South Orange Villager of the Month

The residents in the town or the Community Relations Committee (CRC) itself can nominate South Orange residents, businesses, or organizations in South Orange who have made a significant positive impact on the lives of residents or the overall community to the Board of Trustees. All nominees will receive a proclamation from the Township of South Orange Village at the Board of Trustees meeting, have an opportunity to speak to the public about their accomplishment and be part of town history through Gaslight newsletter (pre-2018) and in digital format.

Past Villagers of the Month
The Villager of the Month award honors diversities whether physical, religious, racial, or other characteristics which have contributed to making south orange the vibrant community it is. Students may also be nominated if they have exhibited an outstanding commitment to their community. 

In order to nominate a candidate, they must live or work in South Orange. Current Village employees and sitting members of Village committees are ineligible for the Villager of the Month Award.  (They are eligible for other Village recognition).

Nominations are reviewed by the Community Relations Committee.

Please visit the South Orange Villager of the Month Award to nominate someone today!

2022 Villager of the Month Award Recipients

  1. May
  2. January

Villager of the Month May 2022_v5

Dr. Ahadi Bugg-Levine, May 2022

How long have you lived in South Orange?

I grew up in SOMa (South Orange-Maplewood). I went to Clinton, South Orange Middle School, and Columbia High School. After living in many cities in the U.S. and internationally, I moved to South Orange with my husband in 2009.

As a long-time resident, what is it about South Orange that makes you want to continue to live and raise a family here?

This is home. I remember driving with my parents and sister up South Orange Avenue to get peachGrunnings ice cream at Grunings. I still remember the taste of the hot fudge. I met some of my closest friends here.

South Orange is special. It combines the diversity and culture of a city with the intimacy and community feeling of a small town. I have seen it grow and change over the decades. Do we have more to do? Of course. But, living in South Orange, I am hopeful that we can build stronger together. My husband and I want our daughter to grow up in this community because she can thrive here and develop relationships that will last for a lifetime.

Describe your work/involvement in the South Orange community.

I am the Board President for JESPY House. I have served on South Orange’s Master Plan Steering Committee and Black History Month Steering Committee. I have participated in a number of organizations including SOMADEMS and SOMa Action. I have worked with Seth Boyden to donate and greatly expand its library collection of diverse children’s books.

If you had to select a project that you have been involved with in South Orange that you are proud of, what would that be and why?

Jespy houseI am proudest of JESPY’s collaboration with the Village of South Orange and nonprofit developers to build South Orange Commons, an affordable housing building for families and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities expected to open by 2025. When I started as a volunteer at JESPY, I helped clients develop their advocacy skills.  They said that affordable housing was their number one policy priority. Escalating rents were making it difficult for them (or their friends) to stay in South Orange and they didn’t want to lose the independence that they had worked so hard to achieve. We advocated for more affordable housing at numerous Trustee meetings. Our leadership listened. South Orange has contributed over $2.5 million from our affordable housing trust and the State of New Jersey awarded over $5 million in tax credits to the project.

Why is volunteerism in your community important to you?

My sister and I grew up with activist parents who prioritized volunteering. They taught us to give back to our communities. We learned that we can only make a difference when we roll up our sleeves and pitch in to improve our communities. My husband and I want to pass this value on to our daughter.

For Black History Month, you were impactful by selecting hundreds of books over the last 2 years for children. If you had to select a book that all children in our community should read, what would it be and why? 

This is an impossible question for me to answer. I love children’s books and I recommend them based on the child’s development and interests. I especially love children’s books that show the diversity of our community and larger world. We often say that representation matters, but diversity means so much more than representation. My four-year-old daughter loves seeing children who look like her and who look like her friends. She gets excited when she learns about her friends’ cultures and traditions. (For example, after reading Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon, my daughter and I spent three months building a dragon costume for Lunar New Year.)  

Ruby Finds a WorryMy favorite children’s books are those that not only show different cultures and traditions, but also address real issues affecting children. For example, learning about emotions and figuring out who we are can be difficult. We love The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh, The Day You Begin, and Ruby Finds a Worry.

Then, there are books that show different types of families while also making us laugh or feel connected to our community. For example, Bathe the Cat, a book about two dads trying to get the house clean and the children ready before a visit from grandma, is always good for a laugh in our house.

