By Ron Leir
It’ll be a gathering of different generations designed to promote civic awareness.
That’s what’s on tap Thursday, Dec. 20, at the Nutley Museum from 9 to 11 a.m. when Nutley High School (NHS) students have been invited to hobnob with local veterans at what’s been billed as the launching of a Veterans Club.
The club, which will meet four times a year at the museum, at Church and Prospect sts., is the creation of the Nutley Department of Public Affairs in partnership with the Nutley Veterans Council.
Public Affairs Commissioner Steven Rogers said the club – three months in the making – is being set up to give those township residents who’ve served in the military a place where they schmooze and educate themselves about local resources available to veterans.
“We have a very active VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), AMVETS (American Veterans), American Legion and DAV (Disabled American Veterans) that many young military veterans are not aware of,” Rogers said. “This club will be an opportunity for them to learn about these organizations.”
By Rogers’ count, Nutley, with a population of about 28,000, accounts for more than 900 veterans of whom “the overwhelming number” served in World War II and are “mostly in their upper 80s and early 90s,” plus “a couple hundred” veterans’ widows, he said.
When NHS students sit and chat with the veterans Thursday, they’ll have a rare treat, Rogers said, because, “These students will be in the presence of living history. There is no history book on earth that can provide our students the education these heroes can provide via their first person experiences in time of peace and war .… They are what brought America its greatness.”
Some students are already showing a sense of appreciation for veterans’ contributions to their country by preparing to send them holiday cards.
About 50 members of the NHS Fellowship of Christian Athletes, whose adviser is special education teacher J.D. Vick, assistant football coach and freshman boys’ basketball coach. “We encourage our guys to give back to the community,” he said.
So the group is taking on the daunting task in stages, aiming to reach all 939 Nutley veterans by mail.
“These people need to be recognized,” said senior Anthony Maschi, whose uncle served in Vietnam and whose cousin is a Navy Seal. “We take for granted what they do.”
Sophomore Frank Malanga, whose grandfather was in the Army Military Police Corps during the Korean Era, said: “Coach Vic got the addresses and we’re signing the cards. We created the design. This Christmas, we’re recognizing all who have served this country.”
“It’s important to give back to them after they protected us,” said senior Scott Gonzalez, whose grandfather served in the Army in Vietnam. “It’s a great experience to help others who helped us.
Rogers, a former Navy intelligence officer, is on a mission to make sure that the sacrifices made by local veterans aren’t forgotten and get all the respect they deserve.
“When a Nutley veteran dies,” he said, “we go to their house to present their survivors with a certificate of appreciation and a miniature American flag that’s been folded by our high school students.”
So focused was the commissioner on establishing ties to veterans that soon after taking office earlier this year, he created a Military Affairs Bureau within his department to assist veterans.
“Since then, we’ve serviced around 125 veterans,” Rogers said. “We’ve enrolled some in the V.A., helped others with employment, legal and medical issues, provided mentoring. Every Saturday, when I open my office for a few hours, I see five or six veterans who are looking for some type of assistance, and, so far, we’ve been able to help all of them. And some of our commissioners have helped as well, working with Wounded Warriors, donating food to veterans and making contributions to V.A. hospitals in New Jersey.”
Nutley’s efforts on behalf of veterans have drawn the attention of the State League of Municipalities whose executive director William Dressel says he’s unaware of any other municipal government in New Jersey having sponsored such an entity.
“I was very much impressed with how (Rogers) went about setting it up and with the demand the bureau has received from not only recent veterans, but some going back as far as the Korean War,” Dressel said.
What Rogers and his service officer are doing, in essence, Dressel said, is serving “like an ombudsman for veterans, to the extent they’re able to provide them with information that already exists at the state level or at an office in Washington, D.C., and they’re able to relate to them, to the extent that they are veterans themselves – they know what it feels like, frankly, to be overwhelmed with the demands of getting back to civilian life, and while there are a lot of people in agencies that want to help, it’s difficult sometimes to know who to contact and how to go about it. That’s a very important service. It’s providing that support – emotional, family – providing an outlet for them to meet with fellow veterans on a social basis, establishing partnerships, that, in and of itself, is a valuable service.” A recent article by Rogers about the bureau in the League’s publication “got an overwhelming response from local officials up and down the state,” Dressel said. “Apparently, it hit a responsive chord.”
So much so that Dressel said he’s considering devoting a separate session on Nutley’s creation at the annual League Conference in November 2013. Rogers, meanwhile, is already in motion with an idea for a new project. “Down the road,” he said, “I plan to create a professional documentary of our veterans telling their stories which they really want to tell, because I believe they’ve been forgotten by our society.”
Nutley seeking blood donors to benefit veterans world-wide
The Nutley Department of Public Affairs Military and Veterans Affairs Bureau will be sponsoring a blood drive for U.S. military personnel serving worldwide, it was announced by Commissioner Steve Rogers.
In partnership with the U.S. Army, and the Armed Services Blood Program, the blood drive will take place at the U.S. Military Academy West Point, N.Y., on Jan. 10.
A bus will transport Nutley citizens who volunteer for the drive from the Department of Public Affairs, 149 Chestnut St., at 9 a.m. on Jan. 10, and return no later than 2 p.m.
During January 2012 nearly 100 volunteers from the N.Y. and N.J. area assisted the military with registration, offered guidance and comfort at medical stations, and provided blood donors with food, as well as water and juice after blood was donated, Rogers said. Approximately 2,000 units of blood were donated at that time, he added.
“The need for blood is crucial, especially to our heroes on the battlefield,” Rogers said.
Rogers credited Nutley resident Ed Degeorgis with the idea for the drive. He said Degeorgis contacted him several months ago, asking for his assistance in providing blood to military men and women. “Ed stepped up and got involved in a very unique way. My hat is off to him,” Rogers said.
Residents who wish to participate in this blood drive are asked to contact the Department of Public Affairs at 973-284- 4976 no later than Jan. 8.
Participants will receive transportation to West Point, food, and a certificate of appreciation.