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Op-Ed: Spirit of Giving Alive in New Jersey and Enriching Our Communities

One of the keys to generosity is to finding a charity that is close to our hearts

Today is National Philanthropy Day: the perfect time to reflect on the philanthropic contributions that enrich our communities here in New Jersey.

Philanthropic dollars create art programs in Paterson and build homes for low-income families in Newark. Contributions are helping reconstruct our shore after superstorm Sandy, and preserving nature and open space for generations to come.

From small contributions to large bequeaths, the generosity of New Jerseyans makes a huge impact on our landscape. Together, we support groundbreaking research to cure diseases, help families coping with unexpected illness or disability, and provide educational opportunities to disadvantaged students.

On this important day, we celebrate the spirit of giving in New Jersey.

Many of us find a charity that is close to our hearts. That is the case with me. As chairman of the board of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation, I work to raise funds to support the lifesaving and life-enhancing gift of organ and tissue donation. My work is a way to remember and honor my father, a Millburn fireman for 32 years. My father, also named Peter Rooney, suffered from renal disease. He was on the waiting list for a kidney when he died.

As a fireman, my father literally answered the call to help and save the lives of others. Unfortunately, his call for help was never answered. He was among the 18 Americans who die every day while waiting for an organ.

In my role, I now have the opportunity to meet so many people who did get the call and who did receive a second chance at life through organ and tissue donation -- from children to teenagers to mothers, fathers, and grandparents. Each life saved is a miracle.

I have witnessed how our work translates directly into lives saved: a Monmouth University college student living with a new heart; a West Milford father able to watch his children grow up because he received a pancreas; a 10-year-old boy from North Caldwell playing little league baseball.

The list goes on. One organ donor can save as many as eight lives and enhance countless others through tissue donation.

The NJ Sharing Network Foundation raises funds to support NJ Sharing Network, the nonprofit agency responsible for recovering organs and tissue in north and central New Jersey. We have much work to do. The rate of registered organ donors in New Jersey is lower than the national average. Nearly 5,000 people in New Jersey are currently waiting for life-saving organs.

My work for the foundation enables me to help the NJ Sharing Network Foundation support critical programs, such as one that provides specialized training for transplant coordinators who deal directly with families and staff in the hospital setting. The foundation also provides funding to support programs and services for donor families to help them cope with the loss of a loved one.

I am privileged to serve on the board with others who also have a personal connection to our mission. One of our board members, the Hon. F. Michael Giles of West Orange, joined us because his son, Dr. Randall Marc Giles, told him about the need for more minorities to register to become organ donors. Judge Giles has become one of our most passionate advocates.

Then on August 12, 2012, Dr. Giles suffered an aneurysm at the age of 43 and became an organ donor. The doctor who saved lives through his work also saved lives after his death. Today, Judge Giles remains even more committed to our cause.

National Philanthropy Day is a time to reflect on the ways we all can give financial contributions as well as our time and commitment to causes that help make our state a better place for all of us. I truly believe our own lives are enriched when we reach out to help others. Today is a perfect day to celebrate our shared values and concern for one another.

Peter Rooney, a healthcare advertising and marketing executive who lives in Mendham, is chairman of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation Board.

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