By Clare Marie Celano
Tyler Merzer has not only committed himself to helping those in need in Freehold Borough, he has inspired other teenagers to do the same.
Tyler, 17, is a senior at Marlboro High School. In 2013 he created My Hometown, an organization that helps to raise awareness about the need for teens to volunteer and give something back to people in need in Freehold Borough.
“The mission of My Hometown is to encourage volunteerism to high school students to assist social agencies in Freehold Borough in fulfilling their own individual missions,” Tyler said.
Tyler, who is a resident of Marlboro, said the organization seeks to encourage leadership in each school chapter, to follow through with their own community service projects, to start more chapters and to have students learn the importance of giving back and feeling good about their contribution to Freehold Borough.
My Hometown will sponsor a fundraiser, “Strike Out Homelessness,” from 6-8 p.m. March 6 at Knob Hill Country Lanes, Manalapan. All proceeds will go to the Freehold Clergy Association’s Emergency Housing and Advocacy Program, according to Tyler. Tickets are $20 per person and include two hours of bowling, bowling shoes, pizza and a pitcher of soda (per lane). Those interested in attending should RSVP at email@example.com
My Hometown, which began as a club in Marlboro High School, has grown into an organization, according to Tyler, and now has chapters in Manalapan High School, Colts Neck High School, the Ranney School in Tinton Falls, and Freehold Township High School.
Lauren Harrison, of Marlboro, a junior at Colts Neck High School, organized a My Hometown chapter in 2015.
Logan Wald, 15, of Manalapan, a sophomore at Manalapan High School, organized a My Hometown chapter in 2015.
Anjali Mann, 17, of Marlboro, a junior at the Ranney School, organized a My Hometown chapter in 2015.
Anthony Lotti, 17, of Freehold Township, a junior at Freehold Township, Jared Tajfel, 17, a junior at Freehold Township, and Max Saunders, 16, of Freehold Township, a junior at Freehold Township, recently organized a My Hometown chapter at their school.
The students are all working on the upcoming bowling fundraiser.
So far, My Hometown’s membership totals 100-plus students and it continues to grow.
Tyler became interested in helping the Freehold Borough emergency housing and advocacy program after he read an article about the program in the News Transcript. He contacted program coordinator George Lowe and met with him to discuss how his organization could be of service.
Tyler said Lowe brought him together with Anthony Lotti, who had volunteered at the emergency housing program for four years.
Tyler came up with the idea of a bowling fundraiser, according to Lowe.
“We are happy Tyler approached the Freehold Clergy Association’s Emergency Housing and Advocacy Program about our needs,” Lowe said. “I was very impressed with him and what has done with My Hometown. My one concern is that Tyler and his friends are seniors. I hope other people will take over the legacy of what he started. We are happy he thought of us. I am sure we will be doing more things together.”
Tyler said a 2013 visit to Santa Barbara, Calif., where he worked as a camp counselor for underserved families for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, inspired him to want to continue doing community service at home. He said he realized Freehold Borough was a good place to start.
He got involved at the YMCA Community Center, Center Street, and ran fundraisers for food for the community center’s Thanksgiving dinner. He also worked on a toy drive for community center’s Christmas party. And, My Hometown provided a pizza party for children at the end of the school year.
Mel O’Neal, the executive branch director of the YMCA Community Center, said Tyler “has inspired a generation of young people.”
“He is an awesome young man and I cannot say enough about him,” O’Neal said. “He is really all about action. He completes what needs to be completed and his family is community-minded and give of themselves because it is the right thing to do. We are really blessed to have young people as talented as Tyler. He is an honor student and on his way to a beautiful, bright fulfilling life. To be so conscious of those in need is very noteworthy.”
Tyler also ran fundraisers to collect turkeys for the Freehold Area Open Door’s Thanksgiving packages.
“He is a wonderful young man who took us under his wing to help us,” said Jeanne Yaecker, the director of the Freehold Area Open Door. “He has great ideas, tireless energy and a personality that motivates others to help. … He just needs to know that what he is doing is making a difference.”
Tyler said he wanted a name for his group that would resonate with high school students.
“Kids are interested in music and Bruce Springsteen is a Freehold Borough artist who does so much philanthropic work. He grew up in Freehold Borough and wrote the song ‘My Hometown.’ I thought it was the perfect name. Freehold Borough is local and I feel like it’s my hometown, too,” the young man said.
According to Tyler, My Hometown has raised more than $9,000 through various projects and events.