Thanks to an AARP Community Challenge grant, the town of Dunellen was able to build benches in Columbia Park with help from community volunteers. (L-R) John Gibney, Rachel Appleton, Glenn Donatiello, Homer Mosley Jr, Georgette Mosley, Terri Albertson, Daniel Cole Sigmon, Mayor Jason Cilento, Stacy Narvesen, Kenneth Baudendistel, Peter Albertson Sr., Heidi Heleniak, and Alex Miller.
A half-mile walking path surrounds Dunellen’s Columbia Park, the town’s recreational hub and the location of its senior center. But until recently there was no seating along the path, making it unusable for some older and disabled residents.
Thanks to a $6,500 AARP Community Challenge grant, the borough’s Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Dunellen Municipal Alliance and other groups, added a dozen benches, installed and labeled new plantings, and painted a footbridge in the park.
The Columbia Park project did more than beautify the space, said Jason Cilento, Dunellen’s mayor—it engaged the community across generations.
“They all came in and did it together,” Cilento said.
The town’s high school football team, the Dunellen Destroyers, helped with planting. Members of the Dunellen Senior Citizens Club joined in, too, staining the new benches.
The town’s Arts and Culture Commission painted the park’s footbridge, and a former mayor donated signs for the bridge and walking path.
Even a small grant can have a big impact, Cilento said. “We’re a very small town, so resources are limited.”
Great places, new spaces
Dunellen was among 159 municipalities and organizations in every state (including three in New Jersey), D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to be awarded grants last year through the third annual AARP Community Challenge. There were more than 1,660 applications.
The program funds quick improvements, typically completed in under six months, that are meant to make communities more livable for everyone.
“Here in New Jersey, we want our communities to be great places not just to grow up but to grow old, as well,” said Christine Newman, AARP New Jersey community outreach director.
DUNELLEN WANTS TO HEAR YOUR IDEAS ABOUT FUTURE MURAL INSTALLATIONS
Dunellen, NJ – Residents, business owners and visitors are invited to share their opinions and ideas on possible locations, themes and more regarding future mural installations in the Borough of Dunellen. All are invited to complete the five-minute Dunellen Mural Survey at https://tinyurl.com/
The survey is being administered by the Borough of Dunellen in partnership with Dr. David Listokin’s graduate level class at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. This is Dunellen’s second time partnering with Dr. Listokin and, this time around, Professor Raul Ayala from Mason Gross School of the Arts will be involved as well. The Fall 2021 studio class, “Analysis of Murals as an Arts and Economic Revitalization Strategy: National, New Jersey and Dunellen Perspectives” will use the Dunellen Mural Survey results as a starting point to gauge the community’s interests in murals and develop an appropriate plan of action for the studio. Anticipated outcomes will be a community engagement activity for the creation of a potential mural installation, in addition to a report about the benefits of murals, case studies, planning framework and visual arts mural framework. Recommendations from this work may influence future policy and artwork in the Borough. “I am excited to announce this relationship between Dunellen and Rutgers University,” Mayor Jason Cilento said. “In classic downtown corridors such as Dunellen, public displays of art tend to attract people, help energize spaces and create more visually appealing environments. I am happy that – through this studio – we will be planning the implementation of a public vision of art for our downtown. We’re really excited to work with Dr. Listokin again and look forward to hearing the community’s ideas about murals,” he continued.
The 2017 Dunellen Community Survey by the Dunellen Arts and Culture Commission (DACC) and 2019 Dunellen Transit Hub study by Together North Jersey/North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority both revealed a general interest from the community for murals in Dunellen. “Paintings or other works of art executed directly on a wall are important aesthetically,” according to Dr. Listokin, “as well as for fostering community engagement and catalyzing business and other economic activity in downtowns and other areas.” Many municipalities such as Metuchen, Somerville and Asbury Park employ this strategy in their downtowns. Consistent with the Borough’s recent initiatives such as Dine In Dunellen, the Pop Up Park at North and Prospect, and Green Brook-Dunellen Rotary Club’s small business grant program, economic development in downtown Dunellen is recognized as integral to the health of the overall community. DACC’s chairperson Heidi Heleniak stated, “This study will assist DACC with its mission of providing all Dunellen residents opportunities to experience arts and culture and be used to focus our Mural Committee’s efforts.” This partnership with Rutgers was facilitated by Mayor Cilento and supported by the Borough Council and Borough administration. Questions regarding the survey should be directed to Julie Grof at email@example.com. All other questions should be directed to Borough Administrator William Robins at (732) 968-3033.
Dunellen Recreation has teamed up with The American Legion Post 119 and VFW 5479 on a new Hometown Heroes Program.
Next Stop Dunellen!
To sign up, click here.