In the past year, Cherry Hill came together to celebrate different cultures and communities. A number of residents made a difference in their community through advocacy, philanthropy and other individual achievements.
Throughout the year, Cherry Hill held a number of cultural celebrations and recognitions. The school district highlighted two Black authors for Black History Month: school psychologist Francesca Aldrich and special-education student teacher Shamia Wilcox.
Aldrich’s book, “Bent, Not Broken,” is a young-adult novel about a Hispanic girl’s experience adjusting to a mental-health facility after a suicide attempt. Wilcox is the author of “CeCe Learns School Rules,” a book aimed at grade-school kids to bolster their social and emotional skills and classroom management.
The Asian American Alliance in South Jersey held its second annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Festival in May at the Cherry Hill library. The event featured prominent speakers such as Congressman Andy Kim and Mayor Susan Shin Angulo, cultural performances and traditional Chinese dances. In June, the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association (CHAACA) celebrated the end of slavery with its second annual Juneteenth celebration at Croft Farm.
Upon a student’s request to add Eid to the calendar, Meloche met with pupils from Muslim associations at the high schools, and the board formally approved the Eid decision at its June meeting. In October, the library held its inaugural Diwali, Festival of Lights, a celebration that honors the religious event celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.
“It’s important that our patrons see themselves not only in our collection, but in our programming,” said Michelle Yeager, outreach and diversity librarian.
In the same month, Shin Angulo participated in a Conversation about Hate at Camden County College sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Esther Raab Holocaust Museum and Goodwin Education Center. The interfaith dialogue on hate was attended by civic and religious leaders, including former commissioner and Cherry Hill council member Jeff Nash; Jerome David, a rabbi emeritus at Congregation Kol Ami; Waqas Khurshid, the imam of Al-Nasr mosque in Willingboro; and Pastor Ted Winsley, team chaplain for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We need to make sure we’re able to talk about (what we don’t understand) and discuss these items, and we need to make sure people are comfortable talking about these items,” said Shin Angulo.
This month, the Chabad Lubavitch of Camden and Burlington Counties held its 29th annual Hanukkah menorah lighting in conjunction with the county at Barclay Shopping Center.
Achievements and philanthropy
There were a number of residents who made personal achievements and community-wide impacts this year.
Cherry Hill resident Jazzi Hunter, along with Haddon Heights resident Jim Piscitelli and others, continued to make weekly trips to provide food, clothing and first aid to homeless populations in Camden and Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. Each week, the group distributes food, both pre-made and homemade meals and toiletries.
Cherry Hill East graduate Max McGee started his first day as a sports anchor for ESPN’s SportsCenter on Jan. 31, fulfilling a dream he had after his dreams of playing baseball fell short.
“I didn’t intend to be a news reporter, but looking back on it, it was probably the best thing that ever happened in my career,” he noted.
East student Chris Shin, 16, placed first in the eastern division of the Music Teachers National Association piano competition and moved on to compete in the final tier in March at the national level. Against six other division winners, he placed second.
East students Isabelle Berger, 14, and 15-year-old Anjali Soni brought their vision of helping kids going through chemotherapy to reality by founding the nonprofit Comfort Kits for Chemo Care, an organization that provides activity kits for young patients at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The students have found creative ways to fund their nonprofit, with Soni dedicating 100 percent of her income to the project and Berger beginning a dog-treat side business.
In March, resident Christine Kostyrka dedicated her Little Free Library to the late Shaula C Wright, who often frequented the post on Covered Bridge Road before she died in September 2021.
“You just take (a book), read it, leave it, bring it back,” Kostyrka explained. “You can pass it on to another library or to a friend. It’s really like a community-sharing library.”
The nonprofit Just2Moms – started by Cherry Hill moms Debbie Schmidt and Christy Carlson in 2007 – shifted gears to raise awareness of autism for adult audiences. They are not professionals, but just as their name states, Just2Moms who want to help people understand autism and how it can appear differently to everyone.
Team Silver Linings, led by Cherry Hill East junior Ayza Sayany and Shawnee High sophomore Sophie Ahsan, achieved second place at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Student of the Year Campaign fundraising event in March. During the seven-week fundraising period, the group raised $83,000 in a competition with 14 other South Jersey teams, including one from East.
In October, township resident Joanne Boden teamed up with Tabernacle resident Jill Foulk to help raise funds for a Ukrainian family fleeing the war as part of the nonprofit WelcomeNST (Neighborhood Support Teams), which offers neighborhoods training on welcoming refugees.
The difference between the nonprofit and government resettlement groups is that Welcome NST will continue its ongoing support for families once they are in the U.S. and help them become self-sufficient.
“Our goal is really not to take care of them, but to teach them to become independent,” Boden explained. “We are not here giving charity alone, but it’s a training charity. How do we help them become self-sufficient so that they can care for themselves? And that’s what they want.”
Police Lt. John Moyer retired in November after 24 years with the department. He filled a number of roles since he joined the force in 1999, including community policing on bicycle and community relations officer.
East students performed the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee ” in March, a production about six 12-year-old spelling bee competitors.
“It’s a classic coming-of-age story,” said Peter Gambino, drama director of the production.
The show marked the first live and “normal” performance after COVID adjustments in the previous year. Masks were optional.
Also in March, West students brought to life “Radium Girls.” Based on a true story, the play follows factory workers who fall ill after regularly consuming and working with radium-based paints and their resulting court fight to shed light on radium’s harmful effects.
Camden Catholic High School’s fall performances of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” gave its actors a new challenge and set a spooky mood. East performed “Canterville Ghost” in the fall and West performed “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ The production’s role of Joseph was filled by Finn Hutchinson as Joseph, the first transgender student to score a leading part.
East junior Maya Hemo was recognized for winning the state championship at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Girls Wrestling Championship in February. She is the second wrestler in East history to achieve the title.
Ten-year-old Cherry Hill resident Peyton Barger qualified and competed in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)’s Junior Olympic Games in August for the second consecutive year, running the 1,500- and 3,000-meter events.