WEST ORANGE, NJ – For the residents and business owners who attended the West Orange Chamber of Commerce 2012 Annual Community Awards Dinner Wednesday night, it was about more than the awards, or the donation checks, or the applause. It was about community.
The event, held at the Highlawn Pavilion, honored those residents whose service to the community, to their friends and neighbors, has been a shining example of giving back.
Awards were given to the entire West Orange Fire Department; Detective Ryan Funk of the Police Department; and Geri Dawes of the First Aid Squad. Victor Paglio of West Orange High School was named Educator of the Year, and Sonet Family Dental was named Business of the Year.
Each of those who offered opening comments lauded the recipients for their selflessness and their caring in their individual lines of work.
“Heroes don’t judge others,” said Rabbi Boruch Klar, who offered the invocation and benediction. “Heroes act out of love. We were created each with a mission. We are each an instrument in a symphony orchestra.”
Mayor Robert Parisi thanked all the award recipients and said that what makes the contributions of each of the recipients so special are the people themselves.
“With each generation, it seems the challenges we’re faced with are harder than the last,” Parisi said. “As we get older, we start to realize the government doesn’t have all the answers. The media doesn’t have all the answers…When you sort through all the information that we all get bombarded with every day, you realize that in our pursuit of hope, at the core, the answer lies in each of us as people.”
He pointed out that it’s not the uniform that makes the police officers and firefighters what they are, it’s the people. It’s not the ambulance that makes the First Aid Squad effective, it’s the people. It’s not the textbook that teaches the children to be life-long learners, it’s the teacher.
“I congratulate you and I offer my thanks,” Parisi said.
The evening’s guest speaker was Senator and former Governor Richard Codey, who lauded West Orange as a great place to work and to live. He mentioned all the great colleges and universities within easy reach, the major roadways, the proximity to New York and various other attractions.
“Never be negative about New Jersey,” Codey said. “You know why the prices of our homes are so high? Because people want to live here.”
He cited the example of Verizon, when the communications giant was trying to decide between moving to Virginia and moving to New Jersey. He told of meeting with Verizon’s CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, and selling him on all the good points about New Jersey – including Italian restaurants that are run by Italians – and ultimately, Codey said, the decision was made to move Verizon to New Jersey, creating thousands of jobs.
“We got all those jobs because of New Jersey,” he said. He gave a plug for family owned businesses, citing Mark and Julie’s Homemade Ice Cream as an example.
Codey also talked about all the recent consternation and debate about the wages and benefits of government employees such as police and firefighters.
“When I went to parent-teacher conferences, I never asked what they make and what their benefits are,” he said. “When our police and firefighters went into New York on 9/11, the people inside those buildings weren’t thinking about how much they make or what their benefits are. They are our heroes.”
The Chamber donated $1,000 each to the Fire Department, Police Department and First Aid Squad. The checks were presented by Matt Schwartz, chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, who also is with Bederson & Company. Bederson, longtime member of the Chamber, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and Schwartz couldn’t say enough about his company’s affiliation with the Chamber.
“It’s a great organization, and this is the premiere event of the year,” Schwartz said.
Tekeste Ghebremichael, president of the Chamber, welcomed the newest members, including Document Integration Technologies, Inc.; Dr. Somaya Abboud Internal Medicine; Garden State Community Bank; Ira S. Kornstein, Esq.; IWantOfficeFurniture.com; Law Office of Joseph Wenzel; McLoone’s Boathouse; Mercury Solar Systems; SuzyQue’s BBQ and Bar; and WeiserMazars, LLP.
West Orange Historian Joseph Fagan offered comments about West Orange’s 150th anniversary; and the Police Athletic League was honored for its 50th anniversary.