For her work with disabled children and establishing Camp Acorn, a summer/winter social and recreational program for children and young adults with multiple disabilities, Catherine Carisi of Lodi was awarded a $50,000 Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference. Carisi began working with disabled children when she was 17. The experience ignited a passion in her. With two friends she formed the non-profit organization Camp Acorn in 2001. It offers a therapeutic and instructional program that develops fine and gross motor skills while building confidence and self-esteem. All activities are adapted to the individual needs of each camper. Carisi’s mission is to give individuals with special needs experiences they are denied elsewhere. The camp offers a nine-week summer camp, a Saturday program and monthly dances during the school year. Carisi has been described as fearless and one who challenges the limited notions people have about what those with special needs can achieve. For the campers and volunteers of Camp Acorn, she is a teacher, mentor, friend and mother.
Taking home the $35,000 award was Hernan Agudelo of Union. He is a hero, putting himself in danger to help two assault victims. This past January, he heard a commotion in his neighbor’s backyard. He went to investigate and observed an assailant attacking his two female neighbors with a knife and an axe. Without hesitation he ran to his car and returned with a small baseball bat. He struck the assailant and was able to stop the vicious attack. The assailant turned his rage to Agudelo, who suffered lacerations to his ear and neck. His neighbors, who were in critical condition, are still recovering. The Union police director who nominated Agudelo said, “There is no doubt that if Mr. Agudelo did not intervene, this incident would have resulted in a double homicide.”
Jane Geoghegan of Toms River received the $25,000 award. She and her family were nominated for their collective years of service with the Silverton First Aid Squad. Three generations, spanning 47 years, have selflessly contributed time and talent, making a meaningful contribution to the community. Husband Jerry founded the Silverton First Aid Squad in 1964 and served as president until his recent death. Geoghegan, a retired nurse and paramedic, serves as captain of the squad. At one point, three of the Geoghegan’s children served. Now, a grandchild has hopped on board. Geoghegan enjoys helping others. While she muses about the serious calls she responds to, she also has experienced joy, delivering three babies. Days can get busy. For instance, an on duty squad may respond to ten calls in a five hour period. Silverton’s current president said that Geoghegan averages hundreds of responses each year and can be found at the first aid building almost seven days a week. Last year, the Township of Toms River passed a resolution thanking Jane Geoghegan for her outstanding humanitarian efforts.