Above: Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero Bruce Marshall of Harrington Park.
NORTH JERSEY — U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) honored local life-saving first responders, veterans, volunteers, community leaders, and residents during his Fifth District Hometown Heroes Ceremony, held at the Hackensack Performing Arts Center.
Gottheimer honored more than 25 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 U.S. Army Sergeant David Solinas of Oradell, a 23-year-old service member who tragically died in a medevac training mission this year; Robert Silvestri of Hillsdale, who saved a baby on 9/11 that had been separated from its mother and found on the ground; and three local high school students, Asad Gilani, Mehreen Khateeb, and Mateen Aminyar who have helped pass policies in more than 20 schools across Bergen County to address Islamophobia.
“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). “They all come from different walks of life, but 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 seeking to divide us. We all need to put our country and communities first, and that’s exactly what our Hometown Heroes do. We have to remember that we are all Americans — our enemy isn’t one another.”
Video of the Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards ceremony can be found HERE.
The July 2023 Fifth District Hometown Hero Award honorees in order of appearance:
Robert Silvestri, Hillsdale — Bob used to work in Manhattan and on 9/11, after the second plane struck, he immediately told everyone in his office to go home, but just as Bob left his office, the first tower collapsed. He was in a stampede of smoke and people fleeing North when he heard a cry for help. While Bob was running through the smoke, he heard a woman yelling “my baby, my baby” and while everyone was running by, Bob turned around to help. He wasn’t able to see the woman, but he was able to hear her. He dropped to the ground to get under the smoke and increase his visibility. Bob miraculously found the baby wrapped in a blue blanket on the floor. After finding the baby, Bob called out to the woman to keep yelling so he could find her, too. Finally reuniting them together, he led them out of the smoke and to an FBI Agent who took them to safety. Bob filled up his car with strangers and drove them over the George Washington Bridge on his way home.
Soloman Itzkowitz, Teaneck — Three years ago, Solomon helped grow and relaunch Chaverim of Bergen County where dozens of volunteers have responded to things like a flat tire, a dead car battery, and being locked out of a home or car — at times with a young child inside. They’ve helped when a vehicle ran out of gas, assisted in the evacuation of people trapped in cars and buildings during serious flooding, helped people whose basements have been flooded by burst pipes, and have even participated in search parties for missing children and impaired adults. The organization is there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, responding to calls within minutes at no charge to those in need.
Nubar Nakashian, Haworth — Nubar has served as an EMT and Ambulance Corps officer with the Haworth Volunteer Ambulance Corps since 2009. During that time, he has been a Lieutenant, Vice President, President, and is currently, for a second time, the Vice President. Across his countless calls, Nubar has been there when people needed him most. From 1962 to 1968, he served as a medic in the United States Air Force Reserves and since 2006 he has served as part of the Haworth Police Auxiliary — currently working as Secretary and Sergeant. At the age of 82, he’s still answering the calls of those in need.
Mary Cerrati, Westwood — 93-year-old Mary Cerrati has worked as President and Chaplain of the Westwood Senior Fellowship for the last eight years — helping organize trips, parties, luncheons, and well visits for its 75 members with the goal of keeping our seniors engaged, involved, and active. Mary is also a part of the Board of Directors at the St. Andrews Church 50 Plus Club, helping serve the social and spiritual needs of community members aged 50 and up. Five years ago, she was appointed by the Mayor and Council to the Borough of Westwood Senior Advisory Committee — helping advocate for seniors and their needs directly to the Mayor and Council. For nearly 20 years, Mary has been a member and board member of the Woman’s Club of Westwood — a nonprofit club that supports the enrichment of the community. Mary has also spent six years in the Westwood School System — taking care of the children as a teacher’s aide and more than 40 years in the local VFW, serving as Vice President for 12 years and President for four years.
Joseph Alasio, New Milford — Joe recently retired from law enforcement after more than 26 years of service. During his service, he helped deliver a baby at a resident’s home, received the Almer’s Award for Academic Achievement for being the top of his police academy class, and was awarded the New Jersey Honor Legion recognition for apprehending a runaway drunk driver and preventing his partner from being run over. Joe has been called to the scene many times to administer NARCAN or CPR. Joe was also part of the fire department in 1998 and helped save a woman from a burning building. Joe is a member of the New Jersey State PBA Local 206, the New Jersey Honor Legion, a New Jersey Drug Recognition Expert, an active shooter instructor, and a volunteer with New Milford High School Musical Theater Program — helping design, build, and fundraise for new sets.
