Jen Pecoraro, Stockton University
According to the March of Dimes, 1 out of every 33 babies are born with a disability in the United States. Out of my 12 first cousins, 2 of them have different disabilities – one having autism, and the other has down syndrome. As I watch my cousins get older and grow with their education, I see how limited their choices are becoming. There are many communities that do not offer any options for disabled students after graduation. It is unfortunate to see how fast their knowledge declines if they do not receive a constant stimulation to keep it present. When my cousin with down syndrome graduated high school about five years ago, her school was lucky enough to offer a four year program for her to attend afterward. Recently after finishing that, she is searching for another program to satisfy her educational needs, and every time each program ends, the search to find new ones will become harder and harder.
In 1979, a group of parents all shared a common concern: the lack of access of after graduation programs for disabled children. The nonprofit organization 21 Plus non-profit organization was established with a focus on education, and has expanded to completely transform these individuals’ lives for the better. They offer residential services, vocational programs, supported employment services and family support services. Over the past 30 years, 21 Plus has also grown to include their services in eleven group homes, four apartments, two Adult Training Centers, a Supported Employment and DVR Employment Programs.
The members who work in this organization are carefully selected to ensure everyone has the same common goal to enhance the quality of life for the people living with disabilities. All employees and volunteers have dedicated themselves to forming professional and compassionate relationships with the individuals they are watching over; and will continue to build and strengthen them with the other people in their communities. They also believe in promoting a positive physical and mental well-being as well as personal growth for the individuals apart of the community. The services designed are tailored to fit the child’s needs, so they are happy and have something to look forward too.
Within the residential services program offered by 21 Plus, the adults stay in homes and apartments located throughout Toms River, Pine Beach, Beachwood, Brick and Voorhees, living full and rich lives. The individuals learn daily living skills, while discovering what the community has to offer. In addition, they learn how to become good housemates, as well as citizens. The residents learn how to enjoy their everyday tasks, some of which include, going to church and school, shopping, work, recreation and exercise, and spending quality time with family and friends. Through every step, the members are monitored and supported by a well trained staff. Each resident has their own unique plan with goals that are based off their abilities and desires that they work to achieve throughout the year. All of these goals help the person learn new skills or fulfil a dream that they have.
21 Plus has vocational Adult Training Centers located in Manchester and Lakewood. The focus of these centers is to provide community-integrated opportunities to people with disabilities. Participants of this program are provided with group and individual communication, socialization, self-advocacy, community awareness and work skills to help with their success. The people attending the Adult Training Centers enjoy social activities such as shopping, bowling, and discovered new hobbies, like ceramics and baking. The staff also shows them the importance of volunteering in their local community which helps to perfect their job skills and increas their self-esteem. Over the years the members have donated their time and efforts to Meals on Wheels, Ronald McDonald house, Adopt-a Shelf, local nursing homes and the Ocean County Hunger Relief. Lastly, the individuals also work with crews and staff guidance at local businesses. The employers makes sure to encourage creative minds when they take part in new activities. By doing this, it ensures the participants can have fun and put their own personal spin on anything they do.
The Supported Employment program from 21 Plus provides employment services to individuals who are referred through the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities. This program has been accredited through the Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities since 2004. The employment opportunities that are offered give these individuals a chance to participate in a process that helps them accomplish their employment dreams. This program is available to all employers around Ocean County. By providing training and support hours from the 21 Plus staff, the individuals involved will be successful no matter what career path they take.
Click Here if you would like to donate to 21 Plus. With the donations the organization is able to provide health, medical and physical needs, and improving the facilities and programs offered to the children.