A Promise to Parents for the Future of their Adult Children with Special Needs
Who: Robby Brooks, Chatham school graduate
Journey to ECLC: Robby was happily coasting along at his public middle school. It was a supportive environment. His peers were wonderful. His aide was supportive. However, he was not being asked or expected to stretch. “He wasn’t being pushed to do other things,” recalled mom, Lois. At the district’s suggestion, Lois, husband David and Robby decided to explore other options, a path that led them to ECLC’s Chatham school. “We went to ECLC and observed several times and were very impressed with the one-on-one attention. And, we saw what Robby could become in terms of his skills,” said Lois. While his public school was adequate, the family chose to move Robby to ECLC, so he could grow. “The choice we made was for Robby’s independence. ECLC was a very different environment than the public school. The staff was very focused on independence, work skills, personalized attention that was geared for Robby and his needs. It was not just, what was required. He was getting much more,” said Lois.
Why PRIDE: When Robby graduated, they again explored alternatives but did not find anything suitable. The offer of PRIDE seemed like a gift from above. “We were delighted that PRIDE would be a full-day program, so Robby could get out, instead of sitting at home,” remembered Lois. “Bruce did his magic! We believed in PRIDE because of Bruce. For him, it was all about these kids.” Initially, the program was limited, but the Brooks had “one million percent confidence” that it was going to expand, as it has over the past 10 years. “Bruce would say, ‘I am going to provide for your son.’ You have no idea what that means to a parent of an adult child with special needs,” said Lois. Today, Robby’s biggest pleasure at PRIDE comes from going out every day for different activities and having a sense of community. “Without PRIDE, we would have been scrambling to keep Robby productive!” said Lois. “It is such a comfort knowing that Robby is happy and productive every day.”
Who: Dani Paino, Ho-Ho-Kus school graduate
Journey to ECLC: Dani is practically a lifer at ECLC. She started when she was only 8 years old. Previously, she attended a different school, but the teacher recommended moving her. “Dani was learning through imitation, and she was not progressing,” said her mother, Donna. “I had a great Child Study Team in Clifton, and they recommended ECLC. But, I was not sure Dani could do it. It was a big leap up. The other school did not have a regular classroom set-up, and Dani had never sat at a desk before. “The first day my husband put her on the bus, Dani’s lip was quivering with anxiety. I was at work crying,” remembered Donna. “The next day, Dani ran down the walkway to the bus. It immediately worked for her. ECLC was great. The teachers were wonderful!” said Donna.
Why PRIDE: Dani and her family looked at other programs, but they were not the right fit. “We heard about PRIDE starting up, and I went to every meeting,” said Donna. “I asked Bruce, ‘How do I get Dani in?’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry; you’re in!’ ” Dani has learned new skills in PRIDE and grown emotionally and socially. The activities, community outings and focus on life skills have all helped Dani continue to develop. “My friends and family, we’ve all seen improvement in her,” said Donna. And, the staff is a big part of PRIDE’s success. “I love the nurturing quality of the program,” reflected Donna. “I think it’s clear that the staff love what they are doing. They truly care for the clients.” Recently, Dani and Donna were doing laundry, and Dani pitched in to fold the towels, something she had learned at PRIDE. “For me, PRIDE is everything. I couldn’t imagine her life without it,” said Donna. “It’s a top-notch program and that’s what I wanted for her—a safe, supportive place for her to learn and grow every day.”
Who: Cori Foreit, Chatham school graduate
Journey to ECLC: Getting Cori placed at ECLC was not easy. Her early education in the public school was beneficial and appropriate. But, when Cori reached middle school, it started to fall apart. Just two weeks into the new school year, the teacher told her mom, Sharon, “This is not the right environment for your daughter.” Remembered Sharon, “It was an awful time. Cori had no friends, and the other kids were making fun of her on the bus.” However, it took a year before Sharon was able to move Cori out of the public school. The mother of a girl, who was going to enroll at ECLC, recommended the Chatham school. “I met the mom when Cori was in fourth grade and had a playdate with her daughter,” said Sharon. “She shared that her daughter was going to ECLC the following school year, instead of to the public middle school. She suggested I look into it.” They visited ECLC, and right away, they both got a “good feeling” about the school. “Mrs. Gagliardi was so sweet,” said Sharon. “Cori loved it! She was with kids who had similar challenges and could relate to her, and she could keep up.”
