PICTURE THE HUB: GIVING TIME

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mARIA MONTANA

SPECIAL NEEDS ACTIVITY PROGRAM

Westwood Cares

Editor's note:  This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The Special Needs Activity Program (SNAP) is dear to my heart because I've always been drawn to working with children and adults with special needs, which started from early childhood. My aunt had down syndrome, so we always advocated for her.

 

So when I moved to Westwood I realized that Gary Buchheister, Westwood Recreation Director wanted to start a a special needs program, I said, I would love to do an athletic program for special needs adults and children. Because so many times the programs with special needs, they stop at 21.  So I wanted something that was going to go beyond that, but then also for families to find a camaraderie -- for them to relate to other families and even join groups to do play dates.

 

So that's how we started probably almost 15 years ago.  It started with one little dance program and then we just grew. We probably have six programs at this point.  The volunteer part of the program is amazing. We have high school students, college students, other high schools in the area join in.

 

So that's part of the I'm so proud of – is that with our communities, branching out and building other volunteerism for young kids to be a part of them. And just the inclusion, including everyone, that to me is really important. The whole inclusion component –  acceptance – we're all in this together.  Gary was so supportive and on board with everything from day one, that it just made it easier.

 

SNAP is unique to Westwood, definitely. And unique to the area because there are students and young adults in the area from other towns that don't have the opportunities to join this type of program. There aren't many programs for young adults after 21 and it makes things more difficult for them to join any kind of state program or whatever is available in the area. So yeah, we definitely have families from other towns participating like Bergenfield, Dumont, Woodcliff Lake, Township of Washington.

 

Once the volunteers start,  it's like they have an automatic love for the program.

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