KATHY McBAIN/STAFF KATHY McBAIN/STAFF Greater Media Newspapers held a holiday food drive in the Manalapan office from Dec. 9-21. Donations were brought to the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties in Neptune.

New year offers opportunity to organize

Staff Writer

Mise en place is a French culinary term that means “putting in place.” For chefs, having ingredients prepared and arranged before the cooking process begins allows for greater organization and efficiency in executing a recipe. Applying that concept in everyday life can bring that same organization to almost any task.

“The ability to be organized has become increasingly more important because living in contemporary America, life has become very complex and multifaceted. We live in an age of specialization which creates more options and more decisions,” said Michael Osit, Ed.D., a psychologist, author and speaker from Warren.

Osit offers an example. Forty years ago, he said, one would go to the grocery store to buy orange juice and it was available fresh or frozen and came in either a frozen can or a glass bottle.

“I recently went to the local market and found 27 varieties of orange juice — pulp, no pulp, some pulp, concentrate, vitamin D, and it now comes in cartons, juice boxes, pouches, bottles, etc.,” Osit said. Such mundane decisions can overwhelm individuals and lead to an inability to focus, and in turn, to stay organized.

“To become organized takes a good deal of emotional control and focus,” said Michael Vito, Ph.D., a psychologist with offices in Morristown and Watchung.

To get (and stay) organized, individuals must be “convinced of the value of organization,” Vito said.

Organization, Vito said, leads to better mental health by creating a “less stressful and better functioning” state of mind.

“Organized individuals run their life instead of their life running them. They are in control, which optimizes positive outcomes and minimizes stress and crisis occurring in their life,” Osit said.

According to National Association of Professional Organizers Member Director, Lori Vande Krol, good organizational systems reduce stress and allow people to focus time and energy on what matters most.

“With the speed and volume of information and clutter in our lives today, it has become even more important to have the right systems in place to manage it all,” Vande Krol said.

Organized people, Osit said, can greatly reduce anxiety when life is relatively predictable and surprises are at a minimum.

“Organized people frequently have a plan B, so they do not feel trapped or victimized in specific situations,” Osit said.

The first step to getting organized, whether at home or at work, involves a commitment to putting in the work upfront.

“Employ a ‘work now, play later’ philosophy,” Osit said.

In other words, “become a list maker and prioritize items,” Osit said.

Other suggestions that Osit offers include the following: immediately enter appointments into either a mobile phone or calendar; promptly list items on a to-do list; leave buffer time for appointments and deadlines to account for unexpected events such as traffic or illness; and develop routines for daily tasks so they are automatically completed.

Although technology is often designed to help with getting organized, the opposite effect often occurs.

“Technological devices can be critical tools to help a person be organized in their life if used appropriately (calendar, reminders, to-do lists, alerts, etc.), but they are also a significant distraction from the task at hand, which can cause inefficiency,” Osit said.

The Internet, tablets and mobile phones, Osit said, have created a “tremendous distraction from the present moment.

“Even when people are not sending or receiving messages, a piece of their attention is on the device that could buzz or vibrate at any moment.” Osit said.

Simple advice, like make a plan and stick to it, can facilitate greater organization.

“Put the keys in the key spot and the junk in the junk spot,” Zito said.

In the last decade, the organization industry has experienced growth, as evidenced by the increase in membership in the National Association of Professional Organizers. In 2005, there were 2,945 members, and today there are nearly 4,000 members, about a 30 percent increase, Vande Krol said.

“Interestingly, I am seeing a revitalized interest in living a simpler lifestyle by downsizing space, possessions and activities,” Vande Krol said.

Heather Pierce, owner of House in Order, a professional organization company serving central New Jersey, said the most common request she receives is for help in organizing paperwork.

“Many people hold on to much more paper than they need to because they don’t know what to keep and what to get rid of,” Pierce said.

People often become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of paper that enters their home whether it’s via mail, their child’s backpack or shopping receipts, Pierce said.

