The Morris County Board of County Commissioners today joined the New York Jets, United Way of Northern New Jersey, and NRG Energy in dedicating a new playground for children at the Head Start of Morris County center in Parsippany.
The $75,000 playground, constructed on the Head Start side lawn, was donated and built through a collaboration involving United Way of Northern New Jersey, the New York Jets, and NRG Energy under the NFL "Hometown Huddle" philanthropy program.
The Jets Women's Organization volunteered to join work crews to assemble the playground on Monday and completed the job before a Nor'easter hit the area later that night.
"Hometown Huddle" is an NFL-wide day of service that provides NFL players, coaches, spouses, and staff from each team the opportunity to participate in a variety of community service activities.
For the past 23 years, the Jets have been building playgrounds, fitness centers, and even weight rooms in underserved communities throughout northern New Jersey, including several locations in Morris County.
"On behalf of the entire New York Jets organization, we're just so excited to be here to unveil what has become an annual event here in Northern New Jersey. I think with this project we've actually gotten over the $1 million mark," said Jesse Linder, Vice President of Community Relations for New York Jets.
"Social and emotional learning is so important, and a lot of those skills can be learned out on a playground, especially when you have safe-space places like this that normally they wouldn't have."
Head Start and the Morris County Commissioners seized the event to re-dedicate the county-owned property.
The Commissioners unveiled a new plaque bearing the names of the board members under the wording: "Dedicated to the Children of Morris County."
The county-owned building also was renamed the "Robert C. Grant Head Start Center of Morris County" in honor of the organization's long-time president.
"I am seldom, if ever, at a loss for words," said Robert C. Grant, who attended the dedication unaware the building was to be renamed in his honor until new letters affixed to the side of the structure were unveiled.
"The classrooms here and the facility is a unique partnership between county government, the Board of County Commissioners, the Head Start program – and we also have to include the Morris School District, the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills, and other cooperative institutions," Grant said.
"One of the reasons I love the whole program is because Head Start is probably one of the – if not the – most successful anti-poverty programs ever created by the federal government. The children who go through this program come out of it on an equal footing with their suburban counterparts."
The Morris County Commissioners initially dedicated the county-owned building for use by Head Start last year. It allowed the early education and childcare program for needy families to expand its services with the potential of doubling the number of children served to 90.
"I am proud to continue supporting this wonderful program, which serves a vital need in our community. Head Start profoundly touches the lives of our most needy children and helps them overcome major challenges in life, so they are ready to go to school with the rest of the children in our community," said Commissioner Director Stephen H. Shaw.
Deputy Director Deborah Smith and Commissioner John Krickus joined Shaw at the ceremony.
Also in attendance were Susan O'Donnell, Executive Director of Head Start of Morris County; Sheriff James M. Gannon, Assemblywoman Aura Dunn and Kiran Gaudioso, CEO of United Way of Northern New Jersey, along with many county employees, Jets staff members, and Head Start children and family members.
"Many of these children do not have a safe-space place to play outdoors at home, so this is it – this is where all that learning and joy happens," said O'Donnell. "So this playground and this whole learning center will be changing children's lives today, tomorrow, and for many years to come."
In 2019, the Commissioners adopted a $1.2 million bond ordinance to rehabilitate the county-owned property under a loan and leasing agreement with the federally funded Head Start program.
Head Start began a slow but steady transition into the new facility at the county Human Services complex on Medical Drive in Parsippany a year ago.
The program previously operated in space that had been provided by the county since 2005 under a nominal leasing arrangement at Morris County's Morris View building in nearby Morris Township.
The mission of the Head Start Community Program of Morris County, founded in 1965, is to collaborate with families to provide comprehensive support for child development and school readiness, from prenatal through kindergarten ages, for the community's most vulnerable children.
The organization serves 333 families, providing free programs for expectant mothers, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers at sites throughout Morris County.
Head Start services are responsive to each child and family's ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage.
Head Start is now situated in an area dubbed Morris County's "Nonprofit Mall" because it has become a central location for many services and nonprofit organizations designed to help disadvantaged families.
Information about services is available by calling Head Start at 973-989-1430, or through the organization's website, www.headstartmc.org.