HERO Campaign partners with Night in Venice

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OCEAN CITY – The popular Night in Venice boat parade will have a whole new look this summer as an enhanced flotilla makes its way down the city’s bayfront on Saturday evening, July 20.

Night in Venice has partnered with the HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers. The 59th annual event will feature a patriotic “Salute to our Jersey Shore Heroes.” The salute will be focused on thanking members of the United States military and first responders, including the New Jersey Marine Police, local police officers and firefighters, and what Bill Elliott, chairman of the HERO Campaign says are “the everyday heroes,” designated drivers.

“We’re going to be a major sponsor of Night in Venice,” Elliott said. “We’re going to rejuvenate the parade. We’re going to make it bigger and better than ever.”

The HERO Campaign was founded by Elliott and his wife Muriel, who live in Egg Harbor Township, in 2000. It is a nonprofit organization seeking to end drunken driving tragedies nationwide by promoting the use of designated drivers.

“We are expanding our focus, designated drivers don’t have to be on land, they can be water based, too,” Elliot said.

On July 20, 2000, the Elliotts’ son, John Elliott, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was struck and killed by a drunken driver on his way home for his mother’s birthday. The driver had been arrested on driving under the influence charges and released only to get back in the car drunk, killing himself and John Elliott.

John Elliott distinguished himself as a Human Education Resource Officer, or HERO, at the Naval Academy. HEROs are elected by their peers to counsel and mentor other members of their company. He was selected as the outstanding HERO in his graduating class.

Bill Elliott said Ocean City and the HERO campaign go together like “mom and apple pie.”

“We think the HERO Campaign is the perfect partner for Night in Venice,” he said. “Ocean City is a family resort and a dry town. Night in Venice is the biggest night of the year for having fun and parties, and we think that the message of the HERO Campaign is absolutely appropriate and fitting for Night in Venice. It’s all about keeping people safe.”

“The hero is the designated driver, willing to give rides to friends after they’ve been out all night,” Elliot said. “The message is about fun and safety.”

The partnership will add at least 10 boats, hopefully many more, to a parade that has struggled in recent years due to a stagnant economy and escalating gas prices. Elliott said the boats will be “beautifully decorated,” patriotic and filled with lively music and members of the military.

“It’s a major boost for the parade,” said Mark Soifer, Ocean City’s publicist. “What we need to make the parade is boats! It’s an innovative idea and it will really help us to bolster the parade. We’re very, very excited about it.”

Elliott said he reached out to Soifer earlier this year, offering to sponsor the parade. Now he wants to reach out to boat owners and encourage more of them to participate.

Elliott said the partnership will encompass a wide-ranging safety message.

“We want to showcase our military heroes who serve domestically and abroad,” he said. “We want the National Guard, the Coast Guard, first responders. They are all heroes. Every day, they go above and beyond to protect us and keep us safe.”

Elliot said that the parade will also serve as a reminder that the Jersey Shore is back in business.

“We had a derecho tear through Atlantic County about a year ago, it wreaked havoc and then we had Hurricane Sandy,” he said. “Sandy was a devastating storm and it had a terrible impact. The parade is a great reminder that the Jersey Shore is back, to come have a good time. The area has never been in better shape, come enjoy.”

The grand marshal of the parade will be ABC Channel 6 meteorologist Adam Joseph.

The HERO Campaign kicked off about a dozen years ago when the fledgling campaign became part of First Night 2001.

“It’s going to be an exciting parade,” Elliot said. “We’ve always had a very special relationship with Ocean City.”

He said the reasons to partner with First Night are similar to why the HERO Campaign is partnering with Night in Venice.

“We liked the message, an alcohol-free celebration of the New Year,” said Elliott.

From there, the campaign became involved with the Miss Night in Venice pageant, where the contestants raise money for charity. The campaign has been a benefactor of the pageant ever since.

“We think that there is a very, very special relationship between Ocean City and the HERO Campaign,” Elliott said. “The HERO Campaign is now in seven states. We think it’s good for both organizations to join together and encourage more people to participate in the parade and to have a designated driver.”

“We think it’s important to keep people safe on Night in Venice,” he said, adding that he can’t think of a more important event on the island to promote safety.

“We want to make sure that it’s a night of family fun and safety,” he said. “I can’t think of anything more important. To be able to salute our Jersey Shore heroes, we think will be fun and meaningful.”

Night in Venice, Elliot said, will be his wife’s birthday and sadly, the 13th anniversary of their son’s death. Elliott said they focus on the message.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I think John would appreciate what we are doing.”

Elliott said they would like to have more “heroes” involved.

“So if anyone knows of a member of the military who would like to participate, please let us know,” he said. “If you have a boat and you’d like to include some uniformed military personnel, we’d love to have you. We think this is very important.”

See http://herocampaign.org/ for more information.

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