Hometown Heroes Honors Veterans, First Responders, Volunteers, & Community Leaders
Above: Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero Lily Polvere of Emerson.
U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) honored local first responders, veterans, life-saving bystanders, volunteers, community leaders, and residents during his Fifth District Hometown Heroes Ceremony, held at the Fair Lawn Community Center.
Gottheimer honored more than 20 residents as Fifth District Hometown Heroes to acknowledge their dedication to helping improve the lives of their neighbors, families, and communities.
Among many other heroes, Gottheimer honored Lauren Lopez of Montvale, a school nurse who performed CPR and successfully brought a collapsed teacher back to life; Charlotte Abrams of Upper Saddle River, who started an initiative to help recent mastectomy patients travel in cars more comfortably; 10-year-old Liliana Polvere of Emerson, who started “Lily’s Giving Train” to spread happiness to those in need throughout the holiday season; George Saigh of New Milford, for life-saving actions taken during his 60 years as a firefighter, and Dr. Henry Pruitt, a lifelong educator and advocate for students and racial justice.
“We are lucky to have so many unsung heroes in our communities here today, whose quiet power of service goes on every day without the recognition they truly deserve. They just do it because they care. Today is their day. Without the people we are recognizing today, our communities would not be as strong as they are, and North Jersey would not be the great place that it is,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “These individuals come from all walks of life, but all share an idea that is particularly special: they embody our Jersey Values and make our community such a special place to live, work, and raise a family. They help us build that more perfect union of our dreams. We all should work to live up to their example.”
Gottheimer continued, “In a time fueled by hyper-partisan cable news and social media, our Hometown Heroes don’t get caught up in fiery tweets and extreme language seeking to divide us. I’m focused on putting country over party, and that’s exactly what our Hometown Heroes do. They want to get things done and help our community, state, and country. We have to remember that we are all Americans — our enemy isn’t each other. Our enemies are China, Russia, and Putin, and we are all in this together.”
Video of the Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards ceremony can be foundHERE.
The December 2022 Fifth District Hometown Hero Award honorees in order of appearance:
Liliana Polvere, Emerson, Bergen County — Ten-year-old Lily runs “Lily’s Giving Train,” a toy drive she started at five years old after hearing the devastating news of a local family who lost many of their belongings during a house fire. Her one goal: to make more families smile during the holiday season. With the help of friends, family, and the entire Emerson community, Lily has successfully donated 300 toys since the beginning of her giving train — 70 toys this year alone.
Martin Prince, Woodcliff Lake, Bergen County — Martin is a more than 50-year North Jersey resident. He was President of the B’nai Brith Northern Valley Lodge from 1973 to 1974 and active as a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts for a decade. He was a member of the Triboro Volunteer Ambulance Corp. from 2015 to 2017, a Life Member of the Closter Volunteer Ambulance Corp. He volunteered with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to help elementary school students learn to read, and volunteers with the Jackson Ave. School in South Hackensack. He also chaired the Upper Pascack Valley Crop Walk for 18 years, where he has helped raise $225,000 to relieve hunger in the local community and worldwide.
Amanda Missey, Hackensack, Bergen County — Board member of the Meadowlands Chamber, Greater Bergen Community Action, Bergen County Workforce Development Board, Johnson Public Library, and the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. Since 2014, served as the President and CEO of the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative (BVMI), offering healthcare to the working and uninsured of Bergen County. During the COVID pandemic, Amanda led the shift to telehealth and expanded BVMI’s mission to include a second clinic that will be opening later this year. She has also been honored by the YMCA as a woman who’s made significant contributions to her industry.
Lauren Lopez, Montvale, Bergen County — Northern Valley High School nurse who performed CPR and administered one defibrillator shock on a colleague who collapsed. After the staff member regained consciousness, Lauren monitored her colleague until EMTs and paramedics arrived. She volunteers with the Marine Corps Officer Spouses’ Club, Wreaths Across America, and Toys for Tots, fundraises for service members’ children scholarships, and volunteers with Orphanage Outreach in the Dominican Republic.
Simon Toffell, Glen Rock, Bergen County— Simon petitioned the mayor to let him take pictures for Glen Rock’s 120th-anniversary event. He is known in the community for his remarkable photography of the Glen Ridge High School Sports — capturing some of our students’ most memorable times competing — memories they will now have forever, free of charge. In 2020, the mayor named him Glen Rock’s official photographer and, in 2022, named October 14th, 2022 as “Simon Rocks!” day. During the pandemic, Simon raised money to support small businesses and started his “Positively Gen Rock” series on Facebook, where he would share photos of people from around Glen Rock having a positive experience.
Jackie Gersht, Ramsey, Bergen County —Jackie is a 34-year Ramsey resident. Spent countless hours educating our children, supporting local nonprofits, and keeping Ramsey community members safe. Jackie has been a member of the Boy Scouts for more than three decades. She received the Thanks Badge, which is the highest honor at the national level, along with two Eagle Scout Mentor Pins. Jackie is also the vice president of the Ramsey Rescue Squad, supporting the Goodwill and Outreach program, and is a member of the Special Events Committees helping organize the Memorial Day parade. She is also a member of the Ramsey Office of Emergency Management and sits on the board of the Ramsey Citizens of Emergency Response Team, and helps local businesses and nonprofits at the Ramsey Farmers Market as a liaison to non-profit groups.
