Morristown boy turns birthday into fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy victims


Editor’s note: She’s too modest to say it, but we’re not: Berit helped organize the logistics for this relief effort.

By Berit Ollestad

It isn’t until most folks are older that they understand that it is better to give than to receive.

But Giovanni Rivera isn’t like most folks. He’s only nine years old, and he already gets it.

While he loves video games and martial arts just like his pals at Morristown’s Thomas Jefferson School, “Giovanni has an old soul and he is always trying to identify ways that he can help others,” says his mom, Judy Rivera.

Kids with items donated for Hurricane Sandy relief at 9-year-old Giovanni Rivera's birthday party in Whippany. Photo by Berit Ollestad.
Kids with items donated for Hurricane Sandy relief at 9-year-old Giovanni Rivera's birthday party in Whippany. Photo by Berit Ollestad.

More than a year ago, the boy decided that instead of birthday gifts for himself, he wanted friends to donate to a fund for his martial arts instructor’s young son, who was battling recessive polycystic kidney disease (PKD).

Hurricane Sandy struck as Giovanni was getting ready to celebrate his ninth birthday. His thoughts turned to children affected by the super storm.

“I already have a lot of stuff and a lot of the people over at the Shore lost everything. Some of them don’t even have houses to go home to.  They got it a lot worse than we did here. I hope with the items that my friends donated, it will make the kids over there not as sad,” Giovanni said earlier this month, when he was joined for his birthday by about 30 classmates at the AMA Fight Club in Whippany.

Party organizers asked for crayons, juice boxes, hand sanitizers, tissues and snack bars, which will be delivered to the Hugh J. Boyd Elementary School in Seaside Heights.

Photos by Berit Ollestad. Please click icon below for captions.

A fire truck from the Whippany Fire Department pulled up to the event to squeals and cheers from the kids. “This is what we do and why we chose to get into the profession we are in,” said Firefighter Henry Hansch III. “We always look for opportunities to be a part of the community, especially when we can make such a positive difference in the lives of others.”

The children were treated to putting on fire gear and trying out their skills as they pretended to drive the truck. One child was overheard proclaiming, “Wow, I’ve never had a fire truck at my party before!”

According to Judy Rivera, Gio’s friends gave rave reviews at school the next day, declaring it was the best party they had ever been to.

“You are always doing the right thing when no when is looking at you,” wrote one of Gio’s teachers when the youth was named “Student of the Month” in November.

Donations continue to roll into the Whippany Fire Department and to Gio’s friends and family; the supplies will be heading soon to the Shore.

Peter Smith, a longtime member of the Seaside Heights Board of Education, was among the party-goers. “I thought Giovanni’s thoughtfulness was touching, and I can see him as a future leader,” said Smith.

Mary Dougherty, the wife of Morristown mayor Tim Dougherty, also stopped by to wish Giovanni a happy birthday and to thank him for his efforts. “It’s such a pleasure to see a young man who lives so selflessly,” said Morristown’s First Lady.






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