Hunterdon couple wins wedding by raising $33K for Special Olympics

By Stephen Stirling/For The Star-Ledger
October 16, 2009, 6:03PM

HUNTERDON COUNTY — Joe Panico and Angela Rotella raised more than $33,000 for the Special Olympics of New Jersey to win what promises to be an unforgettable $100,000 wedding. But in the wake of winning the Roman Jewelers wedding grand prize, the couple said the race to victory was just as rewarding.

The couple was awarded the grand prize Thursday at Roman Jewelers in Flemington in a competition that pitted 10 couples against one another in a bid to come up with the most creative and effective philanthropic project to benefit various organizations across the state in a six-week period.

“In a world of Bridezillas, where weddings are all about selfishness, we thought by putting philanthropy with weddings that it would be that much more meaningful to those involved,” said Sophie Shor, owner of the event’s chief sponsor, Roman Jewelers.

Panico, of the Three Bridges section of Readington, and Rotella, of Flemington, raised a total of $33,647 for the Special Olympics of New Jersey through their project “Taking the Plunge,” which solicited donations while hosting over 100 Special Olympics athletes at professional sporting events throughout the state.

The couple said spending time with the Special Olympics athletes and watching them smile with excitement when they were featured at the events — such as being brought onto the ice at a New Jersey Devils game — kept them going.

“Watching people smile that really deserve to smile, it’s like its own energy source,” Panico said.

Panico and Rotella will be married on Feb. 14 and will be treated to a $100,000 wedding that includes a gala reception at the Palace at Somerset Park for 200 people.

“We’ve been doing this every day, I haven’t even chosen my bridesmaids yet,” she said.

But she said she wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

“Everybody remembers their wedding day, but we’ll never forget the six weeks that led up to it,” Rotella said.

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