Those two words have been a unifying phrase for Harrison Township residents during the pandemic. Mayor Lou Manzo has used the phrase to punctuate his COVID-19 updates and it can be found in the form of a hashtag on recent township police department social media posts.
Earlier this month, the Harrison Township School District decided to dive deeper into what Harrison Strong actually means. On May 5, the district released an eight-minute video titled “Harrison Strong.” The video, filmed and edited by Harrison Township School teacher John Trussell, includes drone footage of many of the township’s famous buildings and landmarks, coupled with dozens of photos of students and families who participated in a project called the Butterfly Challenge.
Created in cooperation with Harrison Township and its police department, the video was viewed more than 5,000 times in the first week online.
“I think it shows that unity within Harrison Township and that people are proud,” said Trussell, who admitted he didn’t expect the video to get as many views as it did. “When I started working (at Harrison Township), I heard nothing but great things. People are proud of the town and rightfully so; it’s a beautiful place.”
“The main goal was to show we’re united and together,” said Chad Flexon, supervisor of instruction at Harrison Township School.
Flexon helped brainstorm the idea behind the Harrison Strong video after talking with Manzo and Harrison Township Police Chief Thomas Mills. After tossing around a few ideas, the decision was made to combine the photos from the Butterfly Challenge with video of some of the township’s most famous landmarks to create a memorable piece.
“When we thought of the video, it was going to represent our schools and the entire community,” Flexon said. “The mayor suggested some landmarks. We talked about ones that would be important to kids.”
Flexon tasked Trussell with filming and editing the piece. Trussell, a physical education teacher at Harrison Township School since 2008, has always been into technology and produced several videos in the past using a district-owned drone. When Flexon mentioned the video project to him, Trussell began to prepare for filming.
“Let me show different points in the town,” Trussell said in describing his planning process. “Old Town Hall, the pond, the schools, the businesses in the main strip.
“I wanted to show that connection of school, of community, that we’re all in this together, that we can rise up stronger than before,” he later added.
Many of the locations seen in the video are familiar to past and present residents of the township. Athletic fields, the local schools, Harrison House Diner, Main Street, Harmony Fire Company, Inspira Hospital and the Mullica Hill water tower are just some of the many sites in the piece.
Trussell used a drone to film all of the live footage. Due to battery life and charging times, it took him about three days to shoot all of his footage. The teacher estimates he spent six to seven hours filming.
“We wanted to show Harrison unity, that we’re all together,” Trussell explained. “I was hoping to highlight how beautiful the town is. I was hoping that everyone would see the beauty in it that I see.”
The photos of butterflies on display at homes in Harrison Township dominated the second half of the video. The collage of pictures is connected with The Butterfly Challenge project, run by Harrison Township School art teacher Nancy Moran.
“The Butterfly Challenge came about in the beginning of our distance learning,” Moran said. “I was designing a lesson for my students, and as I was researching the symbolism behind the butterfly, it struck a chord with me because endurance, change, hope and life are all things that resonate in our current situation.”
Moran believed the project could be something done beyond her art classes. The entire community was invited to create butterflies, put them up at their homes and send photos in. Moran received more than 200 pictures of butterflies from people of all ages, with many of the photos being featured in “Harrison Strong.”
Between filming and editing, Trussell believes he spent about 30 hours working on the video. When he sent it to Flexon prior to its public release, he got a very positive response.
“When I watched the video, I cried a little bit.,” said Flexon. “I told John, ‘That was great.’
“Originally, we thought about having the mayor doing a voiceover and maybe being in the video a little bit,” Flexon continued. “When we shared it with the mayor, he said no words were needed. I knew if he felt that way, other people would.”
Coincidentally, the video was released less than 24 hours after it was announced schools in New Jersey would be closed for the rest of the school year. With many students, staff and families feeling sad after hearing the news, the “Harrison Strong” video offered a ray of light.
“Trussell produced an amazing video that really illustrates the heart and soul of Harrison Township, from the spectacular drone footage to the beautiful butterflies created by the community,” Moran said. “It speaks volumes about the people who live here.
“The sense of community in Harrison Township is second to none.”
“The first night when we put it out there, I was getting messages on all these social media platforms and Mr. Flexon was, too,” Trussell said. “We’re so happy people enjoyed the video and are appreciating it like I did.”
“I think Harrison Township is a humble and proud community,” Flexon said. “The rural landscape, the small businesses — it’s very family-driven. “The video captures that.
“They’re Harrison Strong. It’s about family.”
To view the “Harrison Strong” video, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcJzKVJQ-sQ&t.