Judy’s Comments

Helping Out In Eagle Alaska

After 9/11, Christina Young, a resident of Blairstown, NJ, woke up to the fact that life is short and we should follow our dreams and our passions. That’s what triggered her to pursue her interest in learning to fly. Today she owns her own 1954 Piper Cub, once used for military service. She has logged over 1400 hours to date including flying by herself several times to Alaska, a state she just loves. Her plane travels at about 90 MPH meaning it takes Christina 6 to 7 days to reach Alaska from New Jersey with some days stretching as long as 8 or 9 hours of flying time with stops for gas.

Earlier this year, and after almost 14 years, Christina was downsized by Intel from her high level project management role. While thinking through her next career steps (something she is continuing to explore) Christina heard about a disaster that had hit the small town and Native American village of Eagle, Alaska. Ice breaking up with the spring thaw flowed down river and eventually formed an ice dam above Eagle, a town not accessible during the winter (other than by plane) where the temperature drops to 60 below, and accessible the rest of the year only over a rugged unpaved road.

When the ice dam broke, the devastation in Eagle was massive, with cabins and homes literally flattened. Chucks of ice, weighing over 50,000 pounds had crushed much of the town and nearby village. Fortunately there were no deaths but the damage was massive. Wearing a face mask to help guard against infection and the ugly stench, Christina volunteered to help the locals dig out, repair and rebuild. The first few days there she slept in a tent pitched under the wing of her Piper Cub. Later, one of the locals offered her a bed in an adjoining cabin she owned. Meals for the volunteers, many of whom showed up after Christina started her volunteering, were fed as a group by the locals in a school in the town. Obviously Christina made great friendships while helping in Eagle, an area of Alaska she plans to visit again on one of her next flying trips to the state.

Christina has awesome stories and photos to share about her many experiences in Alaska where, among other things, she learned bush flying. During the summer she explored all over the state, from long abandoned ghost towns, to impressive volcanoes, to the arctic and more.

The other side of Christina's adventurous soul is her passion for deep sea diving, something she has done for years. Her deep sea diving experiences have taken her down as deep as more than 350 feet and to some of the important wrecks off the U.S. coast including the treacherous Andrea Doria wreck. Christina, in her conversation with Garden State Woman, emphasized how the New Jersey coast is rich in wreck diving opportunities at depths that are “manageable” with a recommended dry suit. Check out www.christinayoung.com to see some of Christina’s deep sea experiences.

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Celebrate with Service

Celebrating big occasions like a bachelor party or milestone birthday with a debauched expensive weekend of excess at an adult amusement park like Vegas or Atlantic City, seems kind of wrong at the moment.

Jessica Goldsmith Barzilay had a better idea on how to usher in the big 4-0: she got together 18 of her best friends and did a Women Build with a local Habitat for Humanity chapter. The idea was inspired by her Hero-in-Chief, President Obama.

“Watching the inauguration in January, with my sister Joy, I applauded loudly with some ‘right ons’ as he spoke of a new era of responsibility. As I realized it is easy for me to agree from the comfort of my seat, I put aside my tub of popcorn and declared that I was going to have a 40th Birthday of Service. I started doing some research. To be honest, if Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity (RVHFH) had not been so enthusiastic I may not have followed through with the idea.”

She followed through and on July 18, she and her friends celebrated her birthday in Somerset, NJ, helping to build an affordable home for a hard working, low income family. “The women worked hard, learned quickly, and raised more than $1400 for Women Builds. They laid tile, painted, cut baseboard, and installed the back porch floor. These women win the prize for the most energetic and enthusiastic group of builders. There were loud cheers for the first woman to get a screw in or cut the first floorboard. It was definitely a party complete with food, birthday cake, balloons and party bags,” said Kathy Tanaka, Women Build Coordinator for RVHFH. Jessica put together party bags that included a manicure kit (much needed after a day of building) and a build themed CD with songs such as : If I Had a Hammer, I’d Like to Build the World a Home, and I am Woman

Habitat for Humanity's Women Build program, which is underwritten nationally by Lowe’s, seeks to bring women from all walks of life together to learn construction skills and then to use those skills to build simple, decent, affordable houses for hard working families. The homes are not only being built by women but the project is being funded by the women volunteers as well. Habitat offers families a hand up, not a hand out. Every partner family devotes at least 250 hours of “sweat equity” to help build their home or a neighbor’s home and secures a 0% mortgage provided by Habitat. Habitat supports partner families with training in budgeting, home and landscape maintenance, and how to be a good neighbor.

