Coming Full Circle - Happy 30th Anniversary HANDS!

HANDS 30 Celebrating Thirty Years of Impact

HANDS 30 Celebrating Thirty Years of Impact

By Patricia Rogers

HANDS, Inc. is a nonprofit organization aimed at the revitalization of Orange, New Jersey neighborhoods.  Started by Patrick Morrissy in 1986, it first focused on fixing houses in the heart of Orange and later the Valley neighborhood on the border of Orange and West Orange.  HANDS, along with ValleyArts, have been the powering organizations of the Valley Arts District efforts.

In 2011, I came to New Jersey as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with HANDS.  One of my first assignments was to join the planning committee for the organization’s 25th-anniversary party, in addition to building the community earth oven on a lot of Ironworks and cultivating a youth arts program, ORNG Ink.  Coming to Orange has absolutely changed my life.

At the time that I moved here, I was fresh out of college and wondering what I was going to do with my life.  Like most recent college grads, I was lost.  But luckily, coming to the Valley and taking Pat’s vision and making my own career out of it has been a blessing.  So now, being in a different place in my career, and as a person, I like to reflect five years later.

In preparation for the celebration Christine Jackson, a lovely and energetic communications director at HANDS invited me to share my story.  Wells Fargo Regional Foundation was doing a retrospective of the work that the organization has done in the last thirty years.  I was honored, yet a little nervous.  I am usually pretty awkward in front of the camera.  But I knew this was important to the Valley’s course of history, Pat as he nears retirement, and HANDS.  I also can’t say no to Christine, she’s awesome.

As I walked into the Firehouse Gallery, on the narrow side there were lights and a camera crew, and it began to sink in how real it was.  I was prepped for questions, microphones and all.  I kept thinking how glad I was that I wore my red power blazer.  As I sat waiting to start, my heart pounding, and with voices telling me what to share, I made sure to remember that this was my story.  This was my story and voice that will be left upon the world (or the internet and social media).

After a few deep breaths, it became easier and easier to articulate.  I am not used to being on that side of things.  I was grateful that the journalist had direct questions for me.  I was asked to share my experience with HANDS and how being involved with the organization helped my career and my thoughts on what attracted me.  That is when it just flowed.  I say all the time it is important to reflect when doing community work, it makes the missions and goals more well-rounded and easier to come to realizations.

Screen grab from the HANDS 30 video.  Watch the full video below. 

Screen grab from the HANDS 30 video.  Watch the full video below. 

I began to reminisce about my days with HANDS and most importantly ORNG Ink/Ironworks.  The emerging artist studio truly became a home and place for myself and now recognized community leaders/artists to begin to build our foundation for careers and futures in Orange.  That will always be the draw for me as far as moving to Orange.  I also shared how the rich history and community leadership of the city of Orange and efforts to revitalize it are the most attractive to me.

In addition to that, I shared a specific moment during my time with HANDS; I was sitting in a staff meeting and Patrick Morrissy was sharing anecdotes from his earlier days with HANDS.  I was inspired that all of this profound work changing a city, and eventually lives, started with a vision.  At the time, I got emotional because we were still working towards a growing vision twenty-five years later.

And now, I was here discussing all that had been done for now thirty-five years later.  And with myself and other young people, I am ready to see what the future brings.  Last week, at an intimate celebration at Hat City Kitchen, we were all able to come together and celebrate the past, present, and future.  Complete with a new logo design, which shows the new direction.

The celebration kicked off with drink specials and buffet, and a slideshow of photos over the last thirty years.  HANDS board member, Mindy Fullilove, MD opened with a “rose-colored view of HANDS” and mentioned that everything you need to know about cities you can find out in the city of Orange.  Then, a few words by Patrick Morrissy, Deborah Boatwright from NeighborWorks America, and closing remarks from HANDS board chair, Elliott Lee.

All in all, it was a special event for me, HANDS, Pat and the community.  Congratulations to HANDS!  I cannot wait to see what I am writing about for the 35th Anniversary.  Wow, how things will have changed.

Watch the HANDS 30 video here:

About the Writer

Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District.  The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist.  Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more.  She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services.  Visit her blog and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).