Week 5 - Experiences are the Best Teachers

By: Arnav Jain

I have lived in South River, New Jersey for my entire life. It’s a small town in Central Jersey, and we have a comparatively small governing body. We have an “everyone knows everyone” sort of atmosphere. Growing up, I was actively participating in community events. I’ve always want to get involved in our local government, and understand the politics and daily operations. Frankly, it was only something I could only dream of, until I heard about this program, New Jersey Leadership Program. I value experiences over many things, and decided I should join this program to gain a further understanding of politics in general. While other kids my age are playing Xbox, I thought this would be a great way to make use of my summer as well. As I was younger than the aimed demographic for this program, instead of working at an office like many of our other fellows do, we would work on a project, or perhaps multiple projects. Our ultimate goal is to have a proposal on an idea we have to improve our town.

Me, and two other fellows are interning for South River Councilman Ryan Jones. At the very beginning of the week, we organized a meet-up at our local Starbucks. We introduced ourselves and he explained to us how our local government functioned. It was quite interesting learning how our local ordinances come into action. We also discussed what we had planned for this summer, working on short term project all the way to long term projects.

We followed up with a conference call discussing various topics. We spoke about the effects Pokémon Go has on people our age, influencing other kids our age to get involved within’ the government, attending the National Night Out, and most importantly, ideas on how to further improve our local community park. I very quickly learned that part of discussing new ideas is looking at many different perspectives, and all possible pros and cons In addition, in order to execute our ideas, we had to gain contact that would help in our operations. As this is more of a learning experience, Mr. Jones recommended us to read a few books to further our knowledge on government operations. The books were Start-up City, Tactical Urbanism, Walkable City, Completing Our Streets, and Places of the Heart. After our discussion, we decided it would be a great idea to familiarize ourselves better with the park we were dealing with, so we went there almost every day asking a multitude of people what change they would like to see in our park. Not only was this very effective, but I learned the best way to address a need is to confront the people who will be directly affected by the change.

As our week came to an end, I looked back and thought what an interesting week I had. I’ve learned so much and experienced quite a bit. Not many kids my age get the opportunity to work alongside a Councilman, especially that Mr. Jones is very kind and highly informational. Now, I was looking forward to this week’s Speakership Series. But this was no ordinary Speakership Series, it was “Non-profit and Activism” themed. I can especially relate to non-profits since I am a Youth Leader in one. And frankly, activism just sounds very intriguing.

Our first speaker, Mrs. Nadia Hussain, was wonderful. Her enthusiasm in her speech truly lit the room up. She talked about how she saw a need for something, and implemented a non-profit. She also mentioned how she is against what she thinks needs to stop, domestic violence. Our second speaker, Ms. Kavita Mehra was truly inspirational. Experiences from her young years shaped her to who she is today. She also believes that failure is a way to learn, and can shape who you become. Last, but not least, our final speaker, Mr. Justin Braz introduced himself as the Executive Director of the New Leaders Council. This non-profit organization trains and mentors civic leaders of tomorrow through a very rigorous course.

Personally, I think all of these speakers were amazing in every aspect of their speeches. They truly inspired me to expand my expeditions in non-profits and stand up for what I think is wrong. As this was the last speakership event, I want to thank everyone who was involved in making this a reality for us, as it has certainly left an impact on me.