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Winners of the UC STEP Challenge

Union County Freeholders Linda Carter and Alexander Mirabella present a resolution and a check to students and educators from Union County Vocational-Technical Schools (UCVTS) in Scotch Plains in honor of the school winning the 2017 Union County Student Training and Enrichment Program (UC STEP) challenge.

UCVTS collected the most food donations during the “Kans 4 Kids” food drive under the annual UC STEP youth leadership program and won the $1,000 Start Now grant.

Roselle Park High School, Linden High School, Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights and Union County Teams Charter School in Plainfield received honorable mention grants of $250 each.

More than 100 students from 14 high schools participated in the friendly competition collecting 5,120 pounds of food for donation to the Community Food Bank in Hillside.
UC STEP was created to provide high school students the opportunity to develop a countywide community service around a topic they feel is important, while teaching them leadership and personal growth skills and responsibility within their communities.

UC-STEP Program Donates Thousands of Pounds of Food

Union County, NJ – Union County Freeholder Linda Carter visited Debra Vizzi, President and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, on Thursday to view a “canstruction” project of 3,536 cans of tuna assembled with the assistance of local high school students. The project highlights a 6,000-pound food donation to the FoodBank organized by students participating in the Kans 4 Kids food drive under Union County’s annual UC-STEP youth leadership program, with the sponsorship of Sysco and ShopRite.

More than 100 students from 14 high schools participated in the friendly competition. The school collecting the most donations will receive a Start Now grant sponsored by the Freeholder Board.  The Start Now recipient will be announced on May 25.

“I would like to thank UC-STEP students, and our sponsors and supporters, for providing the Community FoodBank with this outstanding volunteer service. Food donations are especially important heading into the summer, when can be more difficult for children and families in need to access school meals and other resources,” said Freeholder Linda Carter, who initiated the first UC-STEP program in 2013 when she was Chairman of the Freeholder Board.

UC-STEP is a unique youth development program that brings together high school students from different parts of Union County. The program provides students with the opportunity to engage the whole community in a county-wide service project. UC-STEP participants design the projects themselves, and carry them out with the support of the Freeholder Board and local sponsors.

“Union County is fortunate to have a rich reservoir of talent, drive and heart among our students. They are willing to take charge and get the job done when there is an opportunity to help those in need, and they inspire all of us to keep working for a better tomorrow,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen.

“It’s always great to see students unite to make an impact in the community,” said Debra Vizzi, President and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. “These Union County high school students worked together to collect 6,000 pounds of food and build structures out of cans to represent the collaboration between the FoodBank and UC STEP. The FoodBank is so grateful for their efforts to help end hunger and for the freeholders who lead UC STEP – a wonderful initiative that gives students the opportunity to brainstorm and implement ideas to better the community.”

High schools participating in UC-STEP this year are:

  • John E. Dwyer Technology Academy
  • Linden High School
  • David Brearley High School
  • Union County Vo Tech
  • Union Catholic Regional High School
  • Roselle Park High School
  • Rahway High School
  • Cranford High School
  • The Barack Obama Academy for Academic & Civic Development Charter School
  • Jonathan Dayton High School
  • Arthur L. Johnson High School
  • Governor Livingston High School
  • New Providence High School
  • UC TEAMS

The UC-STEP program begins with an annual summit, held each year in December. In addition to workshops on leadership and life skills, the participants form teams that blend together students from different high schools.

 Each team is tasked with creating a countywide community service project for the following spring.

Before the summit is over, all participants vote on their favorite projects. The top vote getters are then put online so members of the public can join in the final voting and help choose the project that will be implemented.

Each year, the Freeholder Board joins with local sponsors to help the students publicize and conduct the winning project.

This year’s winning project, Kans 4 Kids, was created by the “Orange” team at the UC-STEP summit last December to benefit the Community FoodBank.

“This was an ambitious and imaginative undertaking that involved the food drive, the “canstruction” project, volunteer opportunities and a virtual food drive,” said Bergen. “The Orange team really set a high bar for next year’s UC-STEP participants.”

