Get in “STEP” with Union County Students for a Good Cause

by Christopher Hudak, Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders

April 2014

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.

Planning Ahead for a Sustainable Future in Union County

This year will be a very active one for Union County government, the business community, and other stakeholders, as we take important steps toward building a firm platform for sustainable economic growth.

That includes a firm focus on environmental sustainability and quality of life improvements, as public wellness and a strong education infrastructure are at the core of our long term future.

First I’d like to draw your attention to Tuesday, March 18. This is the kickoff event for the 2014 edition of our Union County Means Business networking series. Now in its third year, this initiative connects business owners and managers with public resources that support their efforts.

Another key activity this year is Union County 2030. One of my Chairman’s Initiatives, Union County 2030 is a multi-layer planning effort designed to support economic growth while improving quality of life.

Part of Union County 2030 involves traditional shovels-in-the-ground civic projects that form the backbone of every thriving community.

This year our projects include a new Family Court building, expansion of the Union County College campus in Cranford and renovation of its Plainfield campus, and several major “Turf and Build” public recreation projects.

A second layer of planning encompasses the complex challenges of sustainable development, transportation, infrastructure resilience, and competitiveness.

To address these issues, we have embarked two-year initiative in partnership with Together North Jersey, aimed at achieving a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development based on the principle that public health, safety and quality of life are essential to long term economic growth.

That includes a new Union County Sustainable Communities Guide that we will share with stakeholders this fall, with the ultimate goal of forming a Livable Communities Network.

A significant element in our transportation planning is one-seat service to New York City on the Raritan Valley line. I pledged to push for that service as Freeholder Chairman this year, and NJ TRANSIT set it in motion on Monday, March 3.

The new one-seat service enables commuters using stations in Plainfield, Fanwood, Westfield, Garwood, Cranford, Roselle Park, and Union to travel to New York Penn Station without changing trains in Newark. It is currently available during the midday hours (for a printable Raritan Valley schedule with the new service highlighted in bold frames visit njtransit.com).

Other aspects of our long term planning include infrastructure hardening and a forthcoming report on competitiveness by the Heldrich Center at Rutgers University.

We are also continuing with Union County Women Mean Business, a special program introduced last year that aims to tap into the rich vein of skills and talents among women in our business community.

That brings us back around to the upcoming Union County Means Business session on March 18. This session will be particularly interesting because state and federal elected officials will attend and describe the legislative outlook for business in 2014.

I hope you will join us in these efforts to prepare and plan for the future of Union County.

The Union County Means Business “Legislative Outlook for Business 2014” session will be held on Tuesday, March 18, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Kean University STEM Building, 1 Elizabethtown Plaza in Union (off Morris Avenue, across from the main campus).

For more information on Union County Means Business and to register for upcoming events, visit ucnj2.org/ucmb or call the County Manager’s office, 908-527-4200.