Most people, even if they’re into cute fuzzy animals, find frogs pretty endearing. The folks behind Kermit the Frog can attest to that. But it turns out that frogs also occupy an important place in the food chain—and they’re going extinct.
Jersey City resident Susan Newman, a branding designer by trade, is a longtime environmentalist and a fierce advocate for the frog.
“When I’d go to summer camp in Upstate New York. I’d look for frogs and put them in big coffee cans and keep them in my bunk,” she says. “I just wanted to look at them. I was fascinated by them.”
In 2009, she teamed up to create a blog with a friend who wrote a wildlife series for kids. And as a designer, Newman liked working with nonprofits. “I’ve always been interested in the environment,” she says, “and I liked to design stuff for Earth Day. I thought it would be interesting to have something of my own. I was looking around my office one day, and I had a lot of frogs. They’re in trouble. They’re not getting the attention they need, and the public needs to understand what’s happening to them.”
And thus, Frogs Are Green was born.
The company does not yet have nonprofit status; for now, Newman is a one-woman powerhouse who makes posters, T-shirts, and calendars for sale, which pays the group’s expenses. She also donates to organizations like Save the Frogs, the Nature Conservancy, and National Geographic.
Frogs are at risk because they are extremely sensitive to threats such as acid rain, global warming, invasive species, and habitat loss.
“People put roads in places where they’re cutting forests and building communities,” Newman says. “Spring comes, frogs are on the move going to their vernal pools, and cars are running them over as they cross the roads.”
If frogs were to disappear, it would set off a domino effect of environmental mishaps. “Frogs wouldn’t be here to eat bugs,” Newman says. “We’d be inundated with bugs, which could cause diseases. If something goes missing from the food chain, everything collapses.”
Newman says she has never seen a frog in Jersey City. But she was thrilled to learn that Robert O’Donnell Jr., who teaches science at the Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, headed a project to introduce spring peepers, small chorus frogs, into the reservoir.
Newman is disturbed that places where frogs once emerged from hibernation and started calling to one another are now “totally quiet.”
For a woman who believes that “certain frogs like the red-eyed tree frog or the green tree frog, can’t help themselves, they’re so gorgeous,” that silence is very sad indeed.
FRIENDS OF THE LOEW’S
54 Journal Square
If any building needs a friend, it’s the Loew’s Theatre in Journal Square, and we’re not talking about Facebook. The historic structure was this close to being demolished in 1987, when the Friends of the Loew’s (FOL) stepped in to wage a six-year battle to save it.
But that was just the beginning. FOL’s battle to retain management and restore the theater so that it can be used for its original purpose is ongoing.
Colin Egan, director of the Lowe’s Theater, says that between 1991 and 1993, the group was able to do essential repairs, which allowed it to present small shows in the lobby.
It was hoped that the productions would show the city “what they might gain if it was saved as an art center.”
Egan’s background is in teaching and public relations. “But I always had an interest in historic preservation and history,” he says.
In 1993, the city bought the building for $325,000. “They were going to let it stand unused, but we didn’t like that idea,” Egan says. “We didn’t want to be just a talking organization. We wanted to do things.”
In 1994, the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation spent $2 million to stabilize the building, but more work needed to be done if it was to operate as a theater.
In May, Mayor Fulop announced that four bids had been received for the restoration and management of the Loew’s. The bids ranged from huge music venue management companies that would attract world-renowned artists, to local entities that would work with FOL on community programming.
At press time, FOL, which currently has a contract with the city to manage the theater, was suing the city to prevent new management from taking over. On June 12, Superior Court Judge Hector R. Velazquex ruled that there is no valid lease between FOL and the city, paving the way for the mayor to bring in a high-profile concert promoter.
At the time Egan said FOL’s attorneys were reviewing the decision to determine a basis for appeal. “We continue to hope that the reform-minded Mayor Fulop will come to understand that FOL is a resource for Journal Square that he should put to even better use than his predecessors,” Egan said.
Whatever the outcome, JC residents who just love the building and the local arts scene would love to see the theater out of the courts and in the community.
The Loew’s opened its doors in 1929 at a time when these elegant buildings were called “movie palaces,” though they were home to legitimate theater with full stages, orchestra pits, and dressing rooms.
“It’s an extraordinary local landmark,” Egan says. “The Loew’s needs to stay linked to the community as closely as possible as an arts center with a full range of programming, affordable for everyone.”
79 Central Ave.
If she’d had her way, the 18-year-old Diane Dragone would have named her dance studio “the Dragone Dancers,” but her lawyer persuaded her that it was “too ethnic,” and so the Kennedy Dancers spun and tapped their way into Jersey City, taking the name from its first location on Kennedy Boulevard.
Dragone, a Jersey City native, may have been green but far from “dopey,” as she described herself. She was savvy enough to attend business school and to get a teaching certificate, knowing the challenges of a career in the arts.
Though she toured as a professional dancer, she knew that a life on the road could be tough. “It’s hard on family life,” she says. “I enjoy being on the stage, but you can’t be committed to performance and rehearsals and have a family.”
She is married to Thomas Horan, program director for Jersey City Educational Television and special assistant to the deputy superintendent of Jersey City Public Schools.
They have two children who were “raised in the studio with built-in babysitters.” Though her daughter has a child of her own, she still dances with the company.
Like a lot of boys, her son, though a great ballroom dancer, let his dancing slide.
“It’s hard for boys,” Dragone says. “There’s a stigma to it. Hip hop is cool, taking ballet not so cool. But both kids took ballet and tap.”
Dragone’s mother took her to dance class when she was 3. When she got a little older, she liked to make up dances. “The first time I heard the word choreography, it registered in my mind,” she says. Dragone still choreographs the dances that the studio performs.
Seven instructors teach 150 students, ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 86. Classes include ballet, tap, hip hop, gymnastics, tumbling, floor exercise, modern, lyrical modern, Latin social dancing, and belly dancing.
Many of her students have made it big, performing in London’s West End, the National Ballet of Venezuela, the Royal Danish Ballet, Broadway, and many other professional venues.
Not all the classes take place in the studio. Dragone does outreach to juvenile detention centers and contract jobs, bringing classes on site.
Dragone prides herself on serving children, seniors, and people with special needs.
“We serve the people of the community,” she says. “If it was just about making money, we wouldn’t be located here. Our goal is to be open to people of all ages.”
And all abilities.
“Some people might feel a little nervous or foolish if they don’t know how to dance,” she says, “but we want them to feel comfortable whether they can dance or not. It’s something that can relieve stress and make them feel creative.”—JCM