More than 30 early career NJEA members gathered at Clancy’s by the Bay in Somers Point for a networking event hosted by the Early Career Network. The event, organized by early career members, served as an opportunity for members from across South Jersey to learn about their health care plans, the pension system and other issues facing all early career members.

The organizers planned the event as part of a broader effort to bring members from different local associations together to share information and build relationships. “We want to socialize and meet teachers from other locals to learn about what they’re dealing with and how they are handling common issues,” noted Jess Kriegner, a member of the Ocean City Education Association. “We want to understand, collectively, what’s going on in New Jersey. As a teacher, you live in your own district’s bubble, so this opportunity creates moments for us to meet other like-minded people.”

With a focus on building relationships, the event also aimed to provide clarity around the complex issues of health care and pensions. After agreeing that an understanding of long term financial planning was lacking amongst their fellow members, the organizers reached out to NJEA. They asked NJEA Associate Director of Research Bob Bobik to join them and provide information to members who attended. Bobik answered questions about health care plans for individual members related to their unique circumstances.  Most in attendance had been working in education for fewer than 10 years, and Bobik helped everyone understand their unique road to retirement.

While the event was focused around health care and pensions, those in attendance recognized the strength that relationships can have amongst union members. “We recognize that we are going to be in public education for a long time, and we need to have strength within our union,” said  Ocean City Education Association member Cholena Weaer. “This is a great opportunity for people to start thinking and talking about retirement now.”

Gina Juliana, also a member of the Ocean City Education Association and an event organizer, discussed the importance of all NJEA members understanding the power their union membership holds. “People are already empowered by all the things that our union does for us, but so many don’t understand their own power or how to access this power.” said Juliana. “NJEA has taught me that I do a good job every day, and as long as I do what I do, I have more power than I can imagine.”

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