Community Honors Local Heros At ‘Hero Awards’

Detective Benny Alvarado, a School Resource Officer at Brick Memorial, was honored with a cape. (Photo by Alyssa Riccardi)

  BRICK – The phrase “not all heroes wear capes” was embraced by the Brick Township community as they honored residents with their own capes – awarding them for making a difference in the community.

  The 10th Annual Brick Hero Awards was held at the Brick High School auditorium on March 8 and hosted by the Mayor’s Student Advisory. The event gives the opportunity to acknowledge residents and businesses who have made a positive impact in the community and awards them for their acts of kindness.

  This year, a total of 19 recipients were recognized based on the following categories; Business, Community Stewardship, Military/Veterans, Non-Profit Organization, Public Safety, Public Service, School Personnel, Seniors, Volunteerism and Youth. Each hero was pinned with a green superhero cape.

  “It’s our everyday heroes that really make the difference in our community,” Mayor Lisa Crate said. “People looking out for each other and caring for one another is just one of the many things that makes Brick Township so special. The Hero Awards is a perfect example of our wonderful community coming together to highlight each other’s remarkable contributions and acts of kindness.”  

  One of the first honorees was Brick Township High School senior Sofia Gonzales-Trelles, who was nominated by two people. Sofia is involved in clubs such as NHS, STEM, Student Advisory, Drama, Thespian Society, Choir, Peer Leadership, Harry Potter Club and Crochet Club and out of school groups such as Venturing Crew 129, SAIL and the Teen Advisory Board at the Brick Public Library. She’s is also a Girl Scout Ambassador who loves to serve her community.

  During the midst of the COVID lockdown, Sofia created the first annual Brick Township Mother’s Day Cupcake drive after she realized nursing home residents were not going to have any visitors for Mother’s Day. She contacted four nursing homes along Jack Martin Boulevard and various Girl Scout Troops in town to donate dozens of cupcakes.

   In addition, Sofia organized a program for her Gold Award in Girl Scouting, to help local seniors prevent isolation and depression through the power of playing music. Her goal is to establish a permanent biweekly music program at the Brick Township Senior Center.

  Other honorees included Detective Benny Alvarado, a Lakewood High School graduate who joined the United States Navy at 19. His last deployment was in Afghanistan when he was selected to protect a 4-Star Army General. He then moved on to become an agent for the Navy’s Criminal Investigation Service-NCIS in Groton, Connecticut. In 2016, he retired as Petty Officer First Class after 21 years of honorable service to his country.

  Detective Alvarado joined the Brick Township Police Department in 2005. Today, he’s known as “Benny,” the School Resource Officer for Brick Memorial High School.

  He has assisted several students in getting the mental help they need through therapy. Brick Memorial Principal Ed Sarluca expressed his admiration for Detective Alvarado.

  “He brings passion and energy to his position and is vastly knowledgeable and helpful in all areas. He provides safety and security to our staff and students and does so with a big heart and always a smile on his face. He is respected by students and staff alike and has really acclimated to becoming a Mustang,” Sarluca said.

  Brick Township Crossing Guard Donna DeMartine, who works the Colonial Drive intersection at Midstreams Elementary School, has been safely crossing thousands of students for more than 30 years. On January 25 of this year, Donna dealt with a driver in a rush to get to work, who was not following direction, and heading towards students. To avoid tragedy, Donna got in the driver’s path to slow her down. The angry driver tried to maneuver around Donna to continue on her way and Donna was struck in the leg by that car. She suffered minor injuries and was back on her post the very next day.

  Donna is described as a strong and tireless watchdog with one mission: to keep kids safe.

  Another honoree was special education teacher Karen Nobel. Dr. Billen, Principal of Midstreams Elementary School, nominated Karen due in part to her courageous battle with pancreatic cancer for more than a year and a half.

  Despite her diagnosis, Karen continues her commitment to her position and her students.

  “I have known Karen to be a consummate professional, an advocate for students and most importantly a caring and compassionate human being. Her unwavering commitment to the students of Midstreams Elementary School is exceptional,” Billen said. “During this time, Karen has battled through a 12 round chemotherapy treatment and is currently back on chemotherapy to attempt to keep the cancer at bay. Additionally, she has suffered multiple ups and downs with her health outlook. Despite all of this, Karen has maintained a positive outlook and continues to fight back against her diagnosis.”

  “I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention how humble Karen is about her situation. No matter how she might be feeling on the inside, both physically and mentally, she still puts the needs of others before her own,” Billen added.

  Other honorees included township historian Gene Donatiello, who’s been extremely active in the community since the 1960s. He was a long-time history teacher at both high schools in Brick and department chair at Brick Memorial High School. He was instrumental in the founding of the Brick Township Historical Society and is also an original member of the Brick Township Historic Preservation Commission.

  In addition, he’s written books about Brick Township and co-authored two books. Gene works tirelessly at the Havens Homestead Museum on Herberstville Road as the curator and a tour guide.

  One of the last capes was given to Suzy Raabe and the Food Angels. She collects clothes, food and items to help the homeless in the camps as well as serving dinners to the less fortunate. People drop stuff off to her home in Lake Riviera. She collects and distributes these items.

  Additionally, she collects food donations, prepares meals and serves them to Ocean County’s homeless, as there are no homeless shelters in Ocean County.

  Suzy formed the group “The Food Angels” and every other week they decide on a menu and get those ingredients donated. Suzy organizes a team to spend every other Saturday cooking and offers the homecooked meal along with bottled water and fruit to those in need. They also distribute clothes and other items, and Suzy arranged haircuts.

  The following is a full list of the Hero Award Recipients:

  • Business – Flower Bar
  • Business – Manasquan Bank
  • Community Stewardship – Sofia Gonzales-Trelles
  • Military/Veterans – Detective Benny Alvarado
  • Non-Profit Organization – Jersey Shore Animal Center
  • Non-Profit Organization – Janice Mishkin (Women’s Club of Brick)
  • Public Safety – Donna DeMartine
  • Public Safety – Sgt. Joseph Rossi
  • Public Service – Dima Kurki
  • Public Service – Jeff Norris
  • School Personnel – Irene Wojcik
  • School Personnel – Karen Nobel
  • School Personnel – Melissa Lampiasi
  • Seniors – Carolyn Rubino (Greenbriar I)
  • Seniors – Gene Donatiello
  • Volunteer – Marilyn Lago
  • Volunteer – Suzy Raab
  • Youth – Cameron Marr
  • Youth – Pete Tortorella