WOODLAND PARK, NJ - "The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention," playwright Oscar Wilde once said. Truer words have never been spoken when it came to a couple of kids from Woodland Park.
One spring day at the basketball courts of School No. 1 in the borough, Nate Gonzalez Jr. and Luis Gonzalez (no relation), along with the another friend, Giovanni Figueroa, were looking for another player to play two on two basketball. The fourth graders noticed a boy playing in the playground and asked him to join them, because they were short a player.
When they realized the boy, JJ Howard, had special needs, they automatically gave up planning their game and concentrated on teaching him how to dribble and shoot baskets.
JJ's mother, Joanne Bastante-Howard, said it was the first time her son was asked to play ball in the neighborhood by other children.
"He wouldn't stop talking about it that evening," she said. "I decided that I wanted to acknowledge those wonderful boys for being compassionate and helpful to their new friend."
Bastante-Howard is the founder America's Special Kidz (A.S.K.), a non-profit organization she started in 2013, based in Woodland Park. The organization provides print, online, recreational, educational, medical and financial resources to children and adults with special needs and disabilities. She has been an advocate for those with special needs for the past for seven years. Her son, JJ, now 9, has Down syndrome and attends ECLC of New Jersey, located in Chatham.
After the good will shown by the boys towards JJ, she decided to approach the Woodland Park Board of Education to ask if she could present the boys with an award. Dr. Michele Pillari, superintendent, and Cheryl Centrilli, director of special services, were supportive of her idea.
"Dr. Pillari and Ms. Centrilli, suggested adding me to Beatrice Gilmore's fourth grade award ceremony on June 20 to honor the boys in front of the other fourth grade students, parents and teachers," she added. "The kids were very appreciative and it was a wonderful experience."
All three boys received a certificate of recognition, a Modell's Sporting Goods gift card, a gift bag consisting of Fathead stickers and an insulated cup with a lid. Giovanni was given his award separately because he attends a different school district.
Nate's father, Nate Gonzalez Sr., said he and the boys were very happy and flattered for the acknowledgment.
"I try to teach my son to help people out, and always be kind to people," he said. "I especially tell him not to judge people. Just little things like that. I recall him coming home and telling me that he just met JJ and was helping him to dribble and shoot. The kids had a good time."
Bastante-Howard praised the kids.
"It just goes to show you that the smallest act of kindness can have a huge impact," she added.