Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 47
 
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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Isles Celebrates the Work of Seven “Spirit of Community” Recipients

Ellen Gilbert

“Spirit of Community Awards” were given to Debby D’Arcangelo, Donald Davis, Sacred Downing, Jose Hernandez, Cameron Hunt, Eric Maywar and Deborah Prendergast last week at Isles’s annual Harvest Dinner.

Founded in 1981 by current President Marty Johnson and two other Princeton University students, Isles is itself an award-winning community development and environmental nonprofit organization.

“These often unsung heroes have shown unusual courage by stepping into the public light, assuming leadership roles and taking risks,” observed Mr. Johnson speaking to the 325 people who filled the Trenton Marriott ballroom.

Substituting the word “resilient” for “sustainable,” Mr. Johnson saluted the seven honorees for enhancing “the community’s self-help tool box.”

“It’s a wonderful thing that a non-profit is recognizing a for-profit enterprise,” said Larice Reynold’s, who, with honoree Eric Maywar, owns Classics Used and Rare Books on South Warren Street in Trenton. “Of course we run our place like a non-profit,” she added, referring to Classics’ Scrabble, Book, and Knitting Clubs, among other activities that make it a social hub for the community.

“Social capital is not just important in a touch-feely, kumbaya way,” observed Mr. Maywar. “Social capital produces tangible results. In communities where social capital is high, kids do better in school, more people volunteer, more people vote and otherwise care about their city.”

“I love this community and everything about it,” said Ms. D’Arcangelo, who moved to Trenton in 2000. “I am most interested in how to help level the playing field in our society,” added the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton trustee. “How can we work together in a way that benefits everyone?”

In addition to overseeing the refurbishing of the Trenton YWCA, Mr. Hernandez was the founder of “Stand Against Racism,” a program in which schools, banks and other community organizations sponsor events where citizens take a pledge against racism and discrimination of any kind. Founded in 2008, “Stand Against Racism” is now partnered by more than 2,000 organizations in 32 states.

Projects spearheaded by Isles include the creation and nurturing of community gardens, training individuals for “green jobs” that will allow them to retrofit older builders to be more energy-efficient, and offering help with mortgages and loans to budding micro-businesses.

The recent economic slide has taken its toll on Isles. “The financial downturn caused damage and pain to the average American, so it’s especially bad in places like Trenton” observed Resource Development Managing Director Yuko Moore Laurenti, who served as the evening’s mistress of ceremonies. “That’s why it’s important to be together, honoring our own home-grown agents of change.”

These agents of change have “chosen not to just earn a living, but to live a purposeful life,” said Rev. Karen Herandez-Granzen in her Invocation.

The Trenton Central High School Orchestra provided the evening’s music, including a medley of Stevie Wonder favorites. Students from The Calvary Dance Academy also offered a stirring performance.

Ms. Laurenti noted that next year marks the 30th anniversary of Mr. Johnson’s graduation from Princeton — not to mention Isles’s own 30th birthday. The celebration will begin on Saturday, January 8, 2011 with a benefit concert appearance by Dar Williams at the Nassau Presbyterian Church.

For more information about Isles, visit http://isles.org/main/.

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