By: Megan Roche
For the young adults involved in the Mayor’s Council for People with Challenges, each year they are finding new ways to give back and help their beloved community of Denville get better, look more beautiful, and be supported. Now, the team behind Denville SPARK is looking for their neighbors in Denville to help them.
Started by Mayor Tom Andes, the Mayor’s Council for People with Challenges is just one of the many volunteer groups throughout town that help their neighbors any chance they get. During the summer months, the young men and women of the group volunteer to work at the snack shack at Cook’s Pond during swim meets, volunteer during Rid Litter Day, decorate for the holidays in downtown Denville, and much more.
Susan Reinhardt, the chair of the Mayor’s Council for People With Challenges or MCPC, is now working her connections throughout the town to help raise the necessary funds to purchase a group home for three boys, RJ, Eric, and Mark.
“Our sons were born with developmental disabilities. As time went on and they grew into adolescents, we realized they would not be able to live independently as adults. We investigated various housing opportunities and discovered there were long waiting lists for group homes that our sons’ names may never get to the top of those lists.” Reinhardt shared.
To raise the funds necessary, Reinhardt has teamed up with fellow Denville resident and Polar Plunge planning extraordinaire Tim Behrens. The last two years, Behrens has helped run the plunge to raise the necessary funds for Project Playground 2.0. As the plunge makes its return for the third annual event, Behrens selected the kids at Denville SPARK to benefit from the fundraising.
“We did something for a thing, but this is something different, it benefits our residents. We can really help people out who need it by raising this money. This is about our people, not things.” Behrens said.
In addition to volunteering, a big piece of the Mayor’s Council for People With Challenges is their annual Thanksgiving food drive hosted by the Foodtown of Denville. Jeff Dickerson, owner of the Foodtown, was quick to acknowledge how much these kids do for the town that they love so much.
“I think the members were very comfortable on the Foodtown sidewalk since many of my employees knew them and enjoyed interacting with them. It really was a win win because my store got the incremental business and Denville Social Services got their needs met st a particularly difficult time of year. My hope is to work closer with the organization at some point in the future, because Susan and her team have hearts of gold.” Dickerson said.
The Mayor’s Council for People with Challenges also participates in challenger baseball programs, karate programs, a bowling league, exercise programs at the YMCA, challenger soccer, an animal shelter donation collection, and much more.
Reinhardt has been researching group homes for years and has discovered that the purchase of a group home will actually help the township when it comes to affordable housing.
“Our current goal is to provide our sons with more than just a place to live. We’d like them to have the choice to live with those of their own choosing, with home they are compatible with in terms of age and abilities. We began our goal towards creating S.P.A.R.K. Independence, a home where our young men can live together.” Reinhardt said.
Reinhardt’s work with the MCPC group has not gone unnoticed by local residents either. Volunteer groups in town are constantly contacting her to have the kids in the program volunteer their time. The kids have most recently helped to decorate downtown Denville for the holidays.
“I love volunteering as it helps my community of Denville,” Eric said.
“My favorite part is wearing my Denville T-shirt. When I help people, it makes me so proud to live here.” RJ said.
“I like that volunteering helps me feel good and I love to help people in my home of Denville.” Mark said.
For Michael Bertram, his daughter Stephanie, has been an active member of MCPC for the last few years. Stephanie can be seen around the town, proudly known as the Mayor’s best friend. For Bertram, this program means the world to him and his family.
“This program offers us the knowledge that our daughter has another social network. It’s enjoyable to watch because she is so into giving back to her town. She wants to help out Denville. It makes her feel so special. She’s getting to do something that benefits someone else.” Bertram said.
The Denville Polar Plunge will take place on February 23 at Cook’s Pond at 1:00 PM. There will be music, games, refreshments, and of course, the chance to plunge into Cook’s Pond’s freezing water temperatures.
“If you come out, you’ll see costumes and the novelty that comes with doing a fundraiser. Of course nobody wants to run into the freezing water, but they do it for the kids. There’s a ton of fun runs, 5Ks, there is not always a Polar Plunge.” Behrens said.
Information on the Polar Plunge will be shared on the Denville Polar Plunge Facebook page in the coming weeks. The answers for how to register, times, location, and more will be updated as final decisions are made. There will be prizes given to those who fundraise the most prior to the plunge.
“These kids are so proud of the town that they call home. To them, they volunteer at everything. They love always having their Denville pride on display whether they are volunteering at the snack shack or collecting food for Thanksgiving. This is what they love to do.” Reinhardt said.
“We feel it is important to give back to the community that supports our efforts. As such, participants perform volunteer work in the community through the Denville Mayor’s Council for People with Challenges. Our goal is realize our dream of providing housing for our sons through fundraising efforts that support the true mission of S.P.A.R.K.” Reinhardt said.
To learn more about Denville S.P.A.R.K., visit www.denvillespark.org.