Elna Mukaida: Keeping Hamilton Park Neighborly

Elna Mukaida Hamilton Park Jersey City

I met Elna Mukaida in her building in Hamilton Park on a snowy morning right after the New Year. She brought me a steaming chai tea and we chatted about her involvement in the community, the neighborhood association, and of course, the park.

JCFamilies: How long have you been in Jersey City?

Elna Mukaida: I bought a condo here in 1985. That was in the day when you wouldn’t go out after dark. It’s been amazing. You should see the changes.

JCF: But you don’t feel that way anymore, right?

EM: Oh no. I think it’s important to know your neighbors. If I’m chatting with someone, and someone else walks by, I’ll always try to introduce that person so people start talking to each other. Little by little, this building has become very friendly.

JCF: Have you been involved in the Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA) that whole time?

EM: I started going to community meetings in the early 2000s. I think. I’m trying to count the years, but instead I think I have to go by the number of presidents.

JCF: Were you in a leadership role at that time?

EM: Usually when I join a board, I just keep my mouth shut for the first year or two, see what the interactions are.

JCF: But since then you’ve had lots of jobs on the HPNA.

EM: I had been secretary for a couple years. I was also president for 2 ½ years.

JCF: What’s on the radar now?

EM: The HPNA is paying a lot of attention to what the planning board is working on. The current plan is for the Roberto Clemente block. The redevelopment would allow for 20-30 story buildings there. We don’t want that.

JCF: How come?

EM: You lose a lot community when that happens.

Elna Mukaida Hamilton Park Jersey City

JCF: What’s your role now with the HPNA?

EM: I’m assistant manager for the Farmer’s Market. One of the things I really believe in is sharing information. A lot of new people come to our table, with questions about the neighborhood.

JCF: What do people want to know?

EM: We always have the 126 bus schedule at the table, for example. I also tell people the Jersey City Police Department’s phone number. It’s 201-547-5477. And I tell them to put a “1” in front of it so it’s the first thing that comes up if you really need it.

JCF: I love the Farmer’s Market at Hamilton Park.

EM: Thanks. We’re really proud of our Farmer’s Market. Our vendors are really nice. All of them are very social and people in our neighborhood love to chat. People have made it a tradition to have their dinner there. They’ll sit on the steps of the gazebo and have their pizza and just enjoy the park.

JCF: What do you like about the HPNA?

EM: Many things make HPNA special. The neighborhood association sponsors many events – the Hamilton Park Festival is one of my favorites. We have music, we have entertainment. We’ve got flea market type vendors – one comes from as far as Saddle River. It’s a lot of fun.

JCF: I remember what the park used to be like – and what it is now. Did the HPNA make that possible?

EM: The renovation of the park was in 2008. The board put on a survey for 2 or 3 weekends for the public to express what they wanted to see in the park. They had possible landscaping designs – bench styles, lamp fixture styles, and they created a booklet for the city. They had funds from Green Acres (county funding) so the HPNA was tapped to participate in the renovation.

JCF: They did a great job.

EM: It’s really become a very popular place. The day they reopened, there must have been 1000 people there.

JCF: I feel like that’s not an exaggeration. Even now it sometimes feels like there’s a thousand people in the park!

EM: Oh yes. Kids love it, they see their classmates there. We now have about 10 schools in our neighborhood – they and other schools, like schools from Harsimus Cove, come to play in the park.

JCF: And there are family events too that bring in big crowds.

EM: We have the Great Egg Hunt that we do in collaboration with JCFamilies. And we have the Farmer’s Market that starts in May. We have Shakespeare in the Park. That’s in June, July, and August. Maybe 3 or 4 years ago we started Movies in the Park too which has been very popular. And the Halloween Parade! Kids get dressed up and just mob the park. It’s wonderful.

JCF: How’s the gazebo? We heard about the truck that smashed into it.

EM: Oh no. That guy had a breakdown. He’s drove from Maine. He thought the end of the world was coming. He said God made him do it. Apparently he had marital problems. He just decided not to stop.

JCF: Oh gosh. That’s terrible. Was there damage?

EM: Outside looked pretty good, but inside there’s going to have to be some repairs. There’s a big crack – it’s structural. We can still use it, but it will have to be fixed.

JCF: How is the HPNA funded?

EM: Several ways. Partly donations. We charge a nominal $10 for membership per household. When people chip in a little bit, they feel more committed. And our Park Fest used to be a major fundraising effort for us, but the primary source now is our Farmer’s Market.

JCF: What do you love about it?

EM: Getting to meet people in the community. I love sharing information, to help people make use of the services that the city offers. Basic networking. I enjoy it. It’s fun to see the kids come by, and families have a good time.

JCF: Well I can tell you that your guidance has been invaluable to many people – including JCFamilies.

EM: You know, the city has a process to get permits for having events in public places. When Mamta started doing events with JCFamilies, I helped walk her through the processes, and go get the signatures. At that time, there were about 14 signatures you needed, and in sequence. You had to go from Cultural Affairs and then the Health Department and then over to Streets. You had to zig zag all over the city.

JCF: Sounds like a long day.

EM: It’s simpler now. It’s nice because I get to meet a lot of the behind the scenes people. I like that. While I’m getting a permit signed, I start yacking with the people at Animal Control, for example. And they’re all very nice people. I’m sure that people have yelled and screamed at them in the past, but they’re public servants. They’re very important.

Mel Kozakiewicz blogs at www.urdoingitright.com.