“STEP” Up and Help End Hunger

Union County, NJ – The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is pleased to announce that online voting has begun for the 2017 UC-STEP countywide community service project. The annual event is created and run by sophomore and junior high school students participating in the Union County Student Training and Enrichment Program.

This year’s community service theme addresses the problem of food insecurity and hunger in local neighborhoods, especially among children.

“Over the past four years, UC-STEP has provided hundreds of high school juniors and seniors with a chance to meet and collaborate with their peers all across Union County, to create service projects that engage the whole community. UC-STEP is a rewarding experience that underscores how young people can make a real difference, by pulling together for a good cause,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen.

“There are three wonderful ideas on the table, and I am very proud of all the students who participated,” said Freeholder Linda Carter. “They brought their enthusiasm, creativity and a lot of heart to make this year’s UC-STEP summit a success.”

UC-STEP was initiated by Freeholder Carter in 2013, when she served as Chairman. The focus of the program is a day-long youth development summit in December.

The highlight of the summit is an exercise in which teams of students collaborate to create ideas for community service projects. The ideas are put up for a public vote, and the winning idea is developed as a countywide community service effort with support from the Freeholder Board.

This year, 195 students from 27 high schools participated in the UC-STEP summit.

The three ideas to be voted on are:

  • Miles for Meals — a fundraising event that incorporates a 5k run with local performing talent and food concessions.  Registration fees will go to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, and a portion of the proceeds from food sales will go to ending childhood hunger.
  • Flip for Food — a school vs. school water bottle flipping team competition. Schools will contribute an entry fee to participate, and the fees will go to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
  • Kans 4 Kids — a collection project that will focus on nutritious canned goods. Student teams from different schools will assemble the cans for display in a structure-building contest that helps to draw attention to the issue of food insecurity.

Votes may be cast on the UC-STEP website at ucnj2.org/uc-step or on the UC-STEP Facebook page. Voting closes on January 5, and the winning project will be announced on January 8.

For more information about UC-STEP and to view recorded student presentations about the three projects, visit ucnj2.org/uc-step.

Help Your Local High School “Donate to Educate”

donate to educateUnion County, NJ – High schools throughout Union County have banded together to help students in need, by collecting and distributing donated school supplies. The campaign, called “Donate to Educate” – Schools Supplying Schools, was created by a group of high school students in the second annual UC STEP summit, held last year.

UC STEP (the Union County Student Training and Enrichment Program) is a daylong summit that brings high school sophomores and juniors together from all walks of life, to practice leadership skills and develop civic projects that engage the whole Union County community.

“In the first annual UC STEP our students set a high bar, and I’d like to thank this year’s participants for coming through with another worthy project,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Mohamed Jalloh.

Throughout the spring, students at participating high schools will be hard at work, organizing activities to publicize Donate to Educate, and encourage donations. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Union County are also partnering in the campaign.

Along with school supplies, financial donations are part of the campaign. The students will be selling Donate to Educate stylus pens, ear buds, and wristbands to help raise funds to purchase school supplies.

“UC STEP provides a way for young people from different parts of Union County to work together as a team, and pull the whole community together with them,” said Freeholder Linda Carter, who developed UC STEP as Chairman in 2013. “It is a tremendous learning opportunity for the students and for all of us.”

The high schools participating so far are: Academy for Performing Arts, Academy for Allied Health Sciences (both part of the UC Vo-Tech school district), Arthur L. Johnson, Barack Obama Green Charter, Cranford, Governor Livingston, Jonathon Dayton, Linden, Plainfield, Roselle Catholic, Summit, UC TEAMS, Union, and Union Catholic.

Each school has a drop-off box for Donate to Educate donations. Drop-off boxes are also located at the County Administration Building and other locations throughout the county.

