Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beach Haven Board of Education's vice president resigns after 18 years

The resignation of Sandra Close, who served as vice president of the Beach Haven Board of Education for the past 18 years, was announced during the board’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 21. Her official letter of resignation, read aloud by Board President Mary Louise Bellingeri, stated that Close’s decision to leave was mostly due to the negativity surrounding “the same small group of parents” who regularly attend the board meetings. The situation, the letter explained, stems from former administrator Patricia Daggy’s decision to relocate the students to another school following Superstorm Sandy.
Photo by Jack Reynolds
The Beach Haven Board of Education will
have four new members starting in January.
“We have taught our students how wrong bullying is, yet here we have a group of adults who are doing just that,” the letter reads. “Some people thrive on conflict, I am not one of them, and those people have kept this negative energy flowing for two years now. The battle has gained such momentum that it almost has a life of its own.”
Close, a third-generation Beach Haven native whose children also attended the Beach Haven School, said in the letter that “although I care deeply about the school, I have to put my family first. This nonstop conflict and negative energy is not a healthy environment for them or me.”
The letter was submitted on Sept. 27 and went into effect Oct. 21. Replacement interviews will be held next month, Bellingeri said.
Three board members, including Close, have resigned since the beginning of the school year. Two other board members, including Bellingeri, will not be running for their seats in the November election, school Superintendent EvaMarie Raleigh told The SandPaper. There will be four new board members in January.
During the meeting, Beach Haven resident Kathy Kelly was appointed to the board to fill the vacant seat left open by Amy Haig, who resigned in September. Kelly, who is president of the school’s PTA and also works as the administrative assistant to George Chidiac, superintendent of the Stafford Township School District, decided to run for the position because she “felt it was time to give back to the community.” Her children formerly attended the Beach Haven School.
During public comment, local resident Kristy Davis said she had sent in her letter of intent for the vacant position on deadline the previous evening, but was told by Raleigh that “I will not be allowed” to interview for the position. Raleigh has denied the accusation.
On multiple occasions, members of the public have expressed their frustration with what they feel is a lack of communication and transparency between the public and the school board.
In other meeting news, the board approved a $25,000 contract with Education Facility Management of Cherry Hill to clean the school five days a week, including stripping and waxing three times a year. Although board member Donna Kilcommons and other members of the public expressed concern over the cost of the cleaning, the board deemed it a necessary action.
“In light of the viruses and Ebola and everything that’s going on, we are wiping down doors and tables and everything on a regular basis. So it really now makes more sense to do this,” said Raleigh.
The school was formerly being cleaned three times a week by Stretch Cleaning of Long Beach Township.
The board also approved a St. Barnabas Behavioral Health “Turning the Tides” Sandy Relief Grant Counseling After-School Program. The student program includes a full curriculum of social and emotional lessons.
“Since we do not have a guidance department or full-time counselor, this is a great opportunity for our school to get much-needed services,” Raleigh told The SandPaper.
Raleigh also gave a presentation on the school’s “Cross-Curricular Art’s Infused Thematic Plans,” focusing on ecology, which are being implemented through a second $9,000 grant from Young Audiences New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. A culminating event to “showcase our student’s learning and transfer their intentions to the community of sustainability” will be held in the spring, Raleigh said.
It was announced that the Beach Haven Community Arts Program donated $500 for the school’s art program.
Discussion in regard to offering school lunch for the students was also introduced during the meeting.

— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sidewalk sale at Twice As Nice to benefit Southern Regional students pursuing business

Since opening in July, Twice As Nice store owners Jay Zimmerman and Carrie von Gorski have accumulated a generous amount of clothing and accessory donations. In order to give back to the community, many of the items were sold at the Manahawkin Mart flea market, and the proceeds have been reserved for a Southern Regional business scholarship fund.
To raise more scholarship money, the owners are hosting a sidewalk sale at the shop’s second site, located at 587 Mill Creek Rd. in Manahawkin, on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 8 and 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Photo by Ryan Morrill
The store includes women's, men's and children's
apparel as well as accessories and shoes.
All available items, including more than 1,000 pieces of women’s, children’s and men’s clothing and accessories as well as shoes, will be free. The owners are just asking for a monetary donation for their scholarship fund.
“The purpose of this is to give back to students pursuing business,” Zimmerman explained. “We want to give as many $500 scholarships as possible. Our goal is two, and if we get more than that, that would be great.”
The effort is one near and dear to the hearts of the store owners, who are both 1997 SRHS graduates managing several of their own successful businesses.
To help them run the event, Zimmerman and von Gorksi are looking for six to 10 student volunteers who are interested in learning more about the business culture.
“It would be easy for us to just donate the clothing to a fundraiser that already exists, Stafford has a couple. But this gets the students involved in the process of business, and that’s kind of what our vision is – just to get them out ‘doing sales’ even though we’re not doing any selling,” Zimmerman said. “It gets the students out and kind of teaches them a little bit about business, and in return we’ll choose as many scholarships as possible, depending on how much we raise, to give to some of the same students, hopefully.”
Food from Ray’s New York Pizza and Restaurant will be provided to those helping out.
To sign up as a volunteer, or for more information, call 609-618-2812.
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween a good time to check Megan's Law website