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Northwest N.J. Regional Women’s Center

The Northwest N.J. Regional Women’s Center was established in 1987 by proclamation of the New Jersey State Legislature. The mission was to provide educational and counseling services to women and their families in Northwest New Jersey, which includes Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex and Warren Counties. The Center is a private, non-profit organization. The main location is at Centenary College in Hackettstown with service locations throughout the four county area.

The Center has five clinics. The original clinic, the Legal Clinic, was established in 1988. We have at any given time between 15-20 volunteer attorneys, in private practices, who donate their services to provide information, advice, or a second opinion to all members of our community. There is a pre-registration fee of $20, which is a donation to the Center. There are four other clinics – counseling, financial, career and mediation that also all have professional volunteers.

The Women’s Center also offers monthly book discussions, specific programs of interest during the year, an annual 5K Breast Cancer Walk (this year on October 3rd) and many Women’s History Month (March) events. This year we are having a fall festival: New Jersey Women’s Home Business Showcase and Sale on November 7th and a book signing event in March.

We have a monthly Cable Show that is televised on four area cable stations in our catchment area, that focus on topics of interest to the community. The most recent shows are on Genealogy, Professional Etiquette and Finding a Job. The Women’s Center has also published a Legal Rights Booklet, the first edition was printed in 1990 and has been revised four times. The most recent revision is set to be released in September 2009. The information within has been written and revised by the Legal Clinic volunteer attorneys.

Dr. Deborah Diamond Fisch, a licensed psychologist in private practice has been the Director of the Center for the past 15 years and JoAnn Holland has been the Administrative Assistant for 20 years. The Women’s Center is always looking for volunteers to help with program design and implementation. Anyone interested in volunteering their time and getting involved should call (908) 852-9365.

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Let's Hear Your Story

Do you have an intense personal story about how YOU conquered an insurmountable obstacle encountered while traveling on the Road of Life? If you do, then…

Let’s Hear Your Story!

Tony Lombardo and his wife Vivian are friends of GardenState Woman. Along with their three children, they are well versed in facing adversity. Tony, a talented athlete in his youth, has been afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis for over twenty-eight years.

Rather than let the disorder overwhelm him, Tony has learned to successfully utilize his experience to help others. He has written a book with Craig Schwab entitled “On Both Sides of The Fence…How to Successfully Lead a Fulfilling Life Despite the Presence of Any Physical Challenge.”
 
As indicated in the subtitle, “On Both Sides of The Fence”  is a “how to” book which focuses on successfully leading a fulfilling life regardless of the type of physical challenge which has entered into your life.
 
With the help of Monmouth College students, Tony has created his web site: Let’s Hear Your Story (LHYS) at www.letshearyourstory.com. This inspirational site showcases stories written by others depicting how to fight and conquer adversity. The LHYS site also lists favorite music, poems, movies, books and links that have helped overcome their “hurdles.”
           
You must have a compelling story to share with the rest of us. Perhaps you know  someone who does. If so, please log onto Tony’s site to share it with him. Undoubtedly, this inspires countless individuals.
 
Thanks so much for sharing!

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The Beez Foundation

The second semester of her freshman year of college, Jenn Beisswanger was thrilled to realize her dream of becoming of Nittany Lion as she transferred to one of Penn State University’s campuses. Unfortunately, after only one week in her new school, Jenn experienced a grand mal seizure and a few days later, in January of 1998, surgery was performed by the Cancer Institute of New Jersey to remove a lemon-sized tumor in her brain.

In April, a second surgery was performed, this time at Memorial Sloane Kettering, and 90% of the tumor was removed. After an MRI in August indicated that the tumor was still growing, Jen underwent 6 weeks of radiation, trekking into NYC for treatment at MSK.

In remission, Jenn returned to Penn State in 1999 and completed both her second semester of freshman year and the first semester of her sophomore year. In December 1999, a routine MRI showed that the tumor was again growing and was more aggressive than previous. After another year of treatment, in January of 2001, her team of doctors determined that Jenn had exhausted all traditional treatment options and suggested that she undergo a stem cell transplant. Despite her valiant struggle, at the age of 22, Jenn succumbed to an infection following the transplant.

 Because Jenn was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 18, she was treated as a pediatric patient and was moved by the younger children that she encountered. Her compassionate nature gave her the ability to focus on others, even during her own battle. In fact, she once left her hospital bed in the middle of the night to offer help to an elderly woman experiencing great pain. During the course of her treatments, Jenn volunteered at the hospital, reading to pediatric kidney dialysis patients, and worked as a camp counselor.
 
