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Wheelchair Can't Stop Thoughtful Roxbury Kids

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Jacob Kohner, Zachary Kohner and Julia Kovacs with Emerline Tabaras Credits: Jill Kohner
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Credits: Jill Kohner
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ROXBURY, NJ – Three middle-school students from Succasunna, one confined to a wheelchair, went door-to-door selling candy this summer to raise money for Emerline Tabares, a local young woman battling a brain tumor.

Jacob Kohner, 12, his brother Zachary Kohner, 13, and their 13-year-old friend Julia Kovacs raised $750 for Tabares, said the Kohners’ mother, Jill. “The kids wanted to do something that would help somebody within the community, not just raising money to fight cancer or help the homeless,which we’ve done,” said Kohner.

She said the youngsters learned about Tabares’ situation when Zachary was at this summer's Color Fun Run , where supporters of Tabares were collecting donations. “I called her and got her permission,” said Kohner. “She was ecstatic and started crying. Here were these 12- and 13-year-old kids who wanted to do something for her and they’d never even met her.”

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The trio made a sign and, stuffing candy into a cooler, hit the streets of Succasunna. Keeping the candy from melting in the July heat was a challenge, but the biggest obstacle was Jacob's cerebral palsy, said Kohner.

“It was hard,” she said. “Jacob’s in a wheelchair. He’s handicapped and he was limited on where he could go. It’s not like he could actually do any walking. It was somebody pushing him … The first night they were out for four hours walking around trying to sell as much as they could.”

Kohner said the kids gave the money to Tabares on Aug. 13, about a month after doctors removed the brain tumor. “We met at a restaurant,” she said. “They talked to her and asked her questions. She told them a little about herself … It just made it that much nicer that we were able to do that for her and her family.”

Tabares, a former Roxbury High School athlete, is now attending Montclair State University.

Kohner is proud of her sons and their friend, but not especially surprised. “They’re good-natured, good-hearted kids,” she said. “Jacob and Julia have been best friends since second grade … Our families are close and the kids are close.”

Jacob is cognitively normal and attends regular classes in Roxbury schools. “He does the best he can,” said his mother. “The kids in Roxbury have really embraced him, but I have to imagine it must be hard, being the odd man out. He’s the only child in the school in a wheelchair … He’s a sports buff. That’s his life, but he can’t play.”

She said she’s been working with the school district, “trying to get something started in Roxbury to integrate special needs kids who are cognitively fine but physically impaired.” Her boy faces challenges, but his older brother watches his back, as does Julia, said Kohner.

“Julia does a lot of (charity fund-raising) runs,” she said. “That’s the kind of kid she is. Even seeing her with Jacob - sticking by him, making sure kids are nice to him and that he’s not sitting at a lunch table alone - that’s just the kind of girl she is.”

Jacob rarely shows any self-pity, said his mother. He copes with his hardship, in part, by trying to help others, she said. Julia and Zachary seem to share the altruism gene.

“The day after they met Emerline and handed her the check, they said, `OK, what can we do next? Who can we cure? Who can we save?’” said Kohner. “If all kids were like that, imagine the kind of world we’d live in.”

All kids might not be so kind, but there are many, and Tabares' situation seems to have inspired them. Last month, for example, three teens swam the length of Lake Hopatcong as a fundraiser for Tabares.

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