UNION, NJ – A Union police officer and his family received a surprise visit Tuesday morning from actor and advocate Chazz Palminteri.

Police officer Juan Vargas, his wife Anna and sons Anthony, 16, and Aiden, 8, were the recipients of a special visit and donation from the actor.  Palminteri runs The Child Reach Foundation which awards grant money to support doctors and hospitals for research and treatment of pediatric diseases as well as programs to benefit children and their families in need. 

“I want to help pay it forward,” said Palminteri.  “When you help one person, you help a universe.”  The Child Reach Foundation also supports the Police Benevolent Association and New York State Police and their families with grants for their children with Special Needs.  Palminteri said the $3,000 donation to the Vargas family was the first to a New Jersey police officer.

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Vargas’ eight-year old son Aiden was born with a disconnected artery from his heart to his lungs.  At two months old, he had his first open-heart surgery.  During the next two years, he underwent six additional surgeries.  He will need another surgery in the future.

Shortly after his birth, Aiden was diagnosed as a nonverbal Autistic child with Noonan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in various parts of the body, including unusual facial characteristics, short stature, heart defects, other physical problems and possible developmental delays

Aiden attends Monroe School of Edison in a self-contained classroom. He receives speech therapy and occupational therapy. According to Union Sgt. Dorothy Mascidlo-Skiper, who helped organize the surprise visit and donation, with just school and therapy consuming Aiden’s life, Vargas was searching for a different form of therapy that would get Aiden out of the house and give him a change of environment.

Vargas found a place called Special Strides in Monroe Township (www.specialstrides.com). At Special Strides Aiden receives therapy by horseback riding. The motions of the horse help strengthen his muscles which should help straighten Aiden’s spine and shoulders. The therapy is not covered by insurance. Therapy sessions are expensive.  Special Strides has formed a scholarship program which helps alleviate a small cost of this therapy.

At the Union Police Department, along with Command Staff Capt. Christopher Donnelly, Vargas helped design a patch combining the Union Police Department and autism puzzle pieces, which reflects the complexity of the autism spectrum.  The Department partnered with Special Strides and all proceeds from the sale of the patch will be donated to them to assist them in providing scholarships for their patients to receive therapy.   “We hope that the donations given can help other families obtain therapy sessions that may have once been unavailable due to cost,” said Mascidlo-Skiper.  [Patches may be purchased by emailing staffadmin@uniontownship.com.  Put name and mailing address in comments section.]  For more information on the patch, click here.

Vargas has been an officer with the Union Police Department for 15 years. According to Mascidlo-Skiper, he is active in the community, promoting a relationship between the department and families who have members with disabilities. “Vargas understands how families may feel lost in the world, how they may feel alone and how life may seem as if no one is around to help or advocate for those with special needs,” said Mascidlo-Skiper. “He has also taken a strong stand for officers to understand the complexity of those diagnosed with autism, to not be misjudged as someone ignoring or disobeying officers in the streets.” 

Mascidlo-Skiper said Vargas has taken a program called “Resident Special Identification Program”, where families can register members of their family who have special needs with the Union Police Department and made it one of the most successful in the state of New Jersey.

“Officer Vargas is selfless and extremely compassionate when it comes to anything that has to do with special needs,” said Mascidlo-Skiper. “He works extra hours to help pay for everything not covered by insurance, while trying to be there as a father to both of his children and a husband to his beautiful wife, Anna.”

To donate to The Child Reach Foundation, click here.