By Colleen Murphy
When people think of Trenton, many think of its crime statistics and politcal scandals. This is what junior history and urban studies double major Sam Fogelgaren was cautioned of upon entering the College.
“Like many incoming freshman, I was warned to stay far, far away from Trenton,” Fogelgaren said. “Although it is just a bike ride away from campus, many students come in and go out of TCNJ without ever getting to know our state’s capital city.”
Fogelgaren paid no attention to that warning, though.
Now living in South Trenton, he works closely with local politicians and residents to better Trenton and get more people politically active.
This interest in bettering Trenton began his freshman year when he chose Trenton as his research project for his Freshman Seminar Program, which focused on New Jersey’s cities. The research project had a major impact on his life, because now, two years later, Fogelgaren is involved in many local groups and initiatives to make Trenton a better place for everyone, including the disabled and the youth.
In 2012, Fogelgaren proposed that the city start its first-ever Trenton Americans with Disabilities committee. Last year, the city council approved the creation of the committee to ensure that the handicapped citizens of Trenton have an increased accessibility to buildings and fewer obstacles throughout the city, according to a Times of Trenton article from Dec. 21, 2013.
Fogelgaren is also working with the Arc of Mercer County, a group that “empowers all people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to choose and realize their goals,” according to the site’s mission statement.
The poor conditions of Trenton Central High School made headlines last year, which Fogelgaren helped bring to light through his work with local officials and community activists. Additionally, he has served on a working group with the West Ward Alliance, a local community organization, to build programming for youth outreach.
Fogelgaren wants to help change the political landscape of Trenton, as well. He currently serves on Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson’s Youth Council and is working to have Trenton City Council President Zach Chester elected to the Trenton West Ward Council and assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman elected to Congress.
“Trenton is an extraordinarily welcoming place,” he said. “People, in most circumstances, are receptive to those who make sustainable commitments to a cause or a community. There are so many amazing people doing remarkable things in Trenton, and we need to build stronger bridges between the Trenton community and the TCNJ community.”
Fogelgaren said the key to bridging the gap is sustainability.
“College can be tricky because students are in and out in four years, but TCNJ is starting to expand (its) presence and programming in Trenton, which is an encouraging sign going forward,” he said.
To bridge the gap even more, Fogelgaren will serve as the president of the College Democrats to promote local politics, specifically those in Trenton and, on a larger scale, Mercer County.
“We want to build the College Democrats into an organization that gets students excited and passionate about the important issues of our generation, while simultaneously providing a variety of opportunities to get involved and learn from experienced politicians and advocates,” Fogelgaren said.
To do so, College Democrats will be campaigning for several local elections and will be primarily working on Bonnie Watson-Coleman’s campaign for Congress.
“We will be looking for students to intern with her campaign and will be providing assistance as an organization,” he said. “We will also be working with Cory Booker’s Senate campaign and local Mercer County campaigns.”
According to Fogelgaren, the College Democrats is a founding member of the New Jersey College Democrats — the newest statewide chapter of the College Democrats of America — which, he says, tries to unite College Democrats from across the state.
“In the past two years, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be a part of various community organizing efforts, non-profit and community development initiatives, political campaigns and issue advocacy campaigns,” Fogelgaren said. “Those experiences have enhanced my knowledge, questioned my beliefs and strengthened my values.”
What began as a research project freshman year has grown into a life goal for Fogelgaren, and though he is unsure of his exact plans after graduation, he is certain that he will continue to work closely with people in order to get them excited about their communities.
“Right now, I want to continue to focus on engaging people in civic and political action,” he said. “We live in a time where physical presence is being trumped by virtual communication. Paying attention, showing up and speaking up seem like small tasks, but they make a world of difference. I dare everyone reading this article to try it.”