New Jersey Council for the Humanities Awards Grant for Hackensack Immigrant Business Owners' Oral Histories Through Documentary Story Telling

(Hackensack, New Jersey; October 4, 2021) -- The Northern New Jersey Community Foundation's (NNJCF) ArtsBergen initiative announces the New Jersey Council for the Humanities awarded a COVID-19 Response Grant of $11,625 for the project 'Stories on Main Street: Hackensack Immigrant Business Owners as Placemakers'. The NNJCF, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization based in Hackensack, New Jersey, is one of 36 organizations in the state to receive the grant. 

“We are all still trying to manage the ongoing health crisis and at the same time figure out how to recover from COVID and move forward,” said Carin Berkowitz, Executive Director, New Jersey Council for the Humanities. “The New Jersey nonprofits that serve their communities through work in the public humanities continue to be adversely affected. We are so pleased to offer this vital funding to the historical and cultural infrastructure of our state.”

Immigrant Owned Businesses Celebrated

The project celebrates immigrant owned small businesses by capturing their unique, varied oral histories through documentary story telling. The created documentaries will then be shared on an interactive digital story telling map on the Small Business Administration's website. The project aims to help preserve existing businesses, their owners, and patrons. A goal is also to highlight these businesses, as community spaces helping to form and sustain culture in the downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, and connect them with incoming new residents. Using ArcGis technology, an online story map of 'Stories on Main Street' will be designed. In addition, the map allows the community to identify sites and upload their own stories about Main Street, to create a dynamic public repository of identity in the city. 

The project is undertaken in a partnership comprised of the NNJCF; The Sack Business Alliance; Kathryn Rizzi, Assistant Director at The State University of Rutgers Oral History Archives; and Dana Glazer of Dane-Gramp Productions.  'Stories on Main Street' launches this October, beginning with the determination of a process for selecting the participating immigrant business owners.  An announcement of the selected merchants follows by the end of the year. Interviews and filming with the business owners takes place from January through March of 2022.  The project culminates with four five-minute documentary films created and presented at free events throughout Hackensack, such the Hackensack Citywide Block Party.

'Stories on Main Street' captures immigrant businesses' influence on the people and culture of Main Street, Hackensack. "The project showcases various ways the range of small business owners build a community and sustain their own cultures. Our ultimate goal is to raise awareness of their contributions as cultural bearers in the Hackensack community. The city is in flux and now is a good time to highlight, document and preserve their owners' stories," explained Danielle De Laurentis, Associate Director, Northern New Jersey Community Foundation.

Creative Placemaking in Hackensack

For over six years, the NNJCF partnered with The Sack Business Alliance and the City of Hackensack to implement creative placemaking in the Main Street district. 'Stories on Main' grew from the NNJCF’s community engagement work interviewing residents and transit users at the bus transfer station on Demarest Place in the district. People surveyed provided insights about what they valued in their neighborhood and wanted to see in its redevelopment. Many responded the ethnic diversity of neighborhood restaurants and businesses make the city unique in Bergen County.

The project is supported byy a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

ArtsBergen Initiative

The Northern New Jersey Community Foundation’s ArtsBergen initiative, a regional arts alliance, works with various stakeholders. These stakeholders encompass artists, arts organizations, businesses and municipal leaders, who use the arts to shape the social, physical, cultural, and economic identity of communities. Creative placemaking, a community-led, arts-driven approach, is used to increase vibrancy, spur economic development, and build capacity among residents to take ownership of their communities.

ArtsBergen is the only initiative in Bergen County, New Jersey offering a range of services in creative placemaking. The initiative has partnered with multiple municipalities facilitating creative teams, developing public art and creative placemaking plans, and directing and managing public art projects to preserve and express community culture. For more information about the ArtsBergen initiative, visit     

About Northern New Jersey Community Foundation

Founded in 1998, the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation (NNJCF), a not-for-profit 501(c) (3) organization based in Hackensack, New Jersey, focuses primarily on civic engagement, education, public health, the environment, philanthropy, and the arts. The NNJCF works with local governments, school districts, businesses, non-profit organizations, and citizen groups in Northern New Jersey to improve community life. The Foundation's partners identify and resolve regional problems and opportunities by talking and learning from each other and sharing ideas, best practices, services, and resources. 

For more information, visit, send an email to, or call (201) 568-5608. Follow the NNJCF on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Photo Caption: 'Greetings From Hackensack' mural

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