A New Jersey youth learns that no dream is too big for the Kiwanis family.
Story by Janet Redyke | Photography by Dennis Delillio
To many, New Jersey brings to mind smoke-billowing industries along a traffic-packed New Jersey Turnpike. Or the state that happens to be a tunnel ride away from New York City. But outside the hustle and bustle of the cities and highway and nestled in the peaceful northwestern corner of the state is the region referred to as the Highlands. It’s an area that borders on the semi-rural, made up of lake communities, rolling hills, green valleys and is still scattered with working farms. It’s here, in an area of Vernon Township, New Jersey, where 15-year-old Nick Cerrato is building his own backyard paradise.
Nick is a young man of few words, but many ideas. He has cerebral palsy, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of his hopes and dreams. He takes his dreams seriously. He’s even designed a giant Native American dream catcher in his backyard. In fact, his entire backyard is a work of art in progress. In addition to the dream catcher, there’s the 25-foot mural titled “Two Kids in Walkers Playing Soccer.” He also created a rock garden tribute to his late father, Frank.
And then there’s the frog pond.
When asked why he wanted to build a frog pond, Nick flashes his gigantic smile and shouts: “So everyone will come over.”
To get the project started, mom Patti and Nick’s caregiver, Joey Gerard, began digging the initial hole. Nick was the third member of the team effort, digging with his feet. But that’s as far as they went, when they got stuck on how to move on to the next steps.
Patti Cerrato had joined the Vernon Township Kiwanis Club several years ago with the intent of giving back to an organization and community that gave so much to her and her disabled son. When club members found out about the frog pond project, they, along with Vernon Township Aktion Club members, quickly gathered on the Cerratos’ property to put the final touches on Nick’s dream.
Aktion Club Advisor Cindi Auberger was on hand to help build the pond and encourage the team.
“If you build a pond, they (the frogs) will come,” her pep talk promised.
Kiwanis and Aktion Club members worked side-by-side installing pond liners, preparing the mechanics and getting the specifics from B&M Aquatics, a business specializing in koi ponds. The finished pond was ready for amphibian habitation at the end of June 2012.
True to Auberger’s prediction, frogs miraculously showed up at the pond, enjoying the serene atmosphere. An overly dominant bullfrog has since been relocated, but the smaller, more docile croakers have been joined by two goldfish and a family of sunnies. Three fountains grace the pond. One, created by Nick, is in the shape of a fish.
Kiwanians celebrated the completion of the pond with Nick and his mom by hosting a backyard barbecue and s’mores party.
“We send a gigantic thank-you to our Kiwanis family,” Patti Cerrato says. “We used to feel so isolated, but not anymore.”
Nick seconds his mom’s sentiments with his happy, delightful laugh.