There are so many reasons to look up and smile in Asbury Park – from the compelling architecture to the sweeping “cloud art” designed by Mother Nature hanging above the ocean every day.

I also love walking around and seeing the fantastic watercolor images by Asbury Park uber-talented resident Ray Sternesky on the lamppost banners around town.

Last week, I spoke with Asbury Park resident Sonja O’Brien about the lamppost banner program she’s spearheaded for our city, which is about to enter it’s second phase.

Sonja is so inspiring.  Seriously inspiring.  She can do anything with the precious spare time she has in between commuting to and from the city for work, renovating a house and loving two adorable cats yet she chooses to dedicate some of her extra time to giving back to Asbury Park.

“Everyone has different skills they can and do bring to the table to help the city,” said O’Brien.  “The talent pool found in our residents is so great it encouraged me.  Professionally, I coordinated the production of the banners for the Goodwill Games, so this banner program is an extension of what I know – it was a natural fit to do my part for a city I love so much.”

Sunday, the artwork for the second series of banners – themed “Imagine Asbury Park” – was unveiled at a beautiful, fancy-pants Watermark Lounge party.

“I am so excited about the banner program because it showcases a myriad of artists representing all facets of our community,” said O’Brien.  “And because it is raising funds for vital non-profit organizations.”

Sonja developed the business plan for the program and secured 13 sponsors.  For a fee of $600 this is a no-brainer, cost effective, high-impact branding opportunity, with an extra-long shelf-life for local businesses.

The two installments of the initiative have raised $15,300 – with one-hundred percent of the proceeds of the first going to the Asbury Park Historical Society and the second split evenly between the Historical Society and ArtsCAP.

“Her insights and energy are ingenious and invaluable,” said Johna Karpinski, president of the Historical Society.  “I can’t say enough about how wonderful she is.”

Sonja’s work has impacted many.

“Her work has been huge for ArtsCAP,” said Brett Colby, board president, ArtsCAP.  “Sonja has provided us with the single-largest donation we have received to-date.”

She will also coordinate the production of the banners and installation with Asbury Park’s Director of Commerce, Tom Gilmour.

“I could not have done any of this without the support of Tom,” said O’Brien.