Eagle Scout Project Helps Students with Special Needs Learn Social Skills

Boy Scout Jackson Koury built a LEGO Therapy cart for ECLC’s Chatham school as his Eagle Scout project.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are known for being helpful, and for many years, they have been generous and supportive to ECLC of New Jersey!

Scouts have volunteered at annual walkathons and other events and completed projects at ECLC’s school in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus for students with special needs, as part of working toward Gold Awards and Eagle Scout.

Jackson Koury of Troop 121 in Chatham is the latest Scout to lend a helping hand to ECLC of New Jersey. Koury built a mobile LEGO® Therapy station as his Eagle Scout project, which will help students with special needs improve their communication, creativity, collaboration and social skills.

LEGO Therapy is a lot more than just playtime. It was developed by a clinical neuro-psychologist and used in classrooms, in Occupational Therapy and in social skills groups at ECLC’s Chatham school, which enrolls about 170 students with special needs, ages 5–21. Students select a kit and take on one of three roles: supplier, builder or engineer.

After choosing a kit, the supplier finds the LEGO pieces. The builder puts it together, and the engineer makes sure everything is correct. The small groups and clearly defined roles, help students with special needs work as a team, collaborate and talk. It has been a big hit with students and teachers.

“The LEGO cart is always moving from room to room. It is constantly in use. Our students really love it, and we can see how it helps develop their social skills,” said Assistant Principal Allison Clemens. “We are very thankful to Jackson for his work!”

Koury decided to complete his Eagle Scout project at ECLC after joining the Play Unified Club at Chatham High School. In Play Unified, several hundred students from both schools enjoy social, academic and athletic activities in the evening at the ECLC school.

He has been a Scout for 10 years, starting as a Cub Scout at age 6. “My favorite thing about scouting is the personal development and growth that comes from camping and hiking,” said Koury, who is a sophomore at Chatham High School.

While student enjoy the LEGO bricks, Koury is busy finalizing his Eagle requirements in anticipation of a Court of Honor sometime next year.

LEGO is a trademark of the LEGO Group.

ECLC of New Jersey Chatham School Speech Therapist Wins Award!

Laura Koch
Laura Koch is part of the ECLC team that provides specialized services and supports as part of the students’ Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.

The progress may seem small to an outside observer. A student enunciates words a little clearer. Another student broadens their vocabulary. A third speaks, without being asked a question. But, for speech therapist Laura Koch and for her students, it’s something to celebrate!

Koch works with about 20 students each year at ECLC of New Jersey’s school in Chatham for students with disabilities. All have significant, lifelong challenges, including Down syndrome, autism and other special needs. She is part of the ECLC team that provides specialized services and supports as part of the students’ Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.

She has been with the Chatham school for six years and has relished the reward of helping dozens of children make progress in speech therapy. “From September to June, I see significant progress in social and communication abilities, which definitely brings me a great feeling of satisfaction,” said Koch. “What is even better, though, is witnessing students’ pride in their own abilities, as they begin to independently use the skills we once worked on together.”

For her success and caring, Koch has been selected as the “Related Services Provider of the Year” in Region II by ASAH, the umbrella organization for special-needs schools and agencies serving children with special needs. The award is part of an annual competition among dozens of schools. It culminates in statewide winners being named and recognized at ASAH’s annual conference in November.

“Laura is a caring and supportive therapist who encourages her students to do their best through constant praise,” said Principal Jason Killian. “Students enjoy working with her because she is creative, fun and uses hands-on and interactive activities to help them progress.”

Her professional credentials are impressive. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Boston College and a master’s in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Montclair University. She also participated in an advanced studies semester abroad at Oxford University College in England. She is a New Jersey Certified Speech and Language Specialist; a New Jersey Certified Speech Language Pathologist; a certified member of the American Speech and Hearing Association, and a Certified Elementary and Special Education Teacher in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Laura also is proficient in American Sign Language.

Koch helps students speak spontaneously, without being prompted; to express their basic needs and to communicate their emotions. She opens up the world for these students by helping them connect with their peers, teachers and their own families.

In working with students, she understands that each child has a different learning style and adjusts her lesson plans to motivate each one. “I view therapy as a joined journey that uses rapport, flexibility, compassion and clinical expertise to facilitate change,” said Koch. “The therapy I find works best does not follow a repetitive, ‘I say, you say’ or Q&A procedure.”

Adds Principal Killian, “We are so proud of this award for Laura. She is easy to work with, a good role model and has a way of helping the teacher she works with see that there is more than one approach to helping a student. She is an asset to any classroom she enters, bringing warmth and understands the needs of the student and the teacher as well.”

ECLC Graduates 23 Students with Special Needs

Chatham school graduates are excited to begin new jobs, start in the P.R.I.D.E. Program, and one is even off to college!

With caps and gowns, the stirring sounds of Pomp and Circumstance and parents’ cell phones recording every step, ECLC of New Jersey graduated 23 students with special needs from its Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus schools last week.