With Halloween and trick-or-treating just around the corner, Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari is encouraging parents to avoid a “true holiday horror” by checking the Megan’s Law website for updates on local sex offenders.
Photo via She Knows
Children can be vulnerable to assault while
trick-or-treating for Halloween.
“Not only is Halloween upon us, but Daylight Savings Time is coming to an end,” Vicari stated in a press release. “This is a perfect time to review the Megan’s Law site to ensure that no known sex offenders have moved into their neighborhoods.”
The database lists current information on all convicted sex offenders who are New Jersey residents. Towns, counties, ZIP Codes and even individual streets can be easily reviewed. More advanced searches allow users to input the names of convicted sex offenders or check only newer records.
“This only takes a few minutes and can make a big difference in keeping a child safe,” Vicari said.
According to the website, there are 288 registered sex offenders in Ocean County, which is an increase of 24 offenders since The SandPaper last checked in July.
The registry is not a complete and comprehensive listing of every person who has ever committed any sex offense in New Jersey, nor does it make information about every sex offender living in New Jersey available on the Internet. In accordance with state law, individuals who have been convicted, adjudicated delinquent or found not guilty by reason of insanity for a sex offense must register under New Jersey’s Megan’s Law.
Vicari suggests parents periodically check the Megan’s Law database throughout the year.
“It’s important to know what dangers a child may encounter when they are alone and out of the house,” he said. “It’s also essential that they learn to avoid strangers and how to react if they are approached by an adult they do not know.”
If a child is approached by a stranger in a car, he or she should be taught to run in the opposite way, toward the rear of the car. This way, the driver will have to turn around before being able to pursue the child, Vicari said.
The Megan’s Law database can be accessed through a link on the Ocean County Government Homepage at The page can also be retrieved directly at
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

'Meet the Candidate' event to be held in Beach Haven Oct. 26

All registered voters in Beach Haven borough are encouraged and invited to attend the “Meet the Candidate” event at the New Jersey Maritime Museum, located at 528 Dock Rd. in Beach Haven, on Sunday, Oct. 26, from 4 to 6 p.m. The gathering will give taxpayers an opportunity to personally meet with the contestants who are running for the two open council seats in the Nov. 4 election.
Photo via NJ LBI
The event will be held at the New Jersey Maritime Museum.
The candidates currently running for office are Don Kakstis, Tom Lynch, Ken Muha and Bob Wynkoop.
The event is a great opportunity for residents who have not yet met the candidates as well as for voters who are undecided or whose questions were not addressed during the town hall meeting hosted by the Beach Haven Taxpayers’ Association in September, said Deborah Whitcraft, president and curator of the museum.
“The forum that was hosted by the taxpayers’ association was excellent, and it certainly gave people an opportunity to see the four candidates and get an idea of where they stand, but I think one of the disappointments by those that attended, myself included, is that the public never had a chance to ask questions themselves,” said Whitcraft. “The candidates were given questions beforehand, which gave them an opportunity to design answers to those questions, but sometimes the best judge of a candidate for public office is the ability to ask questions that they have to answer on the spot. More than a few people said to me, ‘It’s a shame we didn’t have a chance to ask them questions that we had.’ So this gives them an opportunity in a social setting to do exactly that.”
Beer, wine, cheese and other snacks and beverages will be offered throughout the night.
For more information, call 609-492-0202.
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Community invited to Open House and Ghost Fest at LBI Museum in Beach Haven

