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Community comes together to keep Wildwood Crest tradition alive in 2020
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Community comes together to keep Wildwood Crest tradition alive in 2020

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WILDWOOD CREST — A beloved tradition looked likely to be put on hold for 2020, like so many others, but a group of families refused to let it go.

“The whole community came together to make sure this project continued,” said Madden Fuscellaro, an eighth grader at the Crest Memorial School.

Each year on Sept. 10, students at the school plant more than 1,200 American flags on every corner in the community. The flags are placed at dusk, so when residents wake on the morning of Sept. 11, the patriotic display is in place throughout town, according to Madden’s mother, Toni Fuscellaro.

Borough Commissioner Joyce Gould started Flags for Freedom in 2002, the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. For the tiny seashore community, the loss was palpable and personal: Andrew Alameno grew up in Wildwood Crest. He died while at work as a stock trader at Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

About 10 years ago, Gould turned the project over to Jeannine Yecco, the technology teacher at the school. Both agreed the project was a better fit for the school. Social Studies teacher Lisa Travascio took over the project, connecting it to lessons on the attacks, Yecco said.

Each year, the teachers turned to local businesses for financial help.

“This year, however, we thought that local businesses have suffered enough, and we did not want to ask them for anything given the dire economic consequences of COVID-19. Moreover, our school is not holding any afterschool activities for the foreseeable future,” Yecco wrote in an email. “Add to that the fact that asking students to go out in the evening necessitates the ‘buddy system,’ and the result is the realization that Flags for Freedom is yet another COVID casualty.”

On Aug. 28, Yecco posted to the school’s Facebook page that Flags for Freedom would not take place this year. She encouraged community members to buy their own flags. And while the event may not be held the way it had been traditionally, it will still happen.

“The response from parents and community members has been nothing short of amazing,” said Yecco. “Not only have several individuals come forward to foot the bill for the flags, but families of students of all ages, even some families who no longer have students in the school, are up to claim the streets they want to handle.”

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Madden Fuscellaro offered to spearhead the project this year. She said hearing about Sept. 11 from Susan Haury, a teacher at Crest Memorial School, had a strong effect on him. Haury is the sister of Alameno. Madden thought of his own brothers, Crew and Rider, and how he would feel if something were to happen to either of them. The attacks took place before he or his brothers were born, but because of his teacher, he feels strongly about observing the day.

“It was just so hard for her. It’s really important that we remember what happened,” Madden said.

He has also participated in an essay contest, with his essay chosen to be read during the 2019 Sept. 11 memorial service.

Wildwood Crest plans to hold its 9/11 memorial service at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Miami and New Jersey avenues, adjacent to Sunset Lake. Community and religious leaders are set to speak, as are local first responders. Those attending are encouraged to wear masks and observe social distancing guidelines, according to a statement from the borough.

Toni Fuscellaro, a member of the Crest Board of Education, said having lost a native son, the community takes its observation of Sept. 11 seriously and plans it carefully. She grew up in Wildwood Crest and lived in North Jersey in 2001, while attending law school at Seton Hall University. Her husband, Seth, worked in New York. She describes seeing her neighbors who worked in lower Manhattan return home covered in dust and soot from the towers, sometimes the next day. Her husband was heading into work, but never reached the city.

“He was listening to Howard Stern and had to turn around,” she said.

She said Crest families, hers included, wanted to make sure the flags were in place this year and every year to come.

“The whole community came together to make sure that this project continued,” she said. Instead of students with buddies putting the flags in place, she said it will now be families working together to avoid the chance of spreading the coronavirus.

“It really became a family project this year. I have a feeling it’s going to stay that way,” she said.

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