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October 17, 2017

Meet Laurie Zaleski, Animal Activist, Owner, Funny Farm Rescue; an Animal Sanctuary; A Most Amazing Place and One of New Jersey’s Top Ten Family Places to Visit. By Calvin Schwartz October 17th 2017

Meet Laurie Zaleski, Animal Activist, Owner, Funny Farm Rescue; an Animal Sanctuary; A Most Amazing Place and One of New Jersey’s Top Ten Family Places to Visit.  By Calvin Schwartz 

Oct 17th 2017














with Laurie Zaleski & George DuBois & canine company


This is a short story before my story. Cut to around thirty years ago. I was a regional manager/salesman for Luxottica Group, the world’s leading eyewear company. One of my favorite eyeglass accounts was George DuBois, optician extraordinaire and humanist. He employed a teenage student from across the street, Laurie Zaleski, as an optical technician. That’s the beginning of my story.

I left the optical business ten years ago and drifted out of touch with George and Laurie who was working with the FAA in graphic design. Over the years, an occasional email dealing with current events arrived from George. A few weeks ago, I saw the Funny Farm Rescue Facebook page. I mentioned to George in an email, that I haven’t eaten anything with four legs since 1975 and everything Laurie (and you) are doing to care for abandoned, sick animals is so meaningful.  It hit me; I needed to do an NJ Discover story on Laurie and the farm and get a chance to see them both after so many years.



Laurie & friends



George in the Club Car

Two weeks ago, I drove down to May’s Landing with two GPS systems to help my navigation. I was going to deep south Jersey where they still have general stores and on a relief map, it’s actually not that far from the Mason-Dixon Line.

It’s October and there is supposed to be a chill in the air. It was in the low eighties with a cloudless blue sky. One GPS told me to make a left, the Google Maps told me right turn. It was right as I pulled into the farm complex of 20 acres. I hugged George and Laurie while several dogs gathered around. We sat at a picnic bench; my yellow legal pad primed.

Many years ago, Laurie’s mother rented a house across the street from George’s optical store and when she was a young teenager, started working for him; filing and miscellany.  “My mom worked for animal control so we always had animals. She rented that house for 20 years and when she died, I bought this farm and moved here in 2000.” At the time, Laurie had a graphic design and photography business and works for the FAA as an outside contractor for the past 27 years. To add to her fascinating persona, she has a pilot license.



with “Chuck”


“Chuck” in the Bailey Chair

“When I moved here, I brought 30 animals with me and the numbers slowly grew. I met Dennis, my boyfriend, at the airfield. He’s a pilot too. Now we have 500 animals here. We spend $4000 per month just on feed which becomes $110,000 per year for everything. Five years ago, we started to get donations. Of course, we both work full time.”

The thought occurred to me, that a main thrust of this article should be reaching out to our NJ Discover audience and encourage you all to donate something, anything to help Laurie and company care for these precious 500 animals.

The farm is open for visitors two days a week, Tuesday and Sunday. “People drive from New York and even come from all over the world to see our farm and animals.  Sundays in the summer brings 2000 people to visit. We have a wish list, that people bring food and/or donate but only if they can…. It’s 20 acres so we do hayrides also.”



The goat and my yellow legal pad


Laurie & Goat

Next, Laurie introduced me to ‘Chuck,’ a beautiful German Shepard dog. She explained, with a distinct hint of emotion in her voice, that ‘Chuck’ has a mega-esophagus and has to sit up when he eats. “He can only drink a concoction of blended food as a liquid because the esophagus is blocking food from being absorbed in the GI tract. When I took him to the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital, they told me it was the worst case they’ve ever seen. They didn’t give him long to live; maybe six months. But that was five years ago.”

There was a lot of love and devotion coming across; it’s so easy to see and feel. Laurie was replete with a refreshing genuineness. All of a sudden, a small black and white goat jumped onto the table top. She hugged him and in a flash the goat was munching on my yellow legal pad. It was a scene perhaps from the ‘Sound of Music.’  (The Lonely Goatherd).



