BERGEN COUNTY, NJ — Inside of a Maywood clubhouse, kids with special needs participate in a rich mix of activities — from making glitter bottles to running sensory obstacle courses — all as part of what is the town’s first after-school program for that population.
Established by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lower Bergen County and the South Bergen Jointure Commission (special education school district), this new program seeks to help remedy the purported lack of after-school services for youth with special needs, and, in effect, level the playing field.
“There is a lot of focus on diversity, equity and inclusion out there, yet there is an entire population of children with disabilities who are too often not given the same opportunities,” the local Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Joseph Licata said. “My hope was to create something fair and equitable for these kids.”
Developing this program, Licata said, had a double benefit for both the kids and parents, in that the kids are getting more opportunities for social interaction and extracurricular activities, but also that the parents are able to more easily balance work and family responsibilities.
“The kids absolutely love it, and the parents have been so appreciative,” Licata said of the approximately six-month-old program.
He emphasized the rare nature of such a program — which now serves about 10% of the Jointure Commission’s school district population, or about 12 kids — and said he is not aware of hardly any other comparable programs in the immediate area. As such, growing the number of kids served by the program is the goal, the CEO said.
“(The Clubs’) mission is to enable all kids — with or without disabilities — to reach their fullest potential,” Licata said. “It needs to be fair.”
The difficulty, however, is that program — specifically due to the low child-to-staff ratios and the hiring of trained aides and para-educators from the Joint Commission — is expensive, he said.
Fortunately, he continued, the Boys & Girls Club had received a grant from Lakeland Bank to get started, and the nonprofit’s staff is looking at other ways to raise funds to keep the program going in the future.
As a firm believer in the idea that if one does the right thing, the financial resources will follow, he said he is almost certain that the Club, as it always has in the past, will piece together a budget that works.
“I am holding out hope that some angel out there will hear about this and give a meaningful gift to support the program,” Licata said. “$5, $10, $100 or $1,000 — any- and everything will help further the Club’s mission.”
If you would like to donate or learn more about the program, visit bgclbergen.org/south-bergen-jointure, or contact the Club’s project director at email@example.com.
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