Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates presents AST2 David Downham with the American Legion Spirit of Service Award with National Commander Clarence E. Hill, left, and actor/comedian Ben Stein, right, last month during the National Convention of the American Legion in Milwaukee. U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison

As an aviation survival technician in the U.S. Coast Guard, David Downham’s job is to save lives through water rescues. But it’s what he does above and beyond the call of duty that made his superiors — and his community — take notice.

The Sea Bright, Monmouth County resident, who has been stationed in Atlantic City since 2006, was recently presented with the American Legion Spirit of Service Award for his service to the community.

Downham, along with his wife, Alexis, founded the first chapter of the Best Day Foundation, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based charity that sets up camps to offer special needs children the opportunity to go surfing and boogie boarding in the summer, as well as snow tubing in the winter.

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After two tough years of finding sponsors, Best Day has really taken off. The group now has a fleet of surfboards and boogie boards, and businesses donate lunch and dinner for the groups. It has expanded from two annual camps with 20 children each day to 10 camps this year with about 35 children in each camp.

Now, Downham would like to bring Best Day closer to where he works every day.

“I have so many friends who live down here that travel help me with the charity,” Downham said. “We just need someone to work in conjunction with us to offer it to special needs children down here. After you do it and you see how super appreciative the parents and kids are, it’s really rewarding.”

For more information on the charity, visit

Short stories

Lou Solometo, 22, sous chef at Wildwood’s Goodfish Grill and a second-year student at Atlantic Cape Community College’s Academy of Culinary Arts, took first place in the Chef’s Cookoff on Sunday at the Cape May Food and Wine Festival. Solometo was asked to fill in at the last minute by festival officials, and overcame some early nervousness in the “Iron Chef”-like competition to use the secret ingredient — salmon — better than his competitors. The Washington Township chef prepared salmon sautéed in a chive butter and lemon sauce over a bed of fresh zucchini, squash and onions. … Hammonton’s Eagle Theatre recently named Scott Van Pelt, of Waterford Works in Winslow Township, Camden County, as its new manager. Van Pelt was hired among a field of 60 applicants, and he will direct the strategic and operational aspects of the theater as it expands it artistic mission.

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