Elks Lodge 135 hosts picnic fundraiser to send children with special needs to summer camp

Photo by Chris Sykes Former Gov. Richard D. Codey, third from left, stands with Orange Elks Lodge 135 members, from left, Matt Mulligan, Susan Reinhardt and her son on Saturday, Sept. 17, during the fraternal organization's annual picnic fundraiser to send special needs children to camp.
Photo by Chris Sykes
Former Gov. Richard D. Codey, third from left, stands with Orange Elks Lodge 135 members, from left, Matt Mulligan, Susan Reinhardt and her son on Saturday, Sept. 17, during the fraternal organization’s annual picnic fundraiser to send special needs children to camp.

ORANGE, NJ — The Orange Elks Lodge 135 members hosted their annual picnic fundraiser at the lodge‘s headquarters on Main Street on Saturday, Sept. 17.

“Our main mission is on behalf of children with challenges, and veterans,” Susan Reinhardt, who serves as the chairperson for Children With Challenges at Elks Lodge 135, said Sept. 17. “The committee that I run is in collaboration with Nassan’s Place, which is a local community group that helps children with challenges, especially autism. We run a Back to School Night, where we give out backpacks full of supplies for challenged children and their siblings. We have a Christmas party, where we gave out over 120 gifts to the children. We have a masquerade party for the children in September and a holiday party around Valentine’s Day and a Special Needs Prom for the older children with challenges.

“In addition, today’s event is to raise funds to send children with challenges to Camp Moore, which is camp exclusively for children with challenges and one-on-one counselors. And they are afforded a week … to be with their peers and enjoy the camping experience.”

Another added benefit of the summer camp is that it gives parents and caregivers a much-needed break from the daily struggles of raising a challenged child.

“It’s a nice break to the parents that week … We look forward to sending as many children as we can each year and the funds that we raise today is what will allow us to do that,” Reinhardt said. “I am the parent of a challenged child, so I know the frustrations and the challenges involved with that, so I’m more than grateful to do it. It’s not a job. It’s not an effort for me. It’s what I do and I think it’s what everyone does here and these kids are more than worthy of that. And I’m just grateful that I’m able to do it.”

Nadine Wright-Arbubakrr, Nassan’s Place founder, said the cookout was the perfect occasion to honor Reinhardt for her work on behalf of her autism awareness organization.

“We’re enjoying the Elks’ annual picnic; we’re invited guests, enjoying the wonderful event they have every year — great food, plenty of it, unlimited drinks and just a really good time,” Wright-Arbubakrr said at the event. “The Orange Elks and Susan Reinhardt embrace our families every single time that we come here. So we are so pleased to be a part of the Orange Elks Lodge 135. Unfortunately, (Reinhardt) couldn’t make our event for the first Community Appreciation Gala, where she was one of our honorees, so we were very pleased to be able to come out here and present her with the award she so richly deserves in front of all the other Elks from Orange and the surrounding communities.”

John Bernokeits, the past exalted ruler of West Orange Elks Lodge 1590 and former chairman for special needs in that lodge, said mingling with their brothers and counterparts from Orange is a fairly routine occurrence.

“We intermingle all the time; we come to their affairs they come to ours,” Bernokeits said on Saturday, Sept. 17. “The Elks are about helping kids. We do it because we want to. We love to help the kids and it’s all about the kids.”

Bernokeits said the Elks work not only work to help special needs children, but also veterans and local youth. “We do scholarships, and a lot of the stuff that we hand out goes a long way to helping kids in school.”

John Reitberger, the current exalted ruler of Orange Elks Lodge 135, said this aid is why his lodge holds events such as the annual picnic fundraiser, and Reinhardt was quick to agree that helping people in need is what the Elks are all about.

“I’m most grateful for the fact that Orange Elks Lodge 135 and Nassan’s Place found each other, because they are a local community organization and that’s what we’re here for — to help our communities,” Reinhardt said Saturday, Sept. 10. “There’s 111 lodges throughout the state that do the same thing, so I’m honored that they chose to honor me.”

Reinhardt and Wright-Arbubakrr agreed that the best analogy to describe their lives since their children were diagnosed with a developmental challenge, it would be taking lemons and turning them into lemonade.

“We did something about it, not only to help ourselves but, in addition, to help others,” Reinhardt said. “We’re all in this together. It takes a community, so that’s what it’s all about, and I’m grateful that I’m able to do that with them. That’s just the way it is; there’s nothing you can do to change what we’ve been dealt.”

“The cards we’ve been dealt are the cards we’ve been dealt and you’ve got to make the best of it. You get up every day and say: ‘OK, I’ll make today a good day.’ And you face your challenges and you do it again the next day. So again, like I said, I’m just grateful that we can share that with other people and help ones that are a little less fortunate than ourselves and be able to do that for them.”

“People are generous,” said Reinhardt on Saturday, Sept. 10. “Most people are kind. Most people are good. You just got to give them a reason to be able to share that. Everybody is always looking to help someone, basically. At an event like this, not only do they get to see old friends, the get to enjoy themselves, they get a great dinner for $20, they get to spend some money, get something back for it and, at the end of the day, know that they did something to help somebody else, which is the most fortunate prize that any of us could wish for.”