Washington Township Year in Review Part 3

Despite COVID, residents maintain support for community

Sports in the news 

Hurffville Elementary School first-grade teachers celebrated Patriot Day through a virtual celebration with their students on Sept. 11. Pictured from left are: Danielle Price, Reilly O’Connell, Denise DeLeo, Emily Horn, Christine Redwanowski, Jeanne York, Carly Matticks, Kathy Saia, Staci McCauley, Lynda Venuto and Kellie Kelly. The teachers shared a flag salute, as well as signed Rick Charette’s song ‘I’m an American.’ The performance was videotaped and shared with the first graders who currently are working remotely. ‘Our students are too young to understand what happened on Sept. 11, so we are just sharing this as a way to show love for our country,’ said DeLeo, who organized the event.

In January, the Gloucester County Sports Hall of Fame, which has inducted nearly 500 local residents to date, celebrated its 40th year in the community. Thomas Blaszczyk, a former Washington Township High School wrestler who was a state runner-up at 129 pounds in the 1970s and later a longtime successful coach at Lancaster Catholic (Pennsylvania) High, was one of the year’s inductees.

“It’s amazing,” said committee president Gus Ostrum. “We’ve had a lot of people help with this over the years. Sometimes you think you’re going to run out of really good people to induct, but that’s never the case. There’s just an amazing pool of potential inductees and candidates out there.” 

In February, Washington Township High School bowlers Steven Spino, Jason Aquino, Troy Clifford, Josh Dicks, Marcus Spann and David Libby rolled to the program’s second state title in school history and collected the Tournament of Champions crown, too. 

In the fall, The Washington Township Sun’s sister publication, South Jersey Sports Weekly, profiled the Attanasi triplets. Amanda, Taylor and Paige were challenged in their respective sports through COVID shutdowns, but they persevered. Amanda plays soccer, Paige is a cheerleader and Taylor has been an important part of two successful Washington Township varsity programs – soccer and basketball.

“They have that sisterly bond and love,” Washington Township soccer coach Katie Sachs said. “One minute they’re getting along and the next minute they’re yelling at each other. …  But at the same time, they look out for each other; they’re great kids. They’re leaders on and off the field.”

 

People in the news 

Washington Township Brownie Girl Scout Troop 61859 created this poster for workers at Jefferson Hospital in Washington Township. The poster was delivered to the hospital along with 40 meals from Mission BBQ. The troop used $500 of the money it made during its 2020 cookie sale to pay for the meals.

Washington Township was home to many different heroes this year, from law enforcement to friendly neighbors. All of them made a difference in the community.

After 15 years in the Washington Township Police Department, Justin Walker was awarded 2019 Police Officer of the Year. Walker earned this title after participating in community events such as National Night out and Junior Police Academy.  

“It ended up being a much bigger deal (than I realized),” Walker recalled. “That’s when it really started to sink in, when I heard (positive) things that guys were saying about me.” 

According to his colleagues, Walker is a humble and honorable officer and deserved an award that spoke to his true character. 

A younger hero this year was Orchard Valley Middle School sixth grader Lizzie Tsoukalis. She made generous donations to help children with leukemia — with her hair. Tsoukalis donated to Washington Township’s Makes the Cut charity and the national charities, Children With Hair Loss and Pantene Beautiful Lengths, to help children with leukemia regain a sense of normalcy and confidence, and because she believes those gifts can have a lasting impact. 

“My mom brought me to a donation event at Makes the Cut when I was 5 years old, and that was when I first donated my hair,” Tsoukalis said in an interview. “Then in first grade, my friend, Johanna Tyson, had leukemia, and she told me how she lost her hair. It made me realize that some people aren’t as fortunate as me to have a lot of hair, and I wanted to do something to help them.” 

Two years ago, Lizzie; her 3-year-old sister Kathleen; and her 9-year-old cousin Katie donated their hair together, for a total of 5 feet.

Lizzie Tsoukalis has made generous donations to Washington Township’s Makes the Cut charity and the national charities Children With Hair Loss and Pantene Beautiful Lengths to help children with leukemia. Tsoukalis began donating her locks when she was 5, 7 and 9 years old, and once again at 11. Two years ago, Lizzie, her 3-year-old sister Kathleen and her 9-year-old cousin Katie donated their hair together, for a total of 5 feet.

With the whole world starting to shut down in the spring, residents confined to their homes started finding new hobbies and spending more time with loved ones. But one Washington Township family used their newly found free time to help those on the front lines who didn’t get to take a break and wait out the pandemic safely in their homes. 

