Italian Heritage Month 2022

I always heard a saying growing up. “There are two types of people. Italians and people that wish they were Italian.”

I agree completely.

We grow up around three main concepts. Faith, family, and food. Sundays were extra special. We would start the day at church. Then head to the cemetery to plant flowers and clean the headstones. When I was older I got the job of picking up bread and pastries for dinner. Then there was a intoxicating aroma of Grandma’s Sunday gravy with meatballs and sausage. Long dinners sitting with family with the “kids” at the card table. The fact that I was still at the kid’s table even after I was married never really bothered me. After dinner was time to play cards, read the paper, or play a board game.

Italian heritage month

We learned to love our heritage, but remember we were Americans first. We pass down recipes, love, and pride.

We also don’t take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes to a fault.

We know how to laugh at ourselves. As a result, many others think it is okay to laugh at our expense.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. It is not okay.

We aren’t the dumb, mobsters you see in movies and on television. We aren’t the fist-pumping idiots from Jersey Shore. We aren’t hot heads that throw dishes. Let’s face it. We are the last ethnicity that is not only okay to stereotype. It is encouraged by Hollywood and the media.

I hope you will go on this journey with me this month as I share some of what is wonderful about Italian heritage.

Viva Italia!

Need Mental Health Support? Call 988

Let’s face it. The last few years have been incredibly difficult. It’s taken a toll on everyone. We’ve all dealt with it in different ways. For some, sadly, it has been a bigger challenge and mental health has become a front page issue.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Many people are starting to talk about the need for mental health support more openly. While there have always been different types of support available, it hasn’t always been easily accessible. An 800 number has been available for a number of years, but in reality, if you are in crisis, are you going to remember an 800 number?

Enter 988.

Just like we all know 911 for emergencies like fires and heart attacks, 988 is the new national number specifically for mental health emergencies. Beginning today, if you call 988, you will be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.

It is also important to know they have services those who are deaf or hard of hearing, so you will still be able to get help regardless of your limitation.

It is important to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Make the call.

Support for those who Support the Outdoors

Back in the freezing weather of January, I shared my goals for 2022. One of the most important goals outlined was to fight for our ever-dwindling open spaces in New Jersey. That includes fighting for those who share the love of the outdoors and educate others about the resource.

Enter the frustrating situation of the Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club.

Located in one of my favorite spots in New Jersey, Sunset Beach, Cape May, the Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club has been meeting and sharing their love of fishing and the outdoors since the mid-1940s. What started as a few friends meeting at a private home in the Philly-area has turned into a decades-old club that has officially met at Sunset Beach since the 1950s.

They function as a non-profit, providing camaraderie and community to a group of local anglers. They have a great little meeting space next to the miniature golf course at Sunset Beach. It sounds like a really wonderful group of anglers who enjoy the outdoors and telling fishing stories.

So what’s the problem? Glad you asked.

Their building is located on the grounds of a former brick plant. When the plant closed in 1982, the owners leased the land to the club. In 1999, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife purchased the land from the plant owners and added it to the adjacent Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area.

Sportsmen's Club Building inside black circle within former brick plant.
Sportsmen’s Club Building inside black circle within former brick plant. (Credit: Sportsmen’s Club’s Facebook page)

So they own the building, but they do not own the land underneath it. It is also worth mentioning they have paid taxes to Lower Township since 1957.

OK, so sounds like typical bureaucracy so far. Annoying, but not horrible… yet.

Well, here’s where it gets complicated. And frustrating.

The NJ Department of Fish and Wildlife sent a letter in February announcing plans to terminate the club’s lease agreement. The “Notice to Quit and Demand for Delivery of Possession of Premises” notes that if not followed, the state could file for eviction action. The letter outlined a list of reasons, which include “the sale of alcohol on a Wildlife Management Area without the prior written permission or other authorization from the (state), the club’s ‘interference’ with the National Coastal Wetlands Grant and the club’s use of the property being ‘inconsistent’ with the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s mission.”

Yes, they drink the occasional beer at the end of a day fishing. Pardon me while I clutch my pearls. I really hope my Jersey sarcasm is coming through loud and clear.

Whether the state owns the land beneath the club remains in dispute, according to Chris Gillin-Schwartz, Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club’s attorney.

It is worth mentioning, letters have been sent on letterhead from The DEP, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, and the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. Tremendous pressure has been put on Lower Township to not renew the liquor license the club has possessed (in good standing) since 1976. I applaud Lower Township for standing up to the state and renewing their license.

