Area locals are familiar with the semi-annual Clean Communities program administered for Hopewell Township by the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. Traditionally, different groups, like scouts or sports teams, come out on designated clean-up days and are paid money that is donated to their favorite nonprofit. The next clean-up day is April 13, and we are thrilled for all groups taking part in supporting our community.

One group, however, will use Clean Communities as a vehicle to go beyond clean up, beyond raising money, and beyond local conservation. Before I share their story, let’s discuss some current Hopewell Valley events.

Recently, Hopewell Valley has received attention relating to its lack of ethnic diversity. In 2014, the school district began raising awareness about this topic by initiating conversations about race, gender, and income both within and outside of the Valley. Our journey was documented in an article that I co-wrote with the superintendent for a 2017 statewide journal.

As a result, the school district formed a cultural competency committee and engaged in a wider-reaching Day of Dialogue. The local community formed a Hopewell Valley Race and Diversity Discussion group that hosts a monthly potluck dinner. Also, last Saturday, March 9, there was a “Community Conversation” that included the school district, municipal, and community leaders.

We are always looking for unique opportunities for Boys and girls club kids, and if they can be giving back in the process, even better.”

Many of the dialogues, discussions, and conversations came to similar some conclusions—acceptance of people unlike yourself may be best achieved when individuals can relate, empathize, or truly connect to those “others.”

Interestingly, there has been a group at Central High School already experiencing true connections to people of different races and socio-economic lifestyles. Led by Kenyan-born Dr. David Angwenyi, the GC Club links the Hopewell community to David’s hometown in Keroka, Kenya. The first trip, over a decade ago, was so successful that HKA, a nonprofit, formed to continue the work. Following each visit to Kenya, CHS students have attended a Board of Education meeting and have described their experiences as life-changing and transformational. The bond between Kenya and Hopewell is so deep that the Kenyan ambassador, based in Washington, visits Hopewell Valley whenever feasible.

What makes the Hopewell-Kenya opportunity so different from virtually every other international service trip for students is the special ongoing nature of the relationship. The next project includes building a technology conference center in Nyanchonori village to allow more frequent ongoing communication between Hopewell and Kenyan people. Superintendent Smith and I will join the 2020 Kenya trip.

While it is great that Hopewell is forming bonds with our Kenyan brothers and sisters, can’t our students have diverse experiences a little closer to home? Additionally, how great would it be if neighboring communities could also partake in some of the vast opportunities currently available in Hopewell?

In response to those questions, Angwenyi founded a new group called Global Connections intended to include neighboring communities for a combined experience. We reached out to the local Boys and Girls Club and enthusiastically developed a partnership.

“The vision for our alliance was immediately appealing. We are always looking for unique opportunities for BGC kids, and if they can be giving back in the process, even better,” said David Anderson, President and CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Mercer County. “Finally, you really can’t go wrong with any program that facilitates understanding and connections between communities.”

In preparation for Kenya 2020, Hopewell and BGC students will commune together on a number of initiatives. The first joint project of Global Connections will be Clean Communities day on April 13. Combined teams of Hopewell and BGC high schoolers will work together in service and receive a FoHVOS Clean Communities tee shirt. Upon completion of service activities, students will meet at Central High School for a planning session and a celebratory pizza party.

Clean Communities money raised will seed initial Kenya 2020 scholarships and will hopefully encourage other funding to support youth from communities that may not afford travel without it.

“I can think of no better initial project than students working toward a common goal to improve the health of our land. There is a special bond that forms doing service together as peers,” said Angwenyi. “The party after is just a bonus, another invitation to dialogue, for it is by doing so we get to know others better. This first step, therefore, is conservation creating community connections.”

Lisa Wolff is the executive director of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. She is also the partnerships director for Global Connections. She can be reached by email at lwolff@fohvos.org.