The Board of Chosen Freeholders present resolutions to the Light Blue Team

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Union County Freeholder Chairman Mohamed Jalloh and Freeholders Linda Carter and Christopher Hudak present resolutions to members of Team Light Blue congratulating them on winning the civic engagement challenge of 2015 Union County Student Training and Enrichment Program (UC STEP).

Team Light Blue’s campaign, “Donate to Educate”- Schools Supplying Schools, won the civic engagement challenge and will be the county-wide community service project undertaken by participating Union County high schools in 2015.

Team Blue members attend the following high schools: Union Catholic Regional High School, Governor Livingston High School, UC Academy for Information Technology (AIT), Arthur L. Johnson High School, Barack Obama Green Charter High School, Cranford High School, David Brearley High School, UC Magnet High School, Summit High School, UC Academy for Allied Health Sciences (AAHS), John E. Dwyer Technology Academy, Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School and Union High School.

Union County Students Kick Off 2015 with New “Donate to Educate” Campaign

UC STEP campaign, Union County NJThe Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is pleased to announce “Donate to Educate,” a new countywide community service campaign developed entirely by a group of high school students representing all parts of Union County.

The 21 students in the group came together as participants in the second annual Union County Student Training and Enrichment Program (UC STEP) for high school students, held last December.

“UC-STEP is designed to provide our future leaders with a chance to collaborate and engage the entire Union County community in pursuit of leadership skills, personal growth and civic engagement,” said Freeholder Chairman Mohamed Jalloh. “On behalf of the Freeholder Board I’d like to thank all 192 students who participated enthusiastically in the second annual UC STEP summit.”

As a highlight of each UC STEP summit, groups of participants develop proposals for a countywide civic engagement project. The winning project is selected by popular vote on the UC STEP website, ucnj2.org/uc-step. The students then work with the Freeholder Board and other community organizations to plan, implement, and publicize the campaign.

Of the more than 3,200 votes tallied, the Light Blue team received the most. The team’s “Donate to Educate” campaign will kick off in the coming months. Donate to Educate will enlist schools all over Union County to serve as collection points for school supplies to help students in need.

UC STEP is a youth development program initiated by Freeholder Linda Carter during her term as Chairman in 2013. The program is designed to bring students together from all walks of life, and provide them with an opportunity to work with the Freeholder Board to enlist their fellow Union County residents in a common goal.

“The students involved in the first UC STEP campaign, Support 4 Soldiers, did a great job of enabling Union County residents to connect with members of the military who are serving overseas,” said Jalloh. “The Freeholder Board looks forward to helping ensure a successful campaign for Donate to Educate, too.”

Details on how to contribute to Donate to Educate will be available soon.

For more information about UC-STEP, and to view a video explaining the Donate to Educate campaign, visitucnj2.org/uc-step or call the Union County Department of Economic Development, 908-527-4103.

Union County Launches Support 4 Soldiers with Local High Schoolers

Union County Kicked off the Support for Soldiers Campaign this past Wednesday, March 19 at the Westfield Armory in Westfield. Chosen by popular vote, and created at the UC STEP Summit, Support 4 Soldiers endeavors to unite schools from across Union County to collect supplies for care packages for active military personnel overseas and at home. Pictured (from left) are Freeholder Linda Carter, Danielle Bracco - executive director, Bonds of Courage, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Morris - executive officer and Brigade Full Time Officer In Charge, Freeholder Alexander Mirabella, Amy Wagner - deputy director, Union County Department of Economic Development.

Union County Kicked off the Support for Soldiers Campaign this past Wednesday, March 19 at the Westfield Armory in Westfield. Chosen by popular vote, and created at the UC STEP Summit, Support 4 Soldiers endeavors to unite schools from across Union County to collect supplies for care packages for active military personnel overseas and at home. Pictured (from left) are Freeholder Linda Carter, Danielle Bracco – executive director, Bonds of Courage, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Morris – executive officer and Brigade Full Time Officer In Charge, Freeholder Alexander Mirabella, Amy Wagner – deputy director, Union County Department of Economic Development.

