Giving Back

West Orange High School Student Displays Exceptional Act of Kindness

The Gustavsons and Justin Davis Credits: Buzz1441
Justin Davis is honored and meets the Gustavson family. Credits: Buzz1441

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Amid the chaos that took place on Thursday, Feb. 18, as buses were running late to arrive at West Orange High School, due to heavy traffic, a fire, and power outages which ended up closing the high school and Pleasantdale Elementary School that day, one West Orange High School junior, Justin Davis, learned of a situation on another bus that needed attention, and went out of his way to display compassion and kindness.

When West Orange mother, Denise Gustavson, posted in the West Orange 411 Facebook page that she needed to contact her special needs son who was stuck on one of the dormant buses, Davis came to her rescue by getting off his bus, checking on the boy, and contacting his mom to assure her that her son was alright.  

While this might seem like a simple act, Davis’ portrayal of kindness not only touched the Gustavson family, but the entire community.

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Members of the Facebook group followed the mother’s request, offered suggestions, and ultimately reveled in the resolve Davis offered. It was live action heroism via social media.

Following the resolution to the situation, resident and group member, Marci Echeverria wrote, “Okay, maybe I'm extra emotional…but that whole Justin/Denise conversation made me burst into tears. I don't know either of you, but Justin—you totally rock. Totally and completely. Now somebody hand me a tissue.”

Carol Anne Holland, another resident and group member added, “Justin, I hope if any of my kids are ever having trouble they have a kid like you on their side helping out! It may seem like no big deal, but to a worried mama bear your reassurances were huge.”

“I am proud to live in West Orange, especially after reading this thread,” wrote resident Eileen Ippolito.

Gustavson added, “It definitely helped knowing that someone was trying to check on David for me. Thankfully he was fine.”

She added, “My mother in law has a needlepoint that has always touched me. It says something like ‘Be kind to strangers. You never know who is an angel in disguise.’ I guess Justin is one of them. A very sweet young man.”

When members of the Facebook group learned that Davis was raising money through a GoFundme campaign to fund a drum tour, they came together to help him raise $1,950—that very same day.

In fact, on Feb. 18, Barry Geltzeiler‎, a member of the page wrote, “Justin Davis hit his goal. The young man paid it forward by helping Denise Gustavson's son without looking for anything in return. Well WO thanks you Justin, go enjoy Drum Camp and continue to make us proud.”

Group member Janice Berman then posted, “Love our community! Enjoy camp Justin, you've certainly earned it, along with the respect of your neighbors.”

Davis told TAP, “What I did wasn’t for the money or the acknowledgement. It was just to help a parent and child in need.”

He added, “I know if my mother was in the same situation, she would have wanted someone to help her get in touch with her son. To me, it was second nature to help someone in need.”

Davis was also recognized for his act of kindness by the West Orange Board of Education and Superintendent on Monday evening at the BOE meeting.

President of the WOBOE, Laura Lab, wrote, “His spontaneous and unassuming act of compassion and kindness speaks volumes as to the core of his character.”

Member of the West Orange 411 page, Carol Anne Holland‎, posted live from the BOE meeting, stating, “Justin Davis being honored at BOE meeting. I never cry in public. I'm tearing up now listening to Denise Gustavson describe how her son was helped by another student last week. Thank you Justin Davis.”

Later, Suzanne Pennell, another member of the page wrote, “I cried too. Justin Davis, you truly are an awesome young man. Denise Gustavson, I can only imagine how you were feeling last week and I am so glad Justin was there to help you and your son. So proud.”

In addition, after the meeting, Lab posted to the page too writing, “I too was very moved and it was difficult to hold it together as I ran the meeting. It was difficult as I too have a ‘David’ and I have walked in Denise's shoes many times hoping that someone as caring and compassionate as Justin reached out to help my son.”

Davis, however, is not only compassionate, but also talented and dedicated to his academics. In addition, was also enterprising and helpful this winter, by offering to help shovel show for residents.

In addition, Davis has a band called Citrus that plays and sings mostly soul, jazz, funk, and gospel. The group has played at several town events including the recent Martin Luther King, Jr., event and the Feb. 19th Black History Month Dinner at West Orange High School. The band is comprised of trombonists Tahir Springer and Alex Frey, saxophonists Ryan Goodman and Austin Jackson, keyboardist Nick Mongelli,  guitarists Josh Winik and Sam Klein, and lead singer Gabriella Rodriguez.

In addition, thanks to the generosity of the community, Davis will indeed be going on tour this summer to march for Drum Corps International (DCI), a non-profit governing body for junior drum and bugle corps in the U.S. and Canada. He will be marching with the Raiders Drum and Bugle Corps as a tenor drummer. Their first competition will take place on July 1, in Clifton, NJ.

Anita Calmday is a student at West Orange High School Student participating in a journalism program with

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