This is a club that has served the community and its membership since the 1940s. They currently have 160 members (over 50 of which are veterans) and are good stewards of the resource. I feel like there’s more going on than the state wishes to share.

Now in all fairness, I reached out to New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the Governor’s office. I received no response whatsoever. Not even a “no comment.” Total radio silence.

I promised my readership to fight for our great state and its wonderful resources. The Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club does the same. They work for their community and work to preserve the resource. I urge my readership to sign their online petition. I also urge you to reach out to the Governor’s office and let your voice be heard. Why the state is making a (literal) federal case out of a local fishing club is beyond me. I promise all of you to stay on this story and hope for a positive outcome.

Fish on.

Open Space Preserved in Princeton

There is a constant battle in New Jersey; preserving open space versus developing more ratables to collect taxes. It happens in every town in the state. Recently, there was some good news on the preservation front.

More than 150 acres in Princeton is now permanently protected, thanks to a partnership among several government agencies and nonprofits. The 153-acre property was purchased for $8.8 million from the Lanwin Development Corp. and the family of the late Bryce Thompson.

Princeton’s latest preservation project. (Credit: The Watershed Institute)

A partnership of organizations, the town of Princeton, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, Ridgeview Conservancy, The Watershed Institute, Mercer County, the state Green Acres Program, and New Jersey Conservation Foundation worked on the acquisition. Nearly $3 million in private donations were received. The land is now jointly owned by Princeton, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, The Watershed Institute, and the Ridgeview Conservancy.

The acquisition is part of an initiative called “Princeton’s Emerald Necklace” that aims to connect open spaces throughout the town and provide greater access to open space. This open space protects over 4,000 trees from deforestation that form part of a mature forest on this site.

New from Fish & Wildlife: The Wildlife Habitat Supporter Program

As I mentioned in my 2022 Goals post, I want to make sure to advocate for our open spaces. The NJ Fish and Wildlife has announced a new program to do just that; The Wildlife Habitat Supporter Program.

Wildlife Habitat Program

When I first saw this posted on social media, I was immediately excited to find a new way to help support our wildlife, open spaces, and native species. However, it didn’t take long for the cynic in me to wonder about a few things. Let’s face it. There isn’t a politician in New Jersey that doesn’t love the idea of a new fund to raid. It’s like breaking the piggy bank. I also wondered if there is a plan to share how the funds are used.

So I went straight to the source. I contacted New Jersey Fish and Wildlife directly and raised my concerns. Their answers:

“Funds donated to the Wildlife Habitat Supporter Program are deposited into a dedicated account used by the Division of Fish and Wildlife specifically for the management of New Jersey’s wildlife resources and enforcement of fish and wildlife regulations. As the program moves forward, we will definitely feature projects on the Division’s website and social media that benefit from the program”

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have another way to support our open spaces, native species, and regulation enforcement. I am definitely going to donate and I hope you will too!

St. Lucy’s Loses a Giant

In the past I have written about a long-time giant at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, NJ, Monsignor Joseph Granato. He served the parishioners of St. Lucy’s for 54 years; his entire time of service. I am sad to report the Monsignor went home to the Lord a few days ago.

Monsignor Joseph J. Granato

Born in New York, then Joseph Granato, moved with his family to Newark in his infancy. He attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Grammar School in Newark and graduated in 1943. He then attended Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, also in Newark, and graduated in 1947. When he entered the seminary, he once again stayed local, attending Seton Hall University and Immaculate Conception Seminary.

Upon Ordination Father Granato was assigned as an assistant to Rev. Gaetano Ruggiero, Pastor of St. Lucy’s Church, Newark in June of 1955. Upon Father Ruggiero’s death, Father Granato was named Administrator to St. Lucy’s in 1971 and was named Pastor in 1977. In 1979, Pope John Paul II bestowed the sacred honor of being named Monsignor. Instead of taking credit for this great honor, he gave credit to the people of St. Lucy’s.

Monsignor Granato remained Pastor of St. Lucy’s until his retirement in 2009.

As I have said in the past, the Monsignor bordered on rock star status at St. Lucy’s. He was a kind man who kept his flock always in the forefront of his mind. But he was far more than a simple parish priest. He was a civic leader and advocate for the First Ward his entire life. He fought back when the First Ward was labeled a “slum” and attempted, sadly to no avail, to prevent the bulldozing of almost the entire original First Ward and replace it with low-income housing, displacing tens of thousands of Italian immigrants. This project of the city resulted in Italian immigrants leaving Newark and turning the area into a level of urban blight, the likes had never been seen before. Suddenly going to St. Lucy’s was a dangerous gamble. Still, Monsignor Granato persevered.

