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Youngsters, police vets bring smiles, tears of joy to annual Bergen ‘Chief for a Day’ event

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Courtesy Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain
Photo Credit: Courtesy Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

SHOUT OUT: After a whirlwind day in which he was applauded by his school, saluted by his local police department and escorted by a special motorcade, 6-year-old Henry Naida of Tenafly had one “Chief of the Day” wish: “Let’s do it again tomorrow!”

Henry was one of nearly two dozen ill and disabled youngsters who became honorary police chiefs of their respective towns for today’s fourth annual “Chief of the Day” program sponsored by Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino.

“What a fantastic day — so very rewarding,” Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “I think the sheriff said it best: The kids get so much out of this, but, in reality, we get as much out of it as they do.”

PHOTO: Courtesy Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain

Henry has alopecia areata, a hair-loss condition.

Today he was a hero.

McKay School Principal John Fabbo brought Henry up in front of a school assembly to applause and cheers from pupils, teachers, parents and staff who high-fived him as he went by this morning.

Surrounded by loved ones and neighbors, Henry also got salutes from Chamberlain’s officers outside his house.

He, his family and Chamberlain were then taken by motorcade, sirens sounding, to the steps of the county courthouse in Hackensack.

This year’s honorary chiefs range from six to 15 years old (FULL LIST BELOW).

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  • From NW Bergen Press: “They’re playing my song! They’re playing my song!” 12-year-old Julia Frances of Upper Saddle River shouted, grabbing her mother’s hand and jumping up and down to the beginning of Pharrell’s “Happy.” It captured the emotions of most youngsters, parents and law enforcement officers participating in today’s Bergen County ‘Chief for a Day’ event. READ MORE ….

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Each got his or her own uniform before being “sworn in” this morning at 22 law enforcement agencies, including the county sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices in Hackensack.

After department tours, they got the royal escort to the Bergen County Justice Center for a group ceremony before another motorcade took them to The Empire Club in Little Ferry.

There they had lunch, listened to guest speakers and participated in games and activities. All received gifts, including a commemorative plaque.

PHOTO: Courtesy Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain

Saudino, a former Emerson police chief, created “Chief for a Day” with a modest number of chiefs and other officers soon after becoming sheriff. In just four years, the event has become one of the most popular outings in the county.

A host of businesses contribute the uniforms, plaques, meals and other amenities that go with the special behind-the-scenes look that the children and their families get into the inner workings of law enforcement.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for more than 30 years,” Saudino said. “We live for these days, when we can have a positive impact on our communities and celebrate life.”

“It’s one of the most rewarding days of my year. I look forward to it,” said Upper Saddle River Police Chief Patrick Rotella. “The smiles that we see — it’s just amazing to know that we’re making a difference in their lives.”

Henry Naioa said the highlight of his day was standing on the McKay School stage and seeing his teacher, Amanda Cobell, applauding him.

He called Chamberlain, the Tenafly chief, “my new best friend.”

“Henry’s a wonderful kid with a wonderful family,” Chamberlain said. “Anything I can do to brighten his day and give him something to be proud of, I’m there.

“I’ve definitely forged a friendship for life.”

PHOTOS BELOW: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter / NORTHWEST BERGEN PRESS reporter Stephanie Schwartz contributed to this account

PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

The honorary chiefs (list provided by BERGEN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE):

Kamlyn Garcia / Bergenfield
Christopher Kwless / Carlstadt
Michael Kontzamanis / Englewood Cliffs
Gloria Cenolli / Elmwood Park
Isabella Romano / Emerson
Juliana Jorge / Fair Lawn
Julia Traiger / Fort Lee
Jerel Johnson / Garfield
Thomas Minervini / Hackensack (Sheriff’s Department)
Austin Alvarez / Hasbrouck Heights

Joseph McNeice / Montvale
Miguel Vega / North Arlington
Kostadinos Stepas / Paramus
Brandon Petronzi / Paramus (Prosecutor’s Office)
Rudy Ramirez / Park Ridge
Jake Guarderas / Saddle Brook
Deen Sheikh / Teaneck
Henry Naida / Tenafly
Julia Frances / Upper Saddle River
Carina Protasewicz / Wallington
Benjamin Waldinger / Washington Township

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