Looking back in Shamong

Despite COVID challenges, Shamong Township residents came together this year as a community, celebrating accomplishments and paying it forward with acts of service toward one another.

Former Mayor Michael Di Croce took on the role of deputy mayor in 2021, while former Deputy Mayor Tim Gimbel became mayor, in a position swap that also saw Marty Mozitis sworn in for his fifth term as committeeman.

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In the beginning of the year, the parks around Shamong gained popularity for residents to be outside, but as the year continued and more in person events took place, the township committee held its meetings in person at the municipal building after it reopened to the public in June.

Flowers bloom at Atsion Recreation Area on Shamong’s Atsion Lake on April 28. The park, which reopened for the season on April 1, features beaches, playgrounds and walking trails

One of the recurring conversations in town was that of cannabis and creating a new section of the township code to establish municipal regulations for the production, distribution and sale of the substance, which was legalized in a statewide referendum last November. The cannabis ordinance was approved in the spring.

In the early fall, Shamong installed six new pickleball courts at Dingletown Recreation Complex that are now available to the public.

Coming out of the election season in November, the township committee had two seats up for grabs. After the election, it welcomed new members Brian Woods and Christopher Zehnder starting in the new year; they replaced Sean Gray and Michael Cooney, whose terms were up in December.

Learning with COVID

New Jersey announced on May 13 that children 12 to 15 years old are eligible for the COVID vaccine. Lenape Regional High School and Walmart pharmacists partnered for a vaccination clinic in the spring.
Parents and others express concerns about COVID at the Shamong Township Board of Education meeting on Aug. 17 at the Indian Mills Middle School gymnasium.
At the March 17 Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education meeting, Director of Curriculum Heather Xenakis discusses proposed curriculum revisions, including how often changes need to be made.

In spring came the announcement from Superintendent Christine Vespe that Shamong school students would go back to classes full time on April 12.

The board of education unanimously passed a nearly $15 million budget in April  that will include a tax increase. The 2021-’22 plan means an average tax hike of about $97 per year, a necessity due to continued state funding cuts. By the 2024-’25 school year, the township school district will have lost more than $1.3 million in state aid.

In June, the Lenape Regional High School District acknowledged that three out of its four high schools were featured in a video by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that recognized participation in the league’s No Place for Hate program. 

In person instruction and mask wearing were recurring topics of concern to some parents of Shamong school students in August. The district responded to their concerns before the school year began and has advocated for optional masks since.

“The board of education and superintendent have been advocating for masks to be optional since June 4,” Vespe said.

According to the timeline presented at an August meeting, the school board sent multiple requests to Gov. Phil Murphy for masks in class and inside facilities to be optional. But Murphy announced on Aug 6 that all students, educators, staff and visitors would be required to wear face masks indoors at the start of the 2021-’22 school year. 

Lenape Superintendent Carol Birnbohm announced that architects planned to start work by the end of the school year in 2022 on HVAC upgrades and other interior renovations, including improved electrical and plumbing. She also thanked voters for passing the referendum and those who advocated for the schools.

“Students and parents not only showed their approval through the resounding number of ‘yes,’ votes, but they rallied behind this endeavor by attending informational meetings to learn all of the facts,” Birnbohm said. “And then advocating for the bond proposal at public events, on their social media pages and the sidelines of their children’s events,”

Seneca High School celebrated its 2022 Teacher of the Year, Bonnie Horner, and the 2021 Educational Services Professional of the Year, Aimee Patterson 

The Indian Mills School in Shamong hosted its Halloween parade on Oct. 28, an event put on hold last year because of COVID. The parade celebrated with students dressed in costumes and residents coming together again.

People in the news

This year, residents in the Shamong area achieved many accomplishments. Whether they were giving back to the community or reaching a milestone themselves, they proved that through hard work and dedication, anything is possible.

The Shamong Township school district and local Girl Scout troops spread a positive message with “Pinwheels of Peace” on the lawn of Indian Mills Memorial School and Indian Mills Elementary School for International Day of Peace on Sept 21.

Shamong resident Mark Mignogne was honored by the Voorhees Rotary Club with its first Community Hero Award, following his determination in keeping the school district’s promise to disinfect classrooms nightly.

Shamong native Matthew Pedano was named executive chef at Valenzano Winery’s new casual restaurant, Bari Wine Pub. Pedano attended Rowan College at Burlington County and Seneca High School, where his interest in cooking was influenced by food and nutrition classes.

Shamong native Matthew Pedano is now executive chef at Valenzano Winery’s new Bari Wine Pub. The Seneca High School graduate and alumnus of Rowan College at Burlington County credits his success to his hometown.

In the fall, Zak Hernandez,  a Shamong resident and 7th grade student at Indian Mills Memorial School, paid it forward by donating care packages to the Housing Hub for those in need. 

Lenape district Child Study Team Student Job Developer Kim Mileszko was nominated for a USA Today’s Best of HumanKind Award in October. The award honors everyday people who have shown the highest level of kindness and perseverance in 2021. She eventually won the award in the Educator of the Year Category. 

In April, Shamong native and Seneca High School alum Kayla Pfeffer was honored with the Humanitarian of the Year award. Now a senior at Florida State University, she was cited as the school’s Humanitarian of the Year, a prestigious award that honors students with a commitment to service. 

Samantha Shulteis was honored as an outstanding volunteer at the Lenape  district’s May board of education meeting. She was president of Seneca High School’s Spanish Club, and began fundraising for Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH), an organization that aids under-resourced children in Latin America. She also was involved with Farmers Against Hunger.

Shamong resident and Rowan College at Burlington County alum Lexi Reidenbaker was named Woman of the Year for her achievement in athletics and academics. Reidenbaker was recognized by The New Jersey Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

December Shover (right) stands in front of donations for Operation Yellow Ribbon (OYR) with former Shawnee student Janessa Bell in 2020. Shover is an Army mom who channeled her energy into Operation Unity in the Community, a donation drive that benefits OYR’s efforts to send care packages to soldiers.
The Widows Sons motorcycle group in Shamong is an organization of riders who raise money while they’re on the road. Before COVID last year, their charity ride raised $8,500 for Make a Wish of New Jersey. This June, they raised $3,000 for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis.

Arts and entertainment

“Bernie’s Escape from Ong Island” is sustainability business owner Jessica Harris’ first book. The Shamong native plans to write a series of children’s books focused on humans’ impact on the Earth.

Shamong native and author Jessica Harris released her children’s book, “Bernie’s Escape from Ong Island,” which follows puggle Bernie and his human Sammy as they rescue ocean creatures and clean up litter. Another Shamong author and resident, Amy Huber, released the books “Perfect for Me,” about self- acceptance, and “The Bear,” which follows a family of bears whose protective mama bear keeps her cub away from toxic people.

Also thinking artistically, Melissa Durham, founder of Spirit of Shamong, hosted a virtual art show for her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. In April, Durham fostered community spirit through art, hosting a virtual gallery made up of works by Shamong residents. 

Play ball! 

Seneca High School’s Jorja Cooper prepares for a free throw last year at Cherry Hill West. The conclusion of last year’s basketball season ended abruptly when COVID arrived.

After returning from a year of COVID, area sports teams were anxious to be back in play.

The Seneca girls field hockey team captured yet another South Jersey Group II sectional title with a win over Haddon Heights in November. The school won back-to-back titles from 2017 to 2019, before also taking the regional championship last year.

Shane Lovett and Elkin Bonilla-Hernandez took home South Jersey Soccer Coaches  Association honors for their contributions to the Golden Eagles. Lovett took home the scholarship award, while Bonilla-Hernandez was named most courageous athlete.” 

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