Feeding horse “Socks” with an onlooker


feeding pig and looking for Charlotte’s web nearby

Laurie told me about how they feed ‘Chuck;’ in a Bailey Chair which you can even buy on Amazon. When they brought him home from the hospital, they taught him how to sit. The dog sits upright in this chair so the liquid can go straight down and get partially absorbed into the GI tract.  “Chuck even knows how to hold his own bowl. The hospital bill for ‘Chuck’ was $10,000. The power of Facebook brought 20,000 followers…. 100,000 people prayed for ‘Chuck’…. $7000 was raised in a few weeks.” She told me they don’t use Go Fund Me. “We don’t beg for money. We don’t put sad things up…. Our philosophy is live your life, be happy and give things a chance.”

I was in a tell me more place, totally enthralled/awestruck with her devotion and caring. I think she could tell. “I rehabbed a peacock who lived in my kitchen for three months.” I asked about her dreams for the farm. “I’ll leave the farm to be an animal rescue forever. I think this is the last animal rescue in New York, New Jersey and Delaware (as far as I know) We are one of the Top Ten places to go with a family in all of New Jersey.”



with volunteer Jack & lonely goat


the “cat house”

“How did this farm all happen?”  “This place took a life of its own when I came here with 30 animals. I met Dennis flying. He is the equipment guy and sees the big picture about making a difference. George is so devoted and incredibly handy with tools. We have 20 loyal volunteers and a pool of 100 more volunteers. Pete, over there, volunteers and is on oxygen…. Funny, we started with 30 animals, which became 300 and now 500.”

Laurie explained that there is no politics on the farm. “Just be kind to the animals.” She talked about some dealings with the local vegans, about their complaining that she had leather seats in her car. “I’m a vegetarian, different from being a vegan.”  I told her about my being a flexitarian since 1975. I eat nothing with four legs, but do eat chicken, turkey and fish. I’m not perfect yet. “My mission is not to change you into a vegan. Be kind to animals. She told me about a little girl who came to the farm, held a baby chick and then told her mother she’ll never eat chicken again.




the horse is 45 years old and is loving life


Laurie & happy donkey

My mind was swimming in thoughts about writing this article and continuing to spread the word about all the goodness and caring going on here. I’ve got ideas, I told Laurie and George. Next up, was the tour of the barns and stables in the Club Car (from a golf club) with George. He built many of the animal residences. I fed the pigs and looked all around for Charlotte’s web. George showed me the barn with the cat houses; I took a few pictures leaving the innuendo outside. There was probably a dozen cat sleeping quarters.

Later, Laurie and I took a walk past a barn and a horse grazing. The horse was 45 years old and was peacefully living out a life. This kind of sums the experience up for me. The love and caring everywhere. Earlier, I fed a white horse, ‘Socks’ some bread. When I was writing notes, I felt a warm moist sensation on my arm. It was ‘Socks’ thanking (kissing) my arm.

George, Laurie and I hugged again, vowing to get together much sooner than later. There is so much here that people need to know about. I love the mantra of NJ Discover; to elevate the people and places of New Jersey. And now we’ve done that to animals.  And please help out this non-profit. Everything, anything helps. And so it goes.


Facebook page:

DONATIONS:  can made by PayPal, or mailed to:  Funny Farm Rescue   6908 Railroad Boulevard.  Mays Landing, NJ 08330

For more information, please contact:

MISSION: “The Funny Farm Rescue is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charity. We are personally and professionally committed to the well-being of abused and abandoned animals. We provide food, shelter, medical care, compassion and love for the rest of their natural lives in a permanent, safe and healthy environment.”


“The Funny Farm Rescue Animal Sanctuary takes in animals from the SPCA, the Pig Placement Network, Atlantic City Police, Atlantic County Wildlife Aid, Humane Society, as well as the public. By starting a non-profit 501 (c)(3), the help from donations, we can pay for food, veterinary expenses and improve facilities, aiding in the quality of life for the animals.”


August 21, 2017

My Day at NJ DEP: Meet David Glass, Deputy Commissioner NJ Department Environmental Protection. BTW-NJ DEP Does Amazing Work; Who Knew? by Calvin Schwartz August 21, 2017

My Day at NJ DEP: Meet David Glass, Deputy Commissioner NJ Department Environmental Protection.  BTW-NJ DEP Does Amazing Work; Who Knew?   by Calvin Schwartz  August 21, 2017  














post interview with Deputy Commissioner David Glass


a view from OUR Rutgers Football seats


Do you ever wonder how interviews evolve; behind the scenes stuff; mechanics of commonality that bring journalist and administrator to a conference table? Actually, our (David Glass and me) time today was spent around a conference table on the seventh floor at DEP in Trenton. I believe one of mankind’s greatest inventions is the conference table.

