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Parents Of The Year

by Editorial Staff--Suburban Family Magazine
Every month, we dedicate our pages to lauding accomplished young students, award-winning athletes and championship little league teams. And yet, behind every game-winning goal and academic scholarship earned, there are dedicated parents who support and guide our community’s rising stars along the way—from their first steps to their first jobs.

We’d like to thank the outstanding moms and dads among us who juggle soccer practice and homework help with their own lives, businesses, charity work and community involvement. Our first-ever Parents of the Year awards features a selection of reader submissions from across South Jersey, plus a few other parents worthy of the recognition.

Shelly Brenner
Cherry Hill
Living in Cherry Hill for the last 37 years has impacted the mother of four daughters, as she has stayed in Camden County to tackle her field in some of the harshest climates in the country. Brenner has been a kindergarten teacher with the Camden City public schools for the past 24 years, teaching at Henry L. Bonsall Elementary School in the troubled city. She works alongside her staff in a consistent and dedicated manner, and has shown this same commitment to her family at home. This Parent of the Year is also a dedicated grandparent to her five grandchildren.

Theresa Wilt Beal
Medford Lakes
Beal, the mother of three young girls, has a list of volunteer and community efforts that could run several pages. Be­tween driving her children and their friends to ballet classes several times a week and baking brownies for local functions, she volunteers as the chair of the Scholastic Book Fair at her daughters’ school, and as a “stage mom” for performances with nonprofit arts organization Ballet NJ Theater Company, says family member Cassandra Wilt. In addition to children’s functions, Beal has organized several events during the past year to benefit cancer research and Toys for Tots. “If anyone needs help, Theresa is there to lend more than a helping hand. She gives her all. No one we know does more, loves more or works harder than Theresa Beal,” says Wilt.

Tony Cattani
By day, Cattani is known as the south principal of Lenape High School, roaming the halls and engaging with students. But he’s also a devoted father to his children—daughters Madyson, Alena and Laurel, and one on the way. “My instinct is to say he has three children, but my heart knows that he has hundreds, if not thousands,” says wife Kate Cattani, because he treats each of his students as if they were his own. As principal to more than 2,000 students, Cattani tries to spread civic engagement and leadership among the student body, and stays involved by attending awards dinners, community functions, school fundraisers and many school sporting events. He frequently recognizes accomplished students, teams and teachers in front of the school board. And at home, Cattani stays present in the moment with his daughters. “When he isn’t in school mode, he is always finding something active, creative and fun to do with the girls, whether just talking about life or riding bikes across our hometown of Medford.”

Dr. Heidi Handler
Throughout history, there have been some pretty amazing people. Among those that should be but are not remembered are the everyday moms—or least my mom. My mother is not just kind and giving; she is selfless. My mom is a primary care doctor; what she does is treat people all day long. She works this hard because she loves helping people and also wants to give me everything all the time. Even while she takes all this time to do her work, she always finds time to play with us children. She does everything a mother does and still does everything that a top doc would do. My mom expects me and my sisters to get terrific grades and accepts us for who we are and all, but she makes us study and behave. She enforces every rule and is fair and rules our house with justice. My mom has an amazingly kind and ever-growing heart, and a great personality. Because of her, the world is a better place.” —Ben Dias, age 12

Carolyn Chang
Westampton Township
As a wife of 25 years and a mother to two accomplished children—Chelsea, a freshman at Rutgers University, and Christian, a freshman at Rancocas Valley Regional High School—Chang stays devoted to her family in whatever way she can, never missing a parent/ teacher conference, sporting event or doctor’s or dentist appointment despite her busy workdays as a family law attorney with her own firm in Mount Holly. But she also finds time to help out her community with volunteer efforts at local organizations like South Jersey Legal Services, sponsorship roles with youth leagues like the Eastampton Soccer League and Westampton Indoor Soccer, and by serving as a role model for the community through her position as the newly-elected committeewoman in Westampton Township. Says her husband, Ronald, “Despite hectic work days, she always manages to spend quality time with her family, which makes for well-adjusted and successful children.”

Christopher Saloka
Chris Saloka is a hard-working, selfless man. He is employed as an EMT but also volunteers for both Delran and Willingboro emergency squads, yet he makes time to be a matchless leader of our household. He is a father of four and this is his most important responsibility. His children literally cheer his arrival at home. And their laughter fills the air as they share stories from the day passed and play and roughhouse through our daily evening activities. I don’t know how he does it, but he is never too tired to give his attention to our little ones.” —Dyanti Myles, Moorestown

Judith Charny
Mount Laurel
This loving wife and mother of three, and a partner with Charny, Charny & Karpousis, P.A, has been involved in numerous charitable organizations, both personally and professionally, giving back to the South Jersey community for many years. Her efforts have included fundraising and volunteer contributions to the American Cancer Society, Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, and the Katz Jewish Community Center. As a role model, Charny has demonstrated the ability to balance starting and operating a law firm with raising a family; her three sons are ages 25, 21 and 18. “As her professional responsibilities have evolved and expanded over the past couple of years, she has never lost site of the importance of family. She has taken multi-tasking to a new level in my eyes,” says friend Glori Gayster.

