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Featured Partnership

Transcript: HANDS Inc. – Orange, NJ

Pat: In June of 2001, a group of citizens, community leaders, and public officials came together to talk about where would Orange be when the year 2010 came to a close? And that day, it was decided that if Orange is going to have a renaissance, it’s going to begin in the Valley neighborhood.

While the Valley neighborhood had a ton of challenges, it also had some important assets. It’s got a train station, a commuter rail station with service to New York City in under 45 minutes. It had vacant factory buildings. This was once called the hat-making capital of the world.

So it was felt that in The Valley, we could get some real momentum and that momentum could fuel the long-term renaissance of Orange. And out of those goals for a revitalized neighborhood came the idea that the arts could be a driver for many of those goals.

Back in 2005, we launched, with a group of artists, educators, and community leaders, we launched a community arts organization named Valley Arts, and Valley Arts does what HANDS can’t do.

Mike: Valley Arts is the cultural boots on the ground, if you will, of this particular area and now it has grown into a very, very sophisticated sort of arts initiative.

Pat: This community arts organization is the locus of attracting people who want to be part of making this a great community.

Denise McGregor Armbrister: In the beginning, we really had a lot of questions around how HANDS was going to convert the Valley neighborhood into an arts district, but I must say that after ten years of working with HANDS, their vision for the Valley, turning it into an arts district has really come to life.

Dwan: I live in Orange my entire life and I’ve watched different areas of the neighborhood change and the Valley has made the most significant change with the development of so many arts-based resources for young people and for just community to just kind of get better.

Patricia: And I saw a group of talented, ambitious individuals here that wanted a future in Orange and they wanted to figure out how they can cultivate the young people that were already here in relation to the efforts that HANDS and Valley Arts were doing, so I was very inspired by that. You can actually be a part of a neighborhood like this that’s still growing. So with HANDS, I learned that was possible.

Pat: The essence of our work and the thing that I found the most exciting and I should say, most surprising, is that this is a community engagement project more than anything else. Bringing people together, finding artists who lived in our community – we didn’t even know about them. They were going elsewhere to be with artists and finding all the young artists in our middle school and high school who, once we created space for them, flocked to us.

Mike: Some children, young people in these communities, they thrive off being able to express themselves creatively through art, through music, through dance, you know, through so many other styles of expression. And that’s genius, too, and you know, to be able to invest in that says a lot about, you know, how we – what we value in community.

HANDS has committed to not only expanding the housing opportunities here but also has been very, very committed what some of us in this space call arts-driven community development. A lot of us are here because of the unique opportunity that that relationship proved for most of us.

Denise McGregor Armbrister: Just working with HANDS and the leadership at HANDS at Pat Morrisey has also been quite a learning experience for us in terms of the strategies that are used to really – how’d she say? Push forward a vision of revitalization.


Pat: The future of The Valley is secure. There are lots of businesses here. There’s private development of housing happening finally after the, you know, the long, Great Recession. But really, the secret of The Valley is fueled not just by intentional relationships, but by a sense of being part of something exciting that’s advancing the entire community.