highlands hopeHIGHLANDS, NJ - Highlands Communities of Hope, an initiative started under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization A Future With Hope and the Atlantic Highlands and Navesink United Methodist Churches held its first community organizing meeting Thursday night at the Highlands Host Site on Bay Avenue. 
More than 30 community leaders and interested residents joined together to learn about the initiative and make plans for the next steps.  The group included three current members of Highlands Borough Council, representatives from the police, leaders of community groups, a representative from the YMCA and others.

The Highlands Community of Hope is a community development project with a vision that sees the Borough of Highlands as a community of opportunity, prosperity and wholeness.  The mission is to build a coalition of community groups and partners that will join to create programs and activities that foster a healthy community.

The founding members of the group participated in a 6 month training program on community development organized by A Future With Hope.  The program focused on asset based development.

A Future With Hope is a nonprofit organization started by the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey to help the people of New Jersey rebuild and recover from Superstorm Sandy.  Through January of 2016, they have rebuilt 200 homes using more than 10,000 volunteers under the direction of a registered NJ contractor.  A Future With Hope’s Highlands Host Site has brought approximately 1,000 volunteers to the area.  They have rebuilt 11 homes in Highlands and are currently working on two more.

Bobbie Ridgely, Executive Director of A Future With Hope, was on hand to share how that organization is an example of a success story.  “When I started with A Future With Hope, I was the vision of rebuilding 300 homes seemed daunting.  I’d never done anything like that.  Now, three years after the storm, we’re making it happen.”

She outlined that A Future With Hope’s work is possible through community partnership – much like the goal of the Highlands Community of Hope.  A Future With Hope has received generous grants from the American Red Cross, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund and
the United Methodist Committee on Relief.  They also receive support from recovery partners including Episcopal Relief and Development, the Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Ministries, World Renew, Christian Public Service and county long term recovery groups and thousands of individual donors from across New Jersey and around the world.

“Working together makes all the difference,”  she told the group.  “This kind of success is possible here as well.”  

Sue Thomas, the leader of Highlands Community of Hope said the training was intense, “I was overwhelmed at first and I didn’t know how we could make it happen.  What I learned was eye opening and our group has dedicated itself to using our strengths to help make Highlands a community of opportunity.”

As a result of the training, they spent time meeting and listening to the community including principals of the schools, council people, town administrators and other leaders.  This work led to the creation of a survey widely distributed through town to gather more information on the needs and assets that exist.  Close to 150 people responded to the survey and the team shared the results at Thursday’s meeting.

The survey indicated the greatest concerns focused on three areas:  ongoing flooding issues, communication, and activities for youth, families and seniors.  Participants then broke up into three groups to discuss the first steps to address these issues.

Follow up meetings are being formed to continue the work.  The Highlands Community of Hope is open to all residents.  For more information or to get involved, contact the United Methodist Church  of Atlantic Highlands at 732-291-0485.