The Joe Thomasberger HUUB Community Fellowship is a leadership development program for people passionate about promoting social justice and building community. The Reverend Joe Thomasberger was an activist minister in Essex County who made a difference in the lives of hundreds of young people in Orange. Rev Joe was the minister of North Orange Baptist Church in 1967 when families in his neighborhood began to lose their homes and recreational centers with the construction of Route 280. Recognizing how important these lost services would be, he partnered with the YWCA to create The Outpost, a program that offered recreation, family services and college guidance to families. Later on, he became a strong advocate for the expansion of early childhood services in Newark. Rev Joe was committed to his community throughout his entire life, and the HUUB is lucky to have called him an ally and dear friend. We are so honored that this program can help to carry on his legacy. Listen to the Fellows talk about their experiences below!

To start the fellowship, JT Fellows learn about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and advance HUUB’s mission to build community in Orange by supporting existing HUUB programming and / or developing their own projects aligned with HUUB’s mission. This year our Community and Program organizer Zaki Michael led the charge in organizing a cohort of six new JT Fellows, who ranged in cultural backgrounds, age, and professional experience, making for a very diverse group of community organizers. This year, they worked closely with HUUB’s community projects to provide additional support and expand overall outreach.

The JT Fellows began their program term supporting outreach for Planning To Stay. Planning to Stay (P2S) is a community based working group that believes development is fundamental to the health and well-being of every city and that it should improve the lot of the people and businesses already in a place while also attracting new investment and resources. By mobilizing stakeholders in Orange, facilitating meetings, and organizing workshops around the future of the city, P2S aims to create a multi-scale, multi-system strategy that addresses economic stability, neighborhoods and the physical environment, education, food, community and social engagement, and healthcare. The goals include helping design and adopt equitable development policies to support and improve the conditions of residents and businesses currently in the city as well as those who arrive in the future. 

The first area of focus for the Fellows was responding to the City’s Central Orange Redevelopment Area (CORA) development study, which proposes power of condemnation and threatens the existing residents, historic sites, and several long-standing and successful local businesses that fall within the study’s boundaries. Under the organizing work of the Planning to Stay committee the JT Fellows helped to mobilize close to 90 residents and business owners to attend the city Planning board meeting where this study would be presented and voted on for approval. Additionally, the Fellows also worked to develop and conduct a community survey with resident and local business that would be affected by the study’s development proposals. This was done by canvasing the addresses on the City’s CORA condemnation list as well as along Orange’s Main Street. The Fellows and other canvassers informed residents and business owners of the dangers of the study as well as how they can get involved locally to help push for support and protection for all community members. These organizing efforts successfully help to increase civic participation and community engagement at City Council and Orange Planning Board meetings, moving the narrative towards a more inclusive and equitable city plan.

During the second half of the Fellowship, JT Fellows focused their energy on helping to organize and outreach for the Stories and Dreams community documentary project. This storytelling project grew from the community input we heard during the Planning to Stay Summit on March 27, 2021. The project was designed to collect narratives from Orange stakeholders about their experience in Orange during the pandemic year, memories of the Heart of Orange and other neighborhoods, and connections to Orange Memorial Hospital – the Stories. Stakeholders were also prompted to talk about their Dreams – possibilities of things to come, hopes as we emerge from the pandemic, and visions for the Orange Memorial Hospital site. With the help of local videographer and photographer Tyree Huey, the Fellows were able to collect stories from longtime residents and business owners, immigrant groups, advocates, and anyone interested in sharing their stories. They are now helping to plan an exhibition and gallery event at the HUUB to showcase the stories through various media outlets, including social media, digital galleries, and podcasting platforms.

The Joe Thomasberger Fellowship has continued to play a major role in the development and expansion of the HUUB’s mission to strengthen relationships and support civic engagement in the city to realize the stakeholders’ visions for Orange and surrounding communities. The Fellowship program continues to be a great way for HUUB to support, work with, and learn from a diverse team of community advocates. This year’s cohort had the ability to add their individual passions to a collective approach of tackling threats of gentrification and displacement. We are excited to see them take their experience and everything they’ve learned into the community to continue the work that Rev Joe started 45 years ago when he created the Outpost.