More Than Our Share of Heroes

New Jersey Heroes celebrates residents who contribute in unique ways to their communities.

Rutgers fans, below, show their support for football star Eric LeGrand, who has fought heroically to overcome injuries sustained in a game last fall.
Duncan Williams/CSM/Landov.

New Jersey is filled with special people. The evidence is everywhere. We saw it after Rutgers University football star Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the shoulders down in a game last fall. Thousands of New Jerseyans contributed not only money, but prayers and well-wishes to the LeGrand family. (In January, Rutgers announced that Eric had regained movement in his shoulders and sensation throughout his body. In his first interview, he told ESPN, “I believe that I will walk again one day.”)

Eric is a New Jersey hero for the degree of courage he has shown since that fateful day at the New Meadowlands Stadium. His positive attitude, as well as his appreciation for life, make him an inspiration for all.

But New Jersey has many other heroes—regular people who step up and do extraordinary things. It is one of the reasons that First Lady Mary Pat Christie has launched an initiative called New Jersey Heroes—for which I was proud to host an inaugural event at Drumthwacket several months ago. The plan is to acknowledge one hero every month and to inspire others to make a difference.

“I got to see firsthand how New Jerseyans are contributing in unique ways to the community,” Christie says. “Now, each month, we will salute a New Jersey Hero to thank them for their dedication, kindness, and willingness to go the extra mile.”

One of the first recognized through the initiative was Beverly Gordon, president of Project Self Sufficiency (ps-s.org), founded in 1986 to assist low-income families in Sussex County. Gordon says the project helped her find her calling; she has been indispensable in creating a fundraising program that drives the organization’s operations.

Then there is Kathleen DiChiara, founder and executive director of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (njfoodbank.org). DiChiara is a hero for her efforts, even though she seeks no attention for herself. Rather, she does everything she can to raise money and awareness for her organization—and the people that it serves.

Over the years, I have learned of others who work every day to help those less fortunate. Through a PBS series that I’ve hosted for many years called Make a Difference in cooperation with the Russ Berrie Making a Difference Awards, and through the New Jersey Governor’s Jefferson Awards, I have been fortunate to meet some of these heroes.

People like Mike and Elaine Adler, who founded the Adler Aphasia Center in 2003 after Mike, a successful business executive, suffered a stroke and sought, without success, a long-term program to help him cope with the resulting aphasia. The Adler Aphasia Center has become the national leader in therapeutic care for survivors of brain trauma—strokes, tumors and injuries—who lose their ability to communicate effectively while retaining their full cognitive abilities (adleraphasiacenter.org).

Shannon McNamara was taught from a young age to give back. When McNamara was 15, she discovered the “book famine” in Africa. Determined to help, she founded SHARE, an organization whose mission is to empower young girls in Africa through education (ShareInAfrica.org). SHARE has created four libraries serving more than 3,000 students in rural Tanzania, Africa.

Finally, Saranne Rothberg is a cancer survivor who, after discovering the therapeutic benefits of comedy while battling her own illness, founded the ComedyCures Foundation in 1999 (comedycures.org). Rothberg—now cancer-free—brings humor to kids and grown-ups living with illness, depression, trauma and disabilities.

If you know of another New Jersey hero, write to me at [email protected] or go directly to the First Lady’s website at state.nj.us/governor/firstlady/home/heroes.shtml. New Jersey Monthly also recognizes service to the community through its Seeds of Hope honors. You can nominate volunteers for Seeds of Hope at njmonthly.com/seedsnomination.

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