I rarely have the opportunity to discuss a wider range of diverse children’s books. Here are some great books that my family loves reading again and again plus a few books that I can’t wait to share when our daughter gets older. I tried to identify books that are not as well-known to help families find a new read. The books show different communities (Black, Latinx, Disability, AAPI, LGBTQIA+, etc.) and a range of issues (food insecurity, sick parent, emotions, feeling different, and more). For every book listed, I wanted to add 10 more, but even I have to admit that I have failed miserably at answering the question asked. I hope that you will find a new book to introduce to your family. If you’re interested in even more books, please take a look at the Black History Month book lists for 2021 and 2022. (Each year has four categories so click on the buttons for the lists.)

Emotions / Finding Ourselves

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar 

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom

It Feels Good to be Yourself by Theresa Thorn 

Ravi’s Roar by Tom Percival

Bindu’s Bindis by Supriya Kelkar

Advocacy / Supporting our Communities

Just Help by Sonia Sotomayor

All the Way to the Top by Anette Bay Pimentel

Saving American Beach by Heidi Tyline King

Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin

No Voice Too Small by Lindsay H. Metcalf et al.

I Am You: A Book about Ubuntu by Refiloe Moahloli

Black Lives Matter: From Hashtag to the Streets by Artika Tyner

Children Coming Up with Solutions

Marley and the Family Band by Cedella Marley

Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome by Kat Zhang

Ruby’s Reunion Day Dinner by Angela Dalton

Saturday at the Food Pantry by Diane O’Neill

Oona and the Shark by Kelly DiPucchio

Isobel Adds It Up by Kristy Everington

Norman: One Amazing Goldfish by Kelly Bennett


Saturday by Oge Mora

May Your Life Be Deliciosa by Michael Genhart

Bathe the Cat by Alice McGinty

Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Dad Bakes by Katie Yamasaki

Kitchen Dance by Maurie J. Manning

Shopping with Dad by Matt Harvey

Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan

In what ways has the South Orange community supported you?

From Village government to small businesses to local volunteers, the South Orange community has embraced JESPY House, our clients, and my work as the Board President. JESPY clients shop, work, live, and socialize in downtown South Orange and contribute to our community. I am thankful for JESPY’s strong relationship with South Orange.

2021 Villager of the Month Award Recipients

  1. November
  2. September
  3. June
  4. May
  5. April
  6. March
  7. February
  8. January

William Dahn - Villager of the Month

William "Bill" Dahn, November 2021

How long did you live in South Orange?

Amy and I lived in South Orange for 26 years—from March 1995 until May 2021. We raised both of our boys here and they are both graduates of Columbia HS. When bought an old Victorian in Montrose Park back when no one wanted to live in those drafty old barns and over our time there renovated the entire place and saw and lived through the spectacular rebirth of Montrose, including it being designated as a Montrose Park Historic District.

Describe your work/involvement in the South Orange community.

Originally, my involvement in the community consisted of coaching soccer and baseball in the Rec Leagues when my boys were young. Later I got involved with the Columbia High School Music Parent’s Association and was on the Marching Band Pit Crew for 6 years. I joined the Board of Adjustment in 2006.

What about the Zoning Board made you serve for 15 years? 

The Zoning Board is always dealing with applications that require some sort of variance approval from the Town Zoning Ordinance so I think it is very important for such a Board to have an Architect to help the other members of the board truly understand what the applicant is proposing and also to be able to ask the applicant’s professionals pointed questions that only someone in the business would know to ask. 

During my professional career I have appeared before Boards of this type on a regular basis in support of projects being proposed by my clients and I also know that from the applicant’s point of view the best Boards are those that have at least one Architect on it. I feel that the Zoning Board has to work very hard to balance the wants/ needs of applicants with the general good of the Town. Many of our applications are small scale residential applications that may have come before us because of a peculiarity in the shape, size or configuration of buildings on the site. In most of these cases there were no objectors and we tried to work with the applicant to get them to a point where an approval works for them and is conforming with the Zoning Ordinance to degree possible, given the project constraints. 

The Board also gets the very large applications involving conditional uses or non-conforming uses that have impact on numerous neighboring properties, not to mention Town infrastructure. In these cases there quite often was vocal opposition to the proposal. In these cases the Board has to tune out all the noise to a degree and thoughtfully and carefully come to a conclusion. Quite often these cases end with neither the applicant nor the public being totally happy—which usually means the decisions was correct.

