New Jerseyans who are making an impact in their counties tell their stories 21 different ways in short original documentaries, produced by NJ PBS’s NJ Spotlight News team. The 21 series includes a comprehensive multiplatform project to detail every county in New Jersey.
The short films, generally six to 10 minutes, stream on MyNJPBS.org/21 and are accompanied there by snapshots that provide statistics, resources and other essential information on each county. Community outreach screening events are being planned to gather New Jersey residents together and stimulate conversation about life within the Garden State’s diverse counties.
The goal: to stimulate discussion about quality of life in New Jersey and explore whether how where you live affects how you live, and in many cases, how individuals can power change within their local communities.
“This film series examines a mosaic of personalities and the extraordinary efforts of ordinary New Jerseyans and communities that is sure to inspire Jersey pride from north to south,” said NJ Spotlight News Sr. Managing Editor Jamie Kraft.
Meet some of the people and places profiled in 21, with more to come over the next year:
For Cookie Till, everything revolves around food. After years of running her popular restaurant and bakery, she acquired an 80-acre farm and dedicated herself to healing the land through regenerative methods. Her team empowers underserved populations in the surrounding food deserts with opportunities to work, learn, and grow on the land of the Garden State.
“We are the Garden State,” says Till in her film. “We should elevate that”. Watch now.
When Rhona Vega moved to Bergen County as a single mom, she hoped all future opportunities for her kids and others would be equal. They were not, so she established “Parent Matterz”—an organization that nurtures students dreams and ambitions and helps parents prepare for college with tutors, enrichment programs, mentors, and more.
“You have to get more involved. It just feels incredible,” says Vega. Watch now.
Burlington County’s Kasey Massa uses what she learned through her own cancer diagnosis and recovery to give back to families in the community. Each summer, she and dedicated volunteers run Camp No Worries providing a space where children facing cancer diagnoses and their siblings can just be kids and the “c” word does not exist for a few days. Watch now.
Finding the connection between the Sikh faith and passion for public service came easily to Karanveer Pannu as a young community leader and the first Sikh member of the Voorhees Township’s Zoning Board. With hopes to one day grow his political career, Karanveer leads by example in his local work as a bullying prevention specialist with a focus on supporting diversity and tolerance. Watch now.
Cape May County
Retiring in Cape May County was a lifelong dream for Johnnie Walker after long summers spent with family down the shore. A veteran and lifelong activist, he soon became the common thread between other veteran organizations in the county. Forming a network of volunteers and support systems for other veterans in need, Johnnie leads fellow soldiers of the county to lend a helping hand. Watch now.
Meet creative change-maker Fallon Davis, who cultivates self-sustaining communities and encourages a new generation of innovators in Newark through expressive arts and sciences programs for all ages. “I want Essex County to be respected as a cultural hub,” Davis says in the film. Watch now.
Life changed instantly for Christian Kane’s family when their infant son Gavin suffered a brain injury leaving him unable to walk or talk. Christian now works tirelessly to make his community more inclusive and accessible to those with disabilities. According to Christian, “Just because you have a traumatic brain injury doesn’t mean the game is over, it just means it’s a different game.” Watch now.
Meet Rashajon Johnson, whose nonprofit organization, Hope With N, supports his Passaic County community through events that provide food, clothing and other resources to those in need. Watch now.
About the 21 Series
The 21 film series was inspired by the national project States of America, StatesFilms.com, which explores one person’s story in each state in the country. NJ Spotlight News adapted this idea, with input from the project creator Brad Barber, for New Jersey.
Major support for the 21 film series was provided in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Additional funding provided by the PSEG Foundation. The views expressed within the series content do not directly reflect the views of either foundation.