UNION COUNTY COURTHOUSE, ELIZABETH---Freeholder Bruce H. Bergen has been selected as Chairman of the Board for the second year in a row and announced a series of initiatives for 2017, entitled "Connecting our Community"  that includes new announcements for  youth, seniors, veterans, social services, parks, the environment and the arts.

Bergen, a lifelong native of Union County who is a resident of Springfield, announced his initiatives at the 160th annual reorganization meeting held in the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth on Sunday.

Freeholders Linda Carter, Bette Jane Kowalski and Sergio Granados, were sworn in to new terms. Freeholder Granados was appointed as Freeholder Vice Chairman for the second year in a row. Freeholders also voted to fill numerous positions on County advisory boards and to adopt the Board's 2017 schedule and procedural rules.

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In announcing his "Connecting our Community" initiatives, Bergen noted that while "there has been improvement, these continue to be challenging times" for many in Union County.

Bergen added that the Board would continue to deliver "the services our residents want and deserve in a fiscally prudent manner," despite pressure from the State to pay for mandated services without adequate funding.

Bergen also added Union County is now entering "uncharted territory" as well at the Federal level with many critical government services across the board facing an uncertain future with new national leadership.

"Here in Union County, we are prepared to stand for our core governing values and to protect the most vulnerable among us, as well as all those who could be impacted in an unfair manner," Bergen said.  "Union County's residents-and our immigrants---have the right to be treated with the dignity and respect that all citizens of the planet deserve, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation."

With this in mind, Bergen announced his "Connecting our Community" initiatives for 2017:

Ø  UC LEAP: Learning, Employment and Arts Programs (for youth):

Ø  In the centerpiece program, the County will partner with the Simon Youth Foundation, the Union County Vo-Tech,  the Workforce Development Board and the State Department of Labor to create an Alternative High School for at-risk-youth that will open at the Mills at Jersey Gardens this year.

Ø  In Summit, the County will partner with Overlook Hospital to co-sponsor the Project Search program, which provides employment and training for youth with disabilities. The hospital is one of only four employers state-wide that was selected to host this program.

Ø  In Scotch Plains, the Union County Vocational Technical Schools will offer programs designed to train students for the arts, and high-paying legal and technology careers.  This includes the new full time Academy for Law and Justice, opening in September; a Hack-A-thon event, which is a twenty-four hour computer science and engineering competition open to all students of high school age; and a student play at the Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC) in Rahway.

Ø  The Freeholder Board will once again sponsor the American Theater Group's second Annual Group Drama Festival at the Hamilton Stage in April, and the third annual Union County Advancing Community Theatre (UCACT) program at UC PAC.  Through UCACT, the Freeholder Board sponsors local theatrical groups to bring their productions to the big stage at UCPAC in Rahway.