By: Bryant Lopez, Follow South Jersey Intern
VINELAND, N.J. – “Racing Awareness for Dwarfism,” a fundraiser and car show was held at Sgt. Dominick Pilla Middle School in Vineland on Oct. 14. The event was held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The event was hosted by Valerie Detetta, a school counselor at Sgt. Dominick Pilla Middle School, where she counsels all of the eighth grade and half of the sixth grade. Before she became a counselor, she was a special education teacher for about 17 years before she switched over to counseling.
“So, I always have liked helping people and, like listening to their problems, like my friends, ever since I was little,” said Detetta. “I really love helping people and it’s just every day is rewarding. And then seeing the growth, especially in middle school, there’s so much growth between sixth and eighth grade. I never imagined I’d be here in middle school, but I do really love it. It’s definitely challenging and what I love most about my job is not only the difference it makes, but I never know what every day is different.”
Detetta has a 3-year-old daughter with dwarfism named Valentina and two boys, a 7-year-old Gionni and a 5-year-old Lorenzoe.
October is known for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but it is also Dwarfism Awareness Month. There are about 400 different types of dwarfism. Eighty percent of people with dwarfism have average height, parents, and siblings. Some types of dwarfism are recessive, which means carried with your genes, but many are a genetic change at conception. Dwarfism is a condition that affects bones and cartilage. A child with dwarfism is born in 1 per 10,000 births in the United States according to Little People of America.
Detteta found out her daughter had dwarfism when she was a year old. Detetta admits that she was heartbroken when she found out Valentina had dwarfism but is now celebrating the advocacy of it.
“We were so ecstatic,” said Detetta. “Just all the things that you think about like I look forward to, you know, her wedding day, her proms. And not that any of that changes, but it’s gonna look different than what I imagined. So someone once said to me, it’s like, I’m grieving the loss of the life that I thought I was going to have with my daughter. And that is the best way to put it. Because in a sense, at first that’s what I was doing, but now I’m celebrating the advocacy and just all that I can do with her.”
All of the baskets that were provided were all donated. Some of the proceeds are going to the middle school. The Pillar Activity Fund is getting a portion of the proceeds that covers sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. The DuPont’s Skeletal Dysplasia Department is getting donations from a portion of the proceeds.
“So I thought a car show would be amazing,” said Detetta. “My husband’s side of the family has been very big into cars and they all have, you know, different cars and put them in car shows. So that’s been a part of our life for a while and my children’s lives. So I thought how cool that would be, that it’s representing our family, but also a hobby, and I also thought for our students here, like not many of them probably get to go to car shows, so maybe this would be their first car show and that’s pretty special.”
There were many vendors and community partners that were set up at the event. Pizza Queen, Max Munchies, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Child Assault Prevention Program, and Project Unity Club were some of the tables that were set up.
Sue Bacon is a coordinator of the Child Assault Prevention Program in Cumberland County. The program trains children, parents, and teachers to prevent peer assault, stranger abduction, and known adult assault. The program is a grant program but there are schools that pay for the program if grants are not available.
The program runs through preschool to the eighth grade and sometimes into high school. The programs that are available are age-appropriate for each age and grade. The program provides staff and adult workshops.
“Every child deserves to be safe, strong, and free,” said Bacon. “And that’s our philosophy. And maybe things that happened that were appropriate or accepted many, many years ago, it really is not acceptable. Not when a child is not safe and who’s supposed to take care of the children? We as adults, you know, children have people that they depend on, and children need to know that no one has the right to hurt them.”
At one of the tables was Big Brothers and Big Sisters with Cumberland and Salem Counties. They run multiple programs for young people. It is a community-based program where they have young people between the ages of seven and 12 get a mentor.
The mentor will help guide them, take them places, and do activities with them. They have a high school program where high schoolers go to middle schools or elementary schools to be their mentors. Sharon Krementz is the program manager for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Mentor 2.0 program.
“I can’t emphasize enough how great the program is because I was supposed to go to college right out of high school and didn’t really have anyone to talk to or know kind of learn anything about,” said Krementz. “ And I was really scared and nervous and no one to talk to. As it turned out, I ended up getting a full scholarship, but I was still scared. I still had no one that I could compare it to, so I didn’t go to college. I ended up losing that whole scholarship. And then I went to school late in life. Of course, I had to pay my own way.”
Before being the program manager, Krementz was a former teacher and taught for 20 years.
“I feel like my passion is helping young adults because being a young adult, especially today is very scary,” said Krementz. “So for me, it’s really great helping them, seeing them interact with their mentors at the events.”
Detetta went to Principal Ismael Bermudez to set up an event that not only spread awareness on dwarfism but all types of differences.
“I said, I wanna do something here,” said Detetta. “Because I feel empathy needs to be spread for differences. There’s so many differences. And dwarfism is just one of them, but I’d really like to do something and he was all for it.”
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