12-Year-Old Girl’s Idea Saves Chatham, N.J.’s Fourth Of July Parade

CHATHAM, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – With COVID-19 changing so many of our plans, one New Jersey girl wanted to make sure a summertime staple returned to her neighborhood.

She’s not even a teen, and she’s already writing elected officials, and getting results.

The Fourth of July parade down Main Street in Chatham, New Jersey, is a slice of Americana that locals look forward to every year – especially 12-year-old Emma Zapata.

“It’s just really nice to see the whole town come together,” Emma told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez.

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When Emma’s mother told her the parade was canceled because of the pandemic, she was devastated. So she decided to email the Chatham Borough mayor to try to save it.

“I’ve always been a problem solver and I’ve been brainstorming about some possible ideas about how to make this work. There’d have to be some rules and guidelines, but I believe we could still make the parade happen,” she wrote.

“Her thought process was if you can’t have the people come to the parade, let’s take the parade to the people,” said Mayor Thad Kobylarz.

He was impressed by Emma’s idea: Instead of the parade going down Main Street, it could wind down all the neighborhood streets. Residents could watch from the safety of their front lawns.

The mayor, borough administrator, and fire chief gave the plan the green light and emailed Emma the good news.

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“I read it and I was just blown away,” she said.

“As a parent, it made you really proud that she took a chance and put herself out there to reach out to the mayor to do that,” Emma’s mother Judith said.

Normally, with marching bands, groups, and floats, there would be about 1,000 participants in Chatham’s July 4th parade. Now, it has been scaled down to 100 first responders, including police, fire, public works and medical professionals.

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“I almost felt bad that I didn’t think of it myself,” Kobylarz said. “It was not only ingenious, but it took courage. Especially as a 12-year-old child, girl to say hey, Mr. Mayor, you have a problem and I can solve the problem for you.”

“I just think that anything is really possible. Just take a chance, and worst case scenario, it doesn’t happen. But a lot of the times amazing things happen,” Emma said.

Amazing things, like a 12-year-old saving a beloved hometown tradition.

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