Holiday trolley tour lights up South Amboy

By JACQUELINE DURETT
Correspondent

SOUTH AMBOY — Residents got a guided tour of the city and a look at some of the best local Christmas light displays during the city’s annual holiday trolley tour on Dec. 18.

This was the fifth year for the trolley tour, an event the city holds in partnership with the South Amboy Historical Society.

Mayor Fred Henry said when the event started, he had no idea it would become so popular.

“It gives people some time to enjoy the season in a different fashion and to visit some parts of the city that they seldom see,” he said, adding that it’s also an opportunity for newer residents “to learn a little bit more about the history of different parts of the city.”

He said longtime residents, meanwhile, enjoy remembering places in South Amboy that used to exist.

A mix of those residents gathered outside City Hall chatting with their neighbors, waiting for their assigned trolley time; the trolley ran every hour throughout the evening.

At 8:30 p.m., the last group boarded, each taking a slip of paper that indicated the houses at which the trolley would be stopping. Those homes are part of the city’s house decorating contest, and trolley riders are asked to vote for their three favorites.

Once on the trolley, participants heard a lot about South Amboy’s history from Joe Szaro of the historical society. Szaro’s presentation was interactive, as he covered everything from the date South Amboy was incorporated to how large the city once was and how various sections of the city got their respective names.

Early on, Szaro asked the crowd how South Amboy itself got its name. Collectively, the crowd agreed it was south … of something.

“South of what?” Szaro asked.

“South America!” one little girl cried out, followed by some good-natured laughter. Szaro pointed out it was actually named for its position south of Perth Amboy.

The trolley stopped at nearly a dozen homes, including those on Charmello, George and Pupek streets. Light displays ranged from the traditional with lights and wreaths, to the comical, with one featuring the famed lamp from the movie “A Christmas Story,” to the innovative, with another projecting the movie “Elf” on a screen outside the house.

At various stops, riders would shout, “That’s my house!” or “Wow, look at that!” At some homes, the residents came outside to greet those on the trolley. In between stops, a few riders broke out into a rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

Less than an hour later, they were back where they began, at City Hall, to submit their voting sheets.

“I feel this year’s event was a success,” said the mayor, who thanked all the city workers who assisted in this year’s effort. “We have a beautiful city, and many residents go to great pains to decorate their houses, some for the best decorated house contest and some just for the love of the season.

“All in all it makes you feel good about the community in which we live and prepare for Christmas,” Henry said.

Race, ride and party into 2016

TOP PICK

iPlay America rings in the New Year with a blast during the Fifth annual New Year’s Eve Bash from 7:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 31. iPlay America’s New Year’s Eve Party pass includes unlimited rides and attractions, a $10 game card, party favors, spectacular prizes and giveaways throughout the evening, a confetti cannon, light show and great music pumping through the entire park, with a live D.J., all for just $39.99. A la carte treats can be purchased at Sonny’s Boardwalk Grill, Boardwalk Bites, Rob’s Pizza, The Grind Coffee Co. and Mixx Frozen Yogurt throughout the celebration.

The New Year’s Eve Party and Prix Fixe Dinner pass is just $79.99 for adults and $54.99 for children age 12 and younger. This pass includes everything in the New Year’s Eve Party Pass plus a champagne toast for adults 21 and older. Dinner reservations begin at 7:30 p.m. and are for 90 minute seatings with staggered seatings every 15 minutes. Toddlers are free. Reservations are required to 732-577-8200.

You can watch the ball drop on one of iPlay America’s multitude of big screen monitors. iPlay America is located at 110 Schanck Road in Freehold.For more information call 732-577-8200 or visit iPlayAmerica.com/NYE2016.

New year offers opportunity to organize

By CHRISTINE BARCIA
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, todo 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 www.webmd.com, include: find a place for every item; keep clutter out of the house; shop for containers after decluttering 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 www.entrepreneur.com.

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 www.scholastic.com.

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 todo 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 www.napo.net.

Sayreville addresses increasing special education population

By MATTHEW SOCKOL
Correspondent

The number of students receiving special education services in the Sayreville Public School District is increasing.

