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Cindy Steffens Pursues Sustainability for Chatham

Steffens' work as chair of the Green Initiatives Committee demonstrates that not all compensation for hard work is monetary.

Cindy Steffens grew up in a family where volunteering and public service were encouraged by example.

Her grandfather spent countless hours volunteering for the Red Cross. Her father was the vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. Her mother, Barbara Hall, was a council member for Chatham Borough for six years and mayor for 12 years.

Now, as chair of the Chatham Borough Green Initiatives Committee (a full-time volunteer job), Steffens continues that tradition for the next generation of her family.

Steffens has a Master's degree in Government Administration from the Fels Center of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. This background proves useful as she pursues her current goal through the Green Initiatives Committee of getting enough points for Chatham to obtain a bronze level Sustainable Jersey Certification for Chatham.  Sustainable Jersey encourages municipalities to implement points-earning programs which help "sustain" quality of life and reduce waste and carbon footprints. Chatham Borough and Chatham Township received a Sustainable Jersey Collaboration Award last year. The Township is certified at the bronze level, but the Borough fell short of the requisite number of points.

The bronze level requires 150 points. While programs like the Green Fair, the Farmer's Market and the Community Garden already bring in a number of points, Steffens is coordinating efforts to "Green the Green Fair" to earn more. The Chatham Borough Green Initiatives Committee and the borough's and township's environmental commissions are working closely together to incorporate measures for energy efficiency, waste reduction, and the support of local economies and alternative transportation into the Green Fair. 

Many local participants and vendors will attend the Green Fair, which will be on Sept. 11 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., held outdoors to minimize energy use by taking advantage of natural light. The location of the fair, the Borough Gazaebo across the street from the train station, is central to the town and easily accessible by public transportation to cut down on the need to drive.

The signs to advertise the Green Fair are reusable for future years.  Food vendors have been requested to offer food that can be served with only a napkin or with edible containers, such as ice cream cones, pocket breads or buns, to minimize waste.  Recycling bins and a composter will be available. The use of paper mailings has been minimized by using electronic communications to publicize the event.  The Green Fair meeting agendas are distributed via e-mail and displayed on a projector, all to reduce the use of paper.  

"Chatham is a very environmental and health-conscious town," Steffens said "Even if we don't get certified, just the fact that we are doing all of these things in our town is wonderful, everyone will benefit."

With a husband working abroad as a diplomat and two children at home, Steffens knows how to juggle more than a few things at once.

"It's all about time management," Steffens said.

Steffens has enjoyed volunteer work even as a high school student. She learned at a young age that not all compensation is monetary. She remembers touching the life of a 7-year-old from a broken family in Elizabeth. As a tutor, Steffens taught the girl to read.

Her dedication in educating children is eminent as Steffens has been working as a Sunday School teacher for the Grace Episcopal Church for the past 10 years.  She has since implemented programs and created materials to use in the classrooms which make the lessons more interactive for the children.

"She has the same energy level, involvement and dedication as her mother," Chatham Borough Mayor Nelson Vaughan said.

Steffens, who was born and raised in Chatham, said that the strength of the community lies within the support of its residents. But those residents may not realize much of what happens in their communities is thanks to volunteers, include the ambulance squad members, firefighters, council members, mayors, and coordinators of the many programs offered in the community. There are very few salaried employees in both the borough and township.

Steffens strongly encourages residents to get involved and volunteer in the community in a place where they have interest. Whether in technical, physical or environmental arenas, there is a place and a need for everyone.  

Steffens' favorite quote is: "Volunteers are happier in life."

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