Cut to fifteen years ago or so, at Rutgers Stadium, my son and I sat right next to David Glass and his extended family in section 103 for Rutgers football. We all became even a larger family sitting together for most of those fifteen special years. We watch football, talk football, cheer, lament, talk some basketball, alumni events and recent familial highlights like marriages and births and look forward to seeing each other for the Spring football game. No time for any other topical conversation or current events. It’s all Rutgers football.




David Glass “hands-on”


Three weeks ago, David congratulated me on Linked-In for my six-year anniversary at NJ Discover where I practice journalism and broadcasting.  I thanked him and noticed what he does in real life. He is the Deputy Commissioner of NJ DEP. Imagine my overwhelming surprise as I’ve been somewhat of a conscious environmentalist since I participated in the very first Earth Day on April 22nd 1970.  This interview was born out of that discovery. We were both excited.

To be a good journalist, I spent a week studying NJ DEP, watching documentaries on planet Earth, and digesting as much as I could on air, water and the land we love here in New Jersey. I was accompanied in the elevator to the seventh floor of NJ DEP Building on East State Street, to David’s office and conference table with splendid view of Trenton straight ahead.




State sponsored beach grass project

David graduated from Rutgers University then worked for Congressman Leonard Lance, in the 7th Congressional District. He started at DEP as a deputy chief of staff. He grew up in rural Warren County, where trout were stocked in rivers and his parents had wooded property with a stream. It’s where his love and respect of land was nurtured.

I had four pages of questions in no particular order except streams of consciousness.  I was curious about New Jersey’s policy akin to California and New York Governor’s statements about adhering to Paris environmental guidelines since President Trump pulled the United States out of those accords. David responded, “Governor Christie recently affirmed no new coal plants in New Jersey…. with SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions we were fifth lowest….NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) third lowest (in USA) …. And CO2 (carbon dioxide) ninth lowest.”  Frankly, I was amazed with the rankings, stereotypically thinking the worst about New Jersey air. David smiled at my enlightenment.




at a lecture I attended on rising Sea Levels in New Jersey


Back in 2011, New Jersey filed a petition regarding SO2 emissions from the Portland Power Generating Station in Pennsylvania. David explained they were polluting our air here in New Jersey. “So, we filed a petition with EPA and were successful and the EPA mandated they clean up. They paid for environmental damage and the air and water are cleaner.”  It kind of reminded me of Erin Brockovich, making that Pacific power company pay for pollution.

David went further, “We pulled out of the Regional Greenhouse Initiative because we were the third lowest in the region with carbon emission.” Governor Christie signed Executive Order 60 where NJ works with private sector to try and reduce carbon emissions with construction equipment. Grant money is given to retro fit equipment to make it more environmentally friendly.




125th Anniversary of NJ Fish and Wildlife

If you watch enough documentaries of doom, gloom and instinctive reality, the fact slaps you in the face, sea levels are rising alarmingly fast. I’ve joked on my NJ Discover LIVE TV Show that living inland 22 miles, one day soon, I’ll have beach front property and my house will be worth a fortune for two weeks until its under water. David laughed. I asked him about this new aspect of DEP, adaptation; Accepting the imminent changes to our world and adjusting to it.

“Humans want to live near water so now we have to better plan. There is a Blue Acres Buy Out Program for willing sellers where their property continually floods. They sell their home to the state for fair market value…. the state demolishes the property and makes parks or buffers….so far 600 homes have been purchased in Sayreville, Woodbridge and around Passaic River.”  There is a budget of $300 million to get out of harm’s way.  I never knew this.

