Between the global economic meltdown of 2008 and a series of natural disasters culminating in Hurricane Sandy, Union County has seen its share of crises over the past four years. We have also been touched by the sorrows borne by communities not so very far away; here in New Jersey, the devastation of shore towns by the storm, and in Newtown, Connecticut, a human tragedy from which no real recovery is ever possible.
While our hearts and minds reach out in sympathy, we can also look inward and prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead. And as this year comes to a close, there is cause for renewed hope in the future.
One cause for optimism has been the growth of new relationships all across the spectrum of our community. In this regard, Hurricane Sandy illustrates just how strong these ties have become.
The aftermath of the storm left an extremely hazardous situation in Union County that could have lead to widespread, tragic results. Instead, injury and loss of life were minimal. For that, full credit is due to the countless thousands who exercised patience and perseverance, and who attended to their neighbors’ well being.
A vital hub of the response effort was the countywide Regional Evacuation Center, for which the Township of Cranford provided its recreation center and personnel. Because they stepped up, a safe place to stay was guaranteed for anyone in need.
The Evacuation Center involved all levels of community engagement, starting with advance planning by County and local officials. Fifty Union County Medical Reserve Corps volunteers were at the ready to staff the Center, often taking leave from their jobs or shuttling straight between work and volunteering.
The Salvation Army played a critical role, as did the Red Cross, three dozen people who individually volunteered, and many volunteer employees from County and local offices. Even the children pitched in, many through school and Scout groups.
Hurricane Sandy also engendered a new growth of cooperation between County and local elected officials. That included daily briefings during the aftermath and an after-action conference, and we intend to build on these new lines of communication.
Another kind of relationship has been illustrated by our new Union County Means Business initiative, which was supported by leaders in the business, academic and non-profit spheres. Built around a series of networking events, Union County Means Business has forged new partnerships that benefit the entire economic environment. It has been a heartening demonstration of the “we’re all in this together” outlook that I have always cherished as a lifelong Union County resident.
This has been the pattern throughout these past four years. These crises have bound us more closely to each other. We are learning and adapting to new economic circumstances and a new environment, in which expecting the unexpected is the new normal.
From what I have witnessed this year especially, the residents of Union County are more than equal to any challenge that lies ahead, and we are a stronger community than ever before.
With that in mind, I wish you all a happy holiday season, and best wishes for the coming year.