Photo via Google
An open house will be held at the museum
each month during the off-season.
An Open House and Ghost Fest, hosted by the Long Beach Island Historical Association, will be held at the Long Beach Island Museum in Beach Haven on Saturday, Oct. 25, from noon to 4 p.m. The entire museum will be open to anyone interested in perusing the rooms. No admission fee will be charged.
Ghost stories for younger children will be shared by Kay Donnelly, a museum board member, around 1 p.m. Museum member Maggie O’Neill, who runs different ghost tours on Long Beach Island, will share local ghost stories with older children and adults around 1:30 p.m.
The Jersey Devil will make an appearance around 2:15 p.m. Children are invited to take a swing at a Halloween piƱata also around that time. Snacks and cider will be offered.
The LBI Historical Association will host an open house at the museum each month to better involve the community, said Ronald Marr, president of the association. November’s event, held in conjunction with the local “Celebrate the Season” events, will take place during Thanksgiving weekend on Nov. 29. The museum’s holiday tree, decorated by local schoolchildren, will be lit at 6 p.m.
A December event will be held during the same time as the town’s tree lighting on Dec. 6.
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Neighbors protest 'noise situation' from tent affairs in Beach Haven's residential areas

The public seating area at Beach Haven’s monthly council meeting, held at the Emergency Operations Center Tuesday, Oct. 14, was filled by local residents who had come out to voice their dissatisfaction with the number of tent affairs being held throughout the area’s residential neighborhoods.
Most of the residents in attendance voiced their concern with the events being held at 101 Centre St., a former bed and breakfast that is often rented out for wedding parties. The issues, including noise, disruption and parking matters, are affecting the surrounding neighbors’ quality of life, many of them claimed.
Photo via Google
Quality of life is being compromised for some
living in the Queen City of Long Beach Island.
Julian Changpresident of the Ocean Reach Condominium Association, which is located directly across from the property in contention, said he had a petition signed by 11 condo owners “who do not like the weddings happening.”
“I understand that permits are given for that facility to have them, but there is a huge problem, a huge problem, that requires your attention, and that is to deal with the noise situation,” Chang said. “I could sit up here probably for an hour easily and tell you about some of the instances I’ve had.”
A town ordinance prohibits sound levels from reaching beyond 50 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., or 40 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., when measured in the center of the room where the complaint originates, as well as beyond 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and 50 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 p.m. when measured outside the location of where the noise is generated. However, Chang said that in some instances he has logged the noise at 90 decibels from his property.
Many residents agreed that the noise does not quiet down after the 10 p.m. restriction and often gets louder after the police have been called.
“The police have been wonderful, but it’s not the police’s job, and it’s not my job to manage the event,” said Chang’s wife, Kathy, who claimed the pictures in their home are “vibrating all night long” during these instances.
“The noise,” she said, “it’s deafening to the point where we can’t have a conversation; we’re sitting right next to each other. We cannot watch movies.
“We definitely have buyer’s remorse,” she added. “I’ve called the Realtor a few times and said, ‘I’m ready to sell again.’”
Alex Fazelat, who lives next door to 101 Centre, said that although the weddings were supposed to bring revenue into the community, he believes it has “just done the opposite.” Due to issues from next door, he said he has lost two weeks’ worth of revenue from potential renters. His renters, he said, “spend the entire week in Beach Haven and spend all their money here.” In comparison, he said, the people who show up next door for the affairs on the weekends spend just a part of those days in the area and “don’t spend any money.”
Fazelat asked the council to reconsider the law by limiting the allowable tent permits to four.
Beach Haven’s tent ordinance currently allows a limit of eight permits per site per year. Additional permits are limited to seven per site, which are granted upon written approval.
Fazelat also urged the council to enforce noise control and perhaps disallow live music.
The noise is also an issue during the loading and unloading of party equipment from trucks. This also creates a parking problem, many said.
Megan McGonigal, who lives a couple of houses away from 101 Centre, said her relatives have to park blocks away from her home if they visit. This is especially concerning for young children and older adults, others agreed.
“We’re a residential neighborhood, and we can’t enjoy our own homes,” McGonigal emphasized.
Bonnie Lenhard said she has been facing similar noise issues at her residence at 115 Fairview Ave. Although she and her husband have spoken with the neighbors and police on multiple occasions, she said, the issues have not been resolved.
Bob Schlabach of 122 Second St., who said he is fortunate to live far enough away from venues with music, claimed he knows the owners of 101 Centre. Calling them “reasonable people” who have “given to the community,” he said he believed the matters could be resolved between the troubled parties. He asked the council to speak with the business community, to see what kind of impact the business has had on the area.
Councilman James White said the council members have tried to contact Eduardo and Belen Flores, the owners at 101 Centre, “numerous times.” He said the council will present the public with a possible solution plan at the next council meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 10, at 7 p.m.
“We are going to take a firm look at this,” he said. “We hear it, we understand it and we sympathize with you, and we’re going to tell you that by the next meeting, there will be a proposal presented to the public on what we’re going to do. We have discussed it due to your letters.
“To me, the quality of life is the most important thing that we can deal with, and that’s what’s being hindered here,” he added. “It’s not just having weddings, or businesses, or anything like that. Your quality of life is affected. We found that out through law enforcement. We’re going to get back to you by next month, and we hope that you’re all back here and you’re satisfied with what the council came up with.”
After the meeting, Mayor Robert Keeler told The SandPaper that the council will have to discuss the issues with legal counsel to ensure its decisions are appropriate and in accordance with law.
“We’ve been wrestling with this for a while,” he said.
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Officials plan to reconstruct Beach Haven Borough Hall with partial state funding