“They do nothing to clear the paper clutter. The result is often cluttered kitchen counters, drawers or cabinets, overstuffed filing cabinets, bags and boxes of papers that get moved from place to place, but never sorted and dealt with,” Pierce said.

Pam of Toms River, a client of Pierce, said her “breaking point” with clutter came after she retired and was at home amidst years of accumulated items.

“I started feeling overwhelmed with my possessions,” Pam said.

With Pierce’s service, Pam was able to organize papers that had piled up for years.

“Now I follow a path that there is a place for everything. I’ve been able to break old habits,” Pam said.

When Pierce meets with clients, she discusses any fears or anxieties they may have about the reorganization process.

“Every client is different, so my plan for each client may be different — what works for one person does not work for all. It is important to set clear expectations as far as the desired outcome, projected time needed to complete an organization project, costs of completing a project and the roles each of us will play in the overall completion of the organization project, Pierce said.

It takes a great deal of courage for many people to reach out to a professional organizer for help, Pierce said.

“Many people feel shame, anxiety and embarrassment about the disorganization of their home or office,” according to Pierce.

By conquering the clutter, she said, clients are able to focus on the things that matter most to them.

“Generally, you first want to determine your vision. In other words, how would your ideal space or day look and feel?” Vande Krol said.

Seeing a revitalized interest in living a simpler lifestyle, Vande Krol said, has led to individuals downsizing space, possessions and activities.

Organization Strategies

Get Organized at Home

Some basic tips for better organization at home, according to, include: find a place for every item; keep clutter out of the house; shop for containers after de-cluttering is complete; get rid of duplicates; de-clutter nostalgia, such as children’s artwork, by taking a picture of a child holding art work or crafts.

Get rid of old clothes using the 80:20 rule: we wear 20 percent of the clothes we own 80 percent of the time; look for simple solutions, like a key hook by the front door; and schedule de-cluttering for areas that need it daily, weekly and monthly.

Get Organized at Work

A focus on time, space and mindset is the key to organization at work, according to

Concerning time, the website recommends that individuals start the day with structured time by sorting through email and responding to quick responses and referrals right away, deleting unimportant information and scheduling more essential tasks.

Space, which refers to physical and virtual space, is critical to productivity, the website stated.

The absence of office interruptions can improve concentration when writing or researching a topic, and this might be a task better completed away from the office, according to the website.

Switching off pop-up notifications on mobile devices and on computers, in addition to limiting the number of times email is checked, can result in greater organization of virtual space.

Finally, there is an individual’s mindset. To reduce the feeling of overload and the procrastination associated with taking on overwhelming jobs, divide large tasks into small chunks to better focus, according to the website.

Get Organized at School

It’s as easy as ABC to keep school-related tasks in order, according to

First: “A” place for everything — keep a ready-to-use homework kit filled with school supplies. Next, “be” focused — studying needs to come first when scheduling time and planning activities. Finally, “calendars” posted in a central place at home can help students prioritize tasks, such as test dates and report due dates.

Children should keep a small, personal to-do list in order to get a better understanding of time management, according to the website.

Contact Information

For info, visit the National Association of Professional Organizers at

Council delays vote on Spotswood EMS service

Staff Writer

The future of Spotswood EMS remains foggy going into the New Year. According to borough Business Administrator Dawn McDonald, council members have made no decision regarding the borough’s medical transportation service, despite coming to the end of its initial 60-day bidding period.

“[The] mayor and council have not made a decision yet, simple as that,” McDonald said.

According to McDonald, there were two bidders, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corporation (MONOC), agreed to extend the process by another 60 days.

According to Council President Curtis Stollen, the move is not one that members on the dais take lightly.

“The council knows and realizes this is a very serious decision and that is why we are looking at all avenues and ways to improve what we have. We don’t take it lightly,” he said, adding that a final decision could be made in January. Stollen also said that the council would be making its decision based on three main criteria –– response time, professionalism and resources available.