What project did you approve of that you felt made the best impact on South Orange?

We waded through a project in the Montrose Park district that we had in front of us for over 5 years. We initially denied the application. The applicant appealed the decision and got our initial approval overturned. The Town appealed that overturn to the appellate court and that court remanded the case back to us with specific instructions as to additional testimony we needed to hear. Without getting into the minutia of the case, it was a long and demanding process. Ultimately, we granted the applicant approval but with a large number of conditions and restrictions aimed at minimizing the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. While I am sure there are people who live in the area who were not happy with our decision I felt that the Board did an excellent job of listening to hours or testimony, sorting through it all and coming up with an approval resolution that addressed the concerns of the neighbors to the degree that we could while still allowing the applicant use of the property, as allowed by the Zoning Ordinance. It was not fun and it took a long time to come to the conclusion but I am proud of the decision the Board made.

What are your favorite things about South Orange?

What I liked best about living in South Orange was the quality of the housing stock—particularly in Montrose Park. As an Architect, my spare time  (and many vacations) are spent looking at buildings. Montrose Park has an amazing inventory of different styles which provides an endless source of details to study. I have always considered myself a modernist but after living in (and renovating) an 1895 Victorian for over 25 years, I have come to have a deep appreciation for the skill and detailing involved in these buildings. We moved because our plan was to downsize and we are exploring the opportunity to build a new house from the ground up (rigidly Modernist, or course). In addition, we made many great friends here in South Orange. Be it through kids activities, involvement in school events, being active in the Montrose Park Historic District Association we have met countless great people over the years. We still live close by and our plan is to stay local to maintain those relationships.

In what ways has the South Orange community supported you?

I am not sure that there was overt support from South Orange—at least in relation to my time on the Board of Adjustment. I think that actually is a good thing because I always felt that the BOA needed to operate outside of any political influences or pressure-- either for or against-- when processing applications. I guess you could say that the support came by allowing us be independent and not feel any sort of pressure to decide one way or another.

2020 Villager of the Month Award Recipients

  1. August
  2. September
  3. October
  4. November
  5. December
MAPSO Youth Coalition

On Monday, August 10, 2020, the Board of Trustee Awarded the Proclamation to the members of the MAPSO Youth Coalition for their commitment to social justice in the community. The language for the proclamation can below:


WHEREAS, it is the intention of the Village President and the Board of Trustees of the Township of South Orange Village to monthly recognize individuals in the Village for their noteworthy contributions to the betterment of the Village; and

WHEREAS, upon recommendation of the South Orange Community Relations Committee (CRC); the Township of South Orange Village ("Village") is pleased to honor the members of the MAPSO Youth Coalition for their social justice work in the Village; and

WHEREAS, Carmen Maitinez, Former Director of the Oakland Library, said: "The more we increase the active participation and partnership with young people, the better we serve them. And the more comprehensively we work with them as service partners, the more we increase our public value to the entire community."; and

WHEREAS, in early June 2020, the MAPSO Youth Coalition formed and is composed of youth from South Orange and Maplewood to promote racial justice in policing, education and action. These youth, up to the age of 26, have worked to embed anti-racism in SOMA, Essex County and NJ at large; and

WHEREAS, many of the MAPSO Youth Coalition faces have become familiar to the community as they took part in other groups that focused on climate change, student rights and rights for the disenfranchised; and

WHEREAS, during the height of the COVID pandemic, the country witnessed the murder of a George Floyd in Minneapolis by a Minneapolis Police Officer and the subsequent Black Lives Matters protests that began forming; and

WHEREAS, the youth that makeup MAPSO Youth Coalition organized quickly to create and promote visible protests and events through our community. These protests and events created a way for the South Orange community to take part locally and provide our community with a way to express their views on racial inequities and negative policing practices. Recognizing the continued impact that COVID has on the community, each protest and event encouraged people to be socially distant and to wear face coverings; and

WHEREAS, the first event that the MAPSO Youth Coalition organized was a Juneteenth Celebration, which celebrates the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States which happened two years earlier under the Emancipation Proclamation; and

WHEREAS, the MAPSO Youth Coalition next focused on the importance of voting and understanding who our elected officials were by co-hosting a Town Hall on Freeholder Candidate Q&A Forum; and

WHEREAS, recognizing injustices for students in our schools, they assisted on creating a Student Bill of Rights to be provided to the local elected officials; and

