BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ This year's recipients of the Mayor's Arts Awards, honored at the opening of the month-long Community Arts Show at the Environmental Education Center in Basking Ridge, not only brought visual and musical arts to the community, but also generously volunteered their talents to enrich the lives of children and adults.

The presentation of the awards by Mayor Carol Bianchi last weekend coincided with the opening of the annual the nonjuried show of art pieces by township residents -- many of them inspired by nature -- which will remain on display at the EEC daily through April 20. The county-owned EEC is located at 190 Lord Stirling Road in Basking Ridge.

Linda Arnold of Liberty Corner, one of two individuals and a local organization named in the fifth annual round of the mayor's awards, has long shown her own paintings around town. But along with concentrating on her own work, she has also volunteered with the township Parks and Recreation Department for 15 years to be instrumental in bringing about several department-sponsored programs and events, Bianchi said before presented Arnold with her award.

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A recent project of Arnold's was to provide the illustrations of historic sites and moments in the Historical Society of Somerset Hills History coloring book, with a portrayal of Basking Ridge's ancient white oak tree on the cover. So far, more than 400 of the coloring books displaying Arnold's drawings have been sold, and the books have been provided to every third grade child in Bernards Township, according to the awards information.

"It was a pleasure working with everyone in this room," Arnold said after receiving the award.

The Friends of Boudinot-Southard Ross and the Ross Farm in Basking Ridge were nominated and chosen for this year's award going to a local organization that has fostered the arts.

Although the group of "dedicated volunteers" from Basking Ridge have brought to life much of the history that played itself out at the Somerset County-owned historic site, the group also has presented music and other cultural events at the Ross Farm in the past decade or so.

'Friends' combined music and history and the arts

"We combined the musical and history and the arts," said David Becker, president of the Friends group. He noted that when the organization began its support of the estate and farm in 2007, some of their first efforts involved putting arts on the walls of the estate and bringing live harpsichord music to welcome visitors.

"The arts are integrated in what we do," Becker said. He added the group believes the arts are a way for people to connect.

In 2012, the group hosted their first concert which quickly became an annual event and eventually a concert series at the property, located at 135 N. Maple Ave.

"The Friends have continued each year to expand cultural arts offerings at the Ross Farm, which have included ARTSee Exhibits, pottery demonstrations, a photo and uniform display as part of Military History Day, and a Colonial Day for [the township's] fourth grade curriculum complete with colonial games and crafts," Bianchi said prior to presenting the award to Becker on behalf of the organization.

This year's student award went to Ridge senior Melissa Johnson

This year's Mayor's Arts Award for a student went to Ridge High School senior Melissa Johnson, who also combined dedication to the arts with volunteerism that has impacted the lives of hundreds of children.

"Melissa's love of music has led her to participation in several local theater productions and choir groups, including Plays in the Park, Trilogy Repertory's Children Participation Theater and the Ridge High School a capella choir," Bianchi said before presenting the Ridge student with her award.

Along with performing herself, Melissa has pitched in with such backstage activities as preparing rehearsal materials, set building and making up cast sheets, along with "anything else that needs doing. She is a great role model for the other cast members."

"Hundreds of children have benefited from Melissa's positive music instruction through her work with In Tune and Vacation Bible School at Bishop Janes United Methodist Church, and her Girl Scout Silver Award Project "Camp Superstar," a summer drama camp for children of all abilities hosted at the Bernards Township Library.

The Ridge student also is a volunteer member for the local group, Parents for Exceptional Children, and the Saturdays in Motion program at the Somerset Hills YMCA, as well as being a member of such student clubs as Ridge Against Alcohol and Drugs, the Ridge Drama Club, and the Ridge American Sign Language Club.

After receiving the award, Melissa said, "Thank you."

The Community Art Show is sponsored by the Bernards Township Parks and Recreation Department. The exhibit will be open every day between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, it will be closed on Good Friday, April 19, and after the final day will not reopen on Easter, April 21.