Union County Year in Review: 2011's Most Inspiring Stories

Union County residents do everything they can to help those in need. This year, despite illness, weather and economic woes, many found ways to come together and lend a helping hand.


Whether moved by 9/11, passionate about helping friends in need or lending support to neighbors who lost much after Hurricane Irene, Union County residents inspired each other this year. Read on to find out how 2011 was a year of thankfulness and giving back.


Throughout the year, many volunteered to raise funds to benefit Carly Pfeiffer, the daughter of third generation Westfield firefighter Jim Pfeiffer, who 2010.  In February, a group of to help organize a comedy night to benefit Pfeifer. Come May, crowds jammed the in Cranford to support the Carly Pfeiffer Fund.


May 10, 2011:

Over the past few months, the story of seven-year-old battle with cancer has traveled throughout Union County. One young man from Cranford answered the call to help. Matthew Muller, 15, a ninth grader at Cranford High School, was working on service hours for school when his mother, Barbara, told him about Condit.

Muller enlisted the help of his father, Dave, a sixth grade teacher in Belleville, to combine his desire to help with his family’s love for cooking. The pair decided that Muller would hold a fundraiser and go to work in the kitchen, turning out 400 chocolate lollipops in both dark and milk chocolate flavors. He brought his wares to school and sold the pops during his lunch period for $1 each. Matthew sold off all of the lollipops and raised $350 for Jason’s Friends during the next weeks.


In her autobiography "God Does Play Dice," Holocaust survivor Klara Samuels describes herself as a lucky person, even in consideration of spending six years in Bergen-Belsen, the same concentration camp as Anne Frank."On an individual basis I can argue that God gave me a fair share of luck: a good brain, six years of horror balanced by over 50 years of happiness and prosperity, good health and reasonable longevity," Samuels wrote. "But on the vast scale of events I am still bewildered and horrified by the cruel and senseless deaths during our own Holocaust and those of other victimized people." Samuels addressed Springfield’s Hadassah chapter in April.


Sara Soriente is more than just 's earth science teacher and assistant volleyball coach. This past July, Soriente added the title of tour guide to her resume as she led 11 students on and the coast of Mozambique to examine the bush and coral reefs.

This wasn't the first time the Cranford native traveled far from home to benefit others. The 28 year old also chose to spend her 2010 helping earthquake victims.


After a whirlwind of unexpected events including a hurricane and an earth quake, Andrew Laffey and Melissa Picchietti were married in Fanwood Borough Hall shortly before Laffey, who serves for the Navy was deployed on a confidential mission. An inspiring story that proves that even in the corridors of the Fanwood Borough Hall, love conquers all.


Sept. 7, 2011: Charity Begins at Home for Cranford Flood Victims

Even before the flood water receded following Hurricane Irene, local community members and organizations have been asking, "what can I do to help the people whose lives were devastated as a result of the storm?" From offering to donate baby clothes to hosting fundraisers, residents of Cranford and neighboring communities have banded together to offer assistance to the township's numerous flood victims.


Sept. 9, 2011: Clark Tower One Survivor Tells Her 9/11 Story - &

September 11, 2001 started as just another day working at the Port Authority for Clark resident Maria Bordas. She had started a new position. She was making lunch plans with a friend. Though unsure of the cause, after her office on the 65th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center shook, Bordas told her employees it was time to leave.

"My family says I was born that day," Bordas says. "It just wasn't my day to die."  Now, 10 years later, Bordas takes a moment to talk to Patch about her escape and how her life has changed in the decade since the terrorist attack.


Sept. 10, 2011:

This vivid account of hundreds flocking to the Jersey City 9/11 memorial on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy includes reflections from Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, Scotch Plains Township Manager Christopher Marion and Scotch Plains Councilman Bo Vastine. All were in attendance on September 11 and bore witness to 746 New Jersey flags posted at the memorial marking those who left us on that unforgettable day.

When the twin towers imploded and the Pentagon burned on September 11, 2001, a fire of passion welled up in 17-year-old Nicholas Perez-Santalla of Mountainside that compelled him to take an unanticipated path into military service.


Accompanied by breathtaking photos, this remarkable story chronicles Eyad Khalifeh’s miraculous journey from lying in a coma after crashing his car into a tree, to walking, talking, seeing and even returning to complete his senior year after looking death in the eye just nine months before.