Union County’s popular student engagement program, UC STEP, kicked off its first service-based initiative, Support 4 Soldiers, last week at the Westfield Armory on Rahway Avenue in Westfield.

“The board is so excited to see the dedication of our students to a project and a cause that not only binds them as a community, but also gives back to the heroes and she-roes who sacrifice themselves to protect our civil liberties,” said Freeholder Linda Carter.

The kick-off event not only provided the opportunity for the participating schools to collect campaign supplies and merchandise, but also the chance to interact with military personnel to learn how soldiers across the country benefit from care packages like those that the Support 4 Soldiers campaign will create. More than 20 schools across the county will be participating in the program by setting up collection boxes in the respective schools.

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Morris, executive officer and Brigade Full Time Officer in Charge, thanked the students at the kick-off, and commented on how efforts like S4S go far in boosting moral; reminding everyone that despite the uniform, soldiers are just regular people.

“When this uniform comes off they [soldiers] are regular members of the community just like you,” he said.

Support 4 Soldiers was the winning campaign from the first UC STEP Summit which was held on Dec. 13, 2013. Winning with more than 1,800 votes, the large-scale community service project features a partnership with the Board of Chosen Freeholders to collect items to be used in care packages for active military troops at home, and abroad. Also partnering in this endeavor is Bonds of Courage, a nonprofit organization supporting troops, veterans and their families to build morale, and to meet needs involving jobs, health, families, and finances.

The campaign also features a point-based competition for the most successful S4S campaign, in which the winning school will receive a $1,000 Start Now grant, provided by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Union County Announces Winner of UC STEP Civic Engagement Challenge

Group Lavender and the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders at the 157th Union County Reorganization Group Lavender (Left to Right): Alyson Liu, Kalilah Underwood, Kristen Nugent, Thomas Little, Johann Ernest, Shazuil Bennett, Jalyse LeeUnion County Board of Chosen Freeholders (Left to Right): Freeholder Bruce Bergen, Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak, Freeholder Linda Carter, Freeholder Vernell Wright, Freeholder Alexander Mirabella, Freeholder Angel G. Estrada, Freeholder Sergio Granados, Freeholder Vice Chairman Mohamed S. Jalloh

Group Lavender and the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders at the 157th Union County Reorganization
Group Lavender (Left to Right): Alyson Liu, Kalilah Underwood, Kristen Nugent, Thomas Little, Johann Ernest, Shazuil Bennett, Jalyse LeeUnion County Board of Chosen Freeholders (Left to Right): Freeholder Bruce Bergen, Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak, Freeholder Linda Carter, Freeholder Vernell Wright, Freeholder Alexander Mirabella, Freeholder Angel G. Estrada, Freeholder Sergio Granados, Freeholder Vice Chairman Mohamed S. Jalloh

The winner of the UC STEP Civic Engagement challenge was recently announced by Union County Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak at Union County’s 157th reorganization meeting. Group Lavender won the challenge with over 1800 votes from students, teachers, parents and community members with their “Support 4 Soldiers” campaign.

“Over 4600 votes came in county-wide for the various projects,” Hudak said, “The Freeholder Board is proud, not only that our local student came up with such thoughtful and inspiring ideas, but more that the members of our community came together to show them such great support.”

The headline event of Union County’s very first UC STEP program, the Civic Engagement Challenge brought students together to brainstorm and create a county-wide community service campaign which will be enacted through the Freeholder Board in connection with Union County students.

“Support 4 Soldiers” will include a coordinated drive to collect items to be used in care packages for active military troops. Collection sites will be located in local schools, movie theaters, and libraries.

UC STEP, promotes positive youth development through focusing on topics like leadership, personal growth, and more importantly, civic engagement.

This year’s event, hosted by Kean University, brought together 192 high school sophomores and juniors from 26 high schools across the County, and featured discussion sessions, including “You Be the Judge,” which focused on crafting an effective elevator speech, and “How to be an Effective Leader,” which focused on identifying the diversity, concerns, and values of individuals.