In 1994, the housing projects were imploded. Monsignor Granato led the charge to acquire the land across from St. Lucy’s in order to develop an Italianate Plaza. Additionally, he supported the construction of Villa Victoria Senior Citizens Residence and the subsidized low-rise family housing across from the rectory.

Monsignor Granato championed the continued century old devotion of the Italian immigrant population to St. Gerard, Patron of Motherhood, with the declaration of St. Gerard’s Chapel a National Shrine in 1977.

Thank you Monsignor Granato for your unwavering dedication to St. Lucy’s, her parishioners, the First Ward, and the tens of thousands of Italian immigrants, and their families, your have counseled over the decades. God has certainly gained a loyal servant.

Giving Tuesday in New Jersey

It is no surprise to anyone that COVID-19 has affected everyone in the Garden State. Some people lost their jobs. Some people lost their businesses. Some lost their lives.

Many non-profits in the state lost important funding from private donors, as so many were barely able to feed their families and keep a roof over their head.

Enter Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to help those who have helped so many throughout our state. I’ve highlighted a few of the great organizations I have supported and will continue to support to the best of my ability. They represent a cross-section of areas, from the arts, to food insecurity, to cultural support, and more.

Museum of Early Trades & Crafts

The Museum of Early Trades & Crafts is one of my favorite museums in the state. It was founded in 1970 by Agnes and Edgar Law Land and is located inside the building that was the first public library in Madison. The museum began with a display of the Land’s personal collection of 18th and 19th century artifacts representing the lives of the early immigrants to New Jersey. Since then, it has grown to an amazing permanent collection as well as special displays that are presented on a rotating basis. The best part is everything presented in the museum is associated with life and work in New Jersey.

Italian American One Voice Coalition

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am very proud of my Italian heritage. So is the Italian American One Voice Coalition. They work to protect and preserve the Italian-American culture. You see, our culture has made a major mistake over the years. We let the mob jokes roll off our back. In an effort to prove our allegiance to our new homeland, we Americanized our names and did not teach our language to our children. We were proud to be Americans. Those very values we have held for generations are no longer valued by many. As a result, people are looking to eliminate what is left of our heritage. The Italian American One Voice Coalition is fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen. That we won’t be cast aside or ignored.

Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter

Sadly, over the last 18-plus months, victims of domestic violence have been victimized twice; once by their abuser and again by the system that is in place to protect them, as these victims have been kept hidden from the eyes of those agencies. With rumor of a new variant on the way and worries of another lockdown loom large, women may be desperate to escape their situation. The Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter has been on the front lines of aiding victims of domestic violence since 1978. JBWS is all about empowering victims to end the cycle of violence and gain control over their lives. The services include 24-hour helpline; safe house; counseling for adults, adolescents and children impacted by abuse; transitional living, including life skills education and more.

Salvation Army of New Jersey

Another issue the COVID pandemic brought to light is how many of our fellow New Jerseyans suffer from food insecurity; especially children and the aged. The Salvation Army of New Jersey offers food pantries, mobile feeding programs, and soup kitchens throughout the state to those in need.

Peters Valley School of Craft

Another organization I regularly highlight and support is Peters Valley School of Craft. For the last fifty-plus years, Peters Valley has enriched lives through the learning, practice, and appreciation of fine crafts, all nestled in the heart of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. If you have ever wanted to experience blacksmithing, weaving, or anything else, Peters Valley is the finest place in New Jersey to learn. They also have a wonderful gallery and gift area and present an amazing collection of artists every fall at a two-day event.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey

While most people think New Jersey is nothing more than Newark Airport and the Turnpike, we all know better. Three of my favorite species, the heritage brook trout, the red knot, and the horseshoe crab, are all important parts of the biodiversity of New Jersey. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey works to protect that rich biodiversity. There are over 70 endangered and threatened species in New Jersey. Supporting the Conserve Wildlife Foundation helps protect all the different animals and mammals that swim, walk, and fly in the Garden State.

And Many, Many More

These are just a few of the many different non-profits that need help in New Jersey. They all do important work and it requires money for them to continue to do their important work. Everyone has something they are passionate about. My two passions are protection of open spaces and access to fine and performing arts, especially in public education. Find what fuels you and become an ally. If you aren’t in a position to donate funds, consider donating food to your local food pantry, clothes to a local shelter, or volunteer with an organization that feeds your soul and does good in your community. If you aren’t sure about the history of a specific organization, check them out on Charity Navigator. You’ll be able to see how they spend their donations as well as their history. You can also look at Community Foundation of New Jersey. This is a well-regarded organization that helps to manage the financial aspect of many different funds, scholarships, and organizations in a legal and ethical manner.

