Green tomatoes.” Ms. Whittaker followed up with, “What is the best way to prepare green tomatoes,” and a ranger fired back “fry them!” She too earned a snack. The final question asked was, “What type of herbs were there?” One Ranger said, “Parsley, Oregano, Rosemary and Basil.” Some other rangers followed up with hands raised showing their spearmint and parsley. (they forgot dill and that spicy thai basil!)

After trivia the Jesse Allen Park Park Rangers took a group photo on the garden stage to commemorate the grand tour. Additional photos of the tour are posted on the UVSO Facebook page for viewing. Feel free to share the album!

An Experience We Won’t Forget, Newark’s Bravest Open House

By Nia Alexander

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.04.12 PMOn Thursday, July 14th, the UVSO Department of Community Outreach & Planning (DCOP) accompanied by interns Nia, Jenia, and Taylor attended the Newark Fire Department (NFD) Open House at the fire station located on Palm Street in Vailsburg, which houses Engine 26 and Ladder 12. The firefighters welcomed visitors inside of their home from 10AM to 3PM in an effort to show the people of the community what goes an aspect of the department they do not often see. During the open house, the DCOP interns learned how the NFD help protect their community and families, and also learned some home fire safety tips to share with the young and old.

While taking the tour through the firehouse there were many great questions asked and many interesting responses. The firemen shared the difference between the two fire trucks. One truck is called a ladder and the other truck is called an engine. The interns got a chance to climb in and on top of the fire trucks to learn how they operate and what the spacing was like. They learned that there is a button for every sound that the truck makes. For example, there’s a sound for the emergency siren and a different sound for the “get out the way” horn. The firefighters also said that they flush the hydrants twice a year to make sure that everything is fine, and to make sure it’s filled with enough water. One firefighter said that they have to keep track of their radios at all times, because if they lose them, they have to pay $4,000. The interns also learned that there are daily, monthly, and annual trainings from HAZMAT and blood borne pathogens, to sexual harassment.

Intern Jenia asked, “What is your working schedule like?” They said, “We work 24 hour shifts and then get 3 days off. These are called tours. Each fire fighter works a different schedule.” To become a firefighter one has to be fit. During the academy, firefighter candidates have to run an obstacle course to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. When the firehouse is called to a scene the engine truck always leads first. In case of an emergency, firefighters’ clothes are always left inside the truck, on the struck or close to the truck.

The Newark Fire Department Open House was educational, interesting, and fun. We would love to do it again, and thank you for being, “There when you need us!”

The Center of Love, Memory and Acceptance

UVSO teens & Dir. Malik El-Amin taking a break from their summer job assignments
UVSO teens & Dir. Malik El-Amin taking a break from their summer job assignments

by Erica L., UVSO Summer Teen Worker

I still remember my first day at the Teen Center. One of my bestest friends dragged me inside while I tugged on my olive green sweater and adjusted my glasses. “They’ll love you. We’re like a family here.” She was always outgoing; I was more silent and reserved. I honestly didn’t think this was for me.

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Vivid Volunteering, Lasting Memories

by Pamela B. Daniels


Call me old school, but there’s just something so fulfilling about volunteering. I remember clearly my years at Mt. Vernon Elementary School, the good ole days, when the Do Something Club was thriving as an after school program. It felt like the whole school in one way or another participated. Perhaps because Mr. Wild tripled as Do Something Club Advisor, Basketball Team Coach, and favorite Math teacher so one way or another, service made it’s way into your daily regime.

Anyway, I remember Do Something, not only because they sponsored the annual Kindness & Justice Challenge, where students would compete with one another in performing as many random acts of kindness as possible – I still have my first place trophy from ’99, but because every year, for a whole Saturday, volunteers, and a combination of school and community family poured into the school on a spring morning to roll up their sleeves and get busy. Doing what? Everything! From painting over graffiti in the bathrooms to scrubbing hallways, scraping gum from under desks to repainting lines on the playground. A team was even commissioned to go across the street to Ivy Hill Park to pick up trash and wash down the railings, slides, water fountains and benches.

I don’t know what it was that made that day so memorable, nearly twenty years later. Maybe it was the free lunch that inevitably came at the end of a day’s work. Perhaps it was the incessant fun that came with washing paint off my hands with orange glow, or simply the positive aura that exuded around me as dozens of young people and community family contributed to restoring our school building and play areas. Whatever it was, it was something that has stayed with me to this day.

Although it is now my job to plan these kinds of activities at UVSO, I still take such joy on volunteer event days, when all hands are on deck young and old together to beautify the community. UVSO currently manages two community gardens through our Heart of Vailsburg (HOV) Organizing Project: 1068 18th Avenue and 69 Norwood Street. HOV Norwood is in its fifth season as an organic and primarily vegetable garden. HOV 18th Avenue is in its fourth season as an organic herb & flora space. Both locations are beautiful not only because of the precious plants that grow therein, but because each of them were launched and maintained through a concerted community effort. When I’m in those gardens with (my own) neighbors, I feel that same rush of excitement and joy that I felt those many years ago in the halls of Mt. Vernon School and in Ivy Hill Park. I feel hope for my community because I am surrounded by people who feel compelled to do more than just live in a neighborhood, but rather contribute to her growth and sustainability.

If you are interested in volunteering at the HOV Gardens or along neighbors in other projects, please reach out to the UVSO Department of Community Outreach & Planning at 973.374.2000 ext. 1402.

The Future is Now

UVSO Executive Director, Mike Farley, speaking at the Community Forum

On Friday, June 20, UVSO hosted one of the 6 Community Forums held by Mayor-Elect Ras J. Baraka’s transition team.  Over 150 Newark residents crowded into our Teen Center space at 40 Richelieu Terrace to make their voices and ideas heard.

The energy in the room was palpable as the mayor-elect took the stage and gave a rousing pep talk.  He encouraged everyone to take this opportunity to speak directly to his administration about what matters to them around the issues of public safety, public health, education, recreation,jobs,  and economic development, and he promised to listen.  Once the breakout groups commenced, the conversations were lively and robust.

Today, Ras J. Baraka begins his term as Mayor of this great city and we are excited to see what the future holds. We look forward to working closely with his administration to continue our mission here in Vailsburg, which is to create a stable and compassionate community.

A New Beginning

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao-Tzu

Welcome to the renewed, redesigned and re-energized Unified Vailsburg Services Organization website!

My name is Veronica Bailey and I’m the Assistant Executive Director, as well as the Blogger-in-Chief.  Having joined this agency a little over a year ago, I have to say that I’m proud to work here and be a part of our mission to create a stable and compassionate community in the Vailsburg section of Newark.

I hope you’ll take some time to check out our new online home and I welcome any feedback you have about the site.  It will always be a work in progress as we will constantly strive to bring you closer to what we do by keeping you informed and getting you engaged.  We need you and we can’t do our work without you.

2013 was a giant step forward for UVSO. We broke ground on the Palm Street Infant & Toddler Center, which will open in September of this year. This is our first major construction project in 5 years and it exemplifies our continued commitment to the importance of early childhood education.  As we embark on this journey, we invite you to be a part of it: please Donate!  Every dollar we raise enables us to better serve the community…things like making sure that our senior citizens can get to their doctor appointments on time, or that Teen Center students can have a hot meal afterschool, or that our preschool kids can get new books.  That’s just a snapshot of the impact your dollar can have.

We have exciting things in store for 2014 as well, and I will keep you up to date on them on this blog.

As they say in the newspaper business, “Watch this space”.