WHEREAS, the next event was an Independence from Independence Day Walk and Rally in conjunction with SOMA Justice that focused on recognizing Juneteenth and educating the community on the disparity of perceived freedom by recognizing Independence Day over Juneteenth; and

WHEREAS, since then, the MAPSO Youth Coalition has attended many BOT meetings, the Community Police Collaborative and more to ensure that they are being heard; and

WHEREAS, the MAPSO Youth Coalition continues to have an important impact in creating dialogue around social issues within our community. They embody traits and characteristics in youth that we want to see in our leaders in recognizing an issue, bringing attention to it and providing forums and solutions to rectifying it. They continue to grow in numbers to more than 30 youth and are constantly mentoring the next generation; and

WHEREAS, our South Orange community prides itself on the diversity of our residents and in 2017 declared that "Everyone Belongs Here". In order to continue to ensure that is occurring, we honor organizations like the MAPSO Youth Coalition in keeping us motivated, bringing light to the tough issues in our community and looking out for their fellow citizens. NOW, THEREFORE, I, SHEENA C. COLLUM, Village President of the Township of South Orange Village, County of Essex, State of New Jersey, on behalf of the residents of the Township of South Orange Village, the Village Board of Trustees and myself, hereby do recognize and commend the MAPSO Youth Coalition and its members as "Villagers of the Month" for August 2020 for the work they have done in, and their wonderful contributions in the Township of South Orange Village and I encourage all citizens and residents to celebrate the valuable contributions of this dynamic group of youth and to encourage the members of MAPSO Youth Coalition to keep up the outstanding work.

2019 Villager of the Month Award Recipients - No One Nominated

2018 Villager of the Month Award Recipients

  1. July
  2. No Other Nominees
Chaz Gordon

Chaz Gordon 
There’s a moment in many a young life when, suddenly, your brain clicks in and your outlook changes forever. For Chaz Gordon, that moment was after a group skating lesson at age 8. As he unhappily compared his performance to that of the older kids in his theatrical skating troupe, his dad, Ken Gordon, launched into the first serious talk Chaz recalls about self-motivation. “Never give up,” said Ken. “You have to keep pushing.” His mom, Lynn, a former national figure skating champion, chimed in too: “When you feel you’re about to fall back, that’s when you give 10% more.” 

Steeled for “pushing through,” Chaz became a top-level competitor with the U.S. Figure Skating Association. He brought home bronze and silver medals from Logrono, Spain in 2013, and Paris in 2015. He got there practicing 2 to 3 times a week, 1 to 4 hours per session. He spent 10 years with Bravo Theater on Ice at Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange, the only competitive theatrical skating troupe in New Jersey. Realizing the mirrored skills between skating and dance, Chaz took up hip-hop in middle school, then became a dance performer, choreographer and instructor for the Columbia High School Special Dance Company. For Chaz, “pushing through” meant more than athleticism. He graduated from Columbia High in June with a perfect 4.0 average. He was a mentor and coach to multiple youth groups, founder of an annual coat drive, and a leader in the North Jersey Chapter of Jack and Jill of America. Now, he’s an aspiring clinical psychologist, aiming to follow in his mother’s professional footsteps. 

As he heads to college this summer, Chaz leaves with a foundation of care nurtured by his family and the community of South Orange. Here, he volunteered at two food pantries and served as a skating mentor to Special Olympics athletes. He treasures his four-year participation in the Minority Achievement Committee at CHS. MAC, as it’s called, inspires academic excellence among African-American students. In his third year, Chaz joined MiniMAC, taking the program to Jefferson Elementary School. As MiniMAC progressed through the school year, discussions between older and younger students grew more serious, and once, Chaz opened up about a defining personal experience. A local police officer “tried to make me feel like I was out of place,” he told the kids. “It was very scary to me.” Some of the kids were shocked. Some got emotional. Most said Chaz didn’t deserve the treatment he got. “It was eye-opening for them and it made them appreciate the lessons of MiniMAC because it’s all about who they are as people. We try to teach selflove.” Later this summer, Chaz is off to UCLA to study psychology and try out for the school skating team. He hopes someday to be a psychological researcher, studying the impact of the classroom setting on minority students. It’s an aspiration worthy of his racially aware upbringing in South Orange. Chaz Gordon will be prepared for his future. After all, he knows from his family about pushing through, and from his community about sharing his heart. What more could he need?