During the third session of the 2012 Citizens’ Institute which took place on April 18, representatives from over 40 Livingston community organizations, including houses of worship and township committees, gathered to discuss “How can we be part of building and sustaining a great community?”  Arlene Johnson, co-chair of the Citizen’s Institute, led the evening activities with a discussion of every-day situations in which individuals have an opportunity to influence the outcome.  Johnson spoke about the importance of seeing ourselves as part of positive change, through committee involvement and interpersonal relationships. Johnson reminded the group of Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

A panel of change-makers discussed making a difference and what they did to activate change. The panel was moderated by Barbara Levadi, a member of the Institute Governing Board. In her opening introductions, Levadi said, “These four amazing people have devoted their time to helping the community and it is hoped that they will inspire others to get involved.”

The panel included Bob Gebroe (co-chair of Livingston Advisory Committee for Disabilities) who spoke about the development of social and recreational programs for children with special needs; Sue Fershing (Livingston Green Team, and Recycling and Reclamation Committee) discussed her involvement in environmental initiatives such as the recycling, composting, and anti-idling campaign; Tricia Idrobo, co-founder of Livingston’s Day of Service, which honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King by encouraging Livingston residents to be involved in service projects; and Marty Meyers (co-founder of Livingston Dog Park) helped to open a park for dogs where they can safely socialize and exercise off-leash in two fenced-in play areas.

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The “Citizens’ Institute Players,” Evy DeGuzman, Lois Dyer, Frank Dyer, Aimee Kessler Evans, and Hugh Mahon, demonstrated the skills for making a difference with several humorous skits which both delighted and informed the audience. The skits involved situations that Institute members identified as areas of concern.

The evening closed with Institute members writing a letter to themselves about a situation that they want to change. The letter was then sealed in a self-addressed envelope and will be sent to Institute members in two weeks as a reminder of their commitment. Members were also given the opportunity to evaluate their experience of the 2012 Livingston Citizens’ Institute and to provide feedback which will help shape next year’s Institute.

Johnson invited Institute members to attend the upcoming elective session at the Senior Community Center (May 3, 7:30 pm) on Building a Sustainable Community, featuring a presentation of Livingston’s environmental action plan and a discussion of environmental priorities.  Residents are also invited to participate in this elective session which is open to the Livingston community. In addition, there will be recognition of Citizens’ Institute Participants on May 7 at 8:00 pm in the Municipal Building Council Chamber. Johnson also encouraged Institute members to continue the dialogue and citizen engagement by visiting the website www.livingstoncitizensinstitute.org.

If you have any questions about the Livingston Citizen’s Institute or are interested in participating in the 2013 Institute, please contact Arlene Johnson 973-994-2314, or Walter Joyce 973-992-8317. To register for the May 3 program, please email lpatino@livingstonnj.org, or send your request to Lorri Patino, Livingston Municipal Building, 357 S. Livingston Avenue.