KENILWORTH, NJ — About 300 people attended Homefirst Interfaith Housing and Family Services’ second annual Evening of Thanks Thursday night at Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth. Guests included donors, staff, community partners, religious leaders and Union County businesses. 

The evening included a cocktail hour with music by students from Westfield's New Jersey Workshop for the Arts, a Homefirst video called Voices of Our Youth, dinner and both a live and silent auction. 

Honorees that evening included Karen Moore, former Homefirst board president and Warden of Grace Episcopal Church, Plainfield; Lorraine Wearley, an advocate for affordable housing and member of Unitarian Church, Summit; Marilyn Ryan of the Parish Community of St Helen in Westfield, who has worked in the parish outreach programs to support homeless families served by Homefirst; and Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom, Scotch Plains, a loyal friend to Homefirst and supporter of community volunteerism. Deacon Jerry Bongiovanni received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his years of service to families in need. 

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Rabbi Charles Kroloff, retired Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El of Westfield, gave the invocation and served as honorary chair of the event. He spoke about the very first meeting more than 25 years ago of what was then the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Union County, known today as Homefirst.

Homefirst now delivers comprehensive solutions to homelessness by providing transitional and permanent housing, homeless prevention assistance and family support services. The agency assists more than 1,500 adults and children throughout Union County every year with programs designed to educate and empower families in crisis and to develop the skills for self-suffiency.

“Look at what happens when the faith community mobilizes to do what we’re supposed to do,” said Kroloff. He spoke of a world that is imperfect and unfair, and of tikkun olam, the Jewish concept that people must repair the world.

“God’s repair people — I believe that’s what you and I are,” he told the crowd.

Homefirst has evolved and grown into a multi-million dollar agency that serves thousands each year, noted Casey Woodruff, president of the board of Homefirst and the evening’s emcee. The agency now owns 50 properties and provides permanent homes for families.

Bongiovanni, upon receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from Woodruff, told all those in attendance, “Continue to back this organization, because in backing this organization, you are saving lives.”

Sister Mary Thomas Salerno presented the award of Champion for Homeless Families to Ryan. Ted Brewer presented the award of Advocate for Housing for All to Wearley. Rabbi Abraham’s daughter, Avital Abraham, presented to him the award of Volunteering to Make a Difference. Ted Moore presented to his wife, Karen Moore, the award for Building Community One Family at a Time.

Gene Jannotti, executive director of the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce, was one of the supporters in attendance.

“Homefirst is a great organization that does such wonderful things to help overcome homelessness and the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce is proud to be a supporter,” said Jannotti.

Sponsors of the 2014 Evening of Thanks included Casey Woodruff & Priscilla Mann; Ellen Catlin; Amy Yim Interiors; Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas & Woodruff; Prudential Financial Inc.;; TD Bank; and Steve & Marybeth Lapham.

Learn more about Homefirst at

Editor's Note:  TAPinto is a proud sponsor of the Homefirst Evening of Thanks.