Preschool teacher co-leads initiative honoring Spotswood and Milltown Class of 2020

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Banners honoring high school graduates from Spotswood, Milltown and Helmetta were hung around the towns.PHOTOS BY VASHTI HARRIS/STAFF
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Banners honoring high school graduates from Spotswood, Milltown and Helmetta were hung around the towns.PHOTOS BY VASHTI HARRIS/STAFF
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SPOTSWOOD–With a large waterproof banner containing photos of Spotswood High School’s graduating seniors, resident Diane Wells spoke about how she helped lead an initiative to honor this year’s 12th graders.

“I follow a group on Facebook that was created after COVID-19 started by the Class of 2020 parents, and it’s not just popular like nationwide,” Wells said. “So, I started following that page someone invited me to and one of the towns in Oklahoma had done these banners, and they had put them all up and down their Main Street on lamp posts, and they looked really nice. So, I was like, why can’t we do that? So a couple of parents and I posted it on our own Spotswood Class of 2020 page saying ‘Hey Spotswood, Milltown and Helmetta, let’s do this.’ ”

A resident for 26 years, Wells said she, along with other fellow parents from the Spotswood/Milltown Banner Project, teamed up to get banners hung to honor the Class of 2020.

Beginning her initiative on April 20, Wells said making sure the banner was made out of tough material was important because it had to be weather worthy to withstand the sun, rain and wind.

“It is a high quality vinyl [and] it also had to print nicely because at the end of the day we don’t want a crummy picture, you know, of the kids up there, it had to be good quality,” Wells said. “I was fortunate enough to meet up with a few people that were able to help get this going on. One of them was the guy that did the printing, he was from King Kong Printing located in Matawan, and they did the banners for us and gave us a really good price on it because we ordered so many.”

In order to pay for the banners, Wells said she was able to raise about $4,500. From Kong Kong Printing she ordered 142 banners, each including senior portraits of the out-of-district students.

“If a student were a resident of Spotswood or Milltown, we made sure that they had a banner to represent them at the Class of 2020, as well as in their specific school colors,” Wells said.

People and organizations that donated to help pay for the banner, Wells said, included: Nick Legakis and the Spotswood Education Foundation, Adam Sabatino and the Spotswood Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), Chief of Police Michael Zarro and the Spotswood Community Policing Fund, Milltown PBA, Spotswood Mayor Edward Seely, Spotswood Councilman Charles Spicuzzo, Jackie Palmer, Bronson and Guthlein Funeral Home located in Milltown, and American Freight.

“Our big dollar donors were the Spotswood Education Foundation, as well as the Spotswood Police Department,” Wells said. “Between the two of them, it was pretty much a done deal. When I got their commitments I knew that I was going to be able to do it.”

After speaking with the school district, Wells said two banners were hung from early June to July 10. The first banner was placed in front of the borough’s municipal building and police station, located at 77 Summerhill Road in Spotswood.

Wells said Bronson and Guthlein Funeral Home Owner John McNamara donated all of the supplies that included lumber, hardware, the screws and his time to come to Spotswood and Milltown to help them build the structures that the banners were placed on.

Using his landscape equipment, Wells said George Regan from CNG Landscaping in Milltown helped them put the poles in the ground, and was there every single day to help build the structures for the banners.

When trying to find a place to hang up the second banner in Milltown, Wells said American Legion Joyce Kilmer Post 25 Commander Ron Dixon allowed her to hang the banner at the legion’s building, located at 4 JFKennedy Dr. in Milltown.

Wells said thanks to McNamara’s, Regan’s and Dixon’s physical assists, the banners were completed.

“In addition to giving us the space to use at the American Legion property, Dixon also had no problem grabbing a drill and helping us move wood and building these things. … It’s great to get the money – if you have the money you can purchase something – but if you don’t have someone behind you to help you build it, then nothing matters,” Wells said. “It was really a combination of having the support financially, and then having the support to do that and actually get these things anchored and hung to where they were going to be weatherproof and all those other things.”

Despite it being a lot of fun getting the banners hung, Wells said she had to get parental permission to use each student’s photo for the banner.

“There were a lot of permissions that had to be given. We had to get permission [because] legally I couldn’t just post someone’s picture,” Wells said. “I had to have parental permission, I had to get their photo, I had to have the right to use that photo. So it was a lot as far as legally that I had to go through to make sure that we could do it and honor the kids.”

Seeing Gov. Phil Murphy continue to issue social distance restrictions, Wells said she is glad she was able to get the banners for the graduating students.

“I have my daughter graduating from high school, and one of my other daughters graduated from college with a master’s degree, and she didn’t get anything. … Personally, it’s been heartbreaking for me to watch my kids go through that,” Wells said. “On a personal note, it’s been sad for me, but I’m not alone in this we have 165 graduating seniors. There are 165 moms and dads feeling bad for their kids and all of these rites of passage things that they’re really missing out on.

“Obviously we don’t want people getting sick, we don’t want more sickness, that’s the bigger picture, but each family, whether it’s a fifth grade graduation or preschool graduation, I’m a preschool teacher, so they’re all at some level missing out on something and it’s hard,” she said.

Wells would also like to thank the following people who helped with the banner initiative:

  • Nicole Pardo-Ievolella, Milltown parent and co-founder banner project
  • Chris Wathen, Milltown parent and co-founder banner project
  • BCB Bank’s Donna Angioletti
  • Rob Mitzleman, Spotswood DPW
  • Spotswood Superintendent Graham Peabody
  • Spotswood High School Principal Amy Jablonski
  • Spotswood High School Administrative Assistant Kathy Losinski
  • Milltown superintendent of Schools Stephanie Brown
  • Milltown Mayor Trina Mehr
  • Russ Einbinder of King Kong Printing
  • Superintendent of Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools Jeff Biscko
  • Helmetta Mayor Chris Slavicek

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.