Linda Wayne, River Vale, Bergen County — Linda has been a North Jersey resident for 48 years. After 9/11, Linda joined the River Vale Community Emergency Response Team, rising to Co-Coordinator at one of the most active CERT teams in the State. Since then, she has also been appointed as a Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator by the elected officials of River Vale. She is a 47-year member and past President of the River Vale Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, member of Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Harrington Park where she serves as the Treasurer of the Social Concerns Committee, helps with the annual Christmas Giving Tree, feeds the homeless at the Hackensack Shelter, and helps local families in need. Linda has also served on the River Vale Board of Health Advisory Board.
Eric Orgen, Teaneck, Bergen County — Eric is a 25-year Teaneck resident. He is President and an Emergency Medical Technician of the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps where he has helped deliver a baby boy, taken more than 3,000 calls in 28 years of service, and is a top fundraiser for the TVAC First Responder Program Fundraiser which raised nearly $100,000 to equip members with critical resources. Under his leadership, TVAC has excelled at clawing back federal resources to equip his organization even further, successfully receiving more than $375,000 dollars through federal Assistance to Firefighters Grants for new turnout gear, and vehicle acquisition in 2017 and two in 2020. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric was on a hiatus from TVAC but he came back to be there for his community, covering the gaps in a roster operating at half capacity.
Mark Friedberg, Allendale, Bergen County — Mark volunteers with the Bergen County Food Security Task Force to help make technological upgrades to Bergen County’s food pantries. There, he works directly with pantry directors and volunteers — taking the time to visit the pantries and learn how to improve their internet connectivity and technological setup. He oversaw the rollout of a new software program he designed and created for Bergen County food pantries to better understand the needs of the families they serve. This data helps the pantries stay stocked with appropriate supplies —saving the program money and enabling even more food to go to those in need.
Roger Knauss, Ramsey, Bergen County — Roger is a 42-year Ramsey resident. He is President of the Ramsey Seniors group where he has successfully advocated for new pickleball courts as demand grows, found instructors to add more senior exercise classes, and worked with the Boy Scouts to build horseshoe pits. He is also a volunteer member of Ramsey’s Municipal Alliance, which works to bring the community together to raise healthy children and support our adult population in making smarter choices to reduce substance abuse.
George Saigh, New Milford, Bergen County — George is a 74-year North Jersey resident. He joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany as a Private from 1952 to 1954. In 1955, he joined Englewood Cliffs Fire Department before joining the New Milford Volunteer Fire Department. Throughout George’s six decades of service, he has been the only Firefighter in the Borough’s history to remain 100% active — an incredible feat that has never been accomplished before in the New Milford Fire Department. In 1975, he was New Milford Fireman of the Year, he won the 1993 “Tim Casey Award” for distinguished Volunteer Service, and the New Milford Knights of Columbus award for “Distinguished Volunteer Service in 1991. He is a former New Milford council member, chairman and member of the Street Lighting Committee, as well as member and chairman of the Public Events Committee. George was also instrumental in securing the Veterans Memorial monument, which currently stands in front of Borough Hall.
Charlotte Abrams, Upper Saddle River, Bergen County — Someone close to Charlotte had breast cancer and, as a result, underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries. Charlotte was 14 and witnessed both the pain and discomfort the surgeries caused when traveling in the car and the fear around simply putting on a seatbelt. So, she took this problem head on and came up with the idea to make a form-fitting pillow that would provide comfort and protection from seat belts during the healing process. Charlotte founded the POSH Pillow Project — POSH standing for “Post-Op Supportive Hug.” Since then, Charlotte has spent countless hours teaching dozens of her community members how to make mastectomy pillows for patients recovering from breast cancer-related surgeries. She then donates these pillows to those who need them, providing a simple solution for the pain many patients experience while traveling in the car.
Lori-Ann Quinn, Fair Lawn, Bergen County — Since 2012, Lori-Ann has been the Director of the Waldwick Public Library — where she shares the love of reading and libraries with the public. It’s because of Lori-Ann that so many children continue to discover a love for reading and learning. From theater productions, lectures, concerts, and game nights, she continues to constantly add more programming at the library. Her dedication has spurred our young people to love their libraries, books, and the wonders they both have to offer.
Ashlee Luther, Fair Lawn, Bergen County — Ashlee runs the Borough of Fair Lawn’s Office of Veteran Affairs and is a veteran of the Australian Air Force. She also volunteers with “Adopt A Soldier Platoon,” a volunteer organization that further helps and supports active military and injured veterans. Ashlee matches service providers with 501c3s, charities, veterans, and veteran family members, and also created a program to send new and used books overseas to our deployed troops.