“One of the main problems that we’re focusing on right now in special education is, first and foremost, the fact that we have a rising number of students being made eligible for special education services,” Superintendent Richard R. Labbe said during the Sayreville Board of Education meeting on Dec. 16 as part of the annual State of the Schools Address, which provides the board and the public with the current condition of the school district.

Labbe said the problem is compounded by the current number of special education students being above the normal threshold. As of the meeting, 1,158 students are enrolled in special education, which is 19 percent of the district. According to Labbe, about only 15 percent should be receiving aid.

Labbe noted that the higher percentage caused Sayreville’s school district to be cited by the federal government in a 2014- 15 compliance report. Of the 1,158 special education students, 90 are in preschool, 934 are of school age, and 134 receive speech and language services only.

However, Labbe revealed there are also 30 potential special services cases in preschool. The 30 were identified in a collaboration between the school district and Early Intervention Services, which helps discover developmental delays and disabilities in young children.

The children identified will be evaluated to determine if they are eligible for special education when they reach the age of three.

“We’re probably going to have to hire an additional teacher as a long-term sub sometime in February or March just because of the rising number of students that are going into our preschool population,” Labbe said.

He acknowledged the growing amount of students requiring special services has caused a significant increase in special education instructors. Four unbudgeted special education teachers were hired in 2013, and three additional unbudgeted special education teachers were hired last year.

In addition to those enrolled in Sayreville’s public schools, there are 82 out of district students receiving special education services.

“That number is increasing as we speak,” Labbe said, referring to the out-ofdistrict cases. “For some reason, we’re getting a high number of students moving into the borough who are currently in a private, out-of-district placement. When a situation like that occurs, you have to provide them equal IEP (Individualized Education Program).”

MCC offers alternate route to certification as teacher

The New Pathways to Teaching program has been created at Middlesex County College (MCC) to allow individuals who have not completed a traditional teacher-training program the opportunity to become teachers through New Jersey’s alternate route system.

There will be an information session to review the requirements of the program from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 12 in the Brunswick Room in Crabiel Hall on the Edison campus, 2600 Woodbridge Ave.

“Most of our participants have always wanted to teach but, for one reason or another, have not had the opportunity,” said Kimberlee Hooper, director of the Office of School Relations. “Others may have developed this interest in teaching later in life, as they are looking for a more meaningful career helping others. Whatever their motivation, New Pathways is the program that can help them fulfill their dreams. We accept people from a variety of academic disciplines with a minimum 2.75 grade point average in an undergraduate or graduate degree, and a Certificate of Eligibility.

RSVP by calling 732-548-6000, ext. 3144, or emailing schoolrelations@middlesexcc.edu and leave your name and phone number.

The Office of School Relations also offers Introduction to Teaching, which is a 24- hour course that covers five weeks and must be completed before applying for a teaching certificate.

The next Introduction to Teaching class will begin Jan. 14 and will meet for five consecutive Thursdays.

For information on either program, visit www.middlesexcc.edu/schoolrelations.

Youngster shows strength in battle against cancer

By CHRISTINE BARCIA
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- Gala2016.eventbrite.com.

Sixth-grader leads letter-writing effort for Make-A-Wish

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

 More than 10,000 letters from students all over the Old Bridge School District were delivered to the Macy’s department store in East Brunswick as part of Macy’s Make-AWish Believe Campaign last week. The letter campaign was spearheaded by 11-year-old A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School. For every letter completed, Macy’s donated $1 to the Make- A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.  PHOTOS COURTESY OF KERRYANN SILVESTRI More than 10,000 letters from students all over the Old Bridge School District were delivered to the Macy’s department store in East Brunswick as part of Macy’s Make-AWish Believe Campaign last week. The letter campaign was spearheaded by 11-year-old A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School. For every letter completed, Macy’s donated $1 to the Make- A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses. PHOTOS COURTESY OF KERRYANN SILVESTRI OLD BRIDGE — More than 10,000 letters from students all over the Old Bridge School District were delivered to the Macy’s department store in East Brunswick as part of Macy’s Make-A-Wish Believe Campaign last week.

For every letter completed, Macy’s donated $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Spearheading the endeavor was 11-year-old A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School, who had his own wish granted three years ago. A.J. has cystic fibrosis, a chronic and progressive cellular disease affecting the lungs.