There is also an elevation program for primary homes. New homes in prone areas must be elevated according to Federal guidelines. New Jersey added a foot more. The Army Corps of Engineers have $1.3 billion for shore replenishment. It takes the form of dunes and bulkheads. The Science and Coastal section of NJ DEP found wetland buffers fair better in protecting. I mentioned seeing in a documentary how even beach grass (roots) protect. “Material from dredging is even added at the surface of wetlands…. HUD and NJ got two grants for Weehawken, Jersey City and Hoboken…. $230 million for a flood control project is in the design stage…. $150 million is designated for flood protection at the Meadowlands.”



with Environmental Justice Advocate Dr Nicky Sheats at Peoples Climate March Sept 2014


Dr Nicky Sheats lecturing at NJ Environmental Conference in Newark

The next question/topic for David, as I explained, was very close to my heart and soul. For years, I’ve been going to NJ Environmental Federation and Clear Water Conferences and when opportunity, I’d go to workshops with Dr. Nicky Sheats who speaks about Environmental Justice.  What is that? For example, Newark, my birthplace, has a landfill (which means pollution) and a few years ago, they built an incinerator there. We know why. Then, they wanted to build a coal firing plant in Linden, already burdened with the highest rates of asthma because of the refineries next door in Elizabeth. I was at that conference which discussed that plant. I asked why Linden? Their response was that a coal firing plant needed railroad access/tracks to move coal and an ocean to dump waste. Linden had that. I reminded everybody that Rumson had the same tracks, ocean and probably more vacant land. There was silence. Yes, environmental justice.




David Glass addressing audience for Millstone Dam Removal Project Completion


the finished Millstone River project

David added, “We make sure now that we are plugged into permit decisions…. Has applicant engaged with local community…. We have 75 programs, 2800 employees and 800,000 acres of land to watch over.” NJ DEP is very concerned how to get better contact with urban areas.  This led to the Camden Kroc Center initiative, rehabilitating former landfills to park lands. “At the Camden waterfront, there was an abandoned gas station which was developed into a rain garden…. It’s about getting boots on the ground.” I love this expression.

There is the Camden Collaborative Initiative which is also now in Trenton and Perth Amboy. “It’s about making sure everyone is talking to each other.”  There is an Environmental Justice Advisory Council (EJAC). I didn’t mention this to David, so I’m doing it now. I was sitting there taking notes, asking questions, some rather difficult, but all the while, marveling at the depth, sincerity and knowledge of this environmental administrator.  I call it as I see it.



In my studying up these last few days, I learned of the Millstone Dam Removal Project and saw a picture of David proudly speaking on the success of this project. “It was a combination of Federal, local, Millstone, US Fish and Wildlife looking at our past dams, some originally constructed over 100 years ago…. Because this project (Millstone River) opened up this old dam, American shad, river eel started swimming here again. “

I never knew this but NJ DEP has a radiation protection program where they do spot inspections of dentists etc. x-ray machines to make sure they are calibrated correctly protecting patients and techs. “And yes, they can take enforcement action.” It actually can even reduce misdiagnosis caused by faulty equipment.

Perhaps I surprised David when I asked about the Artificial Reef Program. I did see a picture online of a ship from the ‘Perfect Storm’ being sunk recently off Cape May.  There are two active reefs in New Jersey waters and thirteen in Federal waters. Much of program is funded by private sector. It determines what is best suited for fish congregating, concrete or sunken (metal) ships. “Rutgers University did a reef trap study to find what type of material attracts certain species…. They pulled the traps which were loaded with lobster three miles off the coast…. This ties into the party boat fishing industry which employs 65,000 people; recreation and commercial.”  I exclaimed, “Lobsters in Jersey!” I never knew this.



The truck carrying a sofa to be illegally dumped at Allamuchy State Park CAUGHT on camera.


the illegally dumped sofa caught on state camera.

I told David about my attending a rally in Asbury Park back in February to prevent ocean drilling off our coast. The rally hosted by Senators Booker and Menendez. “Governor Christie is opposed to the industrialization of the coast line. There are too many downsides.”

NJ has a Wildlife Action Plan for endangered species. I started this topic off with the depressing notion of biological annihilation like the African elephant being gone in 20 years and the fact that our human species have wiped out 50% of Earth’s wildlife in the last 40 years. The math is scary. If citizens here in NJ see problems with wildlife, NJ DEP needs it reported. “We released a bobcat into the wild. To see it run into the wild forest was breathtaking…. There is an active forestry management. Nature needs help…. There is tree thinning, clearing…. We work on this all the time but not publicized.”

