Ellen Rubino-Young of Morris Plains is breathing easier this week now that her son, Daniel, 28, is back at ECLC of New Jersey’s PRIDE Program for adults with special needs.

“He is thrilled to be back, and I am feeling so blessed,” she said. “You work their whole lives to get your child therapies and support, so they can become as independent as possible, and then to see him at home wasn’t good. It’s been so difficult.”

The PRIDE Program for adults with special needs reopens.

After being mostly closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic, on Monday, clients returned to the PRIDE Centers in Florham Park and Paramus. Everyone is masked up, but you cannot cover up their excitement to be back in person!

“Now, he’s back on track,” said Rubino-Young. “It’s so important for our kids to get back into their routine and to be with others.”

Prior to reopening, the centers were significantly remodeled and other changes made to ensure the safety of clients and staff members.

With a grant from the Summit Foundation, some interior walls at the Morris PRIDE Center were removed to open up rooms and create larger meeting spaces. At the Bergen Center, walls were put up to divide the large main room to reduce interaction. Small individual tables were brought in, so clients can sit on their own, protected by new plastic shields, instead of sitting at large tables in groups.

Protocols were put into place, from temperature checks each morning to mandated mask-wearing by all staff and clients, except when they are eating lunch. In addition, the clients are attending the program on a rotating basis, with some on a part-time schedule and others full-time.

Clients are grouped into cohorts and must remain socially distanced throughout the day. To help with social distancing, floor stickers are in place to encourage one-way traffic flow and spacing between clients. Ventilation adjustments were made to maximize fresh air, and windows and doors are opened when possible.

These precautions, and others, are necessary to protect the health of clients, many whom are diagnosed with Down syndrome and other conditions that leave them especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

About 70 percent of the clients are back in person, with the remaining continuing to participate through Zoom sessions, according to PRIDE Program Co-Directors, Christina Klimkowski and Lauren Guererro.

PRIDE serves 170 adults, who are primarily graduates of ECLC’s two schools for students with special needs in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus. The program was launched in 2008 for alumni who were not ready for the workplace and were oftentimes languishing at home.

At PRIDE, the emphasis is on developing skills of daily living; enhancing independence; providing opportunities for socialization; and learning about fitness and nutrition. (Typically, clients also spend time every day in the community, but with COVID that is not possible.)

“I am so appreciative of everything they did to reopen the program,” said Rubino-Young. “I am not sure what we would do without ECLC and the PRIDE Program.”