Beach Haven Borough Manager Richard Crane announced at the monthly town council meeting Oct. 14 that the borough’s Neighborhood Preservation Program grant application has received “tentative approval” from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The grant, funded through the state, would be used to reconstruct Beach Haven’s borough hall, which has been vacated since suffering 4 feet of floodwater damage from Superstorm Sandy.
“One of the reasons for us waiting is that we had the opportunity to possibly secure some funding to, rather than just slap it together and move back into the building itself, possibly look at tearing the old building down and building something much more modern and appropriate for what we currently do,” Crane explained.
Photos by Ryan Morrill
The building has been closed for two years due
to floodwater damage from Superstorm Sandy.
The application is expected to reach Gov. Christie’s office next.
“If, in fact, he does sign off on this project, we will be able to go ahead and start the architectural plans to be drawn up to create a new borough hall,” said Crane.
The grant would cover 25 percent of the actual construction costs; the remaining 75 percent would be paid by the town via a low-interest loan spaced out over 30 years. Construction would probably be in the $3 to $4 million range, Crane said.
“Stretching it out over 30 years is going to be very affordable, and I think everybody will be pleased with what we finally get,” he added. “... It’s not a done deal yet, but the fact that we made it through the economic development authority this morning with positive results, we can only keep our fingers crossed that the governor looks positively upon that, and we can move ahead on this project.”
It was also announced that the town received four bids on Sept. 17 for the reconstruction of some ocean top streets that were compromised by Sandy. The low bidder was Johnson/Baran Corp. at $87,332.41. The work is expected to begin within the next 30 days.
The town also finally received approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection to go out to bid for the town’s new water plant. Local officials had hoped to get the project started last spring, but it was put off during the summer season. Crane said the bids will be received within the next 30 days. The existing plant is expected to be torn down shortly thereafter.
An ordinance to add two locations with no-parking provisions, including within 50 feet of the west end of the paved portion on both sides of Fifth Street as well as west of Delaware Avenue on both sides of Sixth Street, was adopted.
A code amendment to increase the charge for certified copies of public records from $12 to $15 was passed on first reading. Another code amendment, which disallows drones on the beach between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., was also passed on introduction.
An ordinance amendment to limit the use of crawl space or basement sump pumps, foundation or footing drains to 12 hours on and 12 hours off was passed on first reading.
An ordinance amendment for a collector’s beach badge and gift box, for $50 and $2 respectively, was also passed on introduction. If adopted, the new badge, featuring a unique and limited design to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Beach Haven, would be introduced for the 2015 season. A new design would be implemented probably every few years, Lauren Liquori, deputy borough clerk, told The SandPaper.
During the meeting, Crane revealed the final lifeguard report, which included a total of 331 rescues, 236 first aid calls, 239 preventive measures and 73 EMS responses throughout the 2014 summer season.
It was also mentioned that the new lifeguard headquarters building will be boarded up during the off-season. Other preventive measures to secure the building and to avoid any storm damage or vandalism will be taken care of by members of the public works department.
Also during the meeting, Councilman James White encouraged residents to join officials at Veterans Bicentennial Park for a Veterans Day observance on Nov. 11, at 10:45 a.m. He also urged residents to “exercise their right to vote” on the Nov. 4th election day.
Councilwoman Nancy Taggart Davis encouraged residents to pick up a bundle of dune grass at 815 North Atlantic Ave. She said the town received a shipment of about 240 bundles, which is a total of 24,000 blades of grass – a lot of which still needs to be planted.
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lighthouse International Film Festival jury and audience award-winning shorts to screen in Beach Haven