 A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School, reads one of the letters with Superintendent of Schools David Cittadino. A.J. Silvestri, a sixth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School, reads one of the letters with Superintendent of Schools David Cittadino. “A.J. has problems breathing and ingesting,” said his mom, Kerryann Silvestri, adding that A.J. has had 12 surgeries, takes 19 to 20 pills a day and is fed through a feeding tube.

A.J.’s wish involved traveling to Las Vegas to meet the cast of “Pawn Stars.” A.J. also got to meet the cast of “American Restoration,” a show also on the History Channel.

“The trip was a week after [superstorm] Sandy [in 2012],” Silvestri said.

A.J. said it was two years ago when he watched a commercial about the Macy’s Make-A-Wish Believe Campaign,

“I thought it was something that I wanted to do,” he said.

So A.J. broached the idea with his family and his school principal, who was Suzanne Misckiewicz last year at Leroy Gordon Cooper Elementary School. Misckiewicz has since retired.

The school staff and fellow students rallied behind A.J.’s idea and were able to produce thousands of letters.

This year, Silvestri said her son again wanted to pursue the fundraiser.

“With being at a brand new school, we weren’t sure how well we would do,” she said.

Some 5,300 letters were written by students at Carl Sandburg Middle School, and over 5,000 more letters came from students all over the school district.

“This is the largest amount of letters [collected],” A.J. said, adding that he would like to continue the letter campaign every year.

A.J. and his family delivered the letters to Macy’s on Dec. 19. Representatives of the Make-A-Wish Foundation were on hand to thank A.J. for his efforts.

Silvestri said their family is big on service to others and said A.J., despite his debilitating disease, is strong and always thinks of doing things for others.

“We are so lucky to have so much support,” she said. “Everyone is so caring and supportive, it’s amazing. [Schools Superintendent David] Cittadino was at the Macy’s on Saturday with us.”

The Board of Education recognized A.J. at a meeting on Dec. 15 with a Service Leadership Award.

The district-wide “Pay it Forward” campaign was derived from the district’s theme, “Local Pride, Global Impact,” and was introduced during the staff’s first day of service on Sept. 1.

St. Thomas church delivers gifts to area nursing homes

OLD BRIDGE — It has been a longstanding practice of St. Thomas the Apostol Church in Old Bridge to hold a seasonal drive for the region’s elderly, this year collecting more than 500 gifts that it divvied out among four area nursing homes.

“It’s a pretty big undertaking,” said Justine Durstewitz, who coordinates the churches’ communications. “Part of the church’s mission is for the lonely and forgotten. There are people at the nursing homes who no one visits and they don’t get any presents for Christmas. This is our way of giving back to them.”

Durstewitz noted that the giving has been a gift in and of itself, with many of the younger parishioners partaking in the yearly collection.

“Our religious education program spearheads it,” she said, offering full credit to program Director Debbie Yesis. “In a way, it’s actually from the children.”

The cheer was difficult to contain on Dec. 23 and 24, as the staff at the Roosevelt Care Center in Old Bridge hand-delivered St. Thomas’ bags, boxes and goodies to some 135 residents.

“As a public nursing home, we open our doors to some of the most vulnerable residents,” said Roosevelt Care Center at Old Bridge Administrator Alan Fialka. “There are times we find that our residents have no family or nearby friends to speak of. This generous gesture from St. Thomas’ gave many of those residents something to smile about this year.”

IN THE SERVICE

U.S. Army Spc. Saheed A. Abimbola has graduated from basic infantry training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

During nine weeks of training, Abimbola studied the Army mission, history, tradition and core values; physical fitness; and received instruction and practice in basic combat skills, military weapons, chemical warfare and bayonet training, drill and ceremony, marching, rifle marksmanship, armed and unarmed combat, map reading, field tactics, military courtesy, military justice system, basic first aid, foot marches and field training exercises.

Abimbola is the ward of Tadfeek Adeyemo of Sayreville.

He graduated in 2003 from Odofa Private Secondary School, Agbara, Nigeria, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 2013 from the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.

Photo

 PHOTOS BY KATHY McBAIN/STAFF PHOTOS BY 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.