It was a very long time ago, but my memory of the incident remains crystal clear. My two young children and I were enjoying a brief vacation in Disney World. The rides were as much fun for me as they were for the kids. What artistry there was in every last detail. And staff members (not only Mickey and Donald) connected with visitors in a welcoming way.
The incident that sticks in my mind occurred when we boarded a boat for a special ride. The Captain asked each group aboard to name its home state. When my two proudly called out, “New Jersey”, everyone laughed and laughed even louder when the Captain offered, “Don’t feel bad. We won’t hold your New Jersey roots against you!”
My children were stunned and a little bit hurt. They were proud of their state; and no one had ever questioned their pride before. Later while sharing a tank of popcorn, I tried my best to explain why N.J. had become a national joke, mostly among people who had never gotten off the Turnpike to see the real “Garden State”. Hearing people pronounce N.J. home evoked the question, “What Exit?”. But that only meant the listeners were ignorant of our state’s fine qualities, including its generous spirit.
Today, I am especially proud of the news that N.J will be supporting (and that means funding in hard times) preschool programs, particularly for children of poverty. Our governor, Jon Corzine, had hoped to provide all day pre-school for all of N. J.’s children. That hope will have to be compromised. There will not be funding enough for all. But the Governor understands the potential life long benefits of a good preschool experience. He plans to use federal stimulus funds and an additional 25 million already set aside for preschool programs. Since the funds are still limited, he plans to focus on the most needy---the most at risk kids. While many other states are cutting back on preschool programs, N. J. is enriching theirs. Hip hip hurray for the Garden State.