by Christopher Hudak
Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Last December, almost 200 students from 26 high schools across Union County participated in the first ever UC STEP (Union County Student Training and Enrichment Program) Summit, a new program aimed at developing youth leadership skills by engaging young people in countywide civic projects.
The response was enthusiastic, and I am happy to report that the first project to launch out of UC STEP is off to a great start.
The project, called Support 4 Solders, was conceived and designed entirely by a team of UC STEP students during the daylong summit. It won an online public vote for best project.
The vote itself provided a demonstration of how the UC STEP participants translated their day of learning into community engagement. The 192 students who attended the summit generated more than 4,600 responses to the online vote.
Based on the results of the vote, the Freeholder Board is sponsoring Support 4 Soldiers this year as one of my Chairman’s Initiatives, along with the local nonprofit organization Bonds of Courage.
It is the first of what we hope to be an annual series of countywide civic projects created by UC STEP students, so I’d like to pause here and recognize Freeholder Linda Carter, who initiated the UC STEP Summit during her term as Chairman last year.
Support 4 Solders is a coordinated, countywide collection drive for care packages to be sent to active military troops. The list includes healthy snacks, toiletries, and other basic items. The collection period is going on now and it will end on May 15.
Monetary donations to Support 4 Soldiers may also be made directly to Bonds of Courage (bondsofcourage.org), which is headquartered in Westfield.
Distinctive Support 4 Soldiers collection boxes have already been placed at schools, County buildings and other facilities including the Union Township Knights of Columbus, VFW, Elks Lodge #1583, and American Legion Post 35. A complete list of locations and an interactive map are available at ucnj2.org/uc-step.
Support 4 Soldiers participants are also raising funds to offset shipping costs, so you can expect to hear much more about this project in the coming weeks.
Support 4 Soldiers kicked off last month at the Westfield Armory, where the students had a chance to compare notes with other students from all over the county. They also had a chance to meet with members of the military and learn first hand how much their efforts are appreciated.
The young people who created Support 4 Soldiers come from many different walks of life. Out of their diverse experiences, they focused on shared values to come up with an endeavor that encourages us all to embrace our common goals.
I hope you will all join us in pitching in for Support 4 Soldiers.
For more information about Support 4 Soldiers and UC STEP, visit ucnj2.org/uc-step or call the Union County Department of Economic Development, 908-527-4200.