Chapter Spotlight: Southern New Jersey

With a spectrum of programming catered towards community chapters and campus chapters, UNA-USA works to mobilize individuals in all stages of life to advocate for the United Nations. The Southern New Jersey Chapter drives forward this goal by bridging the gap between youth members and adult members as a uniquely youth-led, community (not campus) chapter.

Budding out of a collective interest to contribute local action towards positive global change, the Southern New Jersey Chapter was established two years ago by Ravi Arya and his high school peers in Chesterfield, New Jersey. Ravi and the other chapter leaders had no experience managing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, being a group of 16- and 17-year-olds, nor were they certain their youth-led community chapter would be taken seriously. Still, the passionate group of students remained persistent to achieve their goal of creating “a platform for students and community members to engage with change right away.”

The Southern New Jersey Chapter also recognized the importance of providing an educational opportunity outside of school for students to learn “true responsibility.” Diving head-first into new experiences like managing a bank account or planning community-wide events, the chapter leaders learned how to effectively problem solve with “no teacher or parent to catch [them]” in a slip-up. Ravi and the board believe there is no age requirement for advocacy and community action, because they’ve witnessed how youth, once provided an opportunity to serve, will eagerly rise to the occasion, ready to pursue further action.

Though composed of majority youth members, the Southern New Jersey Chapter supplies members and leaders ample wisdom when it comes to new member recruitment and engagement. Ravi affirms the importance of channeling students’ personal and family networks in order to grow membership beyond youth constituents, while also having members themselves play a major role in chapter recruitment. On the other hand, Ravi urges chapters looking to grow youth engagement to “embrace youth ideas” and “give youth members a platform to be heard and involved in decision making.”

The Southern New Jersey Chapter created this platform for youth members to take the lead on an initiative (and not merely contribute to it) during their first annual Service Proposal Competition in May. Either individually or in groups, students drafted community service action plans, focused on one Sustainable Development Goal, for the chance to earn a spot on a chapter committee. The competition allowed students to cultivate skills like research and time management, while also benefiting the greater community and raising awareness about the UN and the SDGs. Through programs like these, the Southern New Jersey Chapter advocates for a world where young generations understand the importance of “global cooperation and the existence of symbiotic relationships between countries.”

Ravi would like to thank the UNA-USA National Office, the Princeton Chapter, and the Northern New Jersey Chapter for supporting the six board members of the Southern New Jersey Chapter. As he prepares for the start of his college career at the University of Pennsylvania, Ravi is confident the chapter will continue to thrive through the upcoming leadership transitions.

All quotations are direct statements from Ravi Arya, Southern New Jersey Chapter President.