2023: The Bad, The Ugly, and The Good
2023 was supposed to be the year for our community and our organization. We ended 2022 by receiving our approval to operate Reese’s House as a multi-faceted community center, held our most impactful toy drive ever, and were ready to open our doors to serve our city and county. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for our organization and new fights that we never saw coming.
In February, a neighboring property owner, Rick Abbott, filed an appeal against our zoning approval. He filed the appeal late, according to NJ statutes, but city officials decided to proceed anyway. This started a legal process that included the Millville City Commission refusing to make a decision and sending it to Superior Court, a Superior Court hearing that was dismissed back to the City Commission, and an eventual hearing in which the Millville City Commissioners ruled in favor of Mr. Abbott and revoked the approval for Reese’s House to operate as a community center.
As if that wasn’t enough, we got the impression that city officials were not supportive of our mission. The legal brief from the Millville Zoning Board case in Superior Court was against the granting of our zoning, even though it was just granted months prior. We received calls from the vice-mayor and city attorney about “solutions” that involved us selling Reese’s House and renting the old portion of the library from the city. As a result, our attorneys demanded they recuse themselves from hearings, but they refused and both played a large role in the revocation of our zoning. Before the appeal hearing, the mayor and another commissioner requested a police presence because they feared a “large and possibly unruly crowd” and there was an armed, uniformed officer present. It’s hard to view these actions as supportive of our organization or our mission…
This saga impacted more than just our ability to operate as a community center. We had so much equity, both time and financial, invested into this fight that we struggled to operate and serve. The entire legal process cost us over $25,000 and that cut into our accounts tremendously. We had that money budgeted to purchase new HVAC units and were unable to make that happen. As a result, we were unable to open our doors as it got too hot in the summer. This situation also consumed significant time and energy from our Board and organization. We were fighting for our right to exist and to use our property to serve our community.
While there were some frustrating months, 2023 also had so many bright spots for our community and our organization. We continued our tradition of service and did everything we could to help where it was needed. Our Back to School Shoe Drive and Holiday Toy Drive each celebrated their 5th anniversary! We distributed over 120 brand-new pairs of shoes during our shoe drive. We also provided 1,500 toys to youth in our county during our 2-day toy drive event. The Jolly Holly Race had the largest participant turnout since we took over the race several years ago and was a great fundraiser for Positive Vibes Community Group and us. Finally, even though people tried everything they could to bankrupt us, we paid all of our bills on time!
The Promise of 2024
As you can see, 2023 had its share of highs and lows for our organization and these experiences are paving the way for us in 2024. We have so much to be optimistic and excited about and we are ready to start doing even more in this upcoming year!
Through the ups and downs last year, we received so much love and support from our community! We engaged and activated supporters from all walks of life to get involved. Our email lists and social media accounts are reaching record numbers of people and our message is being heard. This support is opening new doors for our organization that will help us be even more successful in our work. We cannot thank everyone enough for showing up and supporting, liking and sharing our content, always reading our emails, and for being in this with us!
We were able to make it through 2023 with a rebound to start 2024 because of this love. We experienced some financial hardships in 2023 that made life and doing the work difficult. Through the support and love from our community, we have rebounded and stabilized! Help is still always appreciated and all donations are tax-deductible!
The zoning for Reese’s House to be a community center was revoked, but that doesn’t mean the work stops! We are currently zoned to operate as a restaurant in our space. Wildflower Vegan Cafe has leased our tremendous commercial kitchen space since we purchased Reese’s House. Over the last year, they have worked hard to get everything updated so they can begin using the space for their business purposes. They recently received approval from the county health department for the space and are now waiting for a health department inspection. Once that is passed, they will begin using the space to make their delicious food! We will also collaborate with them to hold different kinds of fundraising and community meals and events.
Additionally, restaurants can provide space for private parties, events, meetings, and other gatherings and we plan on doing the same! Our building is beautiful and we want to open our doors for the public to use our space to meet their needs. We will share more information on how to book space within the next few weeks.
Creating Reese’s House was our organizational goal when we started in 2018 after losing Reese and it remains our focus. We know that the community needs space and help and we plan on being there to support however we can. We went through so much in 2023 that we weren’t always sure if we would be able to continue, but we never quit. We have no clue what 2024 will hold for us, but we know that no matter what happens, we will not quit.
We promise to continue to serve our community in any way that we can. We don’t have all the answers or solutions, but we are always here to help and be a part of the process. We know how important this work is and the impact that it can have, which is why we are so deeply committed to it. There will be growth in our community because we will stand together to make it happen. We’re looking forward to the promise of 2024!