Shannon Higginbotham
When Higginbotham graduated Cherokee High School, she walked away with the “Unsung Hero” award, a title many would agree she still holds in the community today. The mother of two daughters champions the cause of wholesome living in South Jersey, after launching her Facebook page “Healthy Family,” which seeks to connect local parents to information about eating well, planting edible gardens and raising healthy families. She spends her summers at Cheyenne’s Road Market in Mount Laurel, farming with her husband and daughters, teaching others how to cook healthful recipes, and sharing knowledge about local produce and the importance of community farming. During a drought this past year, local St. Peter’s Church lost several shrubs and flowers due to the heat, but Higginbotham jumped right in to donate and plant flats of flowers, new shrubs, and flower bulbs—just one of many community beautification eff­orts she’s done, including picking trash off the side of the road, planting flowers and organizing recycling efforts in her hometown of Marlton.

Michael Kresloff
Kresloff, husband and father of two, operates a busy ophtholmology practice but holds family time to the highest importance: Between multiple eye surgeries a week, he makes time to coach two youth soccer teams and a baseball team, tackling homework and reading to his two children at night. “And, like President Obama, he has never missed a par­ent/teacher conference, even when the boys were only 2,” says wife Randi. “I like to play catch with my daddy. He gave me his baseball cards. My dad is very special because he helps people see. He loves his family!” says 6-year-old PJ Kresloff.

Mark Meddings
Washington Township
Meddings, a data analyst for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware, successfully manages his time between work and family while shaping the lives of youth in the township through efforts with the Cub Scouts, coaching and volunteerism. Meddings, a father to three sons, notched several successful seasons as an assistant youth soccer coach before becoming head coach for the Primary boys’ track and field team—a role which later evolved into his position as commissioner for the Washington Township Youth Track & Field organization, which also involves fundraising efforts for youth teams. “He is a great dad who is always willing to volunteer where he can in his sons’ activities,” says wife Dina. “He is very involved with all three of his kids and really is a strong presence in their lives.” Meddings also coordinated a Lego Robotics team for a small group of homeschooled children in the area, leading them to compete in the First Lego League competition in December, and just began coaching them on their second season.

Kareem Pritchett
Mount Laurel
Raised by a single mother on the dangerous streets of Newark, this once-troubled teen has led by example, straightening out his act and joining the New Jersey State Police. Going beyond his call of duty, Pritchett founded Lockdown Riderz in 2007, a law enforcement motorcycle club that works within their community, raising money for charities like Semper Fido, fallen officers and providing aid to local families in need. This popular local organization has gained some celebrity, with chapters now in Maryland and Georgia. In his free time, KP, as he is called by friends and family, works to educate children against bullying and crime and holds self-defense classes for women. His hard work earned him the 2011 Officer of the Year award by the New Jersey State Policeman’s Benevolent Association. And while he never knew his own father, this super dad’s dedication carries over into his home, where he raises his children alongside wife Shelley.

Blair Talty
My dad, Blair Talty, is the best dad ever. He works very hard for my mom, my brother and me. If we don’t get something, he will try to teach us until we do. My dad coaches my brother’s baseball team and football team. He takes me to all my activities. If we have a special event, he will try to clear up his calendar to come and see it. My dad is a great husband and parent. He helps out in any way he can and loves to spend time with us. For example, he comes to all our events. That is why we love our dad!” — Alison Talty, age 10

Jack Usilton
Washington Township
When Usilton isn’t busy running his own company, Tri-State Industrial Distributors of New Jersey in Pennsauken, which ­­he’s owned since 1986, you can find him on the court. That’s because this local legend has dedicated his time to coaching basketball teams for the last 40 years, including 20 years in his home of Washington Township. He’s been an influence to dozens of local children, including those less fortunate, as he has gone out of his way in the past to ensure that underprivileged local children could play in his leagues, often taking funds from his own wallet to help. Now at 61, this father of four is still inspiring his grown children. “Throughout the years, the trials and tribulations, which have most likely would have broken me into two, have only made him and my family stronger,” says son Jason. “My father is a man and I would be satisfied if I grew to be half the man he is today.”

Chris Watson
Washington Township
“When the stress of balancing two working parents and two active kids became overwhelming, my husband quit his job and became a stay-at-home dad. Our son has (special needs) and needed the involvement of early intervention, which my husband was now able to do. Our son has always had his dad to put him on and take him off the bus, and now Chris spends his afternoons playing sports, riding bikes, engaging in sword fights and imagining monsters are chasing him. Without him, we wouldn’t have made it through this last year. I am so thankful that he put the family above his own career aspirations and has taken on his role of dad with such enthusiasm. He is a wonderful dad, and husband to boot.” - Megan E. Watson

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 4 (June, 2012).
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