Fair Haven Cleanup Dedicated To The Fallen

May 1, 2017
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Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School students and other volunteers work to clear away brush in Fair Haven Sunday as part of a community service project for a veterans’ organization.

By John Burton |

FAIR HAVEN – It may have meant giving up some free time or a little sleep Sunday morning, but for a group of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) students it was worth the effort.

Michael Ponenti, a 15-year-old Rumson resident and freshman at RFH, along with about 10 of his fellow students and others, joined forces for a project at Fair Haven Fields nature area, Ridge Road, in honor of a Marine killed in combat in 10 years ago and other fallen service members.

“We thought it would be a good project to honor Lt. Travis Manion,” Ponenti said of his and his classmates’ efforts.

The students, along with other volunteers, spent part of their day clearing away bamboo that is threatening a portion of the natural area, explained Fair Haven Police Chief Joseph McGovern.

The project was being done for the Travis Manion Foundation and the foundation’s Operation Legacy. The foundation was established to honor the sacrifice of Manion, a 26-year-old Marine first lieutenant, originally from North Carolina, who was killed on April 29, 2007, in the Al Anbar province in Iraq, while saving wounded soldiers.

The foundation assists veterans and their families and the families of military members who were killed, and works to build character in young people through their commitment to community service projects. The foundation’s motto is “If Not Me, Then Who…?”

Students volunteer to work to clear away brush in Fair Haven on Sunday.

In a prepared speech to the other volunteers, Ponenti said Manion and others like him personified the values of courage, integrity, service and resilience. “If we want to bring meaning to their sacrifice we must live these values ourselves,” he said.

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Ponenti got some fellow school wrestling team members, members of the school’s Character Education Club and Fair Haven Police Explorers to join him with this project. “They agreed with the message,” Ponenti said of the other volunteers.

Ponenti said he first found out about the foundation and its Operation Legacy when he was doing a school book report when he was 13 and the idea behind the mission stuck with him. “I appreciated the message they were sending,” he said.

Jason Lippart, an RFH guidance counselor and character educator, joined the students to give a helping hand. “We’re always telling the kids to reflect in a positive way,” he said, advocating for the students to spend some time on these community projects.

“We’re in an area that’s a little more privileged than some others,” Lippart observed. “So I think it’s even more important to give back.”

McGovern said he was asked about a good project and he consulted with the borough engineer and public works supervisor. Bamboo is a stubborn and invasive species that requires a lot of man-hours for Public Works employees to clear “and it’s taking over the field,” he said, believing this was a good way to meet the students’ need.

This article was first published in the April 27-May 4, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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