By Marie Pfeifer
The Morristown Neighborhood House celebrated the power of mentors, and the power of partners, at its annual fundraising gala last week.
Thomas Welsh, a Vietnam War veteran and successful executive, was honored as Volunteer of the Year for helping the Nabe’s mentoring and tutoring program. Two of his star protégés, college students Asante Hohn and Melissa Cedano, spoke glowingly about how that program changed their lives.
Similarly, MorristownGreen.com Editor Kevin Coughlin, feted as the Nabe’s Community Partner, described how covering the nonprofit taught him profound lessons about diversity. He appealed to the Hyatt Morristown audience to support MG, so the online news site can continue showcasing achievements of people like Hohn and Cedano.
Photos by Bill Lescohoer. Please click icon below for captions.
A silent auction of gift baskets donated by local merchants was followed by a live “Fund-a-Cause” auction, led by Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty and First Lady Mary Dougherty.
They raised about $10,000, according to organizers.
The evening was punctuated by the young Neighborhood House Dancers, who performed to music from The Pink Panther.
“It is all about the children,” said event co-chairprson Judy Pierce of Cornerstone Family Programs, the new parent organization of the Nabe, which dates to 1898.
Nearly 200 people attended the gala, which brought in about $100,000 for the Nabe, said Cornerstone’s Katie Olsen.
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The Nabe’s innovative Tutoring and Mentoring Program was hatched over lunch one day by Welsh and three friends. Volunteers from local high schools help schoolchildren with their homework, and inspire the kids to attend college.
A Neighborhood House supporter for decades, Welsh quickly got hooked on volunteering there.
“If you ever just need a little lift, go to the Neighborhood House. Get there around 3:30 when [the kids] get off the buses. All of a sudden, you will feel this energy, and a smile. And it’s the best experience in the world,” Welsh said.
When he realized he could not tutor everyone himself, he said, he began hiring high school students to tutor the younger students.
“They were paid a small stipend for working in the program and were placed in various local businesses as paid interns,” explained Welsh, who piloted a helicopter gunship as a Marine in Vietnam.
These days, he is a principal in Welsh Chester Galiney Matone Inc., a Morristown firm specializing in commercial real estate appraisal and advisory services. Working with fellow volunteers Chris Lee and the Princeton ReachOut ’56-’81-’06 alumni group, Welsh has spearheaded efforts to arrange internships. And he helped raise $20,000 last year to pay tutors at the Nabe.
One of those tutors, Asante Hohn, now is a freshman at Seton Hall University. He volunteered at the Nabe because he realized how easily children are influenced.
“I was inspired to be a better person by working in the homework center,” Hohn said. “Because of my volunteer work there and my interest in medicine, I was awarded an internship with the Morristown Medical Group.”
Through that internship, he met Dr. Marcello Sammarone, who invited him to observe surgery at Morristown Medical Center. Hohn created a website for the Medical Group, which led to a full scholarship at Seton Hall University, where he is studying to be a physician’s assistant.
Melissa Cedano’s career path changed when she participated in the Nabe’s High School Incentive Program. It allowed her to explore her interest in becoming a lawyer. “I was so sure that’s what I wanted to do with my life at that time,” she recounted.
An internship at the Morris County Bar Association convinced her to change course.
“I realized that what I wanted to do was to become an advocate for the future immigrant population in the community,” said Cedano, who is pursuing a double major in Spanish and Sociology and a minor in Photography at Drew University–on a full scholarship.
“That made my mom really happy,” Cedano said with a big smile.
Another success story is Dr. Judy Banks, a local obstetrician and gynecologist, who grew up in the Collinsville section of Morristown. As a Morristown High School student, she taught art to fourth-graders at the Nabe. Banks now credits programs there with laying the foundation for “success and happiness in my chosen career,” by leading to a full scholarship to the College of Saint Elizabeth.
Photos by Berit Ollestad. Please click icon below for captions.
‘THE BEAUTY OF DIVERSITY’
Cornerstone CEO Patrice Picard cited Coughlin for his coverage of the Nabe and Cornerstone (formerly Family Service of Morris County), organizations that merged earlier this year. Coughlin helped start MorristownGreen.com with The Star-Ledger in late 2007, and re-launched it as his own venture in 2010 after leaving the newspaper.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) applauded the Rutgers graduate for keeping “Morristown in the center of his vision as he records and creates history.”
The Neighborhood House, Coughlin said, still lives up to a 1915 description as the “only place where all people can gather together without the feeling of superiority, where all can have the feeling of brotherly love.”
Although his late mother participated in civil rights rallies, Coughlin said he grew up in “pretty homogenous” towns where he met few people of color or Spanish-speaking neighbors.
That changed when he came to Morristown.
“At many events, I have been a minority, practically the only white- or Anglo person in the room,” Coughlin said.
“I don’t want to be too glib about this,” he continued. “Being a minority in America, as we all know, too often has been an unhappy experience. But thanks to the people in this room, that has not been my experience.”
At churches and banquet halls, weddings and funerals, protests and festivals, Coughlin said, people have showered him with warmth and kindness. He wished such opportunities for everyone.
“Because, you know, it’s very hard to demonize someone you know on a first-name basis. Someone you’ve shared a meal with. Someone who’s watched a ballgame with you. Someone with whom you’ve shared a laugh, or shed a tear.
“That’s the beautiful thing about diversity. It reminds us, deep down, how much we’re really the same. We all want the same things for the people we love,” he said.
With a wry grin, Coughlin then noted that while MG loves being a Community Partner of the Nabe . . . everyone could honor him more.
“If you like having us around, if you appreciate having a media outlet where all voices can be heard, where neighbors talk, and don’t shout…then spread the word!” he said.
“If you really want to honor me, support the Nabe and Cornerstone. And please continue to support our work at MorristownGreen.com, in real and concrete ways.”