As I sat in church one Sunday morning up in Coxsackie, New York, two hours north of home I couldn’t stop thinking of the next big think we could do to help Hoboken. Luckily a lot of people consider Hoboken home, so what popped in my mind wound up coming together quite nicely. When we stared hMAG three years ago, we decided one main priority was to give back to the town.
So far we’ve painted a mural at the Children’s Ward of the hospital, sponsored numerous fundraisers and raised money for almost every charity in town and given free advertising to them as well to name a few. What we didn’t realize at the time was this was a town where almost everyone else has the same idea. It’s our town, we love it and we’re going to do everything we can to continuously make it better.
So my idea was simple, and technically not even my idea, but more like stealing an idea. Extreme Hoboken Makeover! We would find a family in town who desperately needed a makeover for their home and we would find the money, resources and manpower to completely renovate their home. A very novel idea, but again not really mine. But it could be my idea for Hoboken as I don’t recall it being done here before so I’ll take it.
As usual, I showed up Monday morning with this crazy idea that we could do what probably takes an entire team, production crew, sponsors, etc. to do for these television shows with our small staff and a little go get ‘em attitude. And as usual my partners Kevin and Simon rolled their eyes and then said go for it. I luckily have two of the best partners you could ask for as we’re all in it for the same reasons and always back each other up.
The hard part of convincing my partners was over – now came the next step. Finding the talented people, money, resources, experts, etc. to renovate an entire home. First thing we would need was a place to renovate and some interior designers.
We first spoke with Carol Swift, longtime Hoboken interior designer and owner of Swift Morris Interiors. I went over our idea and she immediately posed a problem. What reaction would we get from all the people we didn’t choose to renovate their home? She suggested we choose a place rather than a home. We wound up speaking with George Canda from The Boys and Girls Club. He had two rooms that were in disarray that he said would welcome a makeover. So the venue was set.
Next step. People who knew what they were doing. We contacted our friends Kristin Manco and Christina Voutsinas who are interior designers in town as well.
We explained the simple concept we had of fixing up two rooms at the Boys and Girls Club by painting some murals, fixing some tiles and getting some flat screen TV’s donated. They immediately signed on to our “simple” project. They would become the driving force behind the look and feel of the “new” Boys and Girls Club. Their patience and willingness to be flexible as the project shifted played a major role in accomplishing our goal.
We began to meet and discuss possible ideas for the rooms, design ideas and other uses for the rooms. Similar to our projects at Tisha Creative, no project gets smaller but all jobs grow in size. Just how big is the question.
Enter Lori Heidenry. Happenstance introduced Christina to Lori and she showed up at our next meeting. I had met Lori several times as my wife was a “shore friend” which means she had some old party years with Lori and her husband John down the shore.
We got Lori up to speed with our project and our goals. Not sure how much she listened, but in her capable hands, our project was about to change. The makeover was about to earn its “extreme” status. Our three month project of basically giving the Boys and Girls club a “facelift” was going to turn into a tummy tuck, liposuction and large injection of Botox.
So what went from a paint job and some touch ups wound up taking on a whole new goal. We would completely renovate the bathrooms (urinals and all), put new grids on ceilings, new floors, paint jobs, wallpaper, new pool table, new couches, and flat screens as a start. And this would be phase one. Phase two will address the exterior.
So our plans changed. We would need more money, more time and more resources. Once again, the town and its people would surprise us. Our simple request to people would be that the Boys and Girls Club needed some work done – “will you help us?”
We pointed out that the kids only needed a decent place to go after school to keep them off the streets and in a place that would help them to grow. Our request was answered over and over again with a resounding “YES!”
That’s what makes Hoboken an amazing place. Here’s our idea, here’s how it will help the town, and will you help? Yes. Will you give money? Yes. Will you donate your time? Yes. Will you spend your Saturday painting a room while your kids play in the adjacent gym? Yes.
The help kept pouring in. Robert Jenny jumped in to help with the build out, Bill Melms from Guarino Plumbing took control of the bathroom renovation, John Heidenry lent his expertise and manpower to do the things us amateurs couldn’t do, Carmelo Garcia got a crew in to paint when we needed it with paint donated from Ace Hardware in town and organizations like the Hoboken Rotary that donated money.
One by one more people stepped up to do what was needed to get this project done. A big push came when Lori convinced Home Depot to take on the Boys and Girls Club as their project for the year. They sent a crew of 30 plus in to work on the multi-purpose room and have agreed to work on quarterly projects moving forward.
It’s all about the kids (stolen from Hoboken Dad’s Group). And it is. At the end of the day it is a place where kids can go to be kids. The upgrade has transformed the room from workable into a beautiful space that is livable. That was always the goal from day one.
And Hoboken and its people (and quite a few others) are to thank. It wound up not being about who gets credit for what, what politician stepped up, who would benefit from the good press and who this new place would serve.
A community of adults came together to make a great place for kids to enjoy. And, yes, kids from all walks of life – whether they hail from the housing authority, HoLa, Hoboken, Jersey City, or Union City. All of the kids would all benefit. And 10 years from now, or 20 years from now these kids aren’t going to be discussing who built this place but simply that this place helped them become the people they wound up becoming.
It would teach them how to dance, to sing, to learn and at the core of it all – how to play nice with others. All these kids would get together at a place where they all were equal to reap the benefits of a place that has been helping kids for years to grow mentally, physically and emotionally into the adults that they will eventually become.
So thank you to all! Many of you spent money, time, and experience to make this project a reality. What will stick with me long after the first party with the kids will be the notion that so many people had a willingness to give back to the community to create a place similar to the places that rest in our collective childhood memory.
Stop by the renovated Boys and Girls Club when you have a chance to witness firsthand how a community like yours is changing the lives of our youth. And if you have the next “big thing” that will continue to make Hoboken a great place to raise your kids let us know. We’re looking forward to it.
Photos courtesy of Craig Wallace Dale.