Determined to do something positive in her daughter’s memory, and to continue Jenn’s legacy of compassion to other pediatric cancer victims, Susan Giardina developed the Beez Foundation. Her first step was to put together an advisory board, comprised of Jennifer's friends, local business executives and doctors from the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, to provide guidance and to review grant proposals for research funding.
 
With the help of her advisory board, a three-fold mission was created for the Beez Foundation:
  1. Educate people of the prevalence of brain cancer in children (it is the #2 cancer in kids behind leukemia and the number one pediatric cancer killer) and to make parents more diligent in recognizing the symptoms
  2. Provide seed money to support the first phase of research in brain cancer     
  3. Offer patient services for children and their families as they battle this disease
 The Foundation created a number of fund-raising activities to raise the capitol necessary to fulfill their mission. Keeping with Jennifer's philosophies, most are family-oriented, fun events within the local communities and designed to have a strong community bond with local businesses and organizations cooperating in the various events. The most popular of these activities is the annual Rubber Ducky Race, on the Delaware Raritan Canal. In their last run, they dropped 5000 ducks into the canal, each sponsored for $5 a piece. The “owner” of the winning ducky wins a donated cruise. In addition to the Duck Race, the foundation also has a strong sponsor in the Somerset Patriots baseball team. For seven years, the Beez Foundation has run the Diamond Derby, which allows kids to run the bases on the field following Sunday home games, and has passed out materials and information on The Beez Foundation and pediatric brain cancer to game attendees. The Foundation is also developing a program called “Art from the Heart” which collects decorated hats to be passed out to children who have lost their hair from cancer treatments. 
 
As a result of their fund-raising efforts, The Beez Foundation has donated $125,000. These funds seeded brain cancer research, which has resulted in a white paper presentation by one of the doctors they funded. Money has also been allocated to support patient/family services, including sponsorship of 400 nights at the Ronald McDonald House, annual sponsorship of a camper at Paul Newman’s Double H Hole In the Woods camp, and sponsorship of a woman authoring a children’s book about cancer.
 
To volunteer or to participate in the fund-raising activities, please go to www.beezfoundation.org.

 

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Giving Back

Jennifer at age 18 and a Penn State student was discovered to have a lemon sized brain tumor that within two years took her life. In her memory Susan named formed the Beeze Foundation the Mission of which is to educate parents about the prevalence of brain cancer in children, offer patient services to impacted families and fund research. Brain cancer is the second most common childhood cancer and the number 1 cancer killer

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Volunteering in Laos

 Looking at a map of the world, Laos is a sliver of land sandwiched between more well-known neighbors: China to the north, Thailand and Myanmar to the west, Cambodia to the south and Vietnam to the east. As my husband and I planned an extended trip to Asia, I had little knowledge of Laos aside from where it was located on a map spread on my living room floor. Laos was not on our initial itinerary, but we wanted to volunteer during our time in Asia and after researching volunteer programs on the web we decided, almost on a whim, to sign-up for a weeklong program in Laos with GlobeAware (www.globeaware.org), a non-profit that coordinates volunteer efforts around the globe. Little did we know that this decision would lead us to one of our most memorable experiences in Asia.

Our volunteer project was centered in the Lao city of Luang Prabang, a place straddling centuries, where orange-robed monks wander narrow streets amongst cafes selling cappuccino and pizza and the spires of Buddhist temples peak above the trees. At dusk the main street is closed to traffic and local merchants gather to sell colorful silks, clothing and jewelry under red tents. Walking to the waterfront on our first evening in the city, we sat enchanted at a café overlooking the muddy Mekong River and listened to the sound of crickets hidden amongst the verdant green mountains rising on the far bank. The next day we would be up bright and early to begin our volunteer project, but the evening was ours to absorb the peaceful vibe of this entrancing town. We settled in for the night at our $25 hotel room, which was clean, air-conditioned and complete with its own resident gecko.     

Early the next morning we met our volunteer coordinator, Kelvin. Kelvin is a Laos native and lives just outside Luang Prabang with his wife and young son. He is multi-talented and multi-faceted: he owns and drives a tuk-tuk, guides bikers into Laos’s remote mountain villages, volunteers for an organization that clears landmines from the countryside, has a partial ownership in a shop at the airport and is a handyman and all around go-to-guy for the local orphanage. Kelvin laid out our schedule for the week. We would build a gate at the local orphanage, donate books to a school and village and explore Luang Prabang and its beautiful surrounds which include cascading, tiered waterfalls open for swimming and an otherworldly cave housing hundreds of Buddha statues. First, though, Kelvin gave us an impromptu lesson in Lao culture and language, resulting in much laughter as Ken and I mispronounced even the basics. Lao has an interesting cadence to it and words seem to just trail off at the end, like a foghorn fading into a misty night, easy on the ears, yet difficult to master. With “sabaii dii” (hello) and “khawp jai” (thank you) under our belt, it was time for volunteering to get underway.   

