West Orange Community House Celebrates 100th Anniversary at Third Annual Community Awards Dinner
Friday, June 17, 2011 • 6:15am
WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Community House, an organization devoted to offering activities and services for children to enhance their development, held its third annual community awards dinner on June 16. The dinner was also an opportunity to commemorate the Community House's one hundredth anniversary of service to the township.
The Community House was started as the West Orange Improvement League in 1911 by the Reverend Otto Humphrys, then the rector of Holy Trinity Church on Main Street, as a way to provide projects and recreational facilities for children. It has been an affiliate of the Boys and Girls Club of America since 1997.
In his remarks to the guests, Community House Executive Director Paul Cito noted that the organization had come a long way since the early 1990's. The budget had fallen to $150,000 in 1991 when Cito, then a board member, stepped in to turn things around. Today, as the Community House celebrates its centennial, it boasts a $3 million operating budget. It serves 170 children through preschool programs and weekend activities in its Main Street location as well as after-school programs in five public schools, which include arts and crafts programs, sports, and homework assistance.
Awards were presented to four individuals for their service to the Community House and to children. Renard Barnes was given the award for Volunteer of the Year, Township Chief Financial Officer Edward Coleman was named the recipient of the Friend of the Community House award, and Frank Rubinetti was given the award for Business Person of the Year. The fourth award, Educator of the Year, was posthumously given to Elizabeth "Betty" Maddalena, who died in March. Louis Maddalena, her brother, accepted the award.
Barnes, a construction litigation attorney and a former West Orange town council member, was cited for his work in coordinating the basketball skills development program and helping to raise funds for converting an old movie theater adjacent to the Community House into a gymnasium. The project is currently in the early stages with work being done on stabilizing the roof and walls. Barnes cited service above self in accepting his award.
"We are not going to make it as a nation if we are not looking out for each other," Barnes told the attendees. "Sometimes helping others' dreams can give you immense satisfaction and joy.
"The greatest thing about this is that it can take you, when you volunteer and help people, to a different spiritual level altogether. There is no growth more rewarding than spiritual development."
Township Business Administrator Jack Sayers introduced Coleman, whom he called a friend and a colleague. Sayers recalled how Coleman took him under his wing when he first came to West Orange and helped him to be able to manage the township's daily operations. Coleman was cited for his service to the community through volunteering with the West Orange Basketball Club and with the Police Athletic League, as well as playing Santa Claus for the Community House's preschool children.
"They've got a tremendous program at the Community House," Coleman, who is retiring in September, told The Alternative Press. "I was always glad to help out whenever I could."
Rubinetti, who worked at his father's Star Tavern in Orange and has owned Johnny's Pizzeria in West Orange since 1969, has been extremely active with the West Orange Community House. He has supplied pizzas to afterschool programs and more recently sponsored the Boys and Girls Clubs of West Orange's first Instructional Basketball League. Rubinetti himself belonged to the Boys Club of America (as it was called then) in Union, and he fondly remembered going there to play basketball or table tennis or to use the pool.
The evening turned emotional when the focus shifted to Ms. Maddalena, who died after a long battle with cancer. Her friends and colleagues remembered her as a caring person who was devoted to educating children, particularly as a teacher of children of special needs, and as a woman who brightened people's lives and had the ability to make anyone feel like he or she was her best friend. West Orange Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony Cavanna decided, rather than deliver a proper eulogy, to share a note he wrote to Ms. Maddalena's family after she died.
"Betty had many friends, and she always watched their backs," Cavanna read. "Every adult and student in the West Orange community loved and respected her. Her accomplishments will have an effect on the community forever.
"Betty truly brought out the best in all of us. Thank you for sharing Betty with us."
The evening closed with a video montage of photographs of Ms. Maddalena in her memory.