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Paramus Residents Take Part in Freedom Walk

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

PARAMUS, N.J., Sept. 10, 2007 – Nearly 400 residents here took a stroll yesterday in support of U.S. servicemembers, veterans and emergency responders and commemorated victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks during the community’s first Freedom Walk.

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Matthew Kaplan (left) and Michael Wirth, both 15, lead the way with a Sept. 11, 2001, commemorative banner during their community’s first Freedom Walk, in Paramus, N.J., Sept. 9, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
  

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About 230 similar Freedom Walks co-sponsored by the Defense Department’s America Supports You program were held nationwide and in 10 countries this year.

America Supports You connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

Paramus’s 1.5-mile Freedom Walk began and ended at Bergen Community College and featured pre-walk addresses by U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett and Paramus Mayor Jim Tedesco.

“You can never give enough time and energy for the men and women who are doing so much for us,” Garrett told his constituents.

Paramus, a New Jersey borough located about 20 miles northwest of New York City, was deeply affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan, said Jane Cosco, one of the walk’s organizers and a recently retired middle school teacher.

“Like most areas near New York City, we have a lot of families affected by 9/11,” Cosco said, as she and an army of volunteers set up registration, water and food sites for the Freedom Walk. Immediately after the terror attacks, Cosco helped organize Paramus’s first troop and first-responder salute and remembrance ceremony for the victims.

Cosco also directs Operation Goody Bag, one of 250 organizations nationwide that participate in America Supports You-sponsored events, like Freedom Walks. Operation Goody Bag has sent more than 59,000 bagged gifts of thank-you letters, poems, candy and other items to emergency responders and overseas-deployed servicemembers since the program was established in November 2003, she said.

“It’s all about saying, ‘Thank You,’ to the people who keep us safe,” Cosco said of her involvement in America Supports You and other programs that assist military members, veterans, firemen and police.

Cosco credited former pupil Joey Rizzolo, 12, for generating the idea to hold a Freedom Walk in Paramus.

“Joey is the type of kid that makes you want to teach for 36 years,” Cosco pointed out. When Operation Goody Bag became an America Supports You supporter in December 2006, Joey immediately checked out the Pentagon-endorsed program’s Web site, she recalled.

Asked about his motivation to start an annual Freedom Walk in his hometown, Joey recalled reading about a Freedom Walk in Sebring, Ohio, organized by 10-year-old Colton Lockner.

“If they can do it, then we can do it, too,” Rizzolo said of his thinking at that time, as he hefted a bag of ice prior to the start of the Freedom Walk.

The purpose of Paramus’s Freedom Walk, Rizzolo explained, is to remember the people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and to thank U.S. servicemembers, veterans and first responders.

“They’re risking their lives every day to make America safe and free,” Joey said.

Tedesco saluted Joey’s labors on behalf of the Freedom Walk. Paramus residents came together “to put on a great event,” the mayor said.

Tedesco served as Paramus’s police commissioner before he became its mayor. On Sept. 11, 2001, he led a contingent of police and other emergency responders to the World Trade Center after the Twin Towers had been struck by terrorist-hijacked airliners. The mayor described the devastation he saw “as something that I’ll never forget.”

U.S. servicemembers’ efforts in fighting terrorism around the globe enable Americans to enjoy their freedoms and way of life, Tedesco pointed out. “Each day, there are men and women out there sacrificing their lives so that we can assemble like this,” Tedesco said. “We need to let them know that we care about them.”

Joey’s mother, Rosa, said she’s very proud of her son’s and her community’s efforts to assist servicemembers, veterans and emergency responders.

“I really feel that I live in a town that’s family,” she said. “We want the GIs, first responders and veterans to know that we care.”

She also praised America Supports You, saying the organization “is really wonderful to work with.”

Chelsea Virga, 11, a member of Joey Rizzolo’s Freedom Walk committee student staff, echoed Joey’s praise of America’s military, firemen and police. “Every night we’re lucky enough in America to go home and be able to sleep safely because of all of our first responders,” she said.

On leave, but decked out in his Marine dress uniform, Cpl. Michael J. Harkin, 21, was on hand to participate in his hometown’s Freedom Walk festivities. Harkin, a military mechanic, served a duty tour in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006. He’s preparing to go back to Iraq in a month or so.

“Joey Rizzolo is actually my neighbor,” Harkin said as he surveyed the multitude of Freedom Walk participants. “I’m not really sure what inspired him, but I think it’s outstanding.

“It is so nice to come home and be completely supported by everybody,” Harkin added, noting he and his fellow Marines had received scores of “goody bags” in Iraq last year.

“I couldn’t eat enough candy,” Harkin recalled, noting that he joined the Marines three years ago, “to protect everybody here.”

Dev Patel, is a Paramus resident and U.S. citizen who was born in Mumbai, India. Patel participated in the Freedom Walk with his daughter, Alpana, and his 9-year-old grandson, Rohan. “We’re here to support the people who protect us,” Patel said.

Long-time Paramus resident Pete LaBarbiera was the first person to complete the Freedom Walk. “It’s a worthwhile cause,” LaBarbiera, a self-described fast walker, said of his community’s first Freedom Walk. “I think we have to remember what happened on 9/11. We also have to acknowledge the everyday work of our military, firemen and police.”

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Related Sites:
America Supports You Freedom Walk
America Supports You
Operation Goody Bag

Click photo for screen-resolution imagePete LaBarbiera was the first person to complete the first Freedom Walk held in Paramus, N.J., Sept. 9, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRosa Rizzolo and other residents of Paramus, N.J., prepare to carry a giant American flag at the start of the community’s first Freedom Walk, held Sept. 9, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJoey Rizzolo, 12, and Jane Cosco, director of Operation Goody Bag, an affiliate of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, place bags of ice at a water and food point for participants at the first Freedom Walk held in Paramus, N.J., Sept. 9, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJessica Virga, 17, gives Marine Cpl. Michael J. Harkin, 21, a bottle of water at the Freedom Walk held in Paramus, N.J., Sept. 9, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJoey Rizzolo (left) and Paramus, N.J., Mayor Jim Tedesco socialize before the start of the community’s first Freedom Walk, on Sept. 9, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDev Patel (middle), his daughter, Alpana (right), and grandson, Rohan, participate in the first Freedom Walk held in Paramus, N.J., Sept. 9, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNearly 400 Paramus, N.J., residents show their support for military members, veterans, first responders and those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, during the community’s first Freedom Walk on Sept. 9, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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