“Free 2 Be Me” and “Down in Flames: The True Story of Tony ‘Volcano’ Valenci,” two award-winning shorts from the 2014 Lighthouse International Film Festival, will screen during “The Best of the Fest” in Beach Haven. The evening of film, presented by the Lighthouse International Film Society, will be held at Island Baptist Church, located at 215 Third St., on Saturday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m.
Photo via LIFS
The two winning films received recognition at
this year's Lighthouse International Film Festival. 
“Independent films are visual anthropology,” said Christine Rooney, managing director of LIFF. “They share a slice of life, a moment, a story that would otherwise be untold. That is why I love independent films.”
A warmhearted documentary that follows a devoted troupe of dancers with Down syndrome, “Free 2 Be Me” honors artistic expression by recognizing the influence of music and dance to transform lives. It was awarded the “Audience Award for Best Short” at the 2014 LIFF and continues to be shown at film festivals across the nation.
“Before this project, I didn’t know anyone with Down syndrome,” Jeannette Godoy, the film’s director, wrote on the movie’s website. “My husband and I were treated to a surprise performance by this troupe before my daughter’s ballet recital. Afterwards, I knew I had to tell their story, so I followed the Free 2 Be Me Dancers for an entire season.”
“Down in Flames,” directed by William Joseph Stribling, captures a different kind of journey as professional fire-breather Tony “Volcano” Valenci goes out on a quest to set a world record. Valenci plans to shock the world by attempting the impossible: breathing fire while skydiving. Through testimonials from Valenci’s friends and colleagues, including the world’s fastest knife thrower, his ex-wife and skydiving coaches, viewers piece together Valenci’s journey as he works to get his name in the record books. The film received the LIFF “Jury Award for Best Short.”
“I strive to make films that show people things they’ve never seen before. And so I’m proud to say that I’ve never seen a movie quite like ‘Down in Flames,’” Stribling said in a statement. “I’ve been ridiculously lucky to work with most of the same crew on all of my films; the ‘usual suspects,’ I’ve come to call my team. I don’t think any of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into when we set out to make this film with Tony and his cohorts. But by the time my cinematographer, Alex Gallitano, and I were wearing parachutes and sitting in a plane with no doors to get a shot of the skydiving scene, I think we both knew that we had something special on our hands.
“I say this a lot, but I truly believe that if my films are any good, it’s because I’ve been able to surround myself with people who are better at their jobs than I am at mine. And on this film, that was even more true than usual.”
Tickets to view these films at “The Best of the Fest” cost $5. Admission is free for LIFS members and children.
For more information, visit
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tuckerton Lumber Company's $2,000 donation to the 18 Mile Association is 'personal'

To give back to Long Beach Island’s volunteer fire companies and emergency medical services, the Tuckerton Lumber Company donated $2,000 to the 18 Mile Association during the group’s monthly meeting held at the Ship Bottom firehouse on Wednesday, Oct. 15.
The funds were raised by TLC’s “Donation Station/Loot in the Boot” campaign from June through September. TLC customers donated a little over $720, which the local business matched and raised.
Photo by Jack Reynolds
The Island fire companies helped put out a fire at
the TLC's Surf City location after Superstorm Sandy.
The benefit was “more than an awareness campaign, or even a fundraiser,” Elizabeth Harrigle, owner of TLC, said. It was a way for the local business to show its support for the Island’s volunteer organizations, which were instrumental in putting out a fire that occurred at the business’ Surf City location after Superstorm Sandy, which could have been “devastating.”
“For us, this is personal. ... I will never forget getting the call, or seeing every fire truck known to man in our yard,” said Harrigle. “Not only were they able to put out the fire quickly and minimize the damage, but the compassion and support that we got that day made me thankful (again) that I live and work in a small community. There are just no words that accurately describe that feeling.”
The association was very grateful for the gesture.
“We are greatly appreciative of their caring and generous donation,” Tom Medel, president of the 18 Mile Association and Beach Haven Volunteer Fire Co. secretary, said. “It’s really great that a business wanted to step up and give back for something. We do stuff like that all the time to help people, and it’s really nice when people are overly appreciative. It’s really nice that they continue to be thankful for us.
“It’s been a year and a half (since the fire), so it’s nice to know that they still think of us even after some time’s gone by – that they still appreciate what the Island fire companies and first aid squads have done and do.”
Since the fire, Harrigle explained, TLC has come up with a range of “weird and wonderful ways” to “show how we feel,“ such as volunteering during the renovation of the Ship Bottom firehouse led by “Restaurant Impossible,” as well as donating 5 percent of a weekend sale and other events.
The “Donation Station/Loot in the Boot” campaign is expected to become an annual event.
“We believe that this event (and ones like it) are important because our emergency services are all volunteer,” Harrigle said. “The costs of equipment, vehicles, fuel and the average ‘call’ are probably something that people rarely think about, but they are already incredibly high and show no signs of decreasing.
“Our communities rely on them to be there for us, and we (TLC) have made a commitment to be there for them. If this campaign raises awareness of the costs that our emergency services face, or offsets the purchase of much needed equipment, we will be thrilled,” she added.
–Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hikes, meteor shower watch this month at Bass River State Forest

