ELIZABETH, NJ – Forty-five students from Thomas Edison, Halsey, and Dwyer academies concluded a three-month leadership program sponsored by Elizabeth-based Future Cities Inc. with a workshop entitled Leading Toward the Future and the distribution of certificates, March 17.

The sophomores, juniors, and seniors, all of whom were selected by their teachers, participated in three workshops, one each in January, February, and March, covering such subjects such as resume building and interview skills. In addition, they attended an engineering conference in Brooklyn. The program focuses on helping the students prepare for a successful transition to college and beyond.

“Your plans may not go the way you think, but you have to have a plan,” advised Mayor Christian Bollwage in his address to the group. “There is an old saying, ‘Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.’”

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Friday’s workshop featured a presentation by Dr.Tanya Raggio-Ashley, who described her career journey from being told in high school by one counselor that she wasn’t college material to being encouraged by another. She continued her education to become a doctor. She is currently the senior medical officer for Region 2 of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

David Tulloch, Ph. D, was the second speaker whose focus was GIS mapping for healthier communities. GIS mapping analyzes the resources available in neighborhoods, such as accessibility to fresh, healthy food, number of community centers and gardens that meet residents’ needs, and the ability of residents to get to markets via available transportation.

Tulloch, the associate director of the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis at Rutgers University, worked with a group of FCI-sponsored student volunteers. The group looked at and compared six city parks, Kopnicki Park, Marciante-Jackson-Millet Park, John’s Cove, Kellogg Park, Woodruff Park, and Ursino Park. They recorded the number of trash cans (discourages littering); number of light posts (improves night visibility and safety); number of benches; and playgrounds and recreational equipment.

Their findings:

  • Throughout all parks, litter was common
    • Recommendations: Reduce distance between garbage cans at John’s Cove; add more recycle bins to parks; clean-up after pets
  • Graffiti found at John’s Cove and Kopnicki Park
    • Recommendations: Repaint playground at parks to cover profane graffiti
  • Limited handicap accessibility
    • Sidewalk maintenance at Kopnicki Park
  • Parks may feel dangerous at night
    • Improvement of lighting

In explaining the group’s focus on the city’s parks, FCI volunteer Sebastian Prado, an Elizabeth high school graduate, said, “We noticed that people don’t visit as much, and we want to show that these parks have features that will be useful throughout the year.”