WAYNE, NJ – Overshadowed by the political turmoil at this week’s Wayne Town Council meeting were some very positive events. 

The night began when Webelos from Cub Scout Troop 192 who were present at the meeting, were asked by President of the Town Council, Franco Mazzei to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.  Benjamin Long and two of his troopmates battled nerves and began the Pledge on their own before the unusually large crowd joined in with them.

Paul Bastante of Silk City Films was on hand to film the Council Meeting, of which scenes may be used in his upcoming documentary “Hills and Valleys: A Journey Through Wayne,” which will premiere in less than a month.

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After the pledge, Councilwoman Aileen Rivera and Mayor Chris Vergano had two special proclamations given that October is both National Substance Abuse Prevention Month as well as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

To commemorate National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, Mayor Vergano called up leaders from the Wayne Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse: Robbin Gulino, Karen Marron, Jennifer Carr, Nancy Lindstrom and Donna Andelora.  “This is a group of volunteers that give much of their time to the community and we are grateful for everything they do for us,” said Vergano, who then went on to read the proclamation to the council and the residents in attendance.  After, he said,” I’ve said this many times before: We cannot arrest our way out of this situation. It’s all about prevention, education and people getting involved in the community. And, this group standing behind me has basically pledged 100% of their time to move this community forward. For them, it’s Substance Abuse Prevention Month, twelve months out of the year, and they do a great amount of good in our community.

Wayne Alliance Chairperson, Karen Marron spoke to thank the Mayor and the council and to thank all of the volunteers who support the Wayne Alliance. Marron listed several of the educational and prevention programs that the Wayne Alliance provides:

  • LEAD, Law Enforcement Against Drugs, for Fifth Graders
  • The BABES program, Beginning Awareness Basic Education Studies, for Second Graders
  • Life Skills after school prevention for Third through Sixth Graders
  • Smart Moves held at the Wayne Boys and Girls Club.
  • The Every Fifteen Minutes program

“Knock-out Opioid Abuse Awareness will be October 6 this month,” said Marron. “Where everyone will be asked to share awareness, given that New Jersey has the sixth highest rate of visits to the E.R. due to Opioid overdoses.”

“Our stigma-free mental health awareness team, of which we have quite a few volunteers here today, including Councilwoman Rivera, have established an ambitious timeline to bring awareness of all forms of mental challenge,” said Marron. “The message is: It’s okay to talk about and seek resources for all forms of anxiety, ADD, Dual Diagnosis and other diseases of the brain. We thank the Wayne YMCA, Chilton Medical Center/Atlantic Health Systems for sponsoring the mental health first-aid certification classes this month as well.”

The second proclamation was to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Councilwoman Rivera called up “two amazing women from our great township who are making a difference within our cancer community,” said Rivera.

Rivera and Vergano both read the proclamation, then Vergano said, “All of us, everyone in this room and everyone who is watching on TV has been touched by cancer. It’s a brutal, awful disease and there are many success stories that go along with the horror stories. So, tonight we are honoring two women in our community who have gone above and beyond.”

“I speak on behalf of the entire council and our administration and our township,” said Rivera, “when I congratulate Dayna Varano and Kris Fernicola for their excellence and commitment in making a difference in the lives of those who are diagnosed with breast cancer. They make us very proud.”

Varano is a two-time cancer survivor and founder of Dayna’s Pink Wishes, a foundation with a mission to satisfy the needs and wishes of children affected by their parent’s diagnosis. “I’ve always been asked what motivates me, what inspires me to keep going regardless of how overwhelming things can be?” said Varano. “And the answer that comes to my mind recently is ‘The Human Spirit.’ It’s powerful and there’s nothing like it in the world.”

She went on to read a brief letter from a mother who was going through chemotherapy for her breast cancer diagnosis and whose children were taken care of by Varano’s charity. The mother wrote of how she had to talk with her children about how “This was going to be one of those tough years and this Christmas was not going to be one of our favorites to look back on.” The letter then went on to express how grateful the young mother was for the wonderful gifts and more importantly, she was grateful for the message of hope. “That feeling will never leave us. This was the most meaningful Christmas we have ever had.” As Varano read the letter, she choked up and the council chamber was as touched by the sentiment as she was.

To help support Dayna’s Pink Wishes, please visit: https://www.daynaspinkwishes.org/

Next, Rivera called up Kris Fernicola from Restoration Body Art, a business in Wayne that specializes in 3D Areola Paramedical Tattooing. Fernicola was given a certificate of recognition from the Township of Wayne for her work with cancer patients. “Kris is committed to giving back to the community and making a difference in the lives of women and men who’ve had to have their breasts reconstructed following mastectomies,” said Rivera.

Fernicola thanked the council for her recognition, “But the real recognition goes out to all the women and men that have fought and who are now fighting the battle with breast cancer,” said Fernicola. “They are the true heroes and I get to meet them at the end of their journeys.” She spoke of how her art allows her to provide something to cancer survivors that is so important to them but that the rest of us take for granted. Finishing, Fernicola said: “My motto and the word that I say is Restore. Restore means to bring or give back that which was lost or taken.”

Finally, Mayor Vergano officially introduced the new acting Chief of Police for Wayne Township, Jack McNiff. “I’m humbled and I’m honored to be Wayne Township’s new police chief,” said McNiff.  “As most of you know. I live in town. I have three young kids, my wife is a teacher in town, so I have a vested interest in this community and making it a better place.”

The new Police Chief went on to discuss his thoughts on community policing: “Community policing, I feel, from my almost twenty-four years of law-enforcement experience is not a bureau, it’s not two or three police officers who go out and do community policing events, it’s a state of mind and it’s a philosophy. And, I expect all one-hundred and thirteen police officers, including myself, to have that state of mind and community policing philosophy.”

McNiff praised his officers, investigators and dispatchers who responded so quickly to the robbery at the TD Bank branch on Valley road. “Within three-hours we had a suspect in custody. It’s a tribute to the dedicated professionals that we have working in this township who are dedicated to the community that we serve.”

Admitting that both he and his mother were cancer survivors, McNiff ended by talking about a fund-raiser for Nikolas Serenkov, a three-year old boy who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of cancer called neuroblastoma. “There’s a gofundme page and I just want to draw your attention to that and ask that we, as a community, support his family because I know that the Wayne Township Police Department certainly does.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-nikolas-fight-cancer

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Editor’s note: As a non-Wayne resident, an outside observer, and someone who has lived in fifteen different cities and towns, I must comment that the Township of Wayne seems to be made up of one of the most volunteer-based and giving groups of people I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with.  Everywhere I go, and just about everyone I talk to has volunteered their time in as simple a thing as coaching their kid’s sports, leading a girl scout troop, joining PTOs, becoming a library board member, starting charities and on and on.  I applaud you all.