With an eye toward helping individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn basic life skills and grow in independence in a safe and healthy living environment, Children’s Aid and Family Services Disability Support Services staff members work with residents at 18 adult Community Residences (group homes) in residential areas throughout Bergen, Essex, and Passaic Counties. “Some of our residents are higher functioning, and some need additional support, but all of them are made to feel like this is their home—because it is—and we are just there to support them,” says Saleem Jones, Program Director for Residential Supports.
On a recent video tour of the four-bedroom residence in Wayne, Saleem shows features of the home, including the bright kitchen where staff members cook meals and help them prepare the food and clean up. In the dining room the table is where meals are served together ‘family style’ with residents and staff members. It’s also a place for arts and crafts projects and group gatherings. Each resident has his own bedroom and they are encouraged to personalize it. “To make it feel like home and not a facility, we make sure it’s warm, comfortable and inviting,” says Jones. (Click here to view the tour.)
The Community Residences are supervised 24/7 with two staff members on site at all times helping residents learn daily living tasks like setting and clearing the table, washing dishes, folding clothes and personal care, to name a few. “While many of our residents will likely never be fully independent, we want them to aim for the goals they can achieve,” says Saleem. They also spend time in the community going to the movies or restaurants and take overnight trips to Atlantic City, Hershey Park and Six Flags. One recent outing for residents in the Wayne home was a Jets game with tickets donated by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. “They had a blast,” Saleem reports.
Understanding that it can be overwhelming for family members to support loved ones with special needs at home, they are encouraged to visit and stay involved. The Disability Support Services team sees their gratitude every day, with one parent writing recently: “Your team provides hands-on loving kindness to our son, I am so glad I entrusted his care to CAFS. In the most trying of times you all have kept things going and we are so grateful.”
“Residents are primarily referred by the state of New Jersey and the wait list is long,” says Melinda Iannarone-Geraghty, Vice President. “Our goal is to build and acquire more residential community homes to help fill the need.”
Their work is challenging but beyond rewarding, says Saleem: “Seeing their smiling faces every single day when they’re out in the community or at home accomplishing another task, that’s what matters. We’re here to help them to elevate, to help model and teach and prompt them to grow.”