So get ready to give!

Cumberland County Farmland Preserved

I am happy to share the following announcement from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation:

Daniel DeTullio bought his farm along the Cohansey River in Cumberland County in 1987 because of its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife.

He and his wife, Raquel, just preserved the nearly 30-acre property to protect it from future development. “It’s so peaceful and quiet and serene back there, it would be a shame to develop it,” said Dan.

On Sept. 13, New Jersey Conservation purchased the development rights on the DeTullio farm, ensuring that it stays farmland forever.

The farm is surrounded on two sides by the state’s Cohansey River Wildlife Management Area, and is bordered by a tributary known as Rocaps Run. The Cohansey winds through a mosaic of tidal marshes, woodlands and farms before emptying into the Delaware Bay. The area provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including bald eagles.

DeTullio Farm
Credit: New Jersey Conservation Foundation

“The eagles back there are like mosquitos,” Dan joked. There are also plenty of wild turkeys, ducks, geese, owls, deer and other creatures. “You see a lot of things there that you don’t see anywhere else,” said Dan.

The DeTullios still own the farm, but the land is now permanently restricted to agriculture. Preserving the property will maintain the area’s rural and scenic character, protect wildlife, safeguard soil quality, and protect the land’s ability to recharge groundwater.

Funding was provided by the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Cumberland County also contributed to the project by paying for property appraisals.

“We are thrilled to help ensure that this beautiful riverside farm stays farmland forever,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “We’re very grateful to the DeTullios for deciding to preserve their farm, and to our partners for providing funding to make this project possible.”

The DeTullio farm is located just south of Bridgeton, and a short distance from the Dutch Neck section of Hopewell Township, where New Jersey Conservation Foundation helped preserve several historic farms.

Most of the farm’s soils are “prime” and “statewide-Important” soils, the two highest quality classifications for food production. Much of the newly-preserved land is in open field agriculture, with smaller forested areas on its northern and southern sides.

This farmland preservation project advances New Jersey Conservation’s collaborative partnership with Cumberland County to save working family farms with outstanding agricultural attributes. It also builds upon New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s work to preserve farms and wildlife habitat in the lower Cohansey River region of Cumberland County.

Julie Hawkins, State Conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, praised the partnership that made the DeTullio preservation project successful.

“The New Jersey Conservation Foundation was the first nonprofit in New Jersey to successfully seek NRCS financial assistance for agricultural land preservation more than 15 years ago,” said Hawkins. “Partnership is key to preserving farmland in New Jersey and this effort couldn’t have been done without the help of State Agriculture Development Committee as well. SADC is our state’s leader in farmland preservation and was ranked #1 in the nation by the American Farmland Trust for its implementation of policies to protect farmland and support its viability. We’re grateful that NRCS funding can be a catalyst in New Jersey Conservation Foundation and SADC’s efforts to help family-run farms remain farmland for future generations.”

My 2020 Jersey Christmas List

This has been a hard year for all of us; especially for the small business owners of New Jersey. Like many, I am urging everyone to shop small as much as possible this year.

My Christmas list this year has a special Jersey flair this year. These are gifts that are made by Jersey artisans available in Jersey stores.

Cape May Suncatchers

Cape May Suncatchers
Credit: Cape May Suncatchers

These works of art by Tommy of Cape May Suncatchers are just amazing. He digs up antique bottles found around the beaches of Cape May and then carves them into beautiful ornaments, suncatchers, and window-hangers. This would certainly be a unique and lovely gift, especially for those who love Cape May.

Just Jersey Goods

You can find just about ANYTHING with a unique Jersey attitude from the Jersey Jersey Goods store in Morristown. From cutting boards and mugs for the foodie to books for the state historian, you can find almost anything with a Jersey theme at this awesome shop. Personally, I am partial to the Parkway token keychain. For decades, it was a required item in every car as you went down the shore. And it is worth mentioning I was a champion at pitching it up and over the car from the passenger side as well as the trick shot through the sunroof.

Sue Sachs Jewelry

Credit: Sue Sachs

Located in Livingston, Sue has been making jewelry and crafting metal objects for more then 30 years. Her jewelry and metal objects are crafted in sterling silver, brass, copper, and/or gold. I feel they are masterfully created and bring a sense of whimsy to each piece. I especially love her garden pieces, as I have become an avid gardener the last two years and you can often find me at the Roxbury Community Garden during the season. Her “shovel series” is definitely at the top of my list!

