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The Changing American Dream

Patch launches Dispatches, a series that looks at jobs, home ownership, education, debt and life as we know it.

We're excited to inaugurate a new series for our Patch Readers: "Dispatches: The Changing American Dream."

Every day, the national media is full of stories about how American families, businesses and neighbors are adjusting to these trying times. So many changes are happening so fast that it's dizzying: national debates about unemployment, foreclosures, debt, religion, government and private enterprise all touch on fundamental ways in which we see ourselves and our communities. At Patch, we want to explore that conversation on a daily basis so we can better understand how our neighbors are handling the challenges and opportunities facing us.

There’s no longer a singular American Dream, but a multitude of American Dreams. Looking at  nearly almost 900 Patch sites across the country, we see business owners holding their breath deciding whether to expand; college graduates returning home because they can't find jobs; and senior citizens bringing boarders into their homes to help pay their bills. We also see bold new volunteer efforts, inspiring stories of local businesses that succeed because they innovated and locals who've taken these challenging times as a signal to engage more, not less, in their government.

At the purely local level, we want to know where we, as Millburn and Short Hills neighbors, fit into the national picture.

Nationally, there's a debate about which government-building efforts are "shovel-ready." Locally, Millburn-Short Hills residents are debating whether the township needs to spend $8.11 million on a  downtown. Meanwhile, although the tough economy of the last few years has made it difficult for a lot of people to stay in business, downtown boasts a 6 percent vacancy rate and several new businesses have just opened or are on the way.

People have risked a lot for their version of the dream: Take Cindy Potters, a Millburn homes writer, who put it all on the line in the middle of the recession to open up a  in Maplewood, and although she has struggled at times, she’s incorporating interior design and blogging into her business and making a go of it. Or take Jose Sotelo, who used to work in the executive cafeteria of a major corporation but recently opened up a  in downtown Millburn, counting on wine tasting events and the BYOB nature of most restaurants in town to help him realize his dream. Or , whose Restaurant MC downtown closed a year ago, but he’s working with the township to realize a new vision – a restaurant and concierge service in the Short Hills Train Station. Cooperman’s so hopeful about his dream that he signed a 20-year lease for the space.

Nationally, there's a debate about the education system, which is at the center of our dreams of a better life for our children. Locally, we know Millburn’s schools get the best marks from the state. But there are issues associated with that – competition and stress, handling budget cuts in a way that doesn’t affect the quality of education, and dealing with proposed and what those could mean for the .  And the most important people to turn to for those issues are not national politicians, but our school principals, district administrators, teachers and families.

"Dispatches" will be built upon the compelling vignettes and snapshots we unearth across all of our Patch sites. And, of course, we want and need your help: Tell us what issues and what stories in Millburn and Short Hills go to the heart of your American Dream.

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