Category Archives: Chelsea Eriksen

People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

In a small town, when someone is able to achieve success or celebrity, it’s a BIG deal. Rhett Titus was born in Toms River, raised in Forked River and graduated from Lacey Township High School. Today, Rhett is a professional wrestler who travels all over the globe for his matches. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Rhett about his journey from small town teen to wrestling on national television.

Rhett’s life has always revolved around wrestling and he recalls some of his earliest memories being centered around the ring. “I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t obsessed with wrestling. In kindergarten I remember having to draw a picture of what your job would be when you grew up and I drew myself as a wrestler.” Continue reading People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

New Jersey Paranormal Investigations

As a child, my mother was the President of the Ocean Nature Conservation Society in Ocean County. We spent a lot of time learning about our ecosystem, endangered species in our county and attending environmental events. It was at a Pinelands Jamboree event at Wells Mills County Park in the late 90’s when I first remember hearing about the Jersey Devil. In between musical performances, an older gentleman took the stage and told the story of the Leeds family and Mother Leed’s 13th child. Continue reading People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

Business Profile: Playa Bowls Lacey

Playa Bowls is New Jersey’s original Acai shop that started out in 2014 when Co-Founder Abby Taylor came back from traveling and surfing expeditions. Abby had her first acai bowls on these trips and fell in love. When she returned, she couldn’t find them anywhere and she decided to start selling them with her boyfriend Robert Giuliani in a small cart in front of their apartment on Ocean Ave in Belmar. “Rob and I worked hard to explain our background and the story of this little purplish berry from the Amazon. It was long, hard and frustrating days in the beginning, but we knew when it caught on we would have something amazing.”

Sure enough, the lines started growing for the smoothie bowls and since 2014 they have opened 17 locations in NJ, including our very own store in Lacey located at 44M Manchester Avenue, next to Gille Park. Playa Bowls serves healthy smoothies, juices, soups and various types of bowls, including: coconut, acai, pitaya, green and oatmeal. You can choose from many toppings to add to your bowls like fresh fruit, honey, peanut butter, Nutella, granola or coconut shavings. The health-shop puts a special emphasis on the Acai berry. Abby added, “The acai is so full of antioxidants and gives you a natural little mid day boost.”

Since their start, many smoothie bowl shops have been popping up on the Jersey Shore trying to replicate the Playa Bowls experience. Abby isn’t worried though, “when you come into our stores, the vibe is infectious. It’s not forced or corny and I think that’s where we really hit the mark.  People want to hang out in Playa Bowls and maybe escape reality for a little and enjoy a bowl.” The shops all feature caribbean colors and aesthetics and make sure to incorporate the surf culture that inspired the restaurant.

The Jersey Shore is known for it’s ice cream, funnel cakes, pizza pies, hot dogs and more, so presenting a healthier option that tastes great has the health-conscious beach crowd ecstatic. Though, some have questioned the nutrition behind the smoothie bowls to which Abby remarks, “you can make the bowls as healthy or unhealthy as you wish. Sure, Nutella is not the healthiest option, but it sure as hell beats the pizza and french fries the majority of the population is scarfing down. The Acai in itself is packed with antioxidants and I think it’s foolish to say they aren’t healthy.”

Playa Bowls is also very active in the community and support local charities and programs. Recently they worked with Habitat for Humanity, donated to Oceans of Hope, Apple a Day Program and a few more. They also raised  money for the families of the young girls who drowned in Belmar, their hometown.

So, what’s next on the horizon for Playa Bowls? “We have plans to expand out of state. We recently opened up in Pennsylvania at Lehigh University, which has been a big hit. We also opened up two locations in NYC and that’s been an amazing experience for us. Next up Delaware, North Carolina, Florida and we have no plan of stopping!  We want to expand and keep our culture and brand strong!” Abby Added.

People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato

I remember as a child the first time I heard about drug abuse. I was in Middle School and my class was gathered together for an assembly. The speaker told us terrible stories about kids not much older than us who lost their friends, families and futures to their drug use. The speaker also showed us pictures that revealed the physical consequences of drug abuse, and I remember feeling so far removed from the discussion. Never before had I even heard the word “heroin” and it wasn’t until about a decade later that it seemed to become widespread in conversations, newsfeeds and obituaries of people I knew.

Now, 10 years after graduating from Lacey Township High School, I find myself living in my old hometown of Forked River, where heroin is more prevalent than ever. My childhood home was robbed 3 times by heroin addicts and at least 10 people I shared the first 18 years of my life with are dead from drug abuse. Ocean County has the second highest rate of overdose deaths in New Jersey. Continue reading People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

Debra Simpson

Debra Simpson is a well-known basket weaver whose family has resided in Forked River for several generations. Her family settled in Ocean County at the turn of the 20th century, when her bayman grandfather, William V. Arnold, settled at the mouth of the Forked River, the shortest outlet to the bay.

Debra’s maternal ancestors were the Ford nee Abelson family, locally known as Lenni Lenape, the Delaware Indians.  She adds, “What I have always been told is that early on they spent their spring and summer months along the Delaware River and by the first fall frost, would move westward as far as West Virginia. I can construct what is known as a South Jersey Eel Trap, which was used by family members to fish and eel with.” Continue reading People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

W.B. Grant Insurance Agency

W.B. Grant Insurance Agency has deep roots in Ocean County and are the oldest and longest running business in Barnegat that is owned and operated by the same family. The Agency is also one of The Forked River Gazette’s longest advertisers, since issue one in January 1971. Originally the agency was founded by Wallace B Grant as a small newspaper/magazine store in 1936, located on West Bay Avenue, currently Jack’s Barber shop. The store also sold tobacco products, printing services, greeting cards and Insurance policies. Now the agency is located at 344 S Main Street on Route 9 in Barnegat, where they’ve remained since 1950.

