SUMMIT, NJ - There's a saying -- even a label - that is attached to communities where folks go the extra mile for each other, setting aside their busy lives and personal circumstances and rising up to help a person or a group of people that the likely barely even know or may never have met.
'Special place.' As in, "my town is a special place."
Indeed, Summit is one those special places, a community that features a longstanding culture of cause-related and charitable engagement and activities that has become a constant in the Hilltop City. There are other things that help make certain places 'special', including a vibrant business community, a high-quality school system, a safe environment, rock-solid public safety and service individuals and institutions, along with fun events and activities.
But, make no mistake, there is but one element that both ignites and fuels a town's capabilities to elevate its sense of shared humanity to a level that, perhaps, other places do not.
And Summit's wealth in that area continues to be virtually boundless, an observation that was again recently ratified when the story of two young members of the community, 24-year-old Edward and Edwin Roman, became public through the efforts of another, even younger, member of the community, 18-year-old Quinn Butler.
The twin brothers, Summit High School graduates, and Butler, a senior at Newark Academy, know each other from working at Village Trattoria, one of Summit's iconic restaurants. The Romans have been longtime familiar front-of-house' faces at the local pizza and pasta parlor.
The Romans both have cardiomyopathy, a defect in the heart muscle that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body and a condition that, ultimately, claimed the life of their mother two years ago.
Edward was recently released from the hospital after a prolonged stay, where he received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). This device acts as a mechanical pump for the heart that can effectively pump the body's blood. Edwin looks set to be released from the hospital this week after receiving his LVAD on February 19.
The LVAD will serve as a 'bridge-to-transplant', as both Edwin and Edward are currently on the list for a heart transplant.
With the brothers facing mountains of medical bills along with ongoing expenses associated with the necessities of life -- and reduced work hours that limit their earning potential -- Butler stepped in and asked the community to step up and do what it could for the brothers.
Just over two weeks and 1,200-plus donations later, the gofundme site that Butler established has generated more than $119,000.
"When I spoke with Edward and Edwin at work and found out what they were facing and how much it was going to cost, I knew that a collection jar on the counter wasn't going to cut it, that someone needed to do something bigger," said Butler. "So I decided to launch the gofundme site. I never imagined we would raise this much so fast. I am extremely thankful for the community's support."
Alerted to the twins' challenges and Butler's endeavor, Summit's Other Fellow First Foundation reached out to Butler and is now working with him to bring the assistance to a even higher level and provide added professional infrastructure to the effort.
The Other Fellow First Foundation was founded nearly two decades ago with a mission to provide quick financial responses to individuals and families in distress. Operating out of the Summit Diner -- another iconic Hilltop City eatery just a stone's throw from Village Trattoria -- the Foundation uses the 'celebrity' of the Diner, the power of social media, and its "friends in the press" to creatively trumpet the community problem and attract others to join them in assisting.
Led by Other Fellow First Foundation Trustees Brett Haire and Jordan Glatt, the Foundation recruited a team that will help set up a Trust for the brothers, using the amounts currently raised and any future donations. Elizabeth Candido Petite of Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper will provide pro-bono legal assistance in that area, and Wall Street executive Joe McNamara will act as Trustee, along with Butler himself. Summit's Caroline Maldonado, a licensed Certified Public Accountant, will lend her expertise, also at no cost.
The Romans have near-term and long-term needs as they now await the second phase of their treatment. Housing is an issue, for example, as they may not be able to continue to live at their current rental residence due to a potential pending sale.
"The gofundme site continues to be live and operational and there will be additional fundraisers announced shortly," said Haire, adding, "Folks who want to help are encouraged to make a donation or reach out to us via e-mail."
For his part, and speaking on behalf of his brother, Edward Roman said, "We are so grateful. The support that everyone has shown my brother and I makes me feel like Superman, like I can face anything."
To contact the Other Fellow First Foundation regarding potential ways to support the Romans, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.