Fall is the perfect time to discover the great outdoors. Nature enthusiasts interested in exploring the local environment can take advantage of the many upcoming events at Bass River State Forest.
Photo via Shutter Stock
Dogs are welcome are on the special hike, too.
Individuals are invited to bring their pooch on a 3- to 5-mile walk during the “Fido in the Forest” dog hike Saturday, Oct. 18, at 10 a.m. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times. Participants are not required to bring a dog to join the walk.
Hikers will meet at the Bass River State Forest office, located at 762 Stage Road in Little Egg Harbor. The hike is limited to 15 people.
The “Wednesday Walk in the Woods” series will continue with a free, guided hike on the Batona Trail Wednesday, Oct. 22, at 9 a.m. The 9-mile hike will include mostly flat terrain. Upcoming “Walk in the Woods” dates are Nov. 12 and Dec. 10.
Participants are asked to bring their own lunch and water on all hikes, which are led by volunteer master naturalist Kathy Gardiner.
Individuals interested in a dark location to view the Orionid meteor shower can join volunteer astronomy guide Wayne Vogel at the Lake Absegami beach on Wednesday, Oct. 22, from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Bring a blanket or reclining chair and a flashlight. Telescopes and binoculars are not necessary.
To register for the events, or for more information, call 609-296-1114 or visit
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

LBI family finds purpose through daughter's 'miraculous journey'