The best way to finish a heavy duty serious interview is to take a lighter (if environment can ever be light) approach. I’m still smiling about this. “There is a Don’t Waste Our Open Space Program. It watches people who illegally dump with hidden cameras…. Public also reports violations and there is a detective bureau. Seventy violators have been cited, some contractors.” I positively loved his story of a man who illegally dumped a sofa in Allamuchy State Park only to have detectives ring his bell the next morning.



Deputy Commissioner NJ DEP David Glass; “an exceptional administrator”


I looked at my watch trying to be polite and not go way over our budgeted time. Ninety-three minutes had elapsed and we were way over. I got to ask about 1/3 of my questions leaving that open-door space for another interview perhaps on our NJ Discover TV Show. My head was swimming with so much input from this exceptional administrator. I thought about it being a brave new world. Since we’re both loyal sons of Rutgers, we hugged saying goodbye, with the joint stark realization that in the past 93 minutes, not a word about Rutgers football, kickoff in a few weeks. And so it goes.




Everything to know about NJ DEP:


Also check out their podcasts:





August 12, 2017

A Continuing Journey to Autism Awareness: My Day with “A Chance to Dance” Troupe at World Dance Championships. But There is so Much More Here. By Calvin Schwartz August 12th 2017

A Continuing Journey to Autism Awareness: My Day with “A Chance to Dance” Troupe at World Dance Championships. But There is so Much More Here.  By Calvin Schwartz   August 10th 2017













photo op in the garden


Awareness began 17 months ago when I interviewed an executive at The Graduate School of Applied Psychology at Rutgers University.  Rutgers was undertaking a program involving adult autism services. The first part would be employing special needs candidates at the university with a graduate student mentoring each person. Secondly, enrolling students that qualify and housing them in a special residential hall also with a mentoring roommate. My article from April 2016:

My awareness process began. I was dispatched on a learning curve and spent time at Hope Autism Solutions in Basking Ridge. Journalism pulled me in different directions until a few months ago, when a special synchronicity put me together with Bob Salomon from ‘Beyond the Laces.’





staging area near performance time


trophies in waiting

Bob introduced me (social media) to Kimberly Pace Smith, the teacher and coach of a dance troupe in Charlotte, North Carolina called ‘A Chance to Dance;’ the group composed of ten children (six on the autism spectrum but with other special needs). What was so outstanding; ‘A Chance to Dance’ was featured on a Today Show video, which has garnered some 34 million views as I write this. Video:

Meanwhile, Kimberly’s dance class troupe was invited to compete in the World Dance Championships being held at the Meadowlands Expo Center here in New Jersey.  Perhaps this article is an excavation into intestinal linings to find the right words to express.  I was entering a special needs world; a world of love, caring, patience, relevance and determination. A journey began. People to meet and miles to drive.




Its about the kids so Kimberly and I did a silhouette selfie


up the ramp to the stage

A few weeks ago, we connected. I knew background info as I googled my way around ‘A Chance to Dance.’ Kimberly has a “differently-abled daughter” so with her love of dance, fierce determination to give children ways (arts) to express themselves and through ‘Reagan’s Wish,’ a charity inspired by her daughter, ‘A Chance to Dance’ became reality. Kim believes in never giving up.

I asked how the notion of competing at the World Dance Championship arrived. It was something originally out of the realm of financial practicality until “a woman handed us $10,000 and funded the whole trip.”  She explained, “We’re going for two reasons. Being in Jersey at the Worlds is a bigger platform to raise awareness for special needs. And other countries will be there and children with special needs are considered less than and all kids are just as capable.”





Kimberly readying the team on stage


the perfect performance

The date for their competition was Tuesday August Kim and I met in the hotel lobby at 9 AM. I was easy to spot in the lobby; my red Rutgers hat. We hugged with the emotion of first-time meeting and why we were there. Kim explained, “for the kids this is all about self-confidence and realizing social skills and that they have friends. There are ten kids-all with different special needs. Six out of ten on autism spectrum and with additional needs.”  Kim also thanked the volunteers who are always there, Miss Donna’s School of Dance and the kids and parents for making this all work.

Next, Kim introduced me to Sarah Nelson Conklin, an incredibly talented freelance photographer, travelling with the dance team who were assembling in the hotel garden for a photo-op. What I noticed as the kids got ready for a group picture, was a radiant smile on all their faces.




