DENVILLE, NJ -- During these difficult times, there is still time to recognize some special individuals. Recently, the Denville Township School District, in cooperation with the Foundation of Denville and PTA, announced the recipients for the Persons of the Year award for 2019-20.

From of pool of more than 100 nominations, a panel of seven judges selected the four winners in three categories: Karen Molina, as Staff Member of the Year; 14-year-old eighth grader Virginia McCarthy, as Student of the Year; and Susan Banks and Robin Gershaw of Denville Cut and Sew, as Community Members of the Year.

“I was honestly very surprised and overwhelmed,” said Molina, from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

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“I don’t do things for a reward. I’m more of a behind the scenes, behind the camera kind of person. I appreciate all the nominations and am so thankful that I was able to help families in need. My parents immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s and were one of the first Latino families in town. Growing up as a first generation American, my family was fortunate to have the support of many people in my community. As a result of the support my family received during difficult times, I never realized my parents ever struggled financially or struggled to communicate with my teachers. I feel blessed to be able to pay it forward to help other families as much as I can.”

Molina has been teaching in Denville ever since graduating from Bloomsburg University in 2000. She was hired as a Spanish teacher for the third through eighth grades at Riverview and Valleyview. From 2001 to 2017, she taught third grade and has been the elementary world language teacher since 2017.

As Staff Member of the Year, Molina was selected for her behind-the-scenes work to help Denville families get much-needed assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many families struggled due to finances or even language barriers, and Molina felt the need to reach out. She also helped to create videos to help people feel connected during the stay-home order and to let teachers and students know they were greatly missed as well as to celebrate events, like Administrative Professionals Day, Principals Day, Vice-Principals Day, Field Day, the fifth-grade memory slideshow and virtual awards ceremony.

Denville residents Banks and Gershaw were selected for their efforts with Denville Cut and Sew, a project of their own creation to make and distribute their own face masks to the public. Since March, they have made approximately 22,000 face masks, including 2,600 graduation masks for five different schools.

“The award was totally unexpected but an honor,” said Gershaw.

“When Susan Banks called me and said, ‘We have to make masks,’ I didn't quite get it, but I said ‘Okay, Susan, let’s make masks.’ Susan hit up all local Walmarts and Jo-Anns to get as much elastic as possible, and we got the balance of the elastic from a store in New York City. With elastic in hand, we started cutting up our surplus fabric and began cranking out masks. With the demand, we couldn't do this alone so with the help of Brigitte Mesa, Denville Cut & Sew was put up on Facebook. We asked for people that could sew, cut fabric, cut elastic and to donate fabric.”

Thousands of face masks went to first responders, hospitals, nursing homes and any good family that needs the facial protection. 

“Sadly, it was our last big project,” said Banks, who is the store owner of Faith & Begorra, located on Broadway.

“When we started on March 20, masks were scarce and not required. Now masks are everywhere. My shop is open, and I cannot do masks and the shop. I owe every volunteer a huge thank you. They are the ones to make it all work and helped so many people. I miss the buzz of the project and all the people who helped and supported us. Robin and I have one more project up our sleeve. We will reveal in the early fall. For now, I still sew shamrock and communion masks for my shop. And it’s really important that we continue to wash our hands and wear our masks.”

Sadly, Virginia McCarthy passed away on May 27 this year of “natural causes,” according to her obituary.

A lifelong township resident, McCarthy was known for her love of sports (HUB soccer, Denville PAL basketball, and Denville Striders), creative writing, playful personality, hanging out with friends, Star Wars and fantasy worlds (Outer Banks, the Hunger Games and Minecraft), traveling, making videos on her phone and Oreo cookies, according to her obituary.

Also, according to her obituary, McCarthy was known for her charitable efforts. She was an active and beloved member of the Church of the Saviour, as a reader and an acolyte. She also was active in the Rite 13 program and volunteered in various projects within her parish, according to her obituary.

All Persons of the Year winners received a $50 gift card to a local restaurant, a plaque and a $200 donation in their name to Denville Social Services Food Pantry.

“The Denville Social Services helps so many families in Denville not only during this pandemic, but throughout the year,” said Molina. “Many of the parents I helped went there during this time to received basic necessities for their families. I am honored that a donation was made in my name as I know that there are many families still struggling to make ends meet.”


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