CLARK, NJ - Current students and alumni of Arthur L. Johnson High School have risen to the occasion as essential workers and heroes throughout Northern and Central New Jersey. Ranging from front line medical and emergency workers to grocery store clerks; their job has been to help keep New Jersey afloat during the coronavirus pandemic which is a risk to their lives daily. Now, the health care workers, grocery store employees and everyday workers we depend on are sharing their stories.

Many ALJ alumni are serving in the medical field as health care workers, some working around the clock to overcome the difficult challenges of COVID-19, many even working more than one job.

Nick Makosiej, graduate of the class of 2016, is a volunteer EMT and works as a medical scribe at Newark University Hospital. He said, “I am proud to be a healthcare worker and a part of the solution. While this has been a challenging time for everyone, the outpouring of support from the community is truly inspiring”. 

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Cody Downing, a recent 2019 graduate, is a full-time nursing student who is employed at two medical facilities as a Patient Care Technician. His family said, “At Overlook Hospital he works two, 12 hours night shifts a week in ICU. At Cornell Hall, a sub-acute rehab/nursing home facility, he works two, 8 hours shifts a week. He works in direct patient care at both facilities”. 

A 2015 graduate, Veronica Zatko, is currently working as a graduate nurse at Cornell Hall subacute rehab/nursing home in Union, New Jersey, and said she asked to start working before graduation since she went to nursing school because she wanted to make a difference and the COVID-19 pandemic happened. 

Working as a Patient Care Technician in the Emergency Department in Overlook Medical Center, in Summit, for the past 3 years, Megan Sweeney, a 2013 ALJ graduate and 2017 Rutgers graduate said the current health crisis proved she picked the right career.  “I am also in nursing school right now through Trinitas School of Nursing," said Sweeney. "COVID 19 has made me certain that becoming a nurse is my life’s calling. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people but now more than ever I appreciate the little moments with my patients and like to take that extra step to have that quality time with them.” 

Jesse Riddlestorffer, a 2015 ALJ graduate went to TCNJ for her registered nurse degree. She is currently working at Princeton Medical Center on a unit for acute care of the elderly. Her role as a nurse is doing frequent patient assessments, monitoring changes in a patient’s status, giving medications, communicating with doctors and the rest of the healthcare team about plans of care, and providing support to both the patient and their families. 

Because of Covid-19, Riddlestorffer's unit was converted to a Covid positive unit. She expressed what she experienced. “I, like so many seasoned nurses will tell you, have never seen a respiratory disease like this. It’s crazy to be thrown into the depths of a pandemic my first year of my nursing career,"  she exclaimed. "There is no training in nursing on how to prepare for something like this. It’s really difficult to see so many of these patients, young and old, decline so quickly. It’s absolutely not an easy time to be a nurse but I’m proud to be on the frontline caring for someone’s loved one the way I would want mine to be cared for.”

At the Clark Volunteer Fire Department, Jesse Minch, a 2020 graduate, joined the squad in October of 2019. “My role consists of going on calls which could range from car accidents, house fires, car fires, fire alarm activations, CO alarm activations, gas leaks at anytime, night or day. I volunteer my time because serving and helping those in need is important to me,” stated Minch. 

Covid-19 affected his role in many ways, he now has to wear protective gear such as a N-95 mask and medical gloves, known as PPE. His friend Kyle Costa says, “I felt that he deserved to be recognized for the sacrifice he is making to serve the town”. 

Another group of essential workers that are important to every American, are grocery store and restaurant employees, who risk their health working every day so society is supplied with their daily needs.

Senior Dylan Mekovetz works long hours at Harmon's in Westfield. His father added, “he works countless hours “stocking shelves, unloading trucks and assisting customers, always with a smile even though you can’t see it through his mask”. 

At the Clark Shoprite, Senior Samantha Spaziani has been working in the Shoprite from Home department. Alongside her, class of 2021 student Aidan Laughery works as a cashier. His mother said proudly, “He feels that it is essential for him to be in work daily after he finishes his classes because he thinks people need to have availability to food, drink and simple items to attempt to continue to live as normal as possible. He is a very attentive and conscientious young man who simply wants to help as many people as he can and make a difference.  This world could use many more people like Aidan!” 

Katie Hannah works as a cashier at the Clark Acme Markets. She has been employed there for almost two years and has trained about 10 new employees since New Jersey has been under quarantine. She has picked up more hours and it has led to her weeks being 40-45 hours.

One final position that has aided many in the community to gain a sense of normalcy are take-out restaurant workers. While there are probably many in the community, Mijo’s Pizza in Colonia is practically home to several ALJ students. The Venezio family owns and operates the popular eatery and employs Isabella Venezio, Tori Venezio and Isabella Tallo. 

"Bella" Venezio explained that Covid has had a tremendous impact on the restaurant. “COVID-19 has changed Mijo’s in many ways, one of which is the fact that customers are not allowed inside the restaurant, counter girls now have to juggle walking in and out constantly rather than having people come up to the counter, everyone is protected with masks no matter what. Overall we are trying our best to be as safe as possible while doing our best to accommodate to the new norm.”

Mrs. Feeley, principal at ALJ added, “We couldn’t be more proud of the work these young people are doing, every day.” 

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Editor's Note: This submission is courtesy of  the  Arthur J. Johnson High School Crusader Today-Student News which is solely responsible for this content.  

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