Cliffwood youngster receives special gift from community

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Stephen Szczepaniak, a past vice president of the South Central District New Jersey State Elks Association, would do anything to help his “little buddy.”

His little buddy is Jacob, a 10-year-old boy from Cliffwood. Jacob, who has cerebral palsy, is a soon-to-be middle school student with a personality that shines just as bright as his smile.

On Aug. 29, community members and members of the Keyport-Matawan Elks Lodge gathered at the lodge, which is located at 249 Broadway in Keyport, to surprise Jacob with a bike trailer.

The trailer, which will attach to the back of his mother’s car, will help transport Jacob’s customized bicycle, which is larger than an average bicycle.

Earlier this year, members of the New Jersey State Elks Motorcycle Committee, along with emergency responders and members of Keyport-Matawan Elks Lodge, hand-delivered a special bicycle that was crafted to accommodate Jacob’s special needs.

The youngster won the bicycle after receiving 179,000 online votes in a nationwide contest. After years of unsuccessfully entering a contest to win a Van Raam EasyRider Jr. bicycle in the Friendship Circle’s Great Bike Giveaway, Jacob’s mother, Bernadette Richmond, sought community support and that support helped her son win the bicycle of his dreams.

Szczepaniak recently learned Jacob’s mom did not have the proper equipment to transport Jacob’s bicycle outside of their Cliffwood neighborhood.

Szczepaniak said the narrow roads in the neighborhood are not ideal for bicycle riding. He said Richmond was seeking a trailer to transport the bike to local parks where Jacob had more room to ride.

Richmond said Jacob’s special bike was “going to waste.”

Szczepaniak posted a message on Facebook explaining that his “little buddy” needed equipment to transport his bicycle and the community immediately responded.

“The Aberdeen Police Benevolent Association paid for the trailer and the Matawan Police Benevolent Association paid for the installation of the trailer hitch on (Bernadette’s) car,” Szczepaniak said.

“When I first put the message on Facebook, the Matawan PBA reached out and said ‘we will take care of this.’ …. (The Matawan PBA) reached out to the Aberdeen PBA and they said they would pay for the (second expense),” he said.

With the expenses covered, Szczepaniak purchased a refurbished bike trailer on Facebook Marketplace.

Elks member Bob LaCuro painted and placed new wheels on the bike trailer, Szczepaniak said, adding that U-Haul Moving & Storage of Middletown installed the hitch on Richmond’s vehicle at no cost.

Jacob said he was very grateful for the Elks’ kind gesture.

“My mom prepared me for (the gift). She said, ‘smile, be happy, and jump over the top like Mickey Mouse,’ he laughed, adding that his mother is his best friend. “(My mom) has always been there for me no matter what.”

Richmond said Jacob would bring his bicycle on their annual camping trip to Cheesequake State Park, Old Bridge.

“Thank you all so much from the bottom of my heart,” Richmond said. “I cannot wait for Jacob to ride his bike at the campsite. (Each year) we see the kids coming down the roads (on bikes) at the campsite and (Jacob) has never been able to (ride a bike at the campsite). This year, Jacob is going to be able to do that.”