“I can’t believe this, but it’s happening again.” Those were the words Brant Beach residents Brian and Rachael Tretola received from a teary-eyed doctor when they found out they were expecting a baby girl in July 2013. Exactly one year before, the family had lost their first child, Jameson, to hydrops fetalis, a rare and deadly disease that, according to the National Institute of Health, occurs when abnormal amounts of fluid build up in two or more body areas of a fetus or newborn. Jameson passed away after 5½ months in utero.
Photo via Corinne Ruff
Brian and Rachael Tretola stroll their
daughter Harper,now almost 1 year old,
along the Causeway Bridge to LBI.
Despite the less than 1 percent chance of this happening again, the family’s second child, Harper, was facing the same fate. Through the ultrasound, fluid could be seen in multiple compartments of her body, including the lungs, heart, skull and skin tissues.
With only eight documented cases in the world of this ever occurring in consecutive pregnancies, the Tretolas were told Harper had a zero percent chance of survival.
But beating all odds, Harper, who is now almost 1 year old, crossed the Manahawkin Bay Bridge with her family in September as the fifth annual Causeway Bridge Walk’s designated “Hero.”
“We are now the ninth documented case in the world,” Brian Tretola told the crowd during the opening speech, held just before the start of the event.
“We all have a story. Although different, we all have one; and our story comes from our own personal journeys,” he said, fighting back tears. “Harper’s story comes from truly a miraculous journey, which has changed my family, and hopefully others, forever. ... If I can leave you with anything today, please know that God is real, and miracles do happen.”
Despite the devastating odds, the Tretolas fought long and hard for Harper’s life. Throughout the process, it was proven time and again that she is a survivor.
“We could have pulled the plug and took her off life support and let her pass. But we said, ‘As long as she’s fighting, we’re fighting,’” Brian told The SandPaper. “God kept revealing more and more things to us to just trust and believe without doubt. And here she is.
Photo by Brian Tretola
While in the NICU, Harper's body
continued to fill up with fluid.
“It’s hard to believe in something we don’t see. I get that, believe me. We’re all used to using our five senses; we’re human. But we did see it. There are no coincidences here – none, zero.”
Their only hope, the Tretolas were told, was at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. To help drain the fluid from around Harper’s lungs, which was quickly approaching her heart, doctors surgically placed two shunts in each side of her chest in utero. Harper was delivered via an emergency Cesarean section after one of the shunts slipped out and fluid again began filling up her body. She was born two months prematurely on Oct. 18, 2013.
“As Rachael was literally lying on the delivery table, one of the neonatologists came up to me and said very softly, ‘We’re going to try our best to stabilize your daughter. However, we don’t know if we’re going to be able to,’’’ Brian remembered.
Harper was immediately rushed into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and stabilized, but was sicker than anyone could have imagined. She was diagnosed with an absent thoracic duct, the main lymphatic pathway in the body.
“This is so extremely rare that we were told that there isn’t another Harper in the world to compare her to, and due to the lymphatic malformation, she could never eat nor thrive,” Brian said. “… As mind-blowing as it is, still in this day and age, there are still some things medically that cannot be treated, fixed or explained, and our daughter is one of them.”
When asked if there was any other place in the country or even the world to get Harper help, doctors simply said, “No.”
Photo via Brian Tretola
Harper is finally home with her parents.
“They looked right at us, and they said, ‘We are so sorry, but we are here. This is it,’” Brian remembered. “… The CHOP NICU deals with the sickest of the sick, or the worst of the worst. Their motto is ‘Hope lives here,’ so talk about feeling hopeless.
“It’s indescribable how those months were in the NICU,” he said. “We were told early on from our doctors that the NICU isn’t really day by day. At times it’s moment by moment. And our daughter was in fact one of, if not the sickest, babies in the NICU for a long period of time. It’s a battlefield.
“The hardest thing is it’s all babies; it’s not adults. It’s precious lives that are just born, that are struggling to fight,” he added. “Some of the babies are just so resilient, and they just fight through everything. What we witnessed Harper go through, I have to admit I couldn’t have gone through a quarter of what she went through. It was beyond anything I could ever imagine and really explain, just because it was that traumatic. There really is no other word to explain what we witnessed.”
While in the NICU, Harper coded three times, which meant her heart rate dropped to a level where doctors did not think she was going to make it. At times, her body retained IV nutrients, causing the fluid to overtake her body. Due to the amount of pain medications she was on, she even went through severe withdrawal.
“I cannot speak enough about what the neonatologists, nurses and doctors did to keep Harper stabilized and moving forward,” Brian said. “We are forever indebted to them; we love them like they are our family. But they didn’t do anything to treat her diagnosis or fix it because there wasn’t anything they could do.”
‘Crying out to God’
Unable to bear the heavy burden anymore, the Tretolas gave it up to God, “trusting and believing without doubt” that he would do what the doctors were saying was impossible: heal Harper.
It was then Harper started to turn an “impossible corner,” and the “miracle began to manifest.” After 5½ months of being on life support, she began to breathe on her own and tolerate feeds.
“The fluid began to disappear out of her body, just as we prayed that it would,” said Brian. “Along our nine-month journey at CHOP, God showed us numerous – and I mean numerous – signs that only he could do, assuring us that he was in this with us and to just trust him. So we stepped out with faith and did exactly that.”
After a particularly hard night, Brian said, he walked around the city, crying out to God and asking him for a sign that proved he was still “in this with us.” The following morning, a family member who was drawn to watching an episode of the “Today Show,” which featured Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive,” noticed pink, “Pray For Harper” signs displayed in the crowd.
“I asked for a sign and literally got one,” Brian said of the instance.
While living at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, weeks after Harper was born, Brian received a picture from a friend on Long Beach Island that captured a beam of sunlight surrounding the Tretolas’ home. A similar instance occurred during Jameson’s funeral, surrounding his grave during a very overcast day the year before.
In the hospital, people even came up to the Tretolas to tell them that God was saying their daughter was going to be OK. One man, described as having tattoos all over his body, including his face, eyebrows and forehead, told Brian he needed to continue encouraging Harper to keep fighting. Lifting up his shirt, the man explained he had been shot 13 times and two of the bullets were still lodged in his chest. Although he had been pronounced dead on the scene, he said, his family continued to pray over him.
“He said, ‘When you stop believing, and when you stop telling her to fight, she will die.’ I asked him what his name was, and he said, ‘My name is Blessing.’ And he walked out, and I never saw him again,” Brian said through tears.
After that moment, Brian said, he focused on Harper’s eyes.
“Her big, beautiful brown eyes told us she was OK,” he remembered.
Meant to ‘give people hope’
Harper was discharged on July 14, about two months before the Bridge Walk. Her family said she is doing “amazingly well.”
“She’s surprising everyone, including our doctors,” said Brian. “My wife and I, we truly, truly know in our hearts that she was healed miraculously by God.
“We’ve been in the gray area for years, and we still are. They have no other explanation for it. And we know that it’s a miracle, that it’s to give people hope when they feel like they don’t have any.
“Our life has changed in so many ways,” he added. “Living through what we did with Harper, and what God has shown us through this journey, has changed our lives forever. For us to share Harper’s story with others I know now is our purpose of life. I always knew – and this is the truth, and I’m getting choked up – I always knew I was meant for something more. And this is a very personal thing. It was never to be rich, it was never to be famous, it was never even to be the chief of police where I work, or anything. I just never knew what it was. And now, after going through our journey with Harper, I know what it is now. And that’s to share the miracle of her.
“Our message is that we took a step of faith, when we were given a zero percent chance of our baby surviving,” he said. “It was at that point where I and my wife and my family literally couldn’t bear the burden anymore, and we took that step of faith, and we trusted, and we said, ‘Lord, this is now your burden to bear. We believe and trust in you without a doubt that you’re going to heal our baby.’ Once we did that, I could not be more sure of anything in my life; that’s when Harper turned a corner.
“Our message is that God is real, and his word is real, and he heals.”
Throughout the time in the NICU, Brian documented Harper’s progress with about 300 entries on CaringBridge, an online forum for people facing various medical conditions. The site allows family members and friends to receive private information and updates. To read the full entries, visit
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Discover Jersey Arts Quest leads participants on arts-based scavenger hunt throughout state