Sergeant David Solinas (Posthumous), Oradell — Sergeant Solinas was an 82nd Airborne Paramedic and a 101st Airborne Flight Medic in the U.S. Army. Sergeant Solinas sadly died at the age of 23, along with eight service members, in a medevac training mission on March 29, 2023. Sergeant Solinas was part of Boy Scout Troop 36 in Oradell and made Eagle Scout. Sergeant Solinas was funny, hard-working, a phenomenal medic, always went out of his way to be nice to others, dedicated countless hours to support his community at a young age, and never let anyone tell him what he couldn’t do. He loved his parents, siblings, wrestling, soccer, and his country. David’s family has created a non-profit, the “Sergeant David Solinas Jr. Memorial Fund.” People from across the country have donated nearly $90,000 to this fund. The family has created an annual River Dell High School Scholarship, called the Sgt. David Solinas Jr. Memorial Award, which awards three scholarships to students dedicated to service.
Richard Palka, Leonia — From 1962 to 1968, Richie served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War serving aboard various aircraft carriers, Marine and Navy Groups, including the 2nd and 6th fleet and as commander of the seventh fleet. For decades, Richie has been the Commander of American Legion Post #1 in Leonia where he helps bring awareness to challenges veterans face after being in combat and those who are POWs or missing in action. Each year, Richie helps organize events to remember the sacrifices our veterans and active-duty service members make every day. In fact, every year Richie sits in a bamboo cage for 24 hours on POW/MIA Weekend to bring awareness to the fact that our service members are still missing and captured abroad. He’s also helped run scholarship programs like the Paul Palka Memorial Scholarship, which is in memory of Richie’s son and is the Bergen County American Legion Children’s Organ Transplant Association Chairman — raising funds for children who need an organ transplant at no cost to the family.
Gene Crawford, Montague — From 2013 to 2021, Gene served on the Montague Township Committee, she served on the Montague Township Land Use Board for more than 10 years, the Sussex County Planning Board for five years, and the Sussex County Republican Committee for six years. Gene was Chair for the Montague Township Firehouse Committee and because of her dedicated service and tireless efforts, the town was able to design and construct a new Firehouse and Community Center for our Volunteer Firefighters. Gene was one of the founding members of the Montague Association for the Restoration of Community History (M.A.R.C.H) and served as the president for six years and still serves as a Trustee for the Association.
Curt Schleier, River Vale — Curt is an EMT and has been an active member of the River Vale volunteer ambulance corps for 50 years. Before his work in North Jersey, Curt served in the New York Air National Guard. Now, Curt has become a key component of the River Vale volunteer ambulance corps and is regularly one of a few members that ride during the day, making his work crucial to the safety of his community. He rides on Thursdays and the River Vale Ambulance Corps is one of the only ambulance corps in service during the day on Thursday. Curt also helps provide mutual aid to seven surrounding towns, meaning he helps protect thousands of residents — he’s even had a CPR save. Curt is also a member of the Board of Directors of the ambulance corps, has served as president, and is currently serving as vice president.
Miriam Lambert, Closter — Miriam is a Real Estate Broker Associate at Christie’s International Real Estate and in 2017, she won the Eastern Bergen County Board of Realtors Good Neighbor Award Winner for improving the quality of life within their local community through service. She has volunteered at the Closter Food Pantry for the past 10 years and has played a critical role in keeping it open to those in need — especially during the pandemic. She has been a board member for nine years and the chair for two and a half before stepping down in February. The pantry grew from 25 households in 2020 to approximately 45 households this year. They provide monthly distributions of perishable and non-perishable items 100 percent donated by the community and packed by their volunteers. Miriam also received Temple Emanu-El of Closter’s Shem Tov Award and has been the point person for the Temple’s social action committee.
David Boone, Parsippany — David was an officer with the Fair Lawn Police Department and a police Chaplain for 25 years before retiring. David started the Santa Boone program in Fair Lawn which helps people in need during the holiday season. For years, he has visited the homes of families with lights flashing from firetrucks — bringing gifts and carolers. Before his time as a Fair Lawn Police Officer, David served in the military, as a Specialist with the 3rd Battalion and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. From 1990 to 1991, he was a part of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and took part in the liberation of Kuwait. David is a Decorated Special Operations Soldier.
