"Tikkun Olam" in Newark

January 21, 2014
Newark

The final funds needed to turn a barren asphalt schoolyard in Newark's Central Ward into a state-of-the-art green playground have been secured, The Trust for Public Land and Congregation Ahavas Sholom announced today.

In advance of Super Bowl XLVIII, the NY/NJ Snowflake Youth Foundation, funded in part through a $1.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, contributed the remaining $75,000 needed for the new community playground at Sussex Avenue Elementary School.

The mission of the NY/NJ Snowflake Youth Foundation is to transform after-school facilities for youth in New Jersey and the New York metro area, with a focus on assisting locations that provide school-age boys and girls with safe and supervised recreational, educational, and character-building activities.

"'Tikkun olam' is a Hebrew phrase meaning 'repair the world.' This unique partnership between The Trust for Public Land and Congregation Ahavas Sholom, Newark's oldest operating synagogue, is helping to do exactly that by turning a barren asphalt schoolyard into a green playground," said Anthony Cucchi, New Jersey Director of The Trust for Public Land. "Children at the school and others in the community will soon be able to play on their new playground."

Each of the two organizations has a successful history of improving public schoolyards in Newark, but this is the first time the two are working together to create a better place for Newark children to play and learn.

Congregation Ahavas Sholom's dedicated volunteers, led by their president, Eric Freedman, have spent the last several years advancing the goal to transform Sussex Avenue Elementary School's unimproved schoolyard into a safe and vibrant green space for local children to learn and grow.

Ahavas Sholom volunteers joined forces with The Trust for Public Land's Parks for People-Newark program to oversee a student-inspired design for the new schoolyard.

"This unique and uncommon partnership for change is an outgrowth of the synagogue's passionate commitment to the pursuit of Tikkun olam (repair of the world) and Tzedakah (social justice) and a desire to have a positive impact on the environment and activities of the Newark community, and The Trust for Public Land's belief that every child should have a safe place to play," said Freedman.

The budget for the new playground at Sussex Avenue Elementary School is approximately $1 million and will incorporate green elements such as trees, and gardens, which will both grow vegetables and capture rain. The latter will help the city's efforts to improve water quality and the environment.

The new playground will also include an outdoor learning area, recreation spaces for students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, and chess tables to reinforce strategic thinking, important to the school's focus on math and science, and other features that meet the needs of the school community it will serve.

"The vision of Renew Schools, like Sussex Avenue, is to ensure children have access to excellent schools and their academic and social emotional well-being is supported," said Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson. "The partnership between The Trust for Public Land, Congregation Ahavas Sholom, and Principal Gearhart is an example of the promise of Renew being realized."

The Trust for Public Land achieved its private fundraising goal by securing support from multiple funders, including: NY/NJ Snowflake Youth Foundation, Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, The Prudential Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Victoria Foundation, Helen & William Mazer Foundation, Gibson Family Foundation, CTW Foundation, John & Margaret Post Foundation, PSEG Foundation, Wallerstein Foundation for Geriatric Life Improvement, Hyde & Watson Foundation, Landsberger Foundation, and other private donors. Significant public funding for the project is being provided by NJDEP's Green Acres Program, and the City of Newark's Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG).

"We need to help kids learn healthy habits that last a lifetime. And we can only do that when they have safe places to play and be active," said John Lumpkin, MD, Senior Vice President and Director of the Health Care Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "As the largest foundation in New Jersey, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is proud to work through the NY/NJ Snowflake Youth Foundation to support this important project for Newark."

Founded in 1972, The Trust for Public Land is the leading nonprofit working to conserve land for people. Operating from more than 30 offices nationwide, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than three million acres from the inner city to the wilderness and helped generate more than $34 billion in public funds for conservation. Nearly ten million people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.