We first shopped at a bookstore in town and then headed out of Luang Prabang to donate our purchases to a nearby school.  As we drove through lush green countryside in Kelvin’s jeep we encountered a traffic jam of sorts when three buffalo lumbered slowly across our path.  In the midst of farms and forest, geese, ducklings and goats, we pulled up a small dirt road and came upon three simple cement buildings, our destination. The school facilities did not have running water, and as I used the outhouse and tried my best to ignore the multitude of spiders crawling on a nearby windowsill, I thought back to my own grade-school classrooms. How comfortable they seemed to me now! The school served fifteen different villages and enrolled students in six grades. Because of its rural location, many children walk more than two hours to attend classes. Although school was not in session, we met with the principal and presented him with our donation. He in turn showed us the groundwork of a future GlobeAware project.  At the time of our visit just four posts and a thatched roof stood, but the structure would eventually become the school’s first library.  

After this meeting, I realized that as GlobeAware volunteers, we were part of an ongoing, gradual, step-by-step improvement of the local community. We saw this first hand the following day when we began work on our next project, building a gate for Luang Prabang’s local orphanage, which is also a school. Past GlobeAware volunteers at the orphanage built sinks with running water outside the dormitories, replaced doors and windows and installed a basketball hoop, no easy feat in such a remote location. Although remoteness is part of Laos’s charm, it also means there is no Home Depot nearby and we would build our gate completely from scratch. We would do everything – buy lumber, cut boards (sometimes with a machete), sand, paint and nail everything together by hand. I do, however, use the term “we” loosely, because Ken, Kelvin and I had so much help from the resident children. Every day as soon as we pulled up in Kelvin’s jeep, ten to twenty incredibly well-behaved teenagers magically appeared from the woodwork, ready to  wield a hammer or paintbrush. 

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Interview with my Grandmother

 “Poor Papa,” my grandmother said to me, followed by a laugh. “He’s always being recognized as Carol’s husband around here.” While it is true he is often known as “Carol’s husband”, it is a stretch to believe he finds anything wrong with it. He knows he is blessed to have such an amazing woman as his wife; his biggest complaint is with trying to keep up with her.

My grandmother started Dayspring Ministries in 1976 as a foster program but, in 1998, after retiring from foster care, she decided to change the mission of Dayspring Ministries following a heartbreaking trip to Haiti. After seeing people live in tin huts, drink dirty water, bath in rivers, and live off a dollar a day, I do not believe she has ever been the same. Perhaps the biggest testimony of her commitment to her Haitian friends lies in the fact that 99% of donations go to Haiti, with Dayspring’s only costs being paper, ink and envelopes. The change she seeks to bring about in Haiti has changed the lives of many orphans, widows and those in need of medical help. Unlike many of us, my grandmother sees how ordinary people can make a difference; just $1 a day from one of us can save a life in Haiti.

Heidi: Where did you grow up?

Nana: I was born in Dover and lived for two years on Lake Hopatcong. Then my family moved to Staten Island until I was eight, and from there we settled in Whippany, NJ.

Heidi: Where did you go to College? What was your initial plan for your life?

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An Unexpected Year

If you had asked Mendham resident, Marilyn Monasterio what the next couple of years had in store for her back in 2006, living a year in Guatemala City would not have been on the list.

In fact, the idea of moving to Guatemala was so far-fetched that when her husband returned from a week of building houses in the Guatemala City dump and said to her “I think we should sell the house and move to Guatemala and be missionaries”, all she could say was, “no, that doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

However, with such a passionate and persistent husband as Antonio, the conversation could not have been left there. A little bit of compromise brought them together on a plane to Guatemala City for a week in July 2007 alongside Mendham Hills Community Church (MHCC). Once they landed, the group met up with an organization that MHCC partners with called Potter’s House.

Potter’s House is a non-profit organization that aids in empowering the Guatemala City Dump community. They run five different programs (personal development, education, health, micro-enterprise and community support), but only have about 45 employees. With so much ambition and so little manpower, it is no wonder that during this visit Marilyn began to see the need Antonio saw a year earlier.

One particular lunch conversation continues to stick out in Marilyn’s mind as a turning point, “As we were sitting eating lunch one day Gladys (the founder of Potter’s House) turned to us and said, ‘you know, what we really need is a couple to come down and help us with the groups that come’”.

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