Hometown Heroes

Congressman Gottheimer Honors Pascack Valley Community Heroes

Article by Kris Pepper/Office of Congressman Gottheimer

Photography by The Office of Congressman Gottheimer

Originally published in Pascack Valley City Lifestyle

U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) recently honored local life-saving first responders, veterans, volunteers, community leaders, and residents during his Fifth District Hometown Heroes Ceremony, held at the Hackensack Performing Arts Center. Gottheimer honored more than 25 residents as Fifth District Hometown Heroes to acknowledge their dedication to helping improve the lives of their neighbors, families, and communities. Among those honored were ten members of the Pascack Valley community.

"We are lucky to have so many unsung heroes in our communities here today, whose quiet power of service goes on every day without the recognition they truly deserve. They just do it because they care. Today is their day. Without the people we are recognizing today, our communities would not be as strong as they are, and North Jersey would not be the great place that it is," said Congressman Gottheimer. They all come from different walks of life, but share an idea that is particularly special: they embody our Jersey Values and make our community such a special place to live, work, and raise a family. They help us build that more perfect union of our dreams. We all should work to live up to their example."

Our local heroes include: 

Robert Silvestri, Hillsdale — Bob was working in Manhattan on 9/11, after the second plane struck, he immediately told everyone in his office to go home, but just as Bob left his office, the first tower collapsed. He was in a stampede of smoke and people fleeing North when he heard a cry for help. While Bob was running through the smoke, he heard a woman yelling "my baby, my baby" and while everyone was running by, Bob turned around to help. He wasn't able to see the woman, but he was able to hear her. He dropped to the ground to get under the smoke and increase his visibility. Bob miraculously found the baby wrapped in a blue blanket on the floor. After finding the baby, Bob called out to the woman to keep yelling so he could find her, too. Finally reuniting them together, he led them out of the smoke and to an FBI Agent who took them to safety. Bob filled up his car with strangers and drove them over the George Washington Bridge on his way home.

Mary Cerrati, Westwood — 93-year-old Mary Cerrati has worked as president and chaplain of the Westwood Senior Fellowship for the last eight years—helping organize trips, parties, luncheons, and well visits for its 75 members with the goal of keeping our seniors engaged, involved, and active. Mary is also a part of the Board of Directors at the St. Andrews Church 50 Plus Club, helping serve the social and spiritual needs of community members aged 50 and up. Five years ago, she was appointed by the mayor and council to the Borough of Westwood Senior Advisory Committee to help advocate for seniors. For nearly 20 years, Mary has been a member and board member of the Woman's Club of Westwood—a nonprofit club that supports the enrichment of the community. Mary has also spent six years in the Westwood School System as a teacher's aide and more than 40 years in the local VFW, serving as vice president for 12 years and president for four years. 

Curt Schleier, River Vale — Curt is an EMT and has been an active member of the River Vale volunteer ambulance corps for 50 years. Before his work in North Jersey, Curt served in the New York Air National Guard. Now, Curt has become a key component of the River Vale volunteer ambulance corps and is regularly one of a few members that ride during the day, making his work crucial to the safety of his community. He rides on Thursdays and the River Vale Ambulance Corps is one of the only ambulance corps in service during the day on Thursday. Curt also helps provide mutual aid to seven surrounding towns, meaning he helps protect thousands of residents—he's even had a CPR save. Curt is also a member of the Board of Directors of the ambulance corps, has served as president, and is currently serving as vice president.

Frances Yates, Westwood — Frances formed the Flood Solutions Group which is made up of local flood-impacted residents to advocate for necessary changes and legislation to find solutions for families and municipalities. She's been on the Board of Trustees at the Dr. Goldberg Child Care Center in Westwood, volunteered as a Girl Scout Leader for the River Vale troop, and was a Former Westwood Brookside School President. She even founded a nonprofit for concerned citizens of Westwood and Hillside which has secured $1 million dollars in funding from county, state, and federal investments to renovate multiple Westwood bridges along the Pascack Brook. After Hurricane Sandy, she opened a soup kitchen and warming center, securing donated food from local businesses and residents. Her efforts earned her the Bergen County Superstorm Sandy Outstanding Service Award. She's also delivered food to the needy throughout Bergen and Passaic Counties for more than 25 years. 

Dr. Zaheera Khan, Montvale — Zaheera is dedicated to breaking racial barriers seen and unseen throughout our communities. By stepping forward and lending a hand, always willing to work with everyone to better understand their issues. Zaheera has been a force of peace, compassion, and love. She has helped launch several programs to promote the Muslim community in Montvale, including the first crescent moon lighting for Ramadan, an Interfaith Iftar event, and a cultural brunch for Montvale seniors. She has also volunteered to collect donations for the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey, donating her time and resources to support those in need. 

Lauren Letizia and RoseAnn Ciarlante, Westwood — Lauren and RoseAnn are the chairs of "Celebrate Westwood." where they run events like "Shop the Hub" which have brought critical attention and traffic to local businesses, leading to desperately needed increases in sales. During the pandemic, they showcased many hometown heroes themselves through their essential workers and volunteer recognition programs. Their summertime "Arts on the Avenue" program matched local artists, with locations in the downtown area for people to enjoy their music, sculptures, comedy, and more. Now, they're working to develop "Biz Hub," a new iteration of a typical Chamber of Commerce that will help further develop and support Westwood's businesses. Their work has supported organizations including the Women's Club of Westwood, Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Westwood Volunteer Fire Company, Westwood Heritage Society, Westwood Chamber of Commerce, The Westwood Community Band, Meals on Wheels North Jersey, and many more.

Hometown Heroes who were not able to attend include:

Dr. Danielle DaGiau from Old Tappan, advocate for autism-inclusive education

Park Ridge Police Officer Michael Stallone, saved a child from being pinned between cars

Olivia Dunne from Westwood, influential gymnast 

Congratulations and a heartfelt “thank you” to our Pascack Valley community heroes!

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