Continue reading W.B. Grant Insurance Agency

People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents BARBARA ANTOLICK

Having grown up in a predominantly white, republican town during the 90’s, Christianity was pretty much an expected belief system. My mother brought me up in the Episcopalian faith, attending Saint Stephen’s Episcopal church in Waretown every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. However, I began a lifelong struggle with religion at the age of 9 when my Sunday School teacher told me my father was going to hell for being an Atheist. This declaration was the catalyst for my initial rejection of religion.
Although I don’t personally believe in any specific religion, I’ve always recognized the pros of being involved with a church. Generally, houses of worship provide a sense of community, activities and events, support and aid, and perhaps foremost; hope. So, when I recently discovered the Unitarian Universalist community right here in Ocean County, I was immediately intrigued. As a self-proclaimed agnostic atheist, I did not think there would ever be a church that welcomed me to openly philosophize on religion and spirituality.
The Unitarian Universalist Ocean County Congregation’s cite that their mission is to: Embrace the Soul, Embolden the Spirit, Enrich the Community. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Barbara Antolick, the acting President of the UUOCC, to learn more about the religion.
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According to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website, their beliefs are “diverse and inclusive. We have no shared creed. Our shared covenant (our seven Principles) supports the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Unitarian Universalists believe more than one thing. We think for ourselves, and reflect together, about important questions.” Antolick expanded, “Everyone is welcome at UUOCC. We don’t discriminate. Everyone has their own spiritual journey that they are on and we are here to support them in any way that we can.”
The Unitarian Universalist Ocean County Congregation (UUOCC) has been in existence for 34 years. The group first met at Murray Grove in Lanoka Harbor, which is the birthplace of Universalism in the United States, starting in 1983. “Our services offer a variety of opinions and practices that reflect our tradition of a free pulpit. We’ve had service topics include: Baseball, Autism, Tattoos, Gardening, a Sunrise service, a Labyrinth service, Flower Communion, Water Communion, Fire Communion, and Poetry Sunday, just to name a few,” Barbara commented.
As President of the Board of Trustees, Barbara oversees the congregation. Every Sunday the UUOCC holds services every at 10:30AM. During this time, the church holds a “Religious Education” for children. Barbara expands, “Each Sunday a member of the congregation works/plays with the children while promoting our Seven Principles:
1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
The UUOCC also offers a wide array of events and programs including: Dream Circle, Meditation, Wrangle Brook Community Garden, and Book Club. Additionally, the church is very involved in activism. “We have a very active Social Justice Committee that seems to work around the clock. Our congregation supports the Interfaith Hospitality Network, all local food banks, the Community Garden, and Homeless concerns, again just to name a few”
The Wrangle Brook Community Garden is the church’s newest enterprise, and is available to all local residents.  Residents are offered the opportunity to cultivate their own vegetables and flowers. There will also be a common area to grow produce that will be donated to local food banks.
With this religion being fairly new, (the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association consolidated in 196), I was curious as to how receptive the general public has been. “People often “disapprove” of our religion because they don’t understand it.  Many of the skeptics usually join us for at least one Sunday to see what we’re all about. Many of them wind up becoming members. My advice to everyone reading this, if you don’t understand, just ask,” Barbara commented. For more information on the UUOCC, go to their website:

People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents MINISTER STEVE BRIGHAM

Having grown up in Ocean County in a big house in the woods, one thing I never thought much about was homelessness. This just wasn’t something I was exposed to during my childhood in Forked River. It wasn’t until my family began taking me into New York City as a young adult that I even became aware of the concept of people without homes. When I first came into contact with a homeless person there, and saw it manifested before me, I remember feeling deeply rattled and confused. Continue reading People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents MINISTER STEVE BRIGHAM

People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents BARBARA MACKEY

According to the Pew Research Center, people identifying as non-religious make up around 1.1 billion people in the world, which is the equivalent of 16.5% of the global adult population. That said, “non-religious” is actually the third largest “religion” in the world, following Christianity (as the first) and Islam (as the second). I count myself as part of this non-religious group, and yet the fascination with the paranormal and supernatural has always been present in me.

For those of us that have never had a direct line to the lord almighty, it’s comforting to think that perhaps someone else does. Or if not a direct line, some kind of connection to the “other side”. This brings me to the subject of this article, the self-proclaimed psychic and Ocean County resident, Barbara Mackey. Currently residing in Toms River, I met with Mackey on a brisk October night at her “enchanted retreat” to get a better sense of all things mystical.

Continue reading People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents BARBARA MACKEY

People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents

Terry O’Leary

In a society suddenly infiltrated by spark words like “sustainability,” “organic,” and “locally grown,” why is it so easy for us to put on blinders to our own ecosystem and environment? Seemingly, we’re all so self-aware and are single-handedly saving the world by purchasing free-range eggs at the local Shoprite. Meanwhile, we are living in this incredibly unique area filled with a plethora of unusual wildlife, habitats and greenery. Ocean County is a rare gem of world-wide environmental intrigue, with cedar swamps, salt marshes, natural estuaries, pygmy forests and the protected pine barrens; all of which face very real threats. Continue reading People of the Pines: A Unique Examination of Various Ocean County Residents