Jaime Chirico and her mother-in-law, Maria Mangiamele, along with Jamie’s husband, John, and his brother, Brandon Chirico, created Food4Staff. After one Facebook post on March 19, the organization was born to bring together local restaurants and first responders through food delivery. The group had managed to feed 1,200 people by the end of the fourth day of operation. On March 24, Food4Staff had seven orders going out to 350 people.

Through five days, Food4Staff  organized food deliveries to 27 different hospitals; emergency center services; testing sites; and other first responder sites, with work in place to begin expanding the operation into northern New Jersey, Philadelphia and the surrounding Pennsylvania suburbs, too. The moral of Food4Staff’s story: If you’re sitting at home and feeling helpless, you can make a difference if you can combine generosity, organization and love.

Township resident Concetta Keebler is known for bringing smiles to the faces of everyone in her community through her lawn art. For the last 20 years Keebler has covered her lawn in festive flamingos for holidays from Christmas to the Fourth of July. 

“Art is a communicator of emotions,” Keebler said in describing the piece. “My purpose is to make you smile. It’s always whimsical. It’s always fun.” 

As the pandemic unfolded in early March, Keebler received requests from residents who wanted her to create something to help brighten everyone’s spirits. With spray paint, she painted paisley patterns on her grass. Speckled among the paisley print were Keebler’s multi-colored lawn flamingos. Underneath the lone tree in Keebler’s front lawn were three decorative flowers as well as a pink sign with “stay safe” in big, glittery letters. 

Even from a distance, Washington Township Brownie Troop 61859 had a huge impact on the community. The 18 second graders were  among the top-selling Girl Scout troops in the township during the organization’s annual cookie sale in recent years. This year, the troop sold more than 7,000 boxes of cookies, a big leap over the 5,000 boxes it sold to lead all Washington Township troops in 2019. 

With a portion of the cookie revenue, the group decided to give back to front line workers in their own community, using $500 to pay for lunch for employees at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital. The group partnered with Mission BBQ, who prepared the food and delivered it to the hospital on May 18. 

Due to the pandemic and social distancing, a new way to celebrate birthdays was created – the birthday parade. Robert Greene of Washington Township was surprised by a 100-car caravan on July 27 to celebrate his 78th birthday.  

“It was wonderful,” Greene said. “I was very surprised, and I really liked the cars, especially the older ones. Our family and friends were behind them. It was quite an experience and I really enjoyed it … It made my heart feel good.”

Participants included the Washington Township Police Department, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, the Living the Dream Corvette Club, the South Jersey Street Legends Car Club and the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club. At the end of the parade, Greene was surprised by family and friends he had not seen in months due to COVID.  The Greene family donated money to each club and group to thank them for participating in the event.   

A well-known hometown hero got to celebrate his accomplishments this year after a decade of selfless service. The Washington Township-based salon and nonprofit Wigs and Wishes by Martino Cartier held its annual gala on Nov. 14 to celebrate 10 years of donating wigs to women with cancer, as well as granting wishes to children with the disease. 

Wigs and Wishes was created by Cartier, who now resides in Sewell. The original idea was to help give women with breast cancer free wigs to help them look cancer free. The idea developed throughout the shop’s 10 years and it now offers women with any kind of cancer a chance to receive a free wig styled by Cartier. This year alone, Wigs and Wishes donated 25,000 hair pieces to women across the U.S., with even more distributed across the globe.

The gala, livestreamed on Facebook, welcomed many people touched by cancer, as well as family and friends who wanted to show their support. Brittany Muszynski, an oncology nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, was crowned a Queen of the Night. 

A township educator was also recognized for his acts of kindness in December’s issue of South Jersey magazine. Teacher Matthew Groark was named one of the magazine’s 2020 Men of the Year for his constant dedication to helping others.

“To be awarded something like this from South Jersey magazine was kind of crazy,” the physical education teacher said. “It was a cool surprise and not something I would ever ask for or think I really deserve, but I can’t deny how cool it is.”

Groark and his family have experienced a lot of loss throughout the years, but they have used those times to reflect on life and find ways to give back to the community that has always been there to support them. Groark started his own BBQ trailer, called Groark Boys BBQ, in September 2018. This trailer, along with his social media following, allowed him to give back to the community that was there for him in his time of need.

“In my first year of business … I think I raised about $30,000 for different charities and events,” he said. “I did a lot of work with the school and the sports teams and community food-truck festivals in the township.”