During the Dec. 21 Borough Council meeting, Kelly Laudien spoke of her mother, a Spotswood resident who was recently treated by Spotswood EMS. She praised the Spotswood EMS, hoping that the council will see fit to keep the service.

“She had a major heart attack in the main artery. They said if it wasn’t for the response time [and] the expertise of the services that she got, she would have never have made it,” Laudien said about the incident that happened the beginning of this month.

According to Laudien, her mother had flat-lined twice before arriving at the hospital, on both occasions being resuscitated by a Spotswood EMT and once again at Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick.

“[They’ve] given me my mother back, so I have my special Christmas gift,” she concluded.

According to McDonald, the reason why the borough is looking into an alternative medical transport service is due to the rising cost. She estimates that it costs upward of $500,000 to support the service. She estimates that amount will increase in the future due to staffing, vehicle, building and capital expenses would increase the amount going forward.

Currently Spotswood EMS is housed in a warehouse on American Way. The borough is still “moving forward” with rehabilitating the old emergency services building on Devoe Avenue, which suffered structural damaged during Hurricane Irene in 2011, McDonald said.

Spotswood EMS employs 18 EMTs along with four supervisors and one director.

The council voted to seek bids at the Sept. 21 borough council meeting. With the extension, the council will have until February to make its decision.

Contact Michael Nunes at

Monroe board lauds three departing members

Staff Writer

As the Monroe Township Board of Education commenced its final meeting of the year, school officials praised the work of three outgoing board members.

Schools Superintendent Michael Kozak presented Board President George Doug Poye, Anthony Prezioso and Robert Czarneski, who served as a representative from Jamesburg, with plaques for their dedicated service on the board from 2013 through 2015 at the Dec. 16 board meeting. Poye and Prezioso ran unsuccessful bids for another term in the November election.

Kozak said Poye brought a unique perspective to the board, having served as an educator and high school principal in Hillsborough.

“Mr. Poye is not averse to asking tough questions [having] sweated through [some questions] myself,” he said, adding Poye always did so in a respectful manner. Kozak said Poye ensured the Monroe Township School District remained in the forefront of innovative educational practices and he assured Poye that they would continue to be a highly performing school district.

Poye spearheaded a steering committee to study the effect of growing student enrollment in schools and facilities and insisted on a balanced group of community members, students and educators.

“Mr. Poye is certainly one of the best presidents that I have worked for,” said Kozak.

Prezioso has been a champion for special education students, making sure they receive the best education the Monroe Township School District can offer.

“This is certainly evident in his comments and actions,” said Kozak. “He holds a huge holiday party for special needs students every year [which occurred this year on Dec. 12].”

Kozak said he can assure Prezioso that the district would continue to work to ensure all children receive a quality education that will prepare them for successful experiences in college and in career.”

Prezioso thanked Kozak and the board.

“We do this job for the kids,” he said.

Kozak thanked Czarneski for being committed to all the students, including the Jamesburg students he represents, ensuring that they receive the best educational experience.

“His commitment to education is evident through his own training as a board member and being an advocate for children in the districts,” he said.

Poye, in his final session leading the board, highlighted the many accomplishments the school district has made in the past three years.

The district refinanced $65 million of outstanding bonds from 2006 to 2008, saving $3.9 million in interest over the next 20 years, which averages just under $200,000 a year.

The district ended the financially failing MECA (Monroe Employee Childcare Academy) program and extended the district’s kindergarten program through the creation of Falcon Care, the tuition-based, board-operated enrichment program bringing revenue into the budget.

This past summer, renovations to the Monroe Township Middle School, funded out of the operating budget, allowed for the creation of 11 additional classrooms.

Poye said this was a great accomplishment for the district because they were able to create additional space for a “very crowded” school building by not utilizing borrowed funds.

An ad hoc student growth committee has been formed to find recommendations and present ideas to the board on how to handle student population now and five years from now.

Poye said this year the district saw an additional 186 students and foresees an additional

200 students every school year.

A redistricting plan was implemented after a state demography study in September creating a better balance for the seven elementary schools in the district.

