Category Archives: #HipNJ Cares

#HipNJ Cares highlights the Garden State’s heart of gold. We feature passionate charity efforts and the philanthropic all-stars behind these important initiatives!

create happy moments

Create Happy Moments

Don’t throw out your children’s Halloween costumes just yet!

Mayra Betances, founder of Create Happy Moments, is hoping fellow #Hippers will tap into their giving spirit and help her spread joy to those less fortunate. In our interview with Mayra, she tells us all about her organization and discusses how YOU can help!

What is the charity effort you’re staging?
The charity, Create Happy Moments, is all about collecting used children’s Halloween costumes here in the U.S. and donating them to unfortunate and less resourceful children in the Dominican Republic. On February 27th, DR celebrates their national Independence Day by dressing up in costumes and having a carnival. We want these children to be able to happily participate in the festivities! It’s a cultural exchange, and at the same time, the children will be able to learn about giving back and see how they are making an impact.

How did you become so passionate about this cause?
I am originally from the Dominican Republic, and was one of those less fortunate children. As a child of 6, my family couldn’t afford to buy us costumes. Every February, when it came to Carnival, my siblings and I made our own costumes. It was creative and it was fun but times have changed. Kids see what is on T.V. and they know what they want.

When I was 12, I migrated to the U.S. and now have 3 children of my own. One day, while I was at my middle child’s Halloween parade, I started thinking about all of these costumes and wondered where they all go after the holiday is over. That’s when the idea clicked. If these children are not going to use their costumes again, I can collect them and ship them to DR just in time for Independence Day and Carnival!

How are your kids reacting to this experience?
I collected the costumes for the first time in 2009, which is when I had the “aha” moment. Then, in February 2010, the actual activity took place. I had some family members in the Dominican Republic talk to two small underprivileged schools and they were able to get the whole thing set up. They gave out the costumes, went to the parade, and documented the whole experience. It was really rewarding to see everything fall into place. My children were able to help and I remember them packing the costumes with me. I definitely want them to be involved so they can see the difference we are making. I’m sure this whole experience is leaving an impact on them, though they might not grasp it until later. Mostly, I hope that as they grow this idea of giving is instilled in their personality.

How can other people get involved?
People can get involved in many ways. I’m mainly asking for costume donations, though it’s important to realize that I accept accessories as well. If you don’t have a full costume, I can take a crown, wings, wands, capes and whatever else! All those pieces can be further assembled to create a single costume. In addition, I want to reach out to shipping companies; I can always appreciate service help and donations! Lastly, I’m setting up a GoFundMe account in the event that we do not collect enough costumes or don’t have enough cash to buy shipping supplies. Back in 2010, I ended up with more kids needing costumes than the ones I collected. My husband ended up helping me out with money for both shipping and costumes themselves. I just want to be prepared.

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To learn more about the organization and follow Mayra’s progress, visit and like her Facebook page. There, you can track their contributions and see how they’re making a difference.

bergen family center

Bergen Family Center Gala

Bergen County’s oldest family service industry, the Bergen Family Center, found great success during their annual awards dinner.

Held at the Rockleigh Country Club, the event honored those who are important to the Bergen Family Center community.

Jen Maxfield, NBC-4 NY reporter, emceed the gala as Mitch Schonfeld, Jayanne Tedesco, and Carole Blancato were awarded.

#HipNJ’s Lisa Marie Latino attended the event and had the chance to meet with the honorees.

“Since I entered their world, it’s just been such a plus to me,” said Carole Blancato.  “The people are so positive, the energy is so great and its just such a good group.”

She was right, #Hippers! The annual dinner set a record for the Center, raising $310,000 to help Bergen County families.

This is especially exciting for Mitch, who is CEO of the Center, as he stressed the importance of the gala.  “We really need the funding that the event will generate we take care of nearly 5000 children, families, teenagers, young adults!”

To learn more about the Bergen Family Center and contribute, please visit BergenFamilyCenter.org.

rashad jennings

Rashad Jennings’ GIANT Night of Comedy

Some of the tri-state area’s funniest personalities came together for one GIANT laugh!

New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings hosted the “Giant Night of Comedy” at the legendary Gotham Comedy Club in New York City.  The event supported the Rashad Jennings Foundation, which strives to educate, inspire and encourage youth everywhere through enlightenment, mentorship and fitness.

“I’m a big nerd and I love laughing!” Rashad joked with #HipNJ‘s Lisa Marie Latino.  “I truly believe laughter is the best medicine and it’s a universal language.  I thought this was a creative way to raise money and awareness for what we do.”

Rashad’s lineup of comics was a “Saturday Night Live” writers- room dream.  Performers included Garden State native Artie Lange, “SNL’s” Pete Davidson, WBLS personality Earthquake, and Comedy Central‘s Godfrey.  “Stuttering John” Melendez of “The Howard Stern Show” and WNBC 4 New York‘s Bruce Beck served as co-emcees.

“Rashad didn’t have it easy growing up, yet overcame that,” supporter Dr. Mehmet Oz of “The Dr. Oz Show” said.  “To take that pain and use it as a powerful tool is a great role model for all of us.”

Rashad took advantage of the 200+ crowd- that included many of his Giants teammates, pop star Ashanti and Miss New Jersey 2016 Jessielyn Palumbo to announce another charitable endeavor, The Locker Room Project. This nationwide venture, co-founded by Rashad and high school teacher Christina Hovestadt, aims to help student athletes succeed in all levels of life.

“Rashad has been a pioneer in the locker room, challenging guys to use their celebrity to uplift and bring along others,” explained Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara.  “He’s been a walking demonstration of that tonight.”

For more on Rashad Jennings, visit RashadJennings.com.