The 18th annual Verona Mayor's Charity Evening will honor seven neighborhood volunteers and businesses that have contributed to the local community this weekend.
They will be saluted Saturday in a sold-out gathering at the Richfield Regency. Proceeds from the evening will benefit various town programs for children, senior citizens and other community groups.
Mayor Frank J. Sapienza praised all of the honorees for their dedication to Verona.
DeWitt is the director of activities Hillwood Terrace, a senior citizen housing complex and she helps the local Girl Scouts, the mayor said.
DeWitt, from Montclair, has been the program director for Hillwood Terrace, a low-income senior citizen housing complex, since 2007. She has been working with seniors for 24 years and previously was program coordinator for The Hallmark of Battery City Park in New York City.
She said she was surprised to be honored, saying she has accomplished a lot through Verona Live and many great partnerships with different organizations and other community groups.
She also said Verona High School students Annie Patti, Pamela Jablonski and Adara Blaney have been supportive volunteers; they come in weekly to help decorate for parties, sing karaoke, play instruments and assist in community service projects such as making gift baskets for the poor.
DeWitt called Verona a "very senior-friendly town" and she's glad to be able to help provide social activities for the senior citizens, as well as health and inter-generational programs.
DeWitt has spoken at the middle school and taught age-sensitivity training by making students pretend to be senior citizens by wearing Vaseline-covered glasses and other measures to pretend they are older.
She noted health experts from Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston have done seminars and lectures on better living, and the complex also holds movie and documentary viewings and discussion groups.
"I feel honored to have this job, so honoring me is honoring them (the senior citizens)," she said. "To me, it's a privilege working with seniors and I've learned so much. That's why I've been doing it for 24 years. Working with seniors is like a teacher - someone who really loves it and is open to learning every single day. I'm working with fantastic, interesting people."
Kiernan is a long-time supporter of Our Lady of the Lake church and the Verona Sports Boosters.
Kiernan, of Verona, has been a long-time volunteer at Lady of the Lake church and has done many different volunteer jobs, including Eucharistic minister, youth advisory board and pastoral council member and event organizer.
She has also served on the Verona High School Sports Boosters and the Verona High School Baseball Parents Association for four years.
Kiernan said she was "very flattered and a little embarrassed" about being honored by the mayor.
"I don't need anyone to pat me on the back, ever, and it is absolutely lovely they are," Kiernan said.
She volunteers because "I like to serve my community in any way I can, especially to help the kids and athletics and make their programs better." She added she grew up attending Lady of the Lake and she finds it a "very important" place for her and her children.
Mercurio is a long-time volunteer with the Verona track and junior wrestling programs.
Mercurio of Verona has been volunteering to teach elementary and middle school students wrestling for nine years and cross-country and track for eight years.
Mercurio said he's very honored to be among those to be recognized at the mayor's charity evening. However, he thought there are many other volunteers more deserving of the recognition than himself.
Mercurio, a psychologist who grew up in Bloomfield, said he volunteers teaching children about wrestling and running because those were sports he did while he was young. He added he enjoys watching the students grow and progress with the sports.
"There's a lot they can get out of participating in sports like wrestling and track," Mercurio said. "You can learn some self discipline, a sense of self-reliance. These aren't sports where you can throw the ball to somebody. It's basically just you competing against your opponents. I think it can be a very positive experience for the kids and it's also a lot of fun."
Williamson is a long-time volunteer with the Verona Baseball and Softball League.
Anthony Totoriello, the owner of Frank Anthony’s, is being honored for taking an old oil change repair shop on Bloomfield Avenue and transforming it into a well-run restaurant, the mayor said.
Tortoriello has owned the business about seven years. He relocated the restaurant about 2½ years ago into a vacant, rundown former transition repair shop.
Tortoriello, who lives in Verona, said he appreciated being honored for taking an "eyesore on a prominent corner in town" and converting it into a family restaurant.
"It feels really good to be recognized for your hard work and efforts, to be recognized by the town and the community," he said. "It's great."
MyVeronaNJ is being honored for notifying people about events in the community, Sapienza said.
The Verona 9/11 Committee is being honored for creating a monument in memory of local residents who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and for creating a scholarship fund for local students, the mayor said.