Poye said he understands that the plan was unpopular, but noted that it was a state plan that the board approved.

The district upgraded facilities to prepare for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The board approved a three-year iPad lease for the district’s one-to-one iPad initiative, he said.

Poye said after many meetings, the board successfully approved Kozak as the district’s new superintendent beginning in July. He said with the leadership of Kozak an improvement with communications among the school district and its constituents has begun.

He said going forward he has enjoyed working on the board and wanted to thank his supporters and the service of Prezioso and Czarneski.

“Being a member of the board is indeed a privilege and it is also a huge responsibility,” he said, adding that the commitment requires a willingness to listen to all points of views before making a decision.

Board member Michele Arminio thanked Poye for his dedicated service.

“You have been an intelligent and able leader who brought decorum and clarity and concise information to the board and to the public,” she said. “And I know that your continued interest in the community will ensure your participation and I look forward to meeting you publicly and privately. I am grateful and appreciate your leadership and the community has been well served.”

Board members Kathy Kolupanowich, Steven Riback, and Lew Kaufman shared the same sentiments and thanked Poye, Prezioso and Czarneski for their service.

A school board reorganization meeting will be held on Jan. 6, which will include the swearing-in of Marvin I. Braverman, who won re-election in November, and newcomers Dawn Quarino and Frank Russo.

Youngster shows strength in battle against cancer

Staff Writer

 Gracie West, a seventh-grader at the Barkalow Middle School, Freehold Township, has been battling cancer for two years and recent scans showed no evidence of the disease. In December 2014, Gracie traveled to Rome and received a blessing from Pope Francis.  CHRISTINE BARCIA/STAFF Gracie West, a seventh-grader at the Barkalow Middle School, Freehold Township, has been battling cancer for two years and recent scans showed no evidence of the disease. In December 2014, Gracie traveled to Rome and received a blessing from Pope Francis. CHRISTINE BARCIA/STAFF Gracie West literally jumped for joy with the good news her doctor recently delivered to her. Gracie, 12, of Freehold Township, has been battling cancer for two years. After she found out her latest scans showed no evidence of the disease, she was jumping on a trampoline within the hour.

“I knew I was going to hit the clear mark,” said Gracie, who is the daughter of Don and Sharon West.

Sharon West said it felt like “the world lifted off your shoulders” when she heard from the doctor that her daughter’s scans were clear.

Gracie, whose nickname is “Cookie,” as in one tough cookie, is a seventh-grader at the Barkalow Middle School, Freehold Township. Two years ago she was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma.

 COURTESY OF THE VATICAN COURTESY OF THE VATICAN Gracie’s protocol included chemotherapy and radiation at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and additional treatments at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City.

But it was a special blessing given to her by Pope Francis in December 2014 that brought Gracie the greatest sense of healing. “I felt calm and peaceful, like everything was going to be fine after (the papal blessing),” the youngster said. Gracie’s trip to see Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was the result of a wish granted to Gracie and her family by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Pope Francis hugged and kissed Gracie and gave her a benediction. The pope also shook hands with her brother, Joey.

“It was just the most amazing thing,” Gracie said.

The most difficult part of her battle against cancer, Gracie said, has been “not being able to do the stuff I normally do,” like swimming and playing with her French bulldog Topy, who is named after her first chemotherapy drug, Topotecan.

Gracie’s approach to life can be summed up in the mantra that guides her: you have no choice but to be strong, but you can choose to be happy and positive. Whether facing cancer or a just bad day, Gracie lives by these words.

Sharon West said the support of family members, friends and the community has been critical throughout her daughter’s fight against illness.

The West family established the Cookie’s Crumblers Foundation with a goal to not only help Gracie crumble her cancer, but also to help other children fight cancer.

A portion of the foundation’s proceeds will be contributed to research aimed at curing and eliminating childhood cancers.

