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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Livingston-based center will host flag football league for special-education schools.

There are moments in life that one never forgets. For Julie Casavant one such moment came on Oct. 24 when her son Darren, a young adult with special needs, caught a football pass on the newly inaugurated NFL/NY Jets turf field at LifeTown in Livingston.

Perhaps even more amazing was that the person throwing her son the ball was Jamal Adams of the New York Jets. “It was so heartwarming to see how patient the Jets players were,” says Casavant. “It’s really hard for Darren to catch a ball, yet it’s hard for people to understand that there are older children who can’t do that. That didn’t matter to the Jets players, they were just so nice.”

That was just one of the many amazing scenes at the inauguration of the regulation-size Flag Football Field, sponsored by the New York Jets, the NFL, United Way of Northern New Jersey and NRG Energy. The field, part of the five-acre LifeTown campus, will host a Flag Football League, which will be open to all special education schools in Northern New Jersey and will welcome kids from all backgrounds and all abilities.

The professional-grade synthetic turf field includes some of the hallmarks of a traditional football field, like designated yard lines and a home-team logo; in this case it features the NFL, Jets, LifeTown, United Way and NRG Energy logos. Bleachers are built into the stone retaining wall along the sidelines and provide spots for family members to enjoy the games. One of the primary advantages of the field at LifeTown is that it literally levels the playing field for those who require assistive devices.

LifeTown is a 53,000-square-foot center, the first of its kind in the region, which will provide recreational, educational and social programs for children, teens and young adults with special needs. A key component of LifeTown will be Life Village, a working Main Street, to teach important life and job skills. LifeTown will also include a zero-entry pool, bowling alley, fully accessible indoor playground and gym with sound-absorbent walls and ceiling. Offering real-world scenarios in a safe and controlled environment, Life Village will empower each person to reach their individual potential.

More than 250 people attended the NFL/United Way Hometown Huddle and football field inauguration, including New York Jets President Neil Glat, Livingston Mayor Shawn Klein and members of the Livingston Town Council. During the short pregame presentation, a check for $285,000 was presented to LifeTown CEO Zalman Grossbaum by Jesse Linder, director of community relations at the Jets, and Keri Murschell, director of innovation and customer experience at NRG.

“Win or lose in sports, the camaraderie, teamwork and thrill of being part of something bigger than yourself is an experience that all children should have the opportunity to experience,” said John Franklin, CEO of United Way of Northern New Jersey. “Children with special needs should have the same access as their peers to learn the valuable life lessons that come from participating in sports.”

The Jets are committed to helping children live healthy, active lifestyles, Linder said, adding, “Partnering with the United Way and LifeTown to create the PLAY 60 field is very important to us because it provides opportunities for all children to get at least 60 minutes of activity every day.”

After the formal check presentation, it was time to take the field, and the day clearly belonged to the children and young adults with special needs. Time and again, the one thing that people kept commenting on was the incredible care and sensitivity the players showed when dealing with individuals with special needs.

For Max Zwain, a young adult who was in the hospital on a ventilator just two weeks ago, getting to attend the event was a dream come true. A huge Jets fan, Max occasionally goes to watch the team train, but interacting with the players was a completely different experience.

Explaining that Max was in a wheelchair during the event, his mother, Jodi Zwain, said that the Jets players were incredibly responsive to his needs. They waited patiently as Max was wheeled into the end zone to catch a throw from a player.

“Marcus Maye was just so wonderful working with Max and helping him score a touchdown,” Jodi Zwain said, adding “it just thrilled Max.” Max showed off some of that thrill when he spiked the football into the ground after making his amazing catch.

“What you see here is a miracle—not a miracle in a biblical sense, but a miracle of the human spirit,” said LifeTown’s Grossbaum. “Six weeks ago this field was a parking lot on a slope, but this is what happens when good people get together and decide to make a difference. This is what happens when we don’t accept the status quo and the easy way out. This is what happens when people do extraordinary things.”

Keith Lovas, senior project manager of Hollister Construction, called the field a “true team effort.” Noting the tight deadline they had to build the field—six weeks as opposed to several months—Lovas praised his Hollister colleagues and those from Sanray Construction and FieldTurf who all pitched in to help.

“It wouldn’t have happened without the extra effort of everyone involved, and, of course, the constant support and faith from everyone at LifeTown,” said Lovas. “This is a perfect example of the wonderful things people can accomplish when everyone is aligned towards a great cause.”

It’s also just a hint of what is to come when LifeTown opens its door in 2018.

For more information, please visit www.lifetown.com.