PHOTO: Martina Hernandez and Christina Hernandez, LBC parent leaders

Long Branch, N.J.—Long Branch Concordance Family Success Center held its 8th Annual 7th Avenue Strengthening Families Community Garden Kick-off and Health Fair this past Saturday. The kick-off was the opening day for families to register for garden plots, connect with the community, and become acquainted with wellness service providers. The Family Success Center partnered with Jacob Jones, City of Long Branch, back in the spring of 2009 to grow the tradition of the garden, and the essential partnership that continues to provide organic produce growing community health, creating urban beautification, and being a representation of the diversity of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Underneath cloudy skies a community shined bright as LBC staff, board members, interns, volunteers, wellness providers, city officials, and families came together to share a healthy breakfast, clear plots for cultivation, receive free health screenings. During the growing season at the community garden families have the opportunity to learn how to plant, and cultivate spices, vegetables, flowers, and fruit.

PHOTO:  Youth Pastor Matt Jones and Searchlight youth group members

Community wellness partners provided free HIV, blood pressure, and glucose screenings to visitors. There were interactive informational presentations, and displays on nutrition, healthy eating, and resources available in our community. Wellness partners in attendance included Horizon BCBS NJ, Brookdale Community College Nursing Students, Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, Covenant House, 180 Turning Lives Around, Rutgers SNAP-Ed, and Hola Doctor Insurance Services. Long Branch Concordance extends an exceptional thank you to all the wellness service providers that contributed to the kick-off as these community collaborations help to grow the resiliency of the community and strengthen the impact.

PHOTO: Mayor Adam Schneider, Garden Specialist Mark Davis, Councilwoman Kathleen Billings, and Erin Conti

City officials presented a strong presence at the Community Garden Kick-off, and reinforced the importance of social commitment to health and wellness on all levels within the community. “When the community comes out to support and interact with one another as a whole, it promotes social inclusivity and works to grow social trust,” stated Jahmoia Rice-Norflett, LBC Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator. “These two components are vital to the mission of strengthening families and creating community.” Council members, Micheal Sirianni, Kathleen Billings, Joy Bastille, and John Pallone could be seen touring the garden, interacting with families, and serving as catalyst in the growth of the community. Mayor Adam Schreider was a well-received guest at the garden whose presence promoted the importance of the investment in community and its families.

PHOTO: Milton Daniels and Antionette Joyner

Butterflies, cats and lions could be seen running around the garden; not the actual insects and animals but the face-painted children! “It was such a great day for families and their children. There were activities for the kids, crafts, games, and face painting. The families are excited about the garden and the upcoming planting season,” stated Lourdes Alcaraz, LBC Bi-lingual Family Support Partner. “Thank you to Shekira Farrell for volunteering at the event, making it that much more colorful with face painting.”  The volunteer list was made longer when the Youth Group from Searchlight Church arrived. Led by Youth Pastor Matt Jones, the group hauled debris from the garden plots in preparation for the growing season. Searchlight Youth Group are regular volunteers at the Family Success Center.

“As a valuable part of the LBC’s mission to prevent child maltreatment by strengthening families, the 7th Avenue Community Garden provides an opportunity to promote parent—child interaction, as well as grow parent knowledge, family literacy, and life skills,” stated Lisa Wilson, Executive Director. “The garden becomes an interactive family activity where everyone learns how to prepare and store healthy foods, too. Also, twice weekly LBC staff attend the garden to offer free parent—child activities. We are looking forward to a healthy active summer!”

For more information about volunteering at the garden and registering for a plot of your own, contact Jahmoia Rice-Norflett, Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator, at (732) 571-1670 or email to Jahmoia@lbc4help.org or Lourdes Alcaraz, Bi-lingual Family Support partner by email to lourdes@lbc4help.org. For more information about Youth Group Activities contact Searchlight Church at 732-962-1522 or by email at hello@searchlightchurch.com