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Families of adults with developmental disabilities seek to save center


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    CLIFTON, New Jersey (WCBS) — There is a heartbreaking plea from parents of children with developmental disabilities to save the North Jersey Elks Developmental Disabilities Agency in Clifton, New Jersey.

The adult center, where their sons and daughters learned to flourish for decades, is in danger of closing, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported Friday.

Melissa Christiana loves shopping, a skill she picked up from the staff.

“Even though she’s 44, she just keeps learning,” said Melissa’s mother, Betty Brarman.

“She’s become, over the years, quite social and quite verbal,” said speech therapist Susan Ranucci.

But it’s been Zoom only for Melissa since November. Centers like this closed down, buses stayed parked, and half the staff were laid off.

The nonprofit serves about 50 adults from 21 to 70 years old. It relies heavily on Medicaid and state funding.

“The state has been giving us approximately 50% of what we would normally take in to maintain some staff in order to do online trainings,” said Dr. William Weiss, executive director of the North Jersey Elks Developmental Disabilities Agency.

“We are devastated and we didn’t know what to do,” said Brarman, who helped start an online fundraiser to fill the gaps so the center can survive.

Susan Nicastro’s son Anthony, 33, has gone there for 11 years. Without it, Nicastro said her son will likely be out of luck to find another. It’s a rare place that provides all therapies and life skills, she said.

“Our son loves to go there. He claps his hands when we drive in the parking lot,” Nicastro said. “They’re just so loving there.”

“It’s been a very big learning experience. It’s been very emotional,” said adult center supervisor Lynne Hewitt-Delohery.

For now, the center is waiting for word from the state to reopen March 29. But that will depend on the county’s COVID numbers.

The New Jersey Department of Human Services sent this statement to CBS2:

The health and safety of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is paramount, and all decisions regarding closure and reopening of congregate sites are guided by data and improvements in public health

As a result of the recent improvements in these measures, day programs are permitted to reopen as of March 29 if their region is in accordance with the COVID-19 Activity Level Index for their region. They must also comply with health and safety reopening requirements.

Currently, Passaic County’s COVID-19 Activity Level Index does not meet the threshold for reopening.

To review the latest guidance:

As has and will continue to be the case, all decisions regarding reopening will be guided by data and improvements in public health, including increased vaccination rates.

In the meantime, parents are praying the center makes it to next year.

“I can do so much, you know? I just don’t want her to lose what she has,” Brarman said.

Parents say their children have had so many doors close on them in life. They just want to keep this one open.

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