SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Jake Haspel, a seventh grader at South Plainfield Middle School, was recently selected as one of three Middlesex County students to receive the fourth annual Marisa Tufaro Memorial Art Scholarship. As a recipient, Jake will attend a week-long art camp this summer at the Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum.

“I am happy,” Jake told TAPinto South Plainfield. “This is something few kids get, and I was picked.”

At the Zimmerli Summer Art Camp, which is led by independent artist Wes Sherman, Jake will join artists of various ability levels to interact and study with some of New Jersey’s best teaching artists. “Each year, new classes are added to stimulate, challenge, and delight both veteran and newcomers...[through such] popular classes in painting, drawing, pastels, watercolors, sculpture and an art ‘sampler’ class,” states the Rutgers University website. 

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“I am looking forward to the camp and getting to pursue my art and creativity,” said Jake. 

The Marisa Tufaro Foundation was established in July 2017 by Edison residents Greg and Cynthia Tufaro in memory of their daughter, Marisa Rose, who passed away at the age of 13 from a rare form of cancer that developed following a heart transplant. The goal of the foundation is to ‘honor Marisa and keep her indomitable spirit alive by giving back to the residents of the communities that provided the family with overwhelming love and support.’ 

As a student at the Zimmerli in 2012, Marisa Tufaro herself was the recipient of a generous art scholarship for her achievements. A month after she passed, a piece she constructed with a New York City School of Visual Arts graduate student during an art therapy session at New York Presbyterian’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital was displayed at the ‘Your Turn’ exhibit at the college’s Flatiron Gallery in Manhattan. After attending her wake and seeing all the projects Marisa had created, an anonymous a member of the Greater Middlesex Conference Baseball Coaches Association set out to establish the art scholarship for other worthy students. 

To be considered for the scholarship, applicants must be a Middlesex County resident between the ages of 7 and 14, be nominated by their respective art teacher, and share Marisa’s passion and talent for art. 

“Jake is flourishing as an artist and has found his style and works tirelessly to refine his technique,” said SPMS art teacher Allison McLaughlin. “Jake is a responsible young man who is well-liked by his peers and teachers. His family is incredibly supportive.”

McLaughlin, said Jake’s mom Kim Haspel, has been ‘absolutely amazing’ and ‘supportive’ of Jake. “Every since he was littleI have been looking for things for him to do. I didn’t even know the [camp at Rutgers] existed until a friend of mine who is a teacher told me about it,” said Haspel, adding, “I forwarded the link it to his art teacher to find out if it was something Jake would qualify for, and she said ‘absolutely.’”

Haspel said she first noticed his love for art and eye for detail around the time he started kindergarten and, at the age of six, was granted acceptance into a weekend class at DuCret a year early. Over the years, Jake has branched out beyond crayons, pencils and markers, trying his hand in a variety of medium, including oil paints, urban art (spray painting), clay, and, most recently, digital animation, to name a few. For the past two years, he has been accepted into Middlesex County's Arts Middle School program and, most recently, his artwork was chosen to grace the cover of South Plainfield Middle School’s 2019-2020 yearbook. 

“I am incredibly proud of him,” said Haspel. “Everyone’s art style is different and art is a very subjective kind of thing. Some people like it and accept it and some people don’t,” said Haspel, adding, “I am so happy that he is willing to put himself out there.”

About the Marisa Tufaro Foundation 

Marisa Tufaro, who would have been a junior this year at Edison High School, was born with a complex cardiac defect that required six open-heart surgeries. After her sixth surgery, Marisa developed two life-threatening conditions that necessitated a heart transplant. A postoperative complication developed into a rare form of cancer that riddled her brain and body. Marisa succumbed to her illness following a valiant battle on Jan. 30, 2017.

Since its inception on July 30, 2017, the Marisa Tufaro Foundation has donated more than $130,000 to assist pediatric patients and other children in need throughout the greater Middlesex County area. The foundation, which makes community service an integral part of its mission, has also spearheaded multiple initiatives, resulting in the collection of thousands of toys, nonperishable food items, winter coats, baby supplies and other items for donation upon which the nonprofit has placed no monetary value. In addition, the Marisa Tufaro Foundation has awarded 17 academic scholarships to graduating high school seniors and 13 art scholarships. 

For more information on the Marisa Tufaro Foundation or to make a donation, visit

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