Joel had the coolest eighth birthday party ever.
Joel Restuccia was turning 8, and he wasn't sure how he wanted to celebrate.
He’s a quiet boy, and he told his stepmom, Nicole Restuccia, that all he wanted for his birthday on May 14 was to go hiking.
Nicole had to stay home with their 13-month-old, Clementine, but Joel got his wish and headed out for a long hike with his dad and grandma in New York’s Minnewaska State Park.
Meanwhile, his stepmom was plotting a surprise party.
“I always make birthdays a big deal,” Nicole says. “It’s the one day a year that is exclusively all about celebrating you.”
Joel and his stepmom have been close from day one, and she couldn’t stand the thought of not throwing a party for him. “The first time I ever met him, he came right over and snuggled up with me on the couch,” Nicole recalls. “From then on, he had my heart.”
Nicole decided to throw a SWAT-themed surprise party for Joel so he could celebrate with his friends.
“All he talks about is SWAT and cops and anything related,” Nicole says. “He actually dressed up as a SWAT team member for halloween."
The party was set for a week later, and Nicole started inviting friends — in stealth mode, of course.
But as the party’s date grew closer, she started to worry that very few of the invitees had RSVP'd to the last-minute celebration.
So Nicole took to Facebook, asking parents in a local moms’ group to bring their kids and join in.
Shannon Fisher, who works at the Emergency Services Center, saw Nicole’s post and called for backup to rescue this birthday party in distress.
Shannon walked into the police department the next day and told them about Joel’s party. “It’s a SWAT-themed birthday party, but no one’s coming,” she said. The response was instant: “We are.”
On the day of the party, 15 officers from the State Police, the NYPD, and the Sheriff's Office showed up for Joel’s party.
Almost 50 people — parents, kids, officers, and even a K-9 — gathered to celebrate Joel’s eighth birthday. The New Windsor community rallied to make sure one little boy knew how loved he is.
“He was definitely surprised,” Nicole laughs, “and a little overwhelmed ... he didn’t say much at first.”
She says seeing the big crowd knocked the wind out of her, since she initially worried that no one would show up.
Before long, Joel took off to play with the 20 kids who showed up to what ended up being the coolest birthday party ever.
That night, Joel wouldn’t let go of all the patches and cards his surprise visitors had given him. The police squad even brought real SWAT gear for him to try on.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he slept with them under his pillow,” laughs Nicole.
There are few things in life more magical than a child’s birthday party, but seeing a community show up like they did for Joel? You can’t beat that.
You’d better start planning his ninth birthday party now, Nicole, because this one will be hard to beat!