Asad Gilani, Mehreen Khateeb, and Mateen Aminyar, Paramus — In 2022, Asad, Mehreen, and Mateen jointly released a book called “Equal Opportunity” — highlighting the injustices faced by Muslims in the American education system and providing solutions with inclusive policies and education about anti-Muslim bullying. The launch of their now Amazon best-seller has earned them a resolution in the New Jersey Senate, a letter of commendation by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, and recognition by Bergen County Executive Tedesco. They’ve also started a policy-based nonprofit — Muslim Students for Justice — which mobilizes Muslim students to promote diversity in school districts across the country. Their work includes helping write blogs, managing social media, creating podcasts, and volunteer work. Together, they’ve led a team of more than 50 volunteers to help pass policies in more than 20 schools across Bergen County to eliminate Islamophobia.
Denise Brunner, New Milford — Denise is an extremely talented EMT, having saved many lives throughout her 50 years of service. As 1st Lieutenant and captain of the New Milford Volunteer Ambulance Corps, she rushed to the scene of more than 1,000 calls. Previously, Denise was also a Captain of Youth Squad and eventually the 1st Lieutenant at the Englewood Cliffs Volunteer Ambulance Corps and 1st lieutenant of the Maywood First Aid Squad. She was the president of the New Milford Board of Health, helped run lighting and special effects for the haunted house fundraiser set up by the local Boy Scouts and of course, organizes a Christmas light display where neighborhood children can enjoy the holidays and help collect donations for various causes.
K-9 Zoey, Maywood (Posthumously) — During her career, K-9 Zoey participated in more than 400 investigations involving missing persons and criminal suspects. Unfortunately, K-9 Zoey recently passed away from cancer. Her handler, Detective Christopher Nichols, accepted the award on her behalf.
Jess Horan, Dumont — Jess has been a teacher in Dumont High School for more than 13 years where she teaches Physical Education, Health and Drivers Education — she was named the Dumont High School teacher of the year in 2020. Jess is also a stalwart for the LGBTQ+ community. She has been active in organizing and speaking at Pride celebrations and has even created THREADZ — a teen clothing event where kids can get free clothes and free alterations. Jess is also an advisor for Rainbow Cafe — a support and social group for LGBTQ+ students.
Bruce Marshall, Harrington Park — Bruce was a part of the U.S. Army Reserves and rose to the rank of Sergeant First Class as a Senior Drill Instructor. With his passion for recreational programs, he started the boys and girls 6th to 8th grade basketball clinic. He also founded and ran the Harrington Park Teen Center for 7th and 8th-grade students which was open Friday and Saturday nights in the Borough Hall basement. In 1921, Bruce was appointed to the Town’s Board of Health and was inducted into the Harrington Park School’s Circle of Leadership. He has even served as a Harrington Park Community Church Outreach Committee member and has been an active volunteer with the Center for Food Action. After retiring, Bruce joined the Harrington Park Volunteer Ambulance Corps and has served as their Secretary, First Lieutenant, and currently, Assistant Captain. In just five years, he has responded to more than 1,000 emergency calls and performed multiple life-saving actions.
Gregg Cariddi and the entire River Edge Volunteer Fire Department, River Edge — Chief Cariddi is always willing to step up and do what’s needed to keep North Jersey safe. This is his second time as Chief of the River Edge Fire Department — a firehouse he’s spent 34 years working at. During his time as Chief, he has advanced standard operating guidelines, expanded training dramatically to focus on building construction, and helped obtain new equipment. Before River Edge, Gregg also spent more than 25 years as a firefighter in Hackensack. The Department has helped with water rescues during recent heavy flooding and earlier this year they responded to a house fire with several vehicles ablaze. They extinguished the fire, and all residents of the home were safely evacuated.
Linda Bennett-Tomaskovic, Bloomingdale — Linda started the Bloomingdale Butler Community Organization to help unite organizations, businesses, and residents together to support local children, families and organizations in need. This community of helpers are united in supporting those in need. She also helps out at the Bloomingdale Methodist Church Food Pantry by spreading word about the pantry and even maintains a bin for donations at her home. Three years ago, Linda founded the Sloan Park Festival event in loving honor of Bloomingdale’s previous Mayor, Jon Dunleavy. Each year, the event grows bigger and bigger, featuring food trucks, great music and even has activities for children provided by the local library and Parent Teachers Association. There, police officers and firefighters have opportunities to meet North Jersey families, play with the kids, and ensure everyone’s safety.
Jeff Geisenheimer, Demarest — Jeff is a dedicated EMT who joined the Demarest Volunteer Ambulance Corps in early 2022. He rides three nights a week and makes himself available in the daytime when extra help is needed. From last May to December alone, he has responded to more than 160 calls. Because of his dedication and hard work, Jeff was recognized as Rookie of the Year and even received the President’s Award.