The Cookie’s Crumblers 2016 Inaugural Gala of Gratitude will take place on June 4 at the Battleground County Club, Manalapan. For more information, visit Cookie-

Temple teaches children to perform mitzvahs

Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — For those children whose only source of food may be a school lunch, Temple B’nai Shalom has made a weekend care package for them.

On Dec. 13, members of the Little Sisterhood of Temple B’nai Shalom, Fern Road, packed zipped storage bags with food to give to children who may not always eat three meals a day.

“Kids throughout New Jersey are on either free or reduced lunch in their schools, and unfortunately, we don’t know if they are actually eating over the weekend,” said Paula Storm, vice president of the sisterhood.

All 250 bags of food that were packed at the temple were donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside.

“We wanted to get our kids (at the temple) involved in this because it’s basically kids helping kids. We really wanted kids to be involved in community service and understand there is a bigger world out there than themselves,” said Storm.

She explained that the sisterhood collected the food through food drives at the temple.

The bags of food are distributed to about a dozen schools throughout the state that have children in need.

“A school nurse will come and get these bags of food and then bring them back to their school. Students could quietly, and privately, go to the nurse’s office and receive a bag and put it in their backpack, take it home, and nobody knows,” Storm said.

The act of charity ties in heavily with the Jewish faith.

“For us, being a Jewish organization, Friday is a very special day for us. Friday [night] is Shabbat (Sabbath). Knowing that (children are need) are receiving the package on Friday and they are not going to go hungry on Shabbat is very important,” said Storm, referencing the religion’s day of rest.

“In Judaism, feeding the hungry is one of the greatest mitzvahs (good deeds) we can do,” Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said. “Everyone, no matter how rich or poor, is obligated to give, even if it’s a small amount. We are teaching our children today to continue this Jewish tradition of charity and helping those in need.”

For the children who participated in packing the bags of food, this was an opportunity to do something good in their community at a young age.

“I want to help others in need and I feel that by doing this, I’m helping a lot of people who don’t have enough to eat and that makes me feel really good,” said Alex Fernandez, who has participated in the program since its beginnings three years ago.

The same feeling was echoed by some of the younger volunteers.

“I want to help people who can’t afford food. I [want] to make people happy,” said Ethan Storm, 10.

“I feel bad for people who don’t have as much as we do, especially around the holidays. We are getting all these presents and they don’t have basic needs,” said Rebekkah Taistra, 10.

The food drive was one of many charity events that the sisterhood organizes. The group takes part in the Peyton’s Heart Project, which helps raise awareness for mental health issues, bullying and suicide by tagging hand-crocheted hearts with uplifting messages.

There was also a Mitzvah Day on Dec. 23 to provide first responders with baked goods.

In addition, the temple has a plot in the Community Garden that provides food for the East Brunswick Senior Center, according to Iris Udasin, adult social action chair for the sisterhood.

“We are a very affluent area and knowing that we are able to help others is very important to help teach our kids,” Storm said.

Contact Michael Nunes at

Milltown council thanks Murray for three years of service

Staff Writer

MILLTOWN — As the Borough Council commenced its final meeting of the year, Patricia “Patty” Murray said she enjoyed her three years serving on the council dais.

“It has been a real honor serving the residents of Milltown and it has been a great learning experience for myself personally,” she said on Dec. 14. “I am grateful for the opportunity and very humbled.”

Murray, a Democrat, did not seek a second term in the November election. She said due to the nature of her business, which requires her to be out on the road, it would not be possible for her to serve another term.

“I’ll never say never … maybe in the future I hope for the opportunity again,” she said.

Murray served as chairwoman to the Parks & Recreation Department this past year and has served as chair to the Finance, Planning & Administration in the past.

Councilman Francis Guyette thanked Murray for her service and said she would be sorely missed.

Mayor Eric Steeber thanked Murray for her dedication to the residents of Milltown and presented her with the key to the city.

“You lead various departments making significant contributions and for that we will always be thankful,” he said to Murray.

Murray said she was touched and honored by the memento and said she will place it in her office.

