As I have written before, when I first moved to the United States in 1998, I was unable to work, since I was awaiting approval of my work permit. I didn't relish watching daytime soaps until I could work, so I started looking around to see what was happening in my new hometown. One day, I spotted a newspaper article about a local organization called "The Center For Community Renewal." I was intrigued, but a little wary that the group might be full of right-wing nutjobs who wanted to gentrify the town. The article included a telephone number, so I decided to call up to get a feel for the organization and what they were doing.
The person I talked to invited me to the group's next meeting, and I accepted. When I attended, I found a roomful of ordinary people, mostly involved with other local nonprofit and community groups. What they had in common was a feeling that Edison, New Jersey, along with many other places was suffering from a lack of community. Led by a Husband and Wife team, Ian Durand and April Cormaci, the group was brainstorming ideas about projects and programs that they thought might help foster a renewed sense of community.
Being part of this group led to a number of things for me. The people, in what was usually referred to just as "The Center," represented a wide range of people in the area, and I found out a lot about Edison very quickly. I made some excellent friends, people who are still friends today. It also got me involved with The Friends of the Edison Public Library, of which I am now President and my Wife is on the board. Above all, I found it an excellent way to connect to my adopted home. I would personally recommend that anyone moving into a new community try finding a local organization to join.
I would be negligent if I talked about my involvement with The Center For Community Renewal without saying a little about this unique and wonderful group and its origins.
In 1997, a friend told Ian Durand that he was not fulfilling his potential, and challenged him to come up with something completely different from anything he had done before. What Ian, a Canadian by birth but a longtime resident of Edison, came up with some months later was The Center. Many meetings with friends and family ensued. In a weird twist of fate, Ian's daughter was driving along a major road in Edison when she spotted a wallet. She stopped to pick it up and found contact details in it. The wallet was returned to its owner, a man named Dock Houk, founder of The National Heritage Foundation. In appreciation, Dock set up The Center as a non-profit under the umbrella of his organization and donated $1000 to get it started.
In Early 1999, Ian and his Wife April took a course during which they were challenged to create a major project unlike anything they had done before. Ian came up with a "Family Fun Day" in a local park. April came up with the idea of a huge book sale. That's the point at which I came in. "The Edison Book and Arts Fair" was the first of many local projects in which I became involved.
Have you joined a local organization as a way to get to know a new community? Have you found other ways to help with this process? If so, we would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment.
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