September 14, 2011
When my family returned to New Jersey from Washington five years ago, I knew our daily lives would be taking a very different turn. We traded the Smithsonians for the beach, the monuments for proximity to family, and although at times I truly miss our former existence, there is no doubt in my mind it was the best choice for Justin. For one thing, although the school system where we once lived is nationally recognized, my eldest would never have merited an aide during the early days of his education. I truly believe that having this one-on-one experience in his first years as a student in New Jersey was absolutely integral to his development, and instrumental in the creation of the happy boy I call my son today.
Our family has also benefited greatly from our experience with the DDD (Department of Developmental Disabilities), an agency which affords us the gift of thirty hours of respite care a month, providing me with an extra pair of hands that often enables me to leave the house with both of my kids in tow. There have been other benefits from our relocation as well, including far greater access to social opportunities for the boys through several different organizations, specifically POAC (Parents of Autistic Children), and SSNY (Someone Special Needs You).
I’ve written before about our participation in SSNY, from Easter Egg hunts to Halloween activities, as well as visits from Santa, and carnivals. Vince Scanelli and his wife Gina are the co-founders, and their mission is twofold. First, they provide a monthly arena where children of all ages and disabilities can convene to do crafts and various activities with high school buddies. These teens are carefully selected to pair with the children, and provide them with a wonderful opportunity for friendship. Justin has absolutely reveled in the experience over the four years we’ve been attending the meetings, changing from a child who wanted nothing to do with crafts or teen-agers, to a boy who can’t wait to assemble a leprechaun and hug a pretty girl. He’s grown to love these nights, and in keeping with family tradition, I’ve begun to bring Zachary too.
The second part of their mission includes the creation of a group home on a farm, a topic near and dear to my heart. SSNY has been afforded the gift of twelve acres of land in Colts Neck, and as soon as the “i’s” are dotted and the “t’s” are crossed, construction will begin. It will be a working farm for adults with autism, and will include several green-houses as well. Vince wants to have sheep, chickens and alpaca in abundance (I admit, I had to google the latter, I need to brush up on my farm vocabulary), and hopes to provide a safe and productive atmosphere within which a number of fortunate adults with autism can live and thrive, together.
Amen to that.
SSNY is always on the look-out for new participants for their monthly sessions, and they meet the third Thursday of the month at the Colts Neck Reformed Church, from 6:30 to 7:30 in the evening. They also greatly appreciate donations of any sort toward the creation of the group home. Trust me, it is a daunting task to bring this kind of wide-scale dream to fruition. As Vince and his wife are two of the kindest, most generous parents I have encountered on my New Jersey autism journey, I truly hope they succeed in reaching their goal.
If you’re either interested in attending the crafts sessions or volunteering/donating to the creation of the group home, please click on the SSNY website, and I thank you for your time. The first get-together is this Thursday, 9/15, and all families are more than welcome to attend. Hope to see you there!
Colts Neck Reformed Church
72 County Road 537 West
Colts Neck, NJ 07722
6:30 to 7:30
Third Thursday of the month
Colts Neck Journal article (information on the group home, pages 37 and 38)