Festival of Lights

 PHOTO BY FRANK WOJCIECHOWSKI PHOTO BY FRANK WOJCIECHOWSKI Rabbi Yehuda Spitzer of Chabad House of Monroe and North Brunswick Councilman Bob Davis at the Menorah lighting ceremony as part of the annual Winterfest festivities held at the North Brunswick Municipal Building on Dec. 8.

After FEMA denial, Milltown seeks to fund substation with interim loan

Staff Writer

MILLTOWN — With the most recent rejection of $11.7 million in potential funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the question of funding for a new electric substation in Milltown is again a topic of discussion.

Currently, the borough has an interim $14 million New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust (NJEIT) construction loan with a 19 percent principal loan forgiveness, or approximately $2.6 million, for the new substation.

Denise Biancamano, chief financial officer, said at a Borough Council meeting on Dec. 14 that borough officials had to make a decision to convert the interim loan into permanent financing for the substation or face the possibility of losing the 19 percent principal loan forgiveness if officials decided to close the trust.

“There is a possibility that we may receive [the $2.6 million], but I can’t guarantee [it],” she said.

The dilemma that borough officials had to decide was to continue with the loan and/or appeal the FEMA rejection.

Biancamano said there was a question on whether FEMA would provide funding if borough officials decided to convert the interim loan into permanent financing.

The aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 led borough officials on a journey to move the electrical substation to higher ground. Irene brought torrential rains that overflowed area waterways, flooding nearby streets as well as the borough’s electric substation, resulting in a nearly weeklong power outage. Borough officials shut down the substation in preparation for the floodwaters, which reportedly rose halfway up the transformers.

Officials and contracted electricians then spent five days drying and repairing the substation before restoring power.

Milltown is one of eight municipalities in the state that operates an electric utility for the benefit of its residents and businesses.

In September 2014, borough officials awarded a contract for the construction of a new electric substation.

Borough officials entered an agreement with Welsbach Electric Corp. for the Borough Electric Utility Flood Mitigation project, which includes the construction of a new electric substation for a sum not to exceed $12,368,122.

Michael Marcinczyk, department supervisor of code enforcement and zoning, said despite the FEMA rejection, there is a good chance they can win an appeal, which he said is decided at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

This is the second denial of FEMA funds for the new substation.

Marcinczyk said from talking to state police officers and people from FEMA, there was an issue with the decisions that came out of the FEMA Region 2 level.

“We still stand a very good shot for the $11.7 million,” said Marcinczyk, who explained that the rejection boils down to the electric substation was not destroyed, but instead heavily damaged.

Marcinczyk said the language in FEMA’s Stafford Act includes the language “destroyed” and “damaged.”

“We have met every criteria requested from [FEMA] on why the substation should move,” he said. “I, along with the state police and OEM (Office of Emergency Management], feel confident that we will ultimately prevail once it hits Washington.”

Councilman Ron Dixon said it is important to protect the residents of Milltown and move forward with the loan as well as appeal for the FEMA funds.

The council unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with converting the interim loan into permanent financing for the new substation.

Marcinczyk said they would file an appeal and expedite the process by not waiting the 60-day window to file the appeal.

In 2013, the borough purchased the Schwendeman log cabin property adjacent to Albert Avenue and Mill Pond Park for the purpose of a land swap with Middlesex County for property adjacent to Borough Hall on Washington Avenue. The next year, the borough acquired the 1.3 acres from the county for the new substation.

The use of the property on Washington Avenue will allow the new substation to be built on higher ground, outside of the flood plain, according to the New Jersey State House Commission, which had jurisdiction over the land swap.

In exchange, Milltown will convey the former Schwendeman property — 2.6 acres on Kuhlthau Avenue — to the county.

Christmas village

 PHOTO COURTESY OF MARTINA CONCEPCION PHOTO COURTESY OF MARTINA CONCEPCION Ruth and Bill Iko of East Brunswick have continued an old family tradition that began when Ruth’s parents would set up a village under the Christmas tree. The village is almost the size of their living room.