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by ROBIN WOODS
For the Montclair Local

I’m always on the lookout for people to interview and introduce to you, made more difficult but not impossible by the continuing pandemic. Being a girl-about-town is wonderful, but I must pick and choose my themes more carefully now.

Have no fear, I’ve come up with two interesting interviewees to focus on this month. I spent some time chatting with and getting to know an amateur photographer and a local elected official.

Many of us are taking more photos lately, to share with family and friends with whom we might not be able to be in person for many more months to come. Seeing our town through the lens of a camera highlights interesting architecture and eclectic design, and Jessica Koczwara has a keen eye for the beauty of downtown Montclair.

Koczwara moved from Hoboken to Montclair two years ago, and said, “I am grateful to live in Montclair, a scenic town. I try to capture the architecture and form compositions that show off the Church Street area. It grounds me. I call them snapshots for the soul.”

See more of Koczwara’s photos at snapshotsforthesoul.smugmug.com

Koczwara is a teacher at Fusion Academy, a private alternative school located at 427 Bloomfield Ave. She works one-on-one through virtual classes with students in grades six to 12, in English and executive function skills.

Also a student life coach, she helps middle and high school students develop emotional intelligence, find more satisfaction in life and deal with isolation through an individualized approach.

When I asked her how photography fits in, Koczwara said, “I stress the importance of going outside as often as possible to my students and clients, as I walk to work every day from my apartment in the Third Ward. I also have a great view from my windows, and what I see inspires and grounds me.”

She uses her iPhone 11 Pro Legacy app to capture Montclair at sunrise, and in daylight and evening. Her photos of fruits and vegetables from the Walnut Street farmers market turned mundane objects into brightly colored still-life tableaux. Koczwara avoids pandemic cabin fever by looking through a lens with fervor.

Her photos of Montclair can be purchased from her website as prints, wall hangings and mugs at snapshotsforthesoul.smugmug.com.

FOCUSING ON COMMUNITY

Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings

Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings was sworn in on June 30, 2020, for a four-year term on the Township Council, his first elected position in Montclair. Born and bred in town, first living on Mission Street and later on Orange Road in the South End, his family has a long history here.

His grandfather, Morris Cummings, is 86 years old and arrived in town in 1915.

David Cummings said, “A family member has graduated from Montclair High School every decade since the 1940s. My youngest daughter Katherine will graduate in June 2021 and will attend Spelman College in Atlanta. Being from Montclair and having a history is significant.”

Cummings sits on the Montclair Center Business Improvement District (BID) board, established in 2002 to promote and support the local business community. During his campaign, he said, “I walked every block of the Fourth Ward in one week. You can get everywhere quickly and enjoy the businesses in the ward. It’s a challenging time to start a business, but if you have a good product, they will come. The BID does a good job of promoting the district.”

He’s been busy serving the Fourth Ward for the past seven months, with more items on his to-do list for the rest of his four-year term.

“A remote learning center was set up in September 2020 in the Wally Choice Community Center, 49 Maple Avenue in Essex County Glenfield Park, to help parents who can’t afford the cost of child care when they are at work. Albert Pelham from Montclair Neighborhood Development Center helped to set up this hybrid model to support families,” he said.

St. Mark’s United Methodist, St. Paul Baptist and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel churches plan to have licensed child-care and learning centers up and running in 2021, he said.

Family and community support are high on Cummings’ list of ways to serve the Fourth Ward.

In response to the frigid weather and the need for additional local shelter beds to augment the 23 rooms for individuals and families at Cornerstone House, operated by The Salvation Army Montclair Citadel, a respite center has been set up at Union Baptist Church on Midland Avenue in D.C. Rice Hall for those in need a safe, warm place to sleep for the night.

“It’s low-hanging fruit for people who need the most help,” Cummings said.

A hot topic in the Fourth Ward is the Lackawanna Plaza development, and the lack of a supermarket in the neighborhood since November of 2015. Because of ongoing litigation, Cummings could not talk to me at length about plans for a supermarket, but said, “By 2024 at the latest, it is a priority for the Fourth Ward council person to have some kind of grocery store to meet the neighborhood’s needs. It [would] provide access to many services, including Western Union, utility bill payments, postal stamps and photo printing.”

Here’s to a happier, safer and healthier 2021 for all, with thanks to the people who focus on and are committed to shining a light on the unique town in which we live. A fond hug and applause to the loyal readers of Montclair Local Nonprofit News, who give me such wonderful feedback about Robin’s Nest. Cheers!


Robin Wood

Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. She received the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism in 2015, as well as the 2019 Director’s Award from Essex County Legacies essay contest, along with first-place awards in 2017 and 2018. Got something you think should be in Robin’s Nest? Write to us at culture@montclairlocal.news.