ROXBURY, NJ – Surrounded by adults gathered Thursday in a fancy restaurant, 13-year-old Zachary Kohler sat next to Roxbury Rotary Club Vice-President Gary Ribe and asked a question: “What’s a Rotary Club do?”
The club does things to help the community, explained Ribe. Kohler, joined at the Rotary luncheon by his 12-year-old wheelchair-bound brother Jacob and 12-year-old friend Julia Kovacs, nodded in recognition.
Been there, done that.
A decision to help somebody in need is what landed the kids at the Rotary luncheon, where they were honored and presented with plaques. The trio went door-to-door selling candy during the summer in an effort to raise money for Emerline Tabares, a former Roxbury High School student who had a brain tumor and needed money for medical expenses.
The threesome were undaunted by the fact that Jacob - handicapped from cerebral palsy - needed to be pushed up and down the Succasunna sidewalks, during the hottest days of the year, for the fundraising quest. In the end, they were able to present Tabares with a $750 check.
“I am blown away by you guys,” said Roxbury Rotary Club President Steve Alford before presenting them with their plaques. He stressed that he's a hard guy to impress, commenting, “It’s hard for me to get blown away by people.”
Alford was not the only person in the La Strada Ristorante dining room who felt the need to praise the youngsters and their parents. Roxbury councilmen Martin Schmidt and Richard Zoschak also had kind words.
“My wife and I have been in Roxbury for 30-plus years,” said Schmidt. “The more I get to know the people in Roxbury, the more my heart goes out. These are the future leaders of this town and, hopefully, across the nation. I’m completely blown away by what you guys did.”
Zoschak, noting he attends most Eagle Scout ceremonies in town, commended parents who raise children that go above and beyond. “The people who brought up these kids are a part of what they do,” he said.
Eisenhower Middle School Principal Dominick Miller said the brothers and their friend demonstrated values the school hopes to foster in all its students: “Selflessness, compassion and empathy.”
Added the principal, “We have kids here setting a positive example for the entire middle school.”
Alford noted the students were also helping the Roxbury High School Interact Club raise money to help Christina Alecci Adamski, another Roxbury alumni, battle Lyme disease. Interact is selling 2,600 green “Team Christina” wristbands for $1 each.
The group had sold 780 of the bracelets by Thursday. When Rotarian Sam Maddali, owner of Valley Pharmacy in Succasunna, heard this at the luncheon, he stood up and did something extremely Rotarian: He said he would buy the remainder.