Michael Pisano, Closter — For seven years, Michael has been the caretaker of the Lustron House — a 1950’s flashback museum. Everything in the house is from the 1950s — clothes, magazines, furniture, and the TV. Michael likes to call it a time capsule. This museum, which Michael performed the majority of the restoration himself, has served to attract people from across Jersey — bringing countless people to know and love Closter just as we all do. Michael has also volunteered for the Closter Nature Center, and during Christmas time, he volunteers as Santa for the town, fire department, and other organizations for the last few years.
Frances Yates, Westwood — Frances formed the Flood Solutions Group which is made up of local flood-impacted residents to advocate for necessary changes and legislation to find solutions for families and municipalities. She’s been on the Board of Trustees at the Dr. Goldberg Child Care Center in Westwood, volunteered as a Girl Scout Leader for the River Vale troop, and was a Former Westwood Brookside School President. She even founded a nonprofit for concerned citizens of Westwood and Hillside — which has secured $1 million dollars in funding from county, state, and federal investments to renovate multiple Westwood bridges along the Pascack Brook. After Hurricane Sandy, she opened a soup kitchen and warming center — securing donated food from local businesses and residents. Her efforts earned her the Bergen County Superstorm Sandy Outstanding Service Award. She’s also delivered food to the needy throughout Bergen and Passaic Counties for more than 25 years.
Dr. Zaheera Khan, Montvale — Zaheera is dedicated to breaking racial barriers seen and unseen throughout our communities. By stepping forward and lending a hand, always willing to work with everyone to better understand their issues. Zaheera has been a force of peace, compassion, and love. She has helped launch several programs to promote the Muslim community in Montvale, including the first crescent moon lighting for Ramadan, an Interfaith Iftar event, and a cultural brunch for Montvale seniors. She has also volunteered to collect donations for the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey, donating her time and resources to support those in need.
Lauren Letizia and RoseAnn Ciarlante, Westwood — Lauren and RoseAnn are the chairs of “Celebrate Westwood.” where they run events like “Shop the Hub” which have brought critical attention and traffic to local businesses, leading to desperately needed increases in sales. During the pandemic, they showcased many hometown heroes themselves through their essential workers and volunteer recognition programs. Their summertime “Arts on the Avenue” program matched local artists, with locations in the downtown area for people to enjoy their music, sculptures, comedy, and more. Now, they’re working to develop “Biz Hub”, a new iteration of a typical Chamber of Commerce that will help further develop and support Westwood’s businesses. Their work has supported organizations including the Women’s Club of Westwood, Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Westwood Volunteer Fire Company, Westwood Heritage Society, Westwood Chamber of Commerce, The Westwood Community Band, Meals on Wheels North Jersey, and so many more.
Saul Rochman, Fair Lawn — From 1963 to 1969, Saul served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and achieved the rank of Airman 1st Class. Eventually, Saul became a cameraman for ABC TV and retired in 2010. After retirement, he joined Fair Lawn TV, a volunteer television network that brings town events, Council Meetings, and other Public television programming directly to Fair Lawn residents. Then, in 2011, he began volunteering with the Fair Lawn ADA Committee — now known as Fair Lawn Access for All. Not only has he generously donated his personal New Jersey Jackals tickets, he has helped by acquiring many additional tickets as well — all to help ensure our communities children and young adults with special needs can have fun-filled baseball outings.
Hometown Heroes who were not able to attend include:
Police Officers Michael Stevens, Bryan Gil and Andrew Vigorita of the Cresskill Police Department, saved a choking child
Dr. Danielle DaGiau from Old Tappan, advocate for autism inclusive education
Park Ridge Police Officer Michael Stallone, saved a child from being pinned between cars
Saddle River Police Officer Dan Strasser, helped save a struggling baby during childbirth
Teaneck Police Officers Sergeant Stephen Morena and Officer Aundra Ellington, rescued an 88-year-old wheelchair-bound woman from a fire
Thomas Gusta from Waldwick, Waldwick Volunteer Fire Department
Olivia Dunne from Westwood, influential gymnast
Janet Spang from Wyckoff, Wyckoff EMT
Toni Smith from Montague, Sussex Borough’s Administrator/Clerk
Below: Gottheimer with the family of Fifth District Hometown Hero U.S. Army Sergeant David Solinas of Oradell, who tragically passed away.
Below: Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero Saul Rochman of Fair Law
Below: Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Heroes Fire Chief Gregg Cariddi and volunteers from the River Edge Volunteer Fire Department.
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