The lives of Robbinsville’s Semmel family were rocked in early August after the unexpected passing of April Semmel, a beloved wife and mother of four children.
April’s husband, Joel Semmel, and their children faced further hardships after the loss—their family home was on the brink of foreclosure and in need of many, many repairs.
But support from the Robbinsville community has helped the Semmel family get back on their feet. Residents rallied to donate over $22,000 to the GoFundMe page created in Joel’s name. Most of that amount was raised over one weekend in late August. A handful of donations trickled in a few weeks later.
The page, created by Alison Sussman, set a $50,000 goal—funds for the mortgage so the Semmels can remain in their home and to help them regain stability in their lives during a period of upheaval.
“To say thank you is nowhere near enough for all of the help we’ve been receiving,” Semmel said.
Originally, the family was to be forced from its home on Sept. 3. But the bank granted Semmel a time extension to raise the $50,000 that is owed after support from and negotiations between the mayor of Robbinsville and the bank. Although community support has been massive, the family’s fundraiser still needs to reach $50,000 as soon as possible.
“My wish is that within a couple years from now I can be in a position to pay it forward and be able to help out somebody else that may be in a similar situation to where we are now,” Semmel said.
The cause of April’s sudden passing before she turned 52 in August is unknown because of the family’s religious traditions that require someone who has passed to be buried within 24 hours without an autopsy.
“It’s a Jewish thing, for the soul being at rest as soon as possible,” Semmel said. “We don’t try to find out those things.”
April had been dealing with medical issues living with bilateral sciatica in both of her legs for the past several years, Semmel said.
Sciatica is when sharp pain felt throughout the leg, typically caused by a bone spur on the spine that causes nerves to become compressed resulting in pain and inflammation.
“There were some days that she was OK and some days she could not get out of bed because the pain was so excruciating,” he said.
Joel and April are originally from Staten Island, where they first met in 1986 during a work training session for Anchor Savings bank. They were married in 1995.
April leaves behind her 15-year-old son Brandon and 13-year-old triplets Andrew, Brianna and Ashley. She isalso survived by her mother and brother in Staten Island with extended family in Florida.
Semmel has expressed gratitude for the support his children are receiving from the community and within the school district.
Robbinsville Police Department officers have been spending time with the children, taking them out to eat, to the movies and shopping for clothes.
“Ashley is having a tough time right now as each day progresses, she’s thinking of her mom not being there anymore, not being able to see her performances, go to open school night, things like that,” Semmel said.
He described April as the most caring, giving and thoughtful person who always thought about others before herself. She was always involved with the Robbinsville community and dedicated much of her time to her children.
“Growing up, she loved to dance,” he said. “One time, we had the girls in dance classes for a few years. They offered an adult dance class once, and April took it and performed at the recital the same night the girls did.”
April worked as a high school teacher in the New York public school system, commuting everyday to Brooklyn and teaching all grades while still staying involved at her own children’s schools. She was a PTA member and officer for several years.
“Our kids were the world to her,” Semmel said. “She was very into education. She took a big interest in that.”
For the past few years, April had devoted a lot of her time to being in charge of the Reflections program for the Robbinsville school district.
Reflections is a national arts program sponsored by the PTA. Each year, students submit art projects that are judged by local PTA members. Then, winning students have the opportunity to compete on the county level, state level and then the national level.
“She coordinated that and it was a lot of work,” Semmel said. “I wondered if it was worth it for her, but she said, ‘Yes, it was.’ She would run the show during the presentation night and by the time she did that, it was all worth it in the end.”
Along with donations to the GoFundMe, the community has expressed support in a variety of ways, from bringing food to donating needed appliances in the house. Mayor Dave Fried is purchasing a new refrigerator for the family, and their rabbi is donating a dishwasher.
During this time of financial hardship, “different repairs need to be done in the home,” Semmel said. “We have leaks in the roof which have caused some damage to the ceiling and sheetrock.”
However, the repairs are going to be made after Ronald Witt, a Robbinsville councilman who owns a construction company, offered to do them free of charge.
“If someone asks me recommendations for a place to live and that’s a good community I’ll say, ‘Move to Robbinsville, because if you’re ever in any dire straits, the whole community will rally around you and help you out,’” Semmel said.
Donations can be made online here.