Periodically, North Arlington Mayor Daniel H. Pronti and I will get together, informally, for lunch, often at the Corner Grill on Ridge Road. And, most times, after shooting the breeze, he will offer me a series of ideas for stories we could run in The Observer.
This time, there were a few ideas tossed about, but one in particular stood out.
“A few months ago, we honored a North Arlington (South Bergen) girls’ championship basketball team at one of our Borough Council Meetings,” Pronti said and later recalled in a social meia post. “After the presentation, the group of girls remained at the meeting and watched in its entirety. Not only were we impressed the whole team stayed to listen to important information about North Arlington, but one of the players, a young lady named Jaileen Henson, even asked to be recognized.”
Henson, 13, is in the first week of eighth-grade now at North Arlington Middle School. Her dad says she’s always been vocal, whether at home, at school, at play. So no one in her family was all too surprised she’d asked to speak.
But for Pronti and the Council, though excited by her maneuver — well let’s just say it is very rare for any youngster to rise and speak publicly at the mic. But that is exactly what the young Hanson did.
“I was very impressed that she had such a well thought out, articulate question and was also able to provide a potential solution. She was more prepared and more mature than some adults we’ve heard during public comments. I passed along my appreciation to her parents who are very proud and in my opinion, did a great job raising her to be confident enough to stand up and speak up in a way where people want to help.”
If you’ve ever watched or seen a council meeting in person — it could be anywhere, not just in NA — you know Pronti’s statements were true. Sometimes, there are people who get the mic and yell, scream, babble, senselessly. But not Hanson. She knew what she wanted to say and it worked.
“When she stood and approached the microphone, Jaileen explained that she and her friends often ride their bicycles around town and do not like to leave them on the sidewalk, which tends to be unsafe to passersby and also leaves them vulnerable to theft,” the mayor said. “They sometimes chain them to poles or trash receptacles.”
But that’s not always possible. So her solution?
“She recommended the possibility of installing actual bike racks in certain areas of North Arlington where our young people like to congregate,” Pronti said. “The very next day, I asked our administrator (Steve LoIacono) to price out and order two ‘Viking Blue’ bike racks. They were delivered last week and today (Friday, Sept. 8), our DPW installed the new racks — one behind our free public library and the second at Fisher Field.”
Knowing the racks had been installed, Pronti immediately knew Hanson had to be there the first day to test them out and for a photo op. After all, the racks wouldn’t have been there — perhaps never to be thought of — had she not stood up and spoke up. And, the mayor says the borough will see how well received these racks are and will look into possibly adding more.
“Jaileen was very proud to be the first person to chain her bicycle to the new bike racks,” Pronti said, as he and Councilman Mario Karcic, both Hudson County boys who were used to needing to lock bikes up, showed her the proper way to put her lock wire through the bike’s tires as they laughed. “I hope this is a lesson to everyone in town who has a valid idea.
“Bring the idea to the proper authorities, in the proper manner and give facts and recommendations and your idea will be considered. We like to carry out any and all recommendations that not only make sense but are beneficial to our community.”
Karcic, meanwhile, joined Pronti in expressing his excitement and delight a teenager was so willing to be of service at such a young age.
“That’s just it — she was confident enough to identify something, bring it to our attention and we’re willing to listen to anybody in town, regardless of age, as to what they see are problems,” the councilman said. “We were happy we were able to provide a solution and we hope there’s more to come.”
Jaileen’s dad, Ross, meanwhile, says he didn’t have to nudge his daughter to speak up one bit.
“She has her own mouth and her own brand and she’s just so smart,” he said. “When she has an idea, she is not a quiet girl, so she just blurted it out. She did this all on her own.”
So why’d she do it? Jaileen says it was simple.
“When I am in North Arlington riding my bike, I always have to lock it or hide it like on a pole or behind somewhere, or on a trash can,” she said. “Because people like to steal bikes, no matter where you live, and he (dad) would have to pay for a new one if mine got stolen. If I didn’t stand up and say something, this would have never happened. So I did.”
And now because of Jaileen, the mayor and Council, bike riders around the borough have two ideal locations when they have other stuff to do — and who knows, there may be more down the line — to park their bikes, knowing they’ll still be there when they return to pick them up later on.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.