BARNEGAT – A retired teacher and coach from Barnegat wants kids to know they can be their best selves and engages them in a new children’s book filled with life lessons.
In “Roger, the Bravest Bird in the World,” author Ed Agresta, 77, tells the story of a family of four birds who each face unique challenges. The relatable characters work together to overcome their disadvantages and learn that perceived enemies can become best friends.
“Each of the birds has a problem or situation that they have to handle,” shared Agresta. “One has one leg, and another is blind, and there’s also one with a broken wing.”
The three family members all suffer an additional hardship; they are unable to fly.
Roger, the eldest bird, tends to be extremely timid. Nevertheless, he finds himself forced to put his fears aside to take care of his siblings and live by the family motto – “I can…I will…I must!”
As the tale unfolds, it turns out the birds need to get to the other side of a lake. An alligator named Fred looms in the water, and the family sees him as a threat.
Fred knows the birds are afraid of him and does not understand why they are fearful. Roger gets up the courage to speak to the alligator, which ultimately provides them with safe passage across the lake. Another lesson surfaces – as far as making friends despite differences.
Agresta said the storyline originated seven years ago when he and his wife enjoyed a Florida vacation with another couple from the Pheasant Run retirement community. It didn’t take long for Agresta to choose a name for the lead character in his children’s book.
“We were with Roger Toole, a retired state trooper,” Agresta recalled. “He used to help people all the time.”
Toole served the New Jersey State Police for 26 years. He says the job was very interesting and he enjoyed it. So while the retired trooper was surprised when Agresta told him he wanted to use his name, he was also flattered by the recognition.
However, Toole’s not the only one who lives life to make things better for others.
Agresta’s career as a high school psychology teacher and football coach spanned over 50 years. He taught in both public and private schools in Hudson County and at Montclair State University.
“I also got into the field of discipline,” said Agresta. “I worked with at-risk kids as well.”
When he taught at-risk students at Union Hill High School in Union City, Agresta adapted creative means to help them recognize their value. He took advantage of the location of the special needs school located across the street from their classroom.
“I told my students they needed to help give back to the community,” Agresta explained. “Once a week, we would go across the street and work with the special needs kids.”
“The young ladies would teach the girls how to put makeup on, get dressed and take care of themselves,” continued Agresta. “The guys did things like teaching the other kids sports.”
The exercise proved beneficial to everyone involved. Agresta said the group continues to hold a special place in his heart as they never gave up despite their struggles.
No doubt, it is a conglomeration of Agresta’s past experiences that led to his creation of a special award to recognize the good in people. Of course, it’s aptly named the “Roger Award.”
A young boy named Joey earned the first Roger Award and earned a spot on Agresta’s Facebook page holding his trophy. Nancy, who takes great care of her sick husband, received recognition as the award’s second winner.
Members of the public are invited to nominate Roger Award candidates by sending Agresta an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agresta strives to make his positive attitude contagious and has been retained as a motivational speaker and trainer for groups across the nation. He also focuses on expressing gratitude to the people he meets in his everyday life.
“I gave one of my cards to a waitress who worked really hard last night,” Agresta shared. “I told her she made a difference. It’s called ‘Listen, Celebrate and Recognize.’”
The card Agresta hands out thanks people for being awesome – and for making a difference.
In addition to his children’s book, Agresta published two other books intended to help others.
“Don’t Count the Days…Make the Days Count” contains short stories and motivational exercises. Agresta also wrote “101 Radical and Tremendous Teaching Tools, Tips, Techniques for Transformational Thinking in the Classroom in Life.”
“Roger, the Bravest Bird in the World” is available for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Orlando Velez created the colorful illustrations that bring the book to life.
While Agresta’s new book looks like it is solely intended for children, its life lessons are ageless.