Why PRIDE: After graduation, Cori was eager to work, but a full-time job was not possible. PRIDE has fostered Cori’s personal growth and given her work options. She used to be very shy and introverted. Today, her social skills are vastly improved. “She used to be afraid to go out into the world and talk to people. She has grown much more independent at PRIDE,” said Sharon. “Now, she is on the phone and calls people. She is friendly with everyone and gets along.” Cori most enjoys art and cooking at PRIDE, along with PRIDECO, the pre-vocational work component. “I brag and tell everybody about it. It is such a relief to me,” said Sharon. “The PRIDE program has been perfect!”
Who: Benny Sims, Chatham school graduate
Journey to ECLC: Benny initially attended a different special-needs school program. However, when he was 12, it was shutting down, and his parents needed to quickly explore other options. ECLC was at the top of their list, based on the recommendation of friends whose child was enrolled there. Recalled dad Jack, “The day we visited, ECLC lived up to its reputation. We enjoyed a warm and friendly reception, and when Benny was interviewed by the teacher, they just immediately bonded.”
Why PRIDE: PRIDE was not a choice for Benny. His mother, Robin, decided he simply was not leaving the ECLC “family” after graduation! Robin was instrumental in the program’s creation. “My wife told [Executive Director] Bruce Litinger, ‘Benny needs a program when he graduates! I know you can do this,’ ” remembered Jack. “She wanted a program of the same quality as the school, and there were not many out there.” Robin stayed an important presence with the program, and after she passed away, the kitchen was named in her memory. Today, Benny is called the “mayor” of PRIDE. “He interacts well with other clients and the staff. His sense of humor seems to be appreciated by all,” said Jack. “I am very happy, and he is, too. Bruce and the other PRIDE leaders are some of the most decent, honorable people you will meet. It was an experiment that turned out to be a wonderful success!”
Who: Billy Murphy, Chatham school graduate
Journey to ECLC: Billy attended other private and public special-education programs before enrolling at ECLC when he was 9 years old. His experience was so positive that on graduation day, his mother Pam almost wished they could rewind and start over. “It was a very emotional day,” said Pam.
Why PRIDE: Initially, without a PRIDE Program, his parents paid someone to come to the house and take Billy to volunteer opportunities. “We looked at other programs and nothing seemed appropriate for him,” said Pam. When the PRIDE program launched, they seized the opportunity. “It’s been wonderful for him. ECLC gave him knowledge, but PRIDE has given him the ability to relate to the world,” said his mom. Today, Billy is happy, has friends in the program and enjoys getting out into the community, which he did not before. Outside of PRIDE, he takes karate classes, and recently his instructor brought in coins from a trip to Israel. His mom reflects that Billy knew about Israel through PRIDE, which teaches clients about different countries as part of lifelong learning. “Billy had something to talk about with the instructor,” said Pam. “At PRIDE, he has not stopped learning and growing and that’s what I was afraid of. He has a life of his own.”
Who: Sylvia Toll, Chatham school graduate
Journey to ECLC: Sylvia found a home at ECLC, after graduating from a public junior high school. Her next placement was supposed to be at a large, local high school. Her parents knew it was not the right fit for Sylvia. They began to explore other options, and one educator suggested ECLC’s Chatham school. The day of their visit happened to be when the school was celebrating International Day. “We walked in and saw the Cuban flag up on the auditorium’s stage,” said her mom, Mireya, who is Cuban. “It was like a sign of home.”
Why PRIDE: At PRIDE, Sylvia has found another home. “It’s like walking into Cheers. Everybody knows her, and she knows everybody,” said Mireya. “She likes the variety—from the book club to bowling to vacuuming to volunteer work. There is no other place that she would feel so at ease, and I would feel so much at ease.”