New Milford youth create banners as part of sustainability initiative

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

NEW MILFORD — Those driving by the Town Green this summer will see several dozen banners hung from lampposts. Each banner will be designed by young people in town and express what’s on their minds.

The banners are part of My Heart Beats For, the town’s Arts by Youth Initiative.

“The My Heart Beats For project is an opportunity through the arts to do something that’s exciting and engaging for kids to take part in. They are designing posters of what their heart beats for,” said Stephen Gass, co-caption of the Sustainable Connecticut New Milford Action Team. “They want an opportunity to show the world what’s important to them, what they care about, what they think about, what they’re concerned about, what they want to change, what they want to celebrate.” Gass is owner of The Gass Company, a media design and production firm.

The project will be launched within the next few weeks. For more information, visit The deadline for submissions is May 28.

Sustainable CT

My Heart Beats For came out of New Milford’s participation in Sustainable CT, which helps municipalities promote their health and well-being.

Sustainable CT has several hundred actions for which a town can get credit toward their sustainability certification. A youth centered arts project is one of them.

As part of the initiative, which is supported by the New Milford Commission on the Arts and the New Milford Youth Agency, a group of seventh-graders through high school seniors met with school superintendents, art teachers and professional artists from New Milford. Their goal was to identify criteria for an arts project for youth, and then envision what the project might look like.

Once the idea for the project was developed, the kids expressed an interest in making it public.

“They did not want the arts project to be digital. They did not want it to be a screen-based project. Based on their COVID experiences, they were just fatigued with being in front of a screen and having their entire life mediated by a screen,” Gass said. “They wanted it to be truly be part of the town fabric. They wanted it to be seen by people in town. They wanted it to be part of the town conversation, and that’s how we landed on this idea of banners.”

Banner ideas the young people thought of include women’s rights, healthcare workers, equality, innovations, self expression and music.

All the designs will be reviewed blind by a jury of artists and educators, and up to 50 of them — since there are 50 lampposts on the Green — will be made into banners that will fly around the New Milford Green, from mid-August to early November.

‘The next generation’

Gass said young people are an essential component of the sustainability of any town.

“When you look at the sustainability of a town, it’s important that we also include kids, who are the next generation, in this conversation,” he said.

New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said the initiative is a “wonderful opportunity” for the town’s young people and a “wonderful testament to our community.”

Some of the kids involved in the initiative developed a three-minute promotional video that will be sent across social media outlets in town and throughout the New Milford middle and high schools. Through the video, they will be inviting other kids to be part of the initiative and submit their designs for a banner.

New Milford resident Annabelle Colonna, 17, said young people can have a huge impact on society — despite what some adults may believe.

“There is a stigma around younger people — that they’re lazy, they’re not doing anything, and they’re just sitting inside playing video games,” she said. “There have been a lot of things going on throughout this pandemic that we have been trying to address — that we want to speak out on. The community needs to see the part of us that wants to make a difference, make a change, and do something to make those changes happen.”

Ishaani Pradeep, 16, of New Milford, said the iniative has been an incredible experience for her.

“This has been quite a difficult year, and I feel that we really need to find that one thing that gets us out of bed in the morning, that makes us smile, and truly gets our heart beating. I thought of the theme for this project as I reflected on my quarantine experience and truly delved deep for the things, forces, places, and wonderful people that truly motivated me to persevere,” Ishaani said. “We really want everyone to find what their heart beats for, and grow from learning about themselves. Everyone can make a change and bring a smile for New Milford simply by sharing what their heart beats for.”

Once the banners come off the lampposts, they’ll be upcycled into tote bags, to sell, with proceeds going back to the town for future projects.

The team is also planning an element of the project that will involve the larger community. They’re creating portable chalk walls where those coming to see the banners will be able to write what their own heart beats for.

“In that way, it becomes a fully interactive community-wide project where the kids are celebrating their own ideas and families and visitors can also participate by doing what they think is important,” Gass said.