Reddie to Burn

Credit: Reddit to Burn

OK, I am completely partial on this one. Our intelligent and incredibly talented Goddaughter and niece has started her own candle making business. Reddie to Burn Candle Co. offers a wide variety of soy hand-made candles and wax melts and uses clean fragrances for just the right amount of scent. Which one is the best? Well that’s up to you. Personally, I really like the idea of a having access to the smell of a library any time I want it. One of my favorite places in college was leaning up against a book shelf in the stacks.

Gift Certificates

If you have that person who is just too hard to buy for, consider purchasing a gift certificate from a locally-owned business. From nail salons, to restaurants, to sport shops, every business is having a hard time right now and I am sure your gift certificate purchase would be appreciated.

Local Non-Profits

Just as small businesses are struggling, local non-profit organizations are having an even harder time right now. Many people are out of work and every dollar in a family budget has been stretched to its limit. Many organizations are really in need of support so they can continue to help their local communities. Consider making a donation in someone’s name as a thoughtful and unique gift. Here are some that have a special place in my heart:

  • Peters Valley School of Craft: Peters Valley enriches lives through the learning, practice, and appreciation of fine crafts. This community, brings together established and emerging artists from around the globe. Peters Valley was officially incorporated as a non-profit in 1970 and is located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
  • The New Jersey Historical Society: The NJ History Society collects, preserves, teaches and interprets New Jersey history through its archives, research library, and educational programs. Not only is it a great place to visit, the Society offers materials for teachers to help share the story of New Jersey with their students.
  • Discover Jersey Arts: A collaboration between ArtPride New Jersey and New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Discover Jersey Arts is a multifaceted program dedicated to increasing the awareness of and participation in the arts in New Jersey. It is coordinated through the regional Jersey Arts Marketers (JAM) network and provides resources for both arts organizations and patrons alike.
  • New York-New Jersey Trail Conference: Even though it is not New Jersey-exclusive, the NY/NJ Trail Conference plays an important role in our great state. This is a volunteer-powered organization that builds, maintains, and protects public trails. Together with organization partners, the Train Conference strives to ensure that the trails and natural areas we all enjoy are sustainable and accessible for generations to come.
  • New Jersey Conservation Foundation: The mission of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey. Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation Foundation has protected over 125,000 acres of natural areas and farmland in New Jersey – from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bay, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks.

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, I urge you to “shop small” and look to support the businesses and non-profits right in your own community. After all, these are the businesses and organizations that sponsor your son’s little league team or purchase an ad in the high school play’s program. They will (God willing) be there for the long-haul providing services, products, and jobs to you and your neighbors.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: James Gandolfini

When many people think of Americans of Italian descent, they often think we are all in the mob, or “connected.” Many movies such as The Godfather add to the stereotype. Add to that shows like Jersey Shore, Housewives of New Jersey, and The Sopranos, and well…

While many depictions in New Jersey and mob movies show a lot of things that are not true, many more good things are true. Many of us talk about wonderful memories growing up with Sunday dinners, multi-generational families, and pride in our heritage.

Enter James Gandolfini

Gandolfini played “Tony Soprano” in the famed HBO series. He was a deplorable character, yet, he was able to show a human side of this man. Tony had many of the issues we all struggle with; anxiety, temptation; a frustration with his family – his “blood family” that is. James Gandolfini played the character perfectly. He able to play a guy from Jersey because he was a guy from New Jersey.

That “New Jersey” I often speak of is an intangible characteristic those of us from this state easily understand. Born in Westwood, Gandolfini was raised in Park Ridge, New Jersey, the son of an American-born mother and an Italian-born father. He grew up with a strong pride in his heritage and visited Italy often. He was in Rome when he passed away from a heart attack in 2013 at the young age of 51. In 2014, Gandolfini was posthumously inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

While he was proud of his heritage, he worked hard to show his love for America. Gandolfini never forgot the sacrifice his father made, earning a Purple Heart in WWII, and sought to make sure that all veterans received the care and respect they deserve. In 2007, Gandolfini produced Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, a documentary in which he interviewed injured Iraq War veterans. In 2010 he produced Wartorn: 1861–2010, which examined the impact of PTSD on soldiers and families throughout wars in U.S. history from 1861 to 2010. He also worked with the USO making meeting service members and was a spokesperson for Wounded Warrior Project.

So no, not all Americans of Italian descent are in the mob, but we all love our Italian heritage. Gandolfini showed that pride in his role of Tony Soprano, and more importantly, in his daily life.