February 8, North Plainfield, New Jersey

By Tony Mussari
You can never do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. Ralph Waldo Emerson

February 8, was a 16 hour day. Kitch and I spent 5 hours in our Prius driving 270 miles. The rest of the time was spent recording 4 community service visits, recording 7 interviews, and covering a 100th anniversary celebration of the Boy Scouts of America.
It was a long day filled with magic moments of leadership, learning, service, caring and sharing.

It began in a fire station, and it ended at a community landmark.  Everything in between was rich in the ways of the heart.

Our First stop was the North Plainfield Municipal Building. Once there, thirteen cheerleaders checked in at the desk, and then they made their way around the building to the fire station.

They were greeted by Fire Chie William Eaton and Police Chief William Parente.  After an exchange of pleasantries, the co-captains of the cheerleading squad presented two American flags as a symbol of gratitude for the work of both departments to keep the people of North Plainfield safe.

It was a signature moment for both men. They, in turn, complimented the students with words that made them feel 10 feet tall.

Church Visit

Our next stop was the Covenant United Methodist Church. Located on Front Street, this church sits with dignity and class behind towering trees that give it definition and distinction. In a word, this church looks inviting from the outside, and, as we soon discovered, it is very welcoming on the inside.

Pastor Frank Davis took us to a conference room across the hall from the church office, and there the North Plainfield cheerleaders presented several bags of clothing for the earthquake victims in Haiti. Reverend Davis was visible moved, and he was quick to shower words of grace and gratitude on students.

Davis was most impressed by what he called their willingness to think of others not about themselves. “These young ladies want to help,” he said, “They want to make it a reality. It is a classic example, people can come together to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”

On our way to the food pantry, Pastor Davis took the students on a tour of his church, and he explained the basic tenants of Methodism.

In a large room beneath the sanctuary, four members of Starfish Social Services were waiting for us. Standing behind a table, Edna Shanok, Mr. & Mrs. Jack O’Malley and Harry Mayer accepted bags food from several of the students.

Then it happened. People began to talk about their thoughts and emotions and a magnificent collage of heartfelt and caring words emerged.

Harry Mayer told the students it was wonderful to see young people doing something good.

Edna Shanok expressed her fears with these words:

“I wonder what will happen when we get to old to do this kind of work. This gives me hope that you will take our place in caring for those who need help.

Sheila O’Malley was unequivocal in her compliments:

“You give us hope. Your parents and teachers have done a wonderful job.”

Jack O’Malley, a retired teacher, was nothing short of inspirational when heshared these words:

“It’s really uplifting. Theses students prove that all kids are not bad. Kids in ever generation get a bad rap because the things that make the news are all negative.
You are an example to be followed by your peers.

The students were equally eloquent in their comments.

Christianna Blue put it this way: “America is about giving and helping. I am so grateful that we can help”

Toni Costello said the moment made her proud of herself and the other cheerleaders.

Amanda Aponte saw a connection to the annual community service trip to Shanksville, Pennsylvania. “In Shanksville we were trying to help the relatives of people who died,” she said, “here we are trying to help the relatives of people who are alive and struggling.

Washington Rock

The community service field trip ended at Washington Rock, a strategic outlook for George Washington during the Revolutionary War. There, the cheerleaders placed 13 flowers to honor the veterans of that war and every war.

We stopped for lunch at a local pizzeria, and then it was back to the school. For the rest of the afternoon cheerleaders came to our makeshift studio in storage room adjacent to the library. They shared their reactions and the things they learned during this very special day.

They talked about the joy of giving, the need to become more involved in the community, and the privileges we too often take for granted. Several students told me how good it felt to be appreciated, and one person told me that on this day she learned that America is just perfect.

Happy Birthday Scouts

Later that evening Kitch and I would experience this sense of perfection at a candlelight ceremony honoring the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America.

Looking into the faces of these youngsters, their parents, their scoutmasters and the community leaders who were part of this celebration that comment reverberated in my mind.

Listening to mayor, Michael Giordano, read a proclamation celebrating the Boy Scouts and Troop 235, Patriots’ Path Council, I felt a sense of pride about our country and our democratic government that is deeply rooted in law and respect for individual rights.

The flickering candles reminded me of Washington’s men warmed during those cold winter nights by campfires. It’s a scene that has repeated itself many times over, in places near and far, where Americans give testimony to the sacred words of 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Then, we were 13 colonies. On this day we were 13 students learning about life, love, compassion and country. What they learned is best described in  the teaching of Mussar: “Our deeds have the remarkable power not just to help others, but also to make ourselves better.”

February 8, was a 16 hour day filled with rich images of a Face of America that cares about others, and that’s a beautiful thought for any day.


Photographs By

Kitch Loftus-Mussari