In conjunction with National Arts and Humanities Month, Gov. Christie has again officially proclaimed October as Discover Jersey Arts Month. The designation, supported by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation, honors the importance of the arts culture in the Garden State, including the economic, educational and civic engagement values that the arts convey.
Photo via Jersey Arts
The Quest incorporates
29 different destinations.
“Governor Christie’s proclamation does more than merely acknowledge the arts in New Jersey,” Ann Marie Miller, executive director of ArtPride, stated in a release. “The declaration outlines how vital the arts are to our towns and cities; the unique role the arts play in the lives of our families, our communities and our state; and how the benefits of the arts reach every resident of the state.
“The arts enhance and enrich all of our lives and affect every aspect of those lives,” she added. “From helping our children excel in school to creating economic vitality, driving job creation to advancing creative problem-solving, the arts create healthy, thriving societies.”
Citizens are encouraged to join the month-long celebration by taking part in the different aspects of the arts offered throughout the state. A mobile-based scavenger hunt known as the Discover Jersey Arts Quest, implemented by ArtPride in partnership with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, sends participants across New Jersey to discover 29 different arts destinations, spread out over the 7,787 square miles of the state. Each site features a QR code that participants scan to “capture” the location through a mobile app. Whoever captures the most locations in the Quest will receive a $150 gift certificate to the participating arts venue of his or her choice.
“We were looking for a new way to celebrate October’s designation as Discover Jersey Arts Month,” said Jim Atkinson, director of programs and services for ArtPride. “A mobile-based scavenger hunt seemed like a fun way to get people out and discovering the riches our cultural community has to offer.”
Although the quest is free, Nick Paleologos, executive director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, said participants will certainly be interested in sticking around during visits.
“You won’t receive extra points for buying a ticket, but we’re sure that once you uncover some of these treasures, you’re going to want to come back,” he said.
“From sculpture gardens to glass museums, modern dance to classic ballet and Mozart to hip-hop, the Garden State has it all,” Miller added. “You don’t have to go far to find great arts in New Jersey.”
To download the Quest app, visit
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ocean County College receives Military Friendly School recognition again

Ocean County College has been named a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media, a service-disabled, veteran-owned business that has been serving the military community since 2001. The local school, which supports veterans, active duty personnel and their families, received the honor last year as well.
Photo via Ocean County College
The school offers assistance to military members.
The designation is given to the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools across the United States that are “doing the most to embrace military students, and to dedicate resources to ensure their success in the classroom and after graduation,” a release states.
According to the report, Military Friendly provides service members with transparent, data-driven ratings about post-military education and career prospects. The designation process includes extensive research and a data-driven survey of nationwide schools approved for Post-9/11 GI Bill funding. The survey incorporates over 50 leading practices in supporting military students and is available for free to the more than 8,000 post-secondary schools approved for funding.
“The methodology used for making the Military Friendly Schools list has changed the student veteran landscape to one much more transparent, and has played a significant role over the past six years in capturing and advancing best practices to support military students across the country,” the release states.
Ocean County, which includes part of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, is home to the biggest veterans population in New Jersey. The joint base spans more than 20 miles from east to west and 42,000 contiguous acres across Ocean and Burlington counties, the two largest in New Jersey.
OCC’s Financial Aid Office helps military students and their families access educational funding with the particular benefits offered by each division of service.
Veterans, active-duty military members and dependents of deceased or disabled veterans may qualify for monthly educational assistance from the Veterans Administration while enrolled at OCC.
For more information, visit or call Robert Mather, OCC veterans coordinator, at 732-255-0400, extension 2330.
— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.