The eight-week program is intended to introduce special needs children to the sport of soccer and provide them an opportunity to engage in physical activity in a safe, organized and non-competitive environment.
Program discussions started in Saddle Brook earlier this year when resident Monica Maniscalco, whose child has special needs, approached one of the township's recreation directors.
"She came to me on the soccer field in our town and she said, 'What do we have to do to start a special needs soccer program?'" recreation co-director Renee DeMaria said. "I said, 'We start it, pretty much.'"
So DeMaria and fellow township rec director Lou Verile contacted Fair Lawn ADA Committee co-chair Marianne Pettineo about the possibility of starting a joint soccer league with children and volunteers from both communities.
Pettineo, who knew Verile from his involvement with Saddle Brook's Challenger Baseball program, reached out to All-Sports president Jeff Mazzola about the idea and a meeting of the minds was scheduled.
Six months later, Maniscalco's idea has become a reality. More than 40 children from throughout the area attended Saturday's opening day "Angels" program, with an equal number of volunteer "buddies" from Fair Lawn and Saddle Brook assigned to assist each child with their soccer skills.
“Municipalities are always talking about 'shared services' and how it is beneficial for towns to work together to share costs and resources," Pettineo wrote in an email to Patch. "This new joint soccer program between Fair Lawn All-Sports and the Saddle Brook Soccer Association is a shining example of how something positive can come about when neighboring towns work together and open their hearts and fields to children with special needs.”
Saddle Brook Mayor Karen Chamberlain, who attended Saturday's opening day event, said a conversation she had with the mother of one of the Angels participants left her emotional.
"I was in tears after speaking with her because her daughter was so happy at the fact that now she has a chance to wear a team shirt, now she has a chance to have a schedule of practices," Chamberlain said. "Sometimes we forget to realize that that’s what this is all about, bringing meaning to the life of the exceptional child."
The Angels program, which rotates between fields in Fair Lawn and Saddle Brook each Saturday, is still accepting signups at a cost of $35 per child, ages 5 to 16. The entrance fee includes a t-shirt, shin guards, water bottle and soccer ball. Registration forms are available on the ADA website under Events.
For more information on the Angels, which All-Sports considers an extension of its Club Fun program, please contact Ed Aig from Fair Lawn All-Sports at Aigman@aol.com, or Monica Maniscalco with the Saddle Brook Soccer Association at 917-992-7904 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.