BRICK, NJ — For 18 months in 1999 and 2000, Cathy Lindenbaum met with organizations throughout Brick Township. Senior groups. Youth groups. The Kiwanis. The goal: convincing voters to support a $28 million bond package for the Brick Township School District.
“The schools were seriously lacking in space for the students. Buildings were falling apart,” said Lindenbaum, who was a member of the Lake Riviera PTA at the time, serving as chairperson of the referendum committee. PTA members fanned out across the township, urging people to vote to approve the bond request. “We got everyone involved,” she said.
The effort paid off: voters approved the bonding request — an accomplishment in a township where voters routinely rejected the district’s property tax levy.
“That’s when I realized the power of people when they can get together and advocate for something,” Lindenbaum said. “That’s when I said I really need to do more.”
In the 19 years since then, Lindenbaum has done much more with the PTA, in Brick Township, in Ocean County and at the state level, where she has recently become the new president of the New Jersey PTA, which has more than 115,000 members. She is the first Ocean County resident in the more than 100 years of the NJPTA to serve as the state president.
Lindenbaum was honored recently in a celebration at Lake Riviera Middle School, where she invested 16 of her 26 years with the PTA, volunteering in a number of roles.
“It’s great because it shows that we’re doing things in Ocean County that are worth recognition,” said Candy Fredricks, the president of the Ocean County PTA, which sponsored the celebration.
“It was great to see people from all over the district,” Lindenbaum said. “It was more than I ever expected.”
Lindenbaum first got involved with PTA when her oldest son started kindergarten at Drum Point Elementary School in 1993. It was a way for her to give back to the community that was flexible enough to work with her family’s needs while her children were young. She’s continued serving for 26 years, and along the way, she found great fulfillment in advocating for everyone’s children.
“So many kids don’t have a voice,” Lindenbaum said. “I was lucky to be able to stay home. Parents are working two and three jobs, and some don’t know what to do to help their children.”
Lindenbaum, whose five children started at Drum Point and have graduated from Brick Township High School — the youngest is 21 and in his junior year of college — said she moved on to Lake Riviera when her oldest started middle school.
“I knew I was probably needed more in the middle school,” she said, because PTA volunteerism tends to drop off in middle school. She eventually served as president of the Lake Riviera PTA and later the Brick Township HIgh School PTA, and wound up joining Fredricks at the Ocean County PTA, eventually serving as the county president for four years.
As president of the county group, Lindenbaum was automatically a board member on the state PTA, and found herself drawn into other roles at the state level, working her way up to becoming the president-elect. The president-elect then ascends to the state PTA president’s seat.
When Lindenbaum finishes her two-year term as president, she will move to the immediate past-president’s role, which exists to advise and assist the current president. Afterward, she plans to return to serving in Ocean County and Brick Township, she said.
“She’s been very active at the state level,” Fredricks said. “We’re really proud of her.”
The state-level office provides opportunities to help influence state policies for the good of kids, she said. Among the efforts have been advocating for serving breakfast to children in school.
“We were 47th in serving kids breakfast,” she said. A new state law requires schools with large low-income populations to offer a “Breakfast After the Bell” program and the work continues.
The state PTA also fought for arms on school buses that prevent children from walking in front of the bus where the driver cannot see them.
She said one of the things the PTA does is work to highlight federal funding that’s available for a variety of school programs.
“There’s so much federal funding and if you don’t know it and go after it, you don’t get it,” she said.
The state PTA also will be actively advocating to get the word out about the 2020 census.
“Everyone needs to get themselves counted,” Lindenbaum said. Proper census counts equal funding for New Jersey, particularly on the federal levels.
Health and safety issues, including the concerns about vaping, also are on the priority list, along with working with schools to help them incorporate a number of state mandates, including ones addressing transgender students.
“At NJPTA we work on transformative family engagement,” Lindenbaum said. The NJPTA is consulting with Garden State Equality on how they can assist, “so they (families and students) know there is support.”
The PTA stays out of the arguments over assessments. “We strive for higher standards,” Lindenbaum said, noting the state was recently ranked No. 1 in the nation for its educational system.
“We have great schools (in New Jersey),” she said. “Everyone complains a little bit, but I’m really glad I settled in New Jersey. We have a lot of great advocates and really good schools.”
“PTA started (in the late 1890s) with women who decided they wanted children out of the workforce and into the classroom,” Lindenbaum said. “I stay in it for the kids.”