MILLBURN, NJ — In a small ceremony Sunday afternoon, Millburn Township took the time to honor a small group of youth volunteers who made a big difference in town during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saina and Amay Balsara, Ben Cohen and Bennett and Lucas Murphy were all honored with Mayor's Certificate of Recognition awards by the township for their work on various volunteer projects.
The Balsaras and Cohen worked on a project to bring bagged snacks to workers at hospitals in the area, while the Murphys raised the funds to make thousands of "Millburn vs. COVID" branded masks, which have now been given out to town residents.
For Bennett, a rising senior at Millburn High School, the real joy in what he achieved was being able to help the town that has given so much back to him.
"The recognition is just a nice little part that comes with it that comes at the end," Murphy said. "But really, recognition or not, I was just so happy to do something. I feel like Millburn's done so much for me. Rather than kind of sit on my butt and play video games all day, I thought I should get out there, try to do something for the community."
Murphy said he was also happy to see as many people in town respond to his project the way they did, and that he never imagined where it would end up when he started the project.
For Saina, a rising seventh grader at Millburn Middle School who worked on the bagged snack project, watching her efforts grow as other kids joined was amazing.
"Honestly, I never really though it would get to 75 other kids helping us," Balsara said. "So it's pretty crazy that happened. One of the cooler things is that we got to meet some of the doctors which we were helping, so that was awesome."
She also spoke a bit at the ceremony about her upcoming project, which involves purchasing supplies for children and young adults in the Trinitas hospital system where she helped, in order to help them work through their emotional and physical abuse trauma.
Among the guests at the ceremony was Nadine Brechner, the Vice President and Chief Development Officer at the Trinitas Health Foundation. She said that receiving support from the youth of Millburn was key, as it buoyed the sprits of the front-line medical workers.
"It gave us a lot of hope," Brechner said. "And the support was very meaningful. When you're going through this, you feel so very much alone, and we were so thankful that young people took the time and their families did this outreach to us. It gave us. a lot of hope and encouragement."
The same sentiment was shared by Millburn Mayor Jackie Lieberberg, who had highlighted both projects earlier in the year during her regular COVID-19 updates. She said that it was important for town residents to come together in the spirit of volunteerism.
"It's the most important thing," Lieberberg said. "Community engagement participation is one of the most important tenets of public service, and I am so very grateful that we have residents that were looking for ways to give back, looking for ways to enhance people's lives, and go outside of their own comfort zones and engage Millburn residents and the community at large."
Lieberberg also said that she was thrilled to see that the volunteer efforts came from a group of young residents in particular, as it gave her high hopes for the town's future.