Kimberly and special volunteers; a prideful moment watching


improv dancing after performance

Kim asked me to say a few words to the parents; my special journey.  What I learned is that government services work for the kids until they finish 12th grade and enter adulthood. When they age out, there is little support structure. It’s like the government walks away. And parents worry about their kids. I was moved as parents came over to me, intrigued and hopeful that the initiatives I spoke about would be in place when it was time for their kids. This was their shared concern.

To the Expo center.  This was the World Dance Championships. Teams began congregating in an organized assembly line starting in the lobby filled with red-carpet backdrops for photos. A Chance to Dance team posed with parents, individually and as a team, all the kids still smiling. The wait was long and tenuous until the team finally moved inside and sat near the stage. The show hall was cavernous, intimidating and frighteningly loud with a few thousand spectators. But the kids maintained composure, still smiling and some, practicing their dancing moves.




Best Performance Team of World Dance Championships


Kimberly Pace Smith & photographer Sarah Nelson Conklin and some of team celebrating in NYC after competition.

The kids were spirited as they moved into the staging areas, slowly, inexorably moving closer to their walk on stage to perform.  I was part of this moment, hugely excited. And then I went introspective and realized how privileged it was to be part of this.

Backstage, I watched A Chance To Dance poised and confident. The music, ‘Singing in the Rain’ echoed and Ava strolled with her pink umbrella. They were costumed impeccably right down to the pink bows in the girl’s hair and pink ties for the boys. They were perfect. I watched Kimberly watch them on the other side of the stage. I took pictures; Kimberly’s pride and love evident.

Post-performance, the kids posed on the media platform.  And then the laborious waiting for the results, first inside the hall where the kids just started to dance again, improvisational, still filled with so much energy.  Kim told me that in 2015, they started A Chance To Dance, “with the seat of our pants. It took months for the kids to just trust each other and us. Then like a light switch, everything took.”

Yes, everything did take. The kids took Best Performance Award at World Dance Championships and I took home memories of one of the best days in a life. And those kids, indelible, precious and inspiring. I needed this.







Calvin & friend

June 15, 2017













Twitter: Earthood




June 15,  2017

The Oprah Magazine

Oprah Winfrey, Founder and Editorial Director


Dear Oprah:

The energy for this letter began on Tuesday April 18th when you were a guest on the Dr. Oz Show devoted to “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” (a wondrous film). I knew that I’d be sitting in the special VIP first row seats, close to the guest sofa. I wanted to get your attention so I wore my ‘loudest’ socks which you noticed. My legs were crossed and gyrating. You smiled at me and my socks. There was a reason for attention getting.

Last summer, I began mentoring two special recent Rutgers University graduates, Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Jackson. Chisa and I met four years ago at the Garden State Film Festival. He was a film intern and I was there to see a cutting edge film on Emmett Till.


with Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Jackson at IDT headquarters in Newark



with Senator Cory Booker along the Jersey shore

Two years ago, Chisa and Kayla conceived a company, PeduL ( which would become an online crowdfunding tool that connects students with resources and support they need to pursue higher education. I always look at the whole planet earth and big pictures. Coming up with ways to help educate youth across the world, can change courses of history. Taking some of the burden away from financially strapped government is good stuff.

I believed in these “kids,” so last summer I started mentoring them. Then I met with Senator Cory Booker here in New Jersey. I asked him for 44 seconds time. (same time to read letter). I explained the same thing. Three days later, his aide called me and I brought the “kids” from PeduL to meet with his top education aide at his Newark office.

A year ago, IDT Ventures in Newark, part of IDT Corporation, a billion dollar plus telecommunications, pharmaceutical, entertainment and energy company took PeduL into their incubator program.



with Nick Clemons, Andrew Schuman and DR OZ from April 18th


Why did I wear those socks? To try and get your attention and talk those few seconds with you as I did to Senator Booker. I marvel at you, your accomplishments, humanitarianism and commitment to global education. I felt you should know about these special “kids” and their vision of a better smarter future and world.

If ever you’re floating around New York City and…………

Wishing you much success with the film and only good things always and all ways.



PS:  I’ve enclosed pictures to aide in my story telling. They are my socks which you smiled at, with Kayla and Chisa in Newark, with Senator Booker and with Dr. Oz, Nick Clemons (son of Clarence Clemons) after the show.

