MAPLEWOOD, NJ — What longtime Maplewood resident Tom Kerns remembers keenly from the four months his wife underwent radical spinal surgery and rehabilitation in 2006 is the outpouring of support from the community. People they knew — and many they didn’t — offered to make meals, drive their daughters to activities and do whatever else the family needed, just as they’d done after Kerns’ brother-in-law died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In gratitude, Kerns and his wife, Jeanmarie Hargrave, created a nonprofit, the HK Project, to help others in need and, in 2012, he joined the leadership board of the South Mountain YMCA. The Wall Street retiree fundraises for the Y, donates generously, recruits volunteers for community projects, and champions the after-school child care program, which serves more than 750 children each day.
“Tom is the epitome of a leading community activist,” South Mountain YMCA Executive Director James Goodger said.
Kerns received the John C. Prizer Award for Social Responsibility at the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges’ annual recognition dinner on April 12. The South Mountain YMCA is one of seven branches of the Metro YMCA.
“Tom’s email signature is ‘I am listening,’ and Tom has listened to the Y’s and the community’s needs. His efforts have moved the South Mountain YMCA forward in significant ways,” Goodger said.
“I of course and honored and humbled,” said Kerns, vice chair of the South Mountain YMCA’s board of managers since 2014. “I’m all about community and creating a sense of belonging. In this day and age, I think it’s an imperative, and I get fulfillment from it.”
Kerns’ former nonprofit ran a weekly mindfulness workshop that attracted teenagers who had struggled with behavior issues, and they found the meditation training helped, he said. As part of a Togetherhood project, Kerns proposed the YMCA introduce mindfulness to its after-school program, and the idea took off. Staff members from each site developed proposals and the winning one was chosen “Shark Tank”-style. CLIMB, an acronym for Character, Learning with Intention, Motivation and Be Present — tenets of mindfulness — will be incorporated into the curriculum in the fall.
Kerns’ family has belonged to the South Mountain YMCA for 22 years. The Hargrave-Kerns daughters were in its early child care program and enjoyed other programs as they grew. Kathryn, 26, went through the entire gymnastics program and became a coach. She went on to become president of her college’s gymnastics club and started a gymnastics camp in the Kibera Slums of Nairobi, Kenya, while working with a nongovernmental organization. Maura, 23, is a site supervisor for the Y’s after-school program, while 22-year-old Erin was a Y camp counselor last summer.
Kerns also serves on the Maplewood Alliance raising awareness about addiction. He recently retired as the vice chairman of She’s the First, a nonprofit focused on girls’ education in developing countries, and helped create the Maplewood-South Orange softball program.