Toi Jackson and her close friend Karla Ridley of Cranford got the invite from Oprah's producers to come to Chicago for a Nov. 16, 2010, show taping. Jackson and Ridley were selected after Jackson wrote a letter to Oprah about a foundation she created for domestic violence called “Just Breath.” Ridley was her inspiration, she said. Little did they know they would be driving off a car lot with a new Volkswagon Beetle a year later.


Oct. 28, 2011: Arthritis Isn't Slowing Down This Cranfor Eighth-Grader

A local student and her family will raise money for the Arthritis Foundation during a walk/run in December. For Julia Madsen, a 13-year-old from Cranford, growing up with Rheumatoid Arthritis was a big challenge. Madsen was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 2, but it has been in remission for the past three years. Earlier this month, Julia, her family and friends took part in the Arthritis Foundation's fifth annual Jingle Bell 5k run where all of the proceeds will go to the fight against arthritis. Madsen, her family and friends all participate. Madsen’s team, Julia’s Jammers, raised $15,000 in the last four years and Madsen alone raised more than $1,000 this year. 


Dec. 7, 2011: St. Michael's Helps Flood Victims Deck the Halls

Eighth grade students collect holiday items for residents who lost decorations during Hurricane Irene.


If you ever need proof that heroes walk among us, look to the example Tony Sidar set. A longtime volunteer for Springfield’s Auxiliary Police Force, Sidar made a habit out of helping people in need and taking care of situations threating to become out of control. Until his death this year to complications of Leukemia, Sidar was a rock for Springfield’s Community.


Patch sat down with Park Middle School 7th grader and rising star Sasha Zitofsky and his mom Susan to talk about his starring role in an Anti-Bullying theatrical production that travels to schools throughout the tri-state area. Sasha and Susan also conveyed that challenges of balancing being a normal kid while finding success on the stage and beyond.


Dec. 16, 2011: Jaycees Raise Thousands For Flood Victims

The Cranford Jaycees, a local volunteer civic organization focused on helping the community, today announced its donations and contributions to local groups severely impacted by Hurricane Irene on Aug. 28, now totals $10,000.


Kerron Venable, who performs under the rap alias Venn Grimm, grew up in Summit and went to  in the early 90s. Today, he's a coach for Summit's youth football league. Venable brought his Hilltopper spirit and the support of about 30 former high school friends to the Starland Ballroom for a set that got the crowd roaring.

"If we didn't have the friends and network we have, we couldn't pull this off," said his high school friend and manager Lori Golden.


In March, New Providence was put in the spotlight as "Win-Win" hit the big screen, a truly inspirational story about winning and second chances.

The film’s director and writer Tom McCarthy graduated from NP High more than 25 years ago and went on to receive acclaim as writer and director of The Visitor (2007) and The Station Agent (2003), and is one of the writers behind the story for the animated film Up for which he received an Academy Award nomination in 2010 for Best Original Screenplay.

Joe Tiboni, who worked with his childhood friend McCarthy to write the story for Win Win, was also an NP Pioneer before graduating in 1984. Tiboni remains a New Providence resident and businessman, and is founder of the Law Offices of Tiboni & Tiboni where he works as a lawyer with his wife, Jane.

The film centers around New Providence Elder Law attorney Mike Flaherty (played by Paul Giamatti), who is struggling to keep his law practice afloat during difficult financial times. He is appointed by the court to represent an elderly man named Leo Poplar (Burt Young), to whom he ends up acting as legal guardian. Flaherty commits Poplar to a nursing home, against his wishes, in order to turn a profit on the deal and help him attempt to save his business.

At the same time, Flaherty also coaches the New Providence High School wrestling team. Following the recent events at the lawyer's practice, Poplar’s grandson Kyle Timmons (played by Alex Shaffer, a real-life Hunterdon Central Regional High School student and wrestler) unexpectedly arrives in town looking for a place to stay and is taken in by the Flaherty family. Timmons’ arrival is initially seen as an interference with Flaherty’s plans until he discovers that the boy is a champion wrestler.

While moviegoers will find numerous similarities between Tiboni’s life and that of Giamatti’s character in the upcoming film, the New Providence High School grads behind the project are quick to ensure that there are certainly big differences between the lives of the onscreen character Mike Flaherty and the real-life New Providence resident who protects the rights of the elderly.


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