May 5, 2017

It Continues To Be a Brave New World: First Annual IDT Hackathon April 22nd -April 23rd Newark NJ by Calvin Schwartz

Filed under: November 2009 — Tags: , , , , — earthood @ 9:20 pm

It Continues To Be a Brave New World: First Annual IDT Hackathon  April 22nd -April 23rd Newark NJ   by Calvin Schwartz  












Thinking back over the past few years, I wonder how many times I’ve invoked references to a brave new world. I do know; I’ve been stingy. There has to be extant reasons and perfect celestial alignments. Several months ago, I was invited to attend IDT Corporation’s First Annual Hackathon by IDT Ventures head, Jacob Jonas. I sensed something special, brave, cutting edge(new) and cerebrally celestial.

So what is a Hackathon?  This was my first impulse to discover.  A hackathon is like a race (marathon) event where software developers, programmers, graphic designers, interface folks, project managers, all work together in an intensive collaboration over a relatively short period of time. The finish line is the creation of practical applications of software with a specific focus, in this case, the best messaging, payments, or communications related mobile app. There are teams put together, each member bringing an expertise to their cubicle of residence, where they spend those intimate hours competing against the other teams in their own field of dreams (cubicles).



IDT Ventures Jacob Jonas hosting Hackathon


with IDT CIO, Golan Ben Oni, two guys with hats.

A brief article departure. Watch how I develop this. For the longest time, I’ve worried about our planetary home (earth) with some indigenous problems like climate change, ocean’s rising and running out of fish, 300 million people in Asia without drinking water; all illustrative of things often running through my mind.  I am unsure if we, the species, can effectively solve these problems and save our aging planet. Then came my six hours in Newark at IDT headquarters, observing the energy and composition of the competing teams. I haven’t felt this earthly emotional in a while.

At IDT, I saw youth and exuberance. Some were in high school and college, representing wonderful diversity in culture, geography and sociology. All the participants were accomplished and focused.  After a few hours, I realized earth does have a better future with the likes of these kids competing here; they were dedicated imaginative thinkers.  What I saw was so uplifting and revolutionary; this is a brave new world of knowledge and youth. I was grateful to IDT for investing in youth, promise, tomorrow and for inviting me.





On the fourth floor, around 5:30 PM on Sunday April 23rd, I met with Jacob Jonas who briefed me on the final stages of the Hackathon which would run to 11 PM. My mission as a journalist was to absorb. I looked over my shoulder; there was a large cubicle which served as home for one of the teams. The conference table was strewn with lap-tops, wires, water bottles, soda cans (some with sugar, some not), coffee cups and a vast array of back-packs. On the floor were several sleeping bags, visually depicting the hard reality of the event; the sleeplessness and urgency of the competitors. This was serious business. Teams stayed overnight working diligently to get to the finish line. I just remembered what Adrienne told Rocky Balboa, “Win Rocky Win.”




Jacob Jonas handing 1st place prize to Shaoliang Zhong with Jonathan Hyman (CTO of Appboy and a judge for Hackathon)


with PeduL execs Chisa Egbelu & Kayla Jackson with downtown Newark in background


The commonality of two people wearing hats in a place where most were hatless brought me to Golan Ben Oni. Of course I was wearing my Rutgers hat. Golan was much more fashionable. If he was here on a Sunday evening, it must be for a reason. We leaned on a desk to chat.

Golan is the CIO of IDT Corporation; that’s chief information officer and he’s been at IDT since 1995 when he arrived and planned on staying only a few weeks. His father was a food scientist for Planter’s and Fleishman’s Yeast.  The family arrived from Israel and soon settled in California where Golan enrolled at University of California at Berkeley when he was sixteen.

He’s been asked to teach at Rutgers Business School and help with the executive program. He is captivating and actually disarming, leaning on a desk and chatting, wearing a hat; his knowledge, brilliance and depth are on a proverbial other planet. His teenage son, busy on a lap-top, did our photo-op. Golan was thrilled to school me on the mechanics of the Hackathon.



IDT Ventures Showcase – PeduL execs presenting


3rd place Man Cave Sharing Mark Annett, Tejas Shah, Mosies Cordero, Samuel Lebreault, Ivan Quan and Patrick Needham holding their Raspberry Pis. Hackathon Judge Zev Green far left.



