Hometown Heroes


North Jersey's hometown heroes were recognized this past week for their service to community. (Photo provided).

Newton - On Friday, Dec. 14, hometown heroes were recognized in a ceremony honoring North Jersey residents who have made outstanding contributions to their community. Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards were presented by U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) to veterans, business leaders, first responders, students, and seniors in recognition their dedication to improving the lives of neighbors, families, and New Jersey residents.
"Today's awards are bound by a shared sense of duty to their families, communities and their country," Gottheimer told attendees at the ceremony. "That's what Jersey values are about and that's what makes me certain that we live in the greatest country in the world. On behalf of the Fifth District, I couldn't be more proud to honor these hometown heroes today."
Isobel Costello, Newton
As a freshman in high school, she started the Weekend Bags program. Isobel noticed that some of her fellow students were going home on Fridays worried about having enough food or hygienic products to last them through the weekend. So she coordinated with local nonprofit Connect For Community and Thor Labs, to help care for these students. Isobel puts together 175 bags a week with her mother and a few other volunteers for students across five schools, growing to six soon. With graduation on the horizon, Isobel has put an organization in place that will endure and continue to help people even after she graduates.
Santina Flynn, Hackettstown
Each year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, volunteers - as well as flour, dough, and chocolate chips - flood Santina’s kitchen to bake as many cookies as they can to send to our troops that can’t be home for the holidays. This year, in the 11th year of the Cookies for the Troops, Santina and 22 volunteers used 20 pounds of sugar, 30 pounds of butter, 40 pounds of flour, and 96 eggs to bake 3,028 cookies to send to our troops serving around the world, including Santina’s son, Justin, who is serving our country as a Marine. The charity has continued to flourish even in the wake of Santina’s breast cancer diagnosis, when volunteers and her daughter stepped up to take on extra responsibility while Santina was going through chemotherapy.
Marie Bilik, Green Township
Marie’s career in public service took her from serving on the Green Township school board, to serving as the town’s first female Mayor. When she saw a new opportunity listed in the newspaper for the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), she applied just to see what could happen. She retired as the executive director of the NJSBA in 2012.... Only to come out of retirement to be the Deputy Executive Director of the National School Boards Association until 2016. She now works with the Allamuchy-Green First Aid Squad as a trustee, and as the director of the Green Township Historical Society.
Ted Wilson, Vernon
Ted has donated his time, equipment, and efforts to install an ADA walkway in a new play area at Veteran's Memorial Park so even more people can access this great park in one of the most beautiful parts of our state. Rallying support and volunteers from the community, Ted managed to get this wheelchair friendly walkway to connect one end of the park to the other -- two miles in total.
Officer Gary Yarnall and Officer Tom Connors, West Milford
In April, Officers Yarnall and Connors responded to a call about a suicidal individual with access to weapons and intervened in saving the individual. They are an example of the kind of bravery our officers display each and every day they put on the uniform, rushing towards danger when so many run away from it and saving an individual from the terrible impulse of suicide.
Chief Ed Aldrich, West Milford
At age 16, Ed walked into West Milford Fire Company Number Six for his first day as a volunteer, following in his father’s footsteps. Today, 50 years later, he’s been with the company ever since, including serving as chief and president of the company. Ed has been on the frontlines of keeping our North Jersey community safe for five decades from fires, storms, and lone-wolf terror.
Anita Rodriguez, Hackettstown
Anita hosts the annual Rodriguez Family Thanksgiving Dinner in Hackettstown. This year’s 15th dinner was hosted at Marley’s Gotham Grill, where she served ten 22 pound turkeys. Anita hosts the events to provide a “meal, companionship, and belonging during the holidays” for those who would not otherwise have it.