Union County Urges Students to STEP UP and STAND OUT at 1st Ever UC STEP Program

Union County Freeholders Sergio Granados (left), Alexander Mirabella (2nd left) and Freeholder Chairman Linda Carter (right) with event staff members Micayla (front left) and Alex Mirabella (front right) and students from the Academy for Information Technology at the closing of the UC STEP program on Friday, December 13th at Kean University’s STEM Building. One of Chairman Carter’s initiatives, the UC STEP program brought together 192 sophomores and juniors from 26 schools around Union County, and featured a day focused on fostering leadership and communication skills as well as personal growth through civic engagement.

Union County Freeholders Sergio Granados (left), Alexander Mirabella (2nd left) and Freeholder Chairman Linda Carter (right) with event staff members Micayla (front left) and Alex Mirabella (front right) and students from the Academy for Information Technology at the closing of the UC STEP program on Friday, December 13th at Kean University’s STEM Building. One of Chairman Carter’s initiatives, the UC STEP program brought together 192 sophomores and juniors from 26 schools around Union County, and featured a day focused on fostering leadership and communication skills as well as personal growth through civic engagement.

As Anna O’Brian stepped off of the bus onto the grounds of Kean University, the teenager was not too enthused with  the prospect of spending her day there.

But after spending her day bonding and working together with students from the far reaches of Union County she raved about her enriching experience at the UC STEP Program.

“When I thought about the day I was missing at my school, I wasn’t really looking forward to it,” said the Westfield High School student. “But the activities have been amazing. I’ve done things I’ve never done before.”

Anna, along with 192 other Union County high school sophomores and juniors, was selected by her school to participate in UC STEP- a unique program promoting positive youth development through focusing on topics like leadership, personal growth, and more importantly, civic engagement.

“Civic engagement through service and community activities not only inspires youth to become active participants in society, it also fosters empathy and makes students more aware of the issues that plague their greater community,” said Freeholder Chairman Linda Carter.

“I can’t think of a better program to close out my Chairmanship. As an educator, this is something I’m extremely passionate about,” she said.

Hosted by Kean University, the half-day program featured discussion sessions, including “You Be the Judge,” which focused on crafting an effective elevator speech, and “How to be an Effective Leader,” which focused on identifying the diversity, concerns, and values of individuals.

The most popular session was “Civic Engagement,” which brought all of the UC STEP participants together to create, plan, and propose social action projects- the best of which would be chosen by popular vote and executed by Union County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders with the students.

As part of the competition, the students divided into 10 groups containing students from different schools. Using a set of facts about Union County, and minimal guidelines, each group was instructed to envision a project that would be realistic and replicable in other schools, recognizing the diversity of the County’s demographics.

The result was something amazing, according to Amy Wagner, Bureau Chief of Union County’s Bureau of Government Relations and Community Outreach, who served as planning team leader for  the program.

“The students in each group, despite not knowing each other, really embraced the idea of the civic engagement project. It was wonderful to see them working collaboratively and talking about themes like giving, homelessness and mentorship,” Wagner said.

Benjamin Freedman, a student at the Academy for Information Technology talked about his group’s service project- Bringing Holiday Spirit to the Elderly

“The people that have given us hope, deserve some hope back,” he said.

After the presentation portion of the session, the students voted on their favorite projects. The top four projects were:

  • 4 Seasons of Service: a project that involves different community service projects based on the seasons of the year.
  • Bands for Benefit: a project that involves organizing a large scale concert whose proceeds would benefit Union County’s Homeless.
  • Lending a Hand:  which involves Union County high school students serving as tutors and mentors for children in county shelters.
  • Support 4 Soldiers: a project that would support a coordinated drive to collect items to be used in care packages for active military troops.

The projects are now open to a larger, community-wide vote to determine the contender which will be announced at Union County’s Reorganizational Meeting on January 5th.