Next, Golan introduced me to Tom Brennan, OWASP( Board of Directors. More brave new world for me. OWASP has 55,000 members in 110 countries and their function is to raise visibility for software security. Who knew this kind of organization exists? Tom was a judge in the first round of Hackathon presentations along with Zev Green, IDT’s Director of Emerging Technologies; Nathaniel Ritholtz, IDT Software Engineer; Jonathan Hyman, CTO of Appboy; Anthony Delgado, CTO of FOWNDERS; Sharon Ptashek, Senior Manager, Mobile & Emerging Platforms at CBS Interactive. Each team had five minutes to present their projects to the judges followed by five minutes of Q&A.





IDT Ventures Showcase Judges


Hackathon coders at work


First place was awarded to ‘Chill’ which is an app where you and your friends stream videos over your phones while still being able to talk to each other. The first place prize they received was an iPad Mini 2 for each winner.  The winners, Shaoliang Zhong and Xiaohang Su grew up together in China and now attend Stevens and NYU respectively.Second place winners won: Discovery HD+ Drone and third place won 32 GB Rasberry Pi 3.

Winners of the AI competition (team that best incorporated artificial intelligence into their Hackathon project) received an Amazon Echo sponsored by FOWNDERS.  And speaking of FOWNDERS, ( based in my birth city of Newark, they are doing amazing things to “educate, inspire and empower the next generation of leaders” as a social impact accelerator taking on qualified startups who have proven market fit and display modern innovation; more brave new world applications for me to absorb.

One of the other teams, finishing in third place, developed ‘Man Cave Sharing’ which is like Airbnb for Man Caves. With my own proclivity to special sports Sundays, I was fascinated by their entry; more brave new world and personal visual projections of great places to hangout, shoot pool and watch a professional sport final on a giant TV screen far from the maddening sounds of homeward bound interruptions.



But the Hackathon was not the only tech-friendly event that happened this weekend. Before the final Hackathon presentation and the awards ceremony, IDT also hosted a Ventures Showcase event for six local startup companies that have synergies with IDT Corporation’s core businesses: Payments Tech, Messaging Apps, Communications Tech, and Technology that Serves Unbanked and/or Immigrant Communities. The Ventures Showcase companies (including the three teams in the IDT Ventures incubator program: PeduL, UpChannel, and ImaliMobile) all have strong synergies with IDT’s core businesses and/or target markets.



more coders at work


2nd place: Supernova Tasker with Nicholas Feuer, Alben Kalambukadu, and Stanimir Stoychev (All students at SUNY Purchase) holding their Drones. Zev Green, IDT Director of Emerging Technologies and a Hackathon judge ( left).

Last summer, I spent the day at IDT interviewing Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Jackson from PeduL for NJ Discover. PeduL is an online crowdfunding tool that connects students with the resources and support they need to pursue higher education. That article can be seen at:

Each team had ten minutes to present and five minutes for Q & A with the panelist judges consisting of Shmuel Jonas, CEO of IDT; Jacob Jonas, Director of IDT Ventures; Scott Smedresman, Partner at McCarter & English; Aaron Price, Founder and CEO of Propelify.  The other companies presenting were Debitize, Stellar Employ and Modern Lend. Listening to all six ingenious presentations continued my yellow brick road journey to that brave new world. I did manage to remark to one of the team members, in keeping with my article theme, that when I grew up in Newark, my world of knowledge came from seven black and white television stations that went off the air at midnight followed by test patterns (remindful of ‘Poltergeist’) until the next morning. “They’re here.”





The AI Winners Christopher Tan, Timothy Goltser, Zeynep Akpinar, Curtis Mason. All 4 are High School students at Staten Island Tech. They won a side prize for the best use of artificial intelligence in their project. This prize was sponsored by FOWNDERS. Anthony Delgado, CTO of FOWNDERS and a Hackathon judge, is also in pix (far right).


Before the actual finals began, a splendid buffet of Chinese food and cold beer were presented to the assembled. I indulged, then explored and pinched myself (which I do only in moments of disbelief) that I was witness to this wondrous display of future think, exuberance, youth, imagination and earth hope. And I hope the decision making folks, if liking this article (expression) invite me back next year (2018) for my brave continuing new observations at IDT’s  2nd Annual Hackathon in my birth city, Newark.

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