ELIZABETH, NJ--Freeholder Sergio Granados has been selected as Chairman of the Board and announced a series of initiatives for 2018, entitled “Moving Union County Forward,” assisting families, youth, seniors, Veterans, those with special needs, and embracing progressive and inclusive ideals.

Included in these initiatives are the state’s first-ever Office of LGTBQ, Office for People with Special Needs, and the Level the Playing Field grant program---yet another example of a “first”---as Union County will become the first County in the state, and perhaps nation—to have every municipality create an inclusive playground.

Granados, a lifelong resident of Elizabeth who is the youngest Democratic Freeholder ever elected in the State of New Jersey, announced his initiatives at the 162nd annual reorganization meeting held in the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth on Sunday.

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Sheriff Peter Corvelli, of Kenilworth, was sworn into his first term, and Freeholder Angela Garretson, of Hillside, was sworn into her first term. Freeholders Christopher Hudak of Linden and Angel Estrada were sworn into new terms. Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski was appointed as Freeholder Vice Chairwoman. Freeholders also voted to fill numerous positions on County advisory boards and to adopt the Board’s 2018 schedule and procedural rules.

As his “Moving Union County Forward” initiatives for 2018, Granados announced a new series of programs—including a number of first-time programs never done before throughout the state---championing advocacy and equality,  outreach and volunteerism, public safety, the environment, and education.

Most of these initiatives are at little or no additional cost or use existing funding.

“We will be setting many ‘firsts’ this year, with innovative programs that will put Union County at forefront of the progressive movement in the State of New Jersey,” Granados said in his announcement. “Growing up I learned: You must empower yourself through hard work and effort; you must work on ways to help others empower themselves, and always give back to your community. Success is meaningless without helping others.”

The following is a summary below of “Moving Union County Forward” initiatives:

UNION COUNTY “HEART”--stands for Helping, Empowering, Advocating for, Reaching and Teaching others.

1.) At the core of the UC HEART initiative, is the creation of the Office of Community Engagement and Diversity. The goal of the office will be to promote volunteerism and outreach. The office’s coordinator will work with other agencies to identify volunteer opportunities, coordinate events, and create a network of volunteer organizations to build relationships with the County's different communities.
 

2.) Partnering with the Union County Economic Development Corporation (UCEDC) to reinvest and create more jobs in Union County’s diverse communities. The UCEDC will receive a $250,000 grant to conduct outreach efforts in these areas and will provide at least half a million dollars in low-interest loan capital to small businesses.
 

3.) The creation of the state’s first-ever LGBTQ Office. This office will advocate for our LGBTQ residents in working to provide the services they need and deserve. “This Freeholder Board has a proud record of honoring Union County’s diversity,” Granados said.
 

4.) The creation of the state’s first-ever, Office for People with Special Needs. This Office will provide recreational and social opportunities for those with special needs, “as all residents deserve an equal chance,” Granados said. As part of this effort, the Sheriff’s Office will also revitalize and expand the Project Lifesaver program which provides tracking bracelets for those with special needs and those with Alzheimer’s. The County will also open a new Sensory-Friendly Trail at the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside—the County’s first such facility. And as the final part of this effort, the County will administer the Level the Playing Field grant program---yet another example of a “first”---as Union County will become the first County in the state, and perhaps nation—to have every municipality create an inclusive playground. This effort, which is funded through Union County’s Open Space program, will assist our towns in creating, enhancing, or replacing recreational facilities to make them inclusive for all wishing to use them.
 

5.) The continuation of UC HERO, which has helped so many Veterans. This year will bring new job fairs and the exploration of ways to diminish the PTSD epidemic. As a whole, the County Freeholder Board will continue to expand on the successful job fairs and employment training it has sponsored for all residents through the Union County Workforce Development Board.
 

6.) Creation of the Union County Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math grant program (known as UC STEM).  Under this program, funding will be available for STEM-related enrichment in our elementary and middle schools.
 

Union County Plant a Seed, which involves educational and environmental components:
 

1.) The continuation and expansion of the UC Kids Dig In! Garden grants program, which offers grants to schools that engage young students in community gardening and donating produce to local shelters and pantries.
 

2.) Continuing on Freeholder Bruce Bergen’s idea, the County will continue to investigate the feasibility of constructing a Countywide Animal Shelter.

3.) New state-funded Union County recycling initiatives with programs that encourage recycling amongst our municipal partners and will provide recycling supplies for schools and seniors. The recycling programs will be funded through state recycling grants.
 

PARKS INITIATIVES:
 

1.) The building of numerous turf fields in Plainfield, Summit, Scotch Plains and Rahway;

3.) A skate park at Mattano Park in Elizabeth;

4.) A spray park at Wheeler Park in Linden;

5.) A new golf clubhouse at the Ashbrook Golf Course in Scotch Plains;

6.) Tutoring and mentoring programs at the Warinanco Park Sports Center in Roselle;

PUBLIC SAFETY INITIATIVES:

1.) The County will partner with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in NJ, and offer a gun buyback program through the County Police, Prosecutor’s Office, and Sheriff’s Office.

2.) The County Police will partner with local police departments to provide additional public safety services for our school districts.

3.) The expansion of prisoner re-entry programs that give a second chance for those who seek it: The Department of Corrections will be providing special assistance easing their re-entry into society; and the Department of Human Services will be providing support services after their release, aimed at reducing recidivism.

Granados closed off his initiatives with a call for continued fiscal responsibility, announcing the Freeholder Board will work with the County Manager to examine cost savings through the creation of a Fiscal Efficiency Taskforce.

Granados concluded his speech by emphasizing the importance of teamwork and unity in achieving all goals.

“We have announced many ‘firsts’ today. This all speaks to the vision of this Freeholder Board moving Union County forward in a progressive manner. We are connected...we are inclusive…we are united. And we will work to support one another. I look forward to ‘Moving Union County Forward’ with all of you. Thank you.”
 

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