By Lynda L. Hinkle
As a business representative and executive board member of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young is no stranger to managing the diverse interests of constituents, or to long work days. Tapped to replace a resigning Freeholder in 2015, Young serves as liaison to public safety agencies including multiple emergency management, police and fire departments as well as the Department of Economic Development and Workforce Development and the Workforce Investment Board.
Hitting the office by 6:30 a.m., Young spends much of his work day on the street looking for opportunities for members across the state and servicing ongoing jobs. Because of the boom in construction in Camden, he often finds himself there or in his car racing to another location hours away in the state. In between, and after the work day, he manages his responsibilities as Freeholder.
Says Young, “I have always had inside me the willingness to do political work. You can’t change the game if you don’t have skin in the game, as you can see by what’s going on in the world today. How can middle aged white guys determine what all women can do with their bodies? Likewise, how can we, the trades in general, make sure that a bunch of white collar folks aren’t in a room deciding what’s good for tradesmen without us?”
Young uses the position to help shape public perception of union labor. “There’s an opportunity to talk to folks about unions. There is a lot of misinformation about exactly what we do and what we are about. There’s a real education piece to my position, but also a responsibility to make sure the citizen’s money is spent wisely. You can take the knowledge of what you have learned in the construction world and make sure that there are wise policies in place. But also you can encourage people to look into the trades as a career where you can further your education and have no debt and have a job with a great wage and benefits.”
There is a parallel between his two jobs, he says. “Governing is very like being a business agent because you are making decisions that affect people’s livelihoods. The policies we create on the Freeholder level affect over a half million people.”
One of the policies that Young is most proud of is the implementation of the Smart 911 initiative that enables residents to register with a national service that provides information about allergies, medication, pets, location of their children’s bedrooms and other information that can speed up the ability of emergency responders to assist in an emergency. This program was put into place after a resident in a town hall meeting suggested it and Freeholder Young investigated and proposed it.
Another recent initiative that Young is proud of combines the needs of three often underserved populations for a positive outcome. Shelter dogs are trained to be companion animals for veterans with PTSD and other mental issues by inmates in a 12-week program. Says Young, “The inmates get the most benefit out of it. They are all low offense inmates and it’s helping them to readjust and understand what unconditional love is. That’s what will determine the success of the program. We’re hoping that once the inmates get released we’ve given them the skill to unconditionally love and return to their families maybe slightly different people.” The policy is the first of its kind in the state of New Jersey.
Young, in addition to his two important jobs, is a husband and father of two boys and is up for re-election this year.