Friends and family of Nicholas Novaky – A Mt. Olive High School senior who died two years ago in a car accident on Wolfe Rd.- recently came to find solace and reflect at a new memorial site at Turkey Brook Park in Budd Lake.
The Grand Opening of the Garden of Memory was held Sunday, June 8, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the new site located at the top of the loop, in front of the basketball court and adjacent to the Dog Park. Established by Novaky’s mother, Dr. Denise D’Amico Novaky of Hackettstown, the memorial is dedicated to all Mt. Olive residents who lost their lives prior to their 30th birthday.
Devastated by her loss, Novaky has taken action as a way of coping. She has created The Become Awesome Foundation charity group, The Garden of Memory, and has been gathering information for a book that lists all the individuals as far back as the Civil War, from Mt. Olive who died at an early age.
The Memory Garden is “a place to come together and get solace,” says Novaky, foundation chair. “I hope mothers and fathers who have children who have passed away find solace here. Years from now, I hope mothers and fathers are not alone.”
Novaky says “This is the hardest thing I ever did. The night my son died, I knew I was looking into an abyss. I can become a monster of anger or I can use it to destroy me. It will not destroy me.”
Novaky’s son Nick, 18, and his friend Neil Solanki, 19, were killed on June 19, 2012, in a car accident after the car he was driving smashed into a tree at the property of Fellowship Church on Wolfe Rd. in Budd Lake.
To commemorate their death, a roadside memorial with memorabilia and mementos had been set up around a large tree where the accident occurred. When the property owner was looking to sell his property, the roadside memorial was dismantled.
Novaky then approached the Mt. Olive Township Council and requested that a memorial site be established, not only as “a place for family and friends to meet together, express grief, find solace, and take time to meditate” to remember her son but for all young Mt. Olive residents who lost their lives.
“The site would serve as a safe place, as opposed to a roadway with heavy traffic, where all can express their grief in solitude or in the unity and support of others,” Novaky had written in her proposal to council about one year ago.
After consideration, the township council decided that the vacant parcel at Turkey Brook Park would be a suitable site for the memorial. Moving forward, The Become Awesome Foundation offered to spearhead the project under the auspices of Mt. Olive Twp.
One year later, with the support from about 20 to 30 family and friends, Novaky has a place to heal.
In the fall, she had planted daffodil bulbs, hyacinths bulbs and peonies. This spring she added more plants such as three lilac bushes and small perennial flowers.
Two Basswood trees are being donated from the Environmental Center and a milkweed garden- a plant that monarchs use to lay their eggs- was planted after Memorial Day by “butterfly enthusiast” Dona Scheidecker, a fourth teacher at Chester M. Stephens Elementary School.
Festivities at The Grand Opening of the Garden of Memory included storytelling from founding families, music, and baked goods, donated by “Every mother in Mt. Olive,” notes Novaky. Become Awesome memorabilia such as back packs, wrist bands and motivational posters were also for sale. Participants were asked to contribute a $5 donation.
“Every dime we take in goes to the foundation,” says Novaky, whether it covers set up costs for the foundation or maintaining the garden. “Every penny goes back to the garden. I hope to raise enough money to continue it.” Novaky would also like to get benches and rain barrels to help water the garden.
Keeping the garden watered has been a challenge so far for Novaky. She has been carrying water on 20 gallon jugs back and forth from her home to water the garden.
“I’m a water-toting momma,” Novaky laughs during an interview with the Mt. Olive News at the Gazebo at Turkey Brook Park after she spent hours weeding the garden. “I put a shout on Facebook announcing ‘Yo, I’m watering the garden, who can help me?’ Whoever is available comes,” she says, even Nick’s friends.
Also featured at the garden are rocks with names of each child who died too soon.
Novaky, who works as a psychologist in Hackettstown, has been researching death certificates to gather the names of Mt. Olive residents who have died before the age of 30. She taught herself how to use a dremel to carve each name into a polished river stone. The stones will then be displayed at the Garden of Memory. She had 100 rocks so far completed with more to go.
With her research, Novaky is also writing a book, “Take My Voice,” that lists all the people and a description of each, who will celebrated at the garden, as well as the history of Mt. Olive. Her research goes back to the 18th century.
Her goal was to self publish the book in booklet form by the time of the grand opening to share with participants. Next year, she plans to continue her research and publish a second edition.
“These people who were taken away don’t have a voice, but they have left a legacy,” says Novaky. “All these people who passed away I believe are still alive. They live on, they don’t live here, but they live somewhere. They don’t have a voice, but they can take mine.”
Novaky chose age “30” for the garden and book because she wanted to memorialize a good friend of hers, Keith McDonald of Mt. Olive, who graduated MOHS with her in 1976, and died at the age of 29.
With enough proceeds, Novaky hopes to someday expand the garden with another section behind the Memory Garden to commemorate those who died between the ages of 30 and 50.
“The Become Awesome Foundation was founded so that the love, respect, coping, humor, and confidence that was his message to the world could be emulated and not forgotten,” writes Novaky on the foundation’s website. “The Become Awesome Foundation is designed to keep the gifts that Nick brought to this planet alive and continued by others.”
All proceeds from donations or products are used to help teens and young adults. The charity foundation promotes social consciousness, anti-bullying, and emotional intelligence through fundraisers as well as a cash award to offset expenses from college, trade school or small business ownership
Every year, the Novakys will award one senior the Soaring Hawk Award, a cash award given to a Mt. Olive High School senior who exhibits social consciousness, emotional intelligence, and gives “of oneself to others with out expecting a payback,” explains Novaky. Candidates write an essay to apply, and the award recipient is then chosen through a blind selection process by a committee made up of Novaky’s family, friends and MOHS alumnus.
For more information or to donate, visit the Become Awesome Foundation website at www.become-awesome.org. Donators can also contribute by placing their monetary donation in a bin at the Budd Lake Diner.
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