Dr. Henry Pruitt, Teaneck, Bergen County — Dr. Pruitt is a 60-year Teaneck resident, lifelong educator, and advocate for students and racial justice. He served in the National Guard, was a council member, deputy mayor, and President of the Teaneck Board of Education. He was named the 2022 Man of the Year by the Teaneck Chamber and had a street named after him in Teaneck — Dr. Henry J. Pruitt Way. He is a tireless advocate for students and has led racial justice marches. During his time at William Paterson University, Dr. Pruitt focused on the importance of diversity and led the University to achieve one of the most diverse student bodies in the state and region. He oversaw a significant expansion of the University’s student body, growth in the number of faculty, and the creation of a residential campus.
John Hanlon, Ho-Ho-Kus, Bergen County — John is an 85-year Ho-Ho-Kus resident. In 7th grade, he was inspired to help others by his neighbors who took care of him and his grandmother while his mother was ill with polio — a dangerous and brave act. He spent eight years in the United States Coast Guard. John is a 36-year Planning Board member with 24 of those years spent as chairman. He served more than 30 years as a firefighter and former chief. He is the Borough Historian and has worked for 27 years as the town’s Office of Emergency Management Mitigation Officer where he is in charge of all FEMA reporting and tracking for reimbursements — a role that’s becoming increasingly important.
Margaret Murphy, Mahwah, Bergen County — For the past decade, Margie has coordinated one the largest deliveries of Girl Scout Cookies in New Jersey, overseeing the distribution of more than 25,000 boxes in Mahwah every single year. She also serves on the Executive Board of the Township of Mahwah Youth Sports as Treasurer, where she is responsible for the finances of the 15 youth sports. Instrumental in keeping Mahwah sports fiscally sound. She has also worked to provide more than 1,000 Mahwah kids a place to play.
George Ambrose, Hamburg, Sussex County — George is a 44-year Hamburg resident. Known as ‘Doc,’ to those he fought alongside in the Army, George served our country as a Sergeant during the Vietnam War and earned the Bronze Star Medal with First Oak Leaf Cluster where e distinguished himself with “outstandingly meritorious achievement in connection with military ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam.” Since then, he has worked as a leader for local Boys Scouts and founded the Franklin Revolver and Rifle Association’s Women and Guns training program, where for 20 years he has provided hundreds of women with firearms safety and basic marksmanship training.
Estina Baker, Teaneck, Bergen County — Estina works as the Senior Advisor to Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake of New Jersey’s 34th Legislative District. While a student at Howard University, she was the East Coast College Coordinator for the Committee — which was led by Stevie Wonder — to get legislation signed into law to officially recognize Martin Luther King’s Birthday as a National Holiday. From 1998 to 2000, she was the Artist-in-Residence at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. She has designed and implemented Education Programs based on the Civil Rights Movement for “At-Risk” and incarcerated teens. She received the NYC Mayor’s Award for Artist of the Year and is a nationally recognized actress, poet, and storyteller. She had a role in a Grammy Award-winning music video, “You’re All I Need” with Method Man and Mary J. Blige, and worked on the National Field Team in 2012 in Pennsylvania to reelect President Barack Obama. Estina also leads the Social Justice Ministry at Mount Olive Baptist Church to focus on some of the most important issues of our time like voter registration, voter education, and voting rights.
Harry Shortway, Vernon, Sussex County — Harry is a 30-year Vernon resident. He is a long-time lacrosse coach in the area for a number of different teams, winning several championships. Harry served as the Vernon Township High School boys varsity head lacrosse coach, Vernon PAL volunteer youth girls lacrosse coach, and coached the first women’s lacrosse team at Sussex County Community College — even being named the New Jersey Herald Lacrosse Coach of the Year in 2017. He has worked as a teacher, firefighter, and a Ridgewood and West Milford police officer. Throughout his more than 20-year career in law enforcement, he had multiple life-saving responses. Later, Harry served as Vernon’s mayor, deputy mayor, and as Council President. He is a tireless advocate for our law enforcement, first responders, and the environment — helping lead the charge to take action on an illegal landfill in Vernon. He also reached an agreement with Mountain Creek ski resort over their sewer debt in a way that avoided additional burden on our taxpayers, while also helping keep Mountain Creek open and developing. He has been recognized as Sussex County Mayor of the Year, the Most Influential Teacher of the Year in Jefferson Township twice, MADD Police Officer of the Year, Upper Greenwood Lake Fire Officer of the Year, and Upper Greenwood Lake First Aid Squad Police Officer of the Year.
Hometown Heroes who were not able to attend include:
Michael Foti, Hillsdale, Bergen County, Old Tappan Police Officer
Eugene Wilkins, River Vale, Bergen County, Old Tappan Police Officer
Thomas Tully, Park Ridge, Bergen County, Old Tappan Police Officer
The DiTrani Family, Emerson, Bergen County, World War II Veterans
Miriam Lambert, Closter, Bergen County, Closter Food Pantry
Below: Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero Charlotte Abrams of Upper Saddle River.
Below: Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero Estina Baker of Teaneck.
Below: Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero Harry Shortway, Midland Park Mayor and father, Harry Shortway Jr., and Vernon Mayor Howard Burrell.
Below: Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero George Saigh of New Milford.
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