Local Teens Answering the Call for Help

Last year was surprising in a number of ways. In the midst of a pandemic, most people were doing their best to avoid others. So, the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad membership committee was not expecting any new applications to come in for quite a long time.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. Community members came forward to help, while putting their own safety at risk. Even more surprising, many of these applicants were teenagers looking to join our cadet program.

Here, some of these members talk about why they made this decision, and how it has affected them.

Julia Jackson – age 17

I joined the Rescue Squad during COVID-19, which is a scary thing, but also in my mind this was the most impactful time to join the squad. Of course, we are very cautious on calls with preventing the spread of this virus, but overall, if anything, I think this pandemic has just made me a stronger EMT. I love that I can help our community when it really needs me.

Riley Gasson – age 16

Once the pandemic started, I saw all of the amazing work that first responders were doing. I noticed a need for EMTs and I wanted to do everything I could to help my community. Now being an EMT, I find it so rewarding to help people when they are in need. I couldn’t imagine joining in a more pivotal moment in history, and I am so thankful that I am a part of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

Ashini Bhardwaj – age 17

When I became a member during the pandemic, I was very nervous at first. I was afraid of such a deadly outbreak that had cost so many people their lives. But as I started to get more patients, I realized how rewarding this job was. There needs to be people who help those who are in need and I like the fact that I can try and be one of those. Helping people makes me happy and after seeing many people in pain, I realized that I want to try and at least make them feel a little better no matter what the issue is. Becoming a member during the pandemic is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

TJ Walsh – age 17

I initially looked into cadet programs last year prior to the pandemic, thinking that it would be a good way for me to get involved with healthcare. Once things were more stable over the summer, I started applying again because I wanted to jump in and help wherever I could. All over the news you would see doctors and nurses risking their lives for the well-being of others, and because I am young, healthy, and have an interest in working in medicine, I just wanted to serve my community and help in whatever way I could. 

Maura Farrell – age 18

I wanted to do something for the community amidst the pandemic, and I was drawn to SPRS because of my medical interest. Taking the EMT course hybrid was a little bit out of my comfort zone, but over time between that and virtual school I was able to get used to having online lectures. Because there were new precautions taken due to the pandemic, I felt like even though I was still learning on my shifts, everyone around me was learning a little as well. Everyone I’ve met at the squad has been so kind and supportive! They were always willing to help me review skills or study for my class. I’m so happy I made the decision to join! 

Karoline Hocevar – age 16

I joined the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad around June of 2020. Seeing my parents work during quarantine made me want to do something more with my time. I had always hoped to one day join a rescue squad and I felt like it was the perfect time to help those in need. 

If you too are interested in joining the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad, please go to our website at www.scotchplainsrescuesquad.com, email us at scotchplainsrescuesquad@gmail.com, or call 908-322-2103.

Contributing Author:  Susan Baldani, lifemember and membership chairperson of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

Making Magical Memories

By Sue Baldani

Like most nonprofit organizations, Camp Fatima of New Jersey is experiencing major challenges due to COVID-19. Founded in 1968 by four Seton Hall seminary students, the camp offers free sleep-away programs for disabled children and adults. And it’s determined to continue doing so. Seeing the smiles on the faces of those it serves, and providing a respite to their families, is not something that can be sacrificed due to a pandemic.

And smile they do. It’s not called FATIMAGIC for nothing. The campers, regardless of their disabilities, get to do things that most able-bodied children and adults take for granted. They splash around in pools, sing songs, eat s’mores, dance, and take part in arts and crafts. Every child has his or her own dedicated counselor to ensure the utmost care, so each activity can be individually tailored according to the camper’s ability.

Its mission statement, “Camp Fatima provides free, life enriching camp experiences for children and adults with developmental disabilities,” says it all. Some of the campers are in wheelchairs, while others have neurological, sensory or other serious issues. Camp Fatima and its volunteers open their hearts to all who come. It truly is a magical place.

The volunteers come from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Most have experience working directly with the disabled, and include teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, college students and other professionals. For these selfless individuals, the sounds of laughter and the looks of pure joy on the campers’ faces are all the payment they need.

Many of these volunteers live locally. Billy Malone, a Scotch Plains firefighter and Fanwood resident, became a volunteer in 1994 and has been the chairperson for the past 13 years. Scotch Plains resident and former Scotch Plains police officer, Jamie Denman, has been a volunteer since 1979, and is the current director.

Even though no one at the camp is paid, all this magic requires funding. It costs several hundred thousand dollars to operate the two children’s summer sessions and the four adult weekends each year. Funding to support and host the more than 200 campers and over 450 on site-volunteers comes from generous benefactors, corporate matching gifts, private giving, and fundraising. Because of COVID-19, many of the usual fundraisers are not able to take place.

So this year, Camp Fatima is looking for individuals to sponsor a camper. The cost to feed, house, and supply materials to each camper is more than $1000.00. To find out more about Camp Fatima, or to volunteer, make a donation, or sponsor a camper, please go to https://campfatimanj.org/.  Since the camp is a designated 501(c) (3) organization, all donations may be tax-deductible.

 Camp Fatima of New Jersey: Changing Lives, Enriching Hearts – One Camper, One Volunteer at a Time.