Calendar exposes another side of Manalapan moms

Friends get together to produce attractive effort to boost charities


Staff Writer

DAVE BENJAMIN  A group of friends from Manalapan got together to produce the 2006 New Jersey Housewives “Desperate to Help” calendar.DAVE BENJAMIN A group of friends from Manalapan got together to produce the 2006 New Jersey Housewives “Desperate to Help” calendar. They cook, clean and care for their husbands and children, but they are not typical housewives. They are the New Jersey Housewives and they have featured themselves in their own provocative 2006 calendar that they have labeled “Desperate to Help.” All six women are residents of Manalapan.

“We’ve been friends forever. We’ve known each other since we were 15, and now our kids are friends,” said Erica Bernadini, 29.

Bernadini, whose maiden name was Aleksandrowski when she graduated from Manalapan High School in 1995, said all six women grew up in Manalapan and went to Manalapan High School.

“I went half the day to performing arts at Howell High School for dance and Manalapan for the other half of the day,” she said.

Maria Caruso, 32, is Erica’s sister and a 1991 Manalapan graduate. She said the idea started as a group of housewives just getting together.

Karen Filos, 32, graduated from Manalapan in 1991, when her last name was Ribas.

“I am a hair stylist and makeup artist,” she said. “Photography is a hobby of mine. Our lives as mothers, some of us working moms, leave little time for us to spend quality adult time together as friends.

“Being a mom and wife, you sometimes forget who you are,” said Filos. “It made me feel good to make my friends feel beautiful and part of something different.”

Filos said she and her friends decided to take some time out of their hectic routines to celebrate their womanhood and friendships, and to help two good causes. The calendar indicates that the women are supporting the International Rett Syn-drome Association and the American Red Cross for hurricane relief.

Filos said she asked her friends if they would be interested in spending a Sunday afternoon together, taking some pictures.

“Sometimes as a mom and wife you don’t have time for makeup and hair, so I loved making them feel beautiful,” said Filos. “After looking over the pictures we spoke and agreed it would be a great idea for a calendar to help a charity. We all chipped in and had the calendars printed.”

Danielle Hinds, 32, graduated from Manalapan in 1991, when her name was Gemgnani.

“It was something for us to do to escape from our normal everyday routines as a mother and housewife,” said Hinds. “It was [time to] have a little fun with your friends.”

Stephanie Jensen, 37, class of 1986, said the whole experience was “a nice break from reality.”

Donna Fingerlain, 32, class of 1991, said, “Like every other mother, we have so much to do every day, and scheduling a time when everyone could get together for a photo shoot wasn’t easy. We did it on a Sunday, and we had to get together to determine how it would be promoted.”

Fingerlain said the funniest thing was when the women left their children with their husbands.

“The phone was constantly ringing, ‘Where’s this, where’s that, when are you coming home?’ ” she said.

“We said if the pictures came out, we’d put it into a calendar,” Caruso said. “It was doing a little something for ourselves to break that mom routine. It was something different to do. It took a whole day and we had a lot of laughs.”

About $6,000 of the sales will pay off what the women spent to print the calendar; 10 percent will go to the American Red Cross for hurricane relief and 10 percent will go to the International Rett Syndrome Association to help families coping with medical expenses.

Fingerlain said her daughter, Kaitlin, 13, suffers from Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder. Rett syndrome affects one in every 10,000 to 15,000 live female births. It occurs in all racial and ethnic groups worldwide.

“The disease is a slow killer and affects females almost exclusively,” said Finger-lain. “The severity of Rett syndrome varies from child to child.”

Symptoms include a loss of hand movement, slowed brain growth, seizures, mental retardation, sleep problems, breathing difficulties, hyperventilation and air swallowing. Medication, therapy and monitoring the disease are management techniques, but there is no cure.

“Kaitlin has a severe case of Rett syndrome,” Fingerlain said. “Kaitlin is bed-bound, only to come out for her daily bath. She is completely dependent upon others for all aspects of care. She doesn’t walk or talk. I have never heard her say ‘mommy,’ but I do believe she knows I am her mother.

“It is very hard to watch her deteriorate and not be able to do anything about it,” said Fingerlain. “My family and friends are a huge support system and my parents have been by Kaitlin’s side since she was born. My husband, Rich, runs the Friends of Kaitie Fingerlain golf outing every year.”

Kaitlin has two younger sisters, Vanessa, 5, and Olivia, 21 months.

“Vanessa has become very curious about Kaitlin’s condition,” said Fingerlain. “She wants to know ‘How do we get the Rett syndrome out of Kaitie?’ ”

The women have promoted the calendar by making a series of appearances at area events. The calendar costs $20 and is available at

“Now we all are involved together, and it gives us time for each other as friends,” Filos said. “We feel great about pulling together to try and make a difference for Rett syndrome and hurricane relief.”