The grads received high school diplomas conferred by their hometown districts. In a moving ECLC tradition, they were all afforded an opportunity to speak, and some used augmentative speech devices to communicate.

One Chatham grad summed up the bittersweet feelings of all saying, “I have mixed emotions about graduating tonight. I am happy, excited but also a little nervous,” said Emily Boehmer.

Many graduates paid tribute to their families. Joshua Moreines started his speech by saying, “First, I would thank my family for sending me to ECLC.” Joao Simoes drew a few laughs when he quipped, “Dad, you are my best friend. I love that you are goofy.” Andrew Costanza said, “I am truly thankful for the support you have given me, mom and dad. You give me emotional support, if I am worried about something, and you always encourage me.”

The Ho-Ho-Kus school graduates are moving into opportunities outside of ECLC but will always remain part of the ECLC “family” through alumni activities!

Meanwhile, Ho-Ho-Kus graduate Katie Sheehy reminisced about her final year at ECLC and said the highlight was serving as the Student Council President and giving a speech at the school’s annual fund-raising dinner in front of 400 guests!

ECLC stands for “Education, Careers & Lifelong Community” and serves more than 800 children and adults from 11 counties who have special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities. The nonprofit’s two private schools educate nearly 300 students.

All students graduate with a clear plan for their future. ECLC offers two paths: employment services through an affiliate, Community Personnel Services (CPS) and a day program called P.R.I.D.E. Some students combine these options, by working part-time and attending P.R.I.D.E. on a part-time basis.

The CPS employment specialists help graduates find jobs in or near their hometowns and provide ongoing support and advocacy in the workplace. This year several graduates will begin new jobs in retail and food service.

The P.R.I.D.E. Adult Program, with centers in Florham Park and Paramus, is exclusively for ECLC’s graduates. Adults in P.R.I.D.E. spend meaningful days continuing to learn and grow. They choose their schedules, from a wide range of options, including fitness, computers, book club, food shopping and cooking, yoga, fine arts and more. They also venture out into the community each day for volunteering, field trips and other activities. Nearly 200 adults are enrolled in P.R.I.D.E.

Few ECLC graduates continue to higher education, but this year one Chatham school graduate will enroll at East Stroudsberg University’s “Career, Independent Living & Learning Studies program.” The program provides individuals with intellectual disabilities a learning experience in a campus environment, where life and work skills are accelerated by daily encouragement in the life of a university. The program includes living off campus and acquiring proficiency to function among others without disabilities on campus. In addition, the program offers personal development activities combined with classes designed to develop essential skills for independent living and future employment.

Pledge to Finish $2 Million Fund-Raising Campaign

A generous family with Short Hills roots has pledged a $100,000 challenge grant to help ECLC of New Jersey in a final push to raise $2 million for the P.R.I.D.E. program, which serves adults with special needs.

Renee and Bruce Litinger are grateful for the support of friends Judy Greenblatt (far right) and her husband, Billy, to the P.R.I.D.E. Endowment campaign.

From now through Dec. 20, the couple, Billy and Judy Greenblatt, who lived in Short Hills for 25 years, will match every dollar raised for the P.R.I.D.E. Endowment up to $100,000. Already, matching contributions have been pouring in, and the nonprofit needs $86,000 to complete the campaign.

The fund-raising effort started in December 2014, when ECLC’s Executive Director, Bruce Litinger, also a former, longtime resident of Short Hills, established the Renee and Bruce Litinger and Family P.R.I.D.E. Endowment. The goal was to ensure P.R.I.D.E. had a secure future for years to come.

Adults in P.R.I.D.E. are diagnosed with lifelong conditions, including autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. They are not good candidates for the rigors of the workplace and cannot travel independently. They live with their parents or another close relative or in a group home. P.R.I.D.E. offers a nurturing, safe environment in which they can continue to grow and spend meaningful, productive days.

The program was started by Litinger in 2008 for graduates of ECLC’s special-needs schools in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus. It launched as a “pilot,” at the urging of parents seeking a high-quality alternative for their adult children. It opened with a small group of clients and quickly expanded as interest grew. Today, P.R.I.D.E. serves 170 adults at centers in Florham Park and Paramus and is expected to reach more than 180 before the end of this year.

The Endowment provides an important safety net against uncertain government funding. Recently, the program shifted from state to federal funding through Medicaid, and there is no guarantee of full funding in the future. At the same time, demand for P.R.I.D.E. continues to escalate. Each year, a greater number of students who graduate from ECLC’s schools at age 21 elect to transition into P.R.I.D.E.

The acronym P.R.I.D.E. stands for “Promoting Responsibility, Independence, Decision-making and Employability.” The program puts adult clients first and focuses on opportunities for skill development and community engagement. Clients choose their daily activities – including book club, volunteering, cooking, arts and crafts, social skills, computers, fitness and more. Both centers have teaching kitchens, dedicated rooms for group activities and a fleet of vans to transport the adult clients throughout the community.

“When we launched P.R.I.D.E., I wanted to create an environment that was safe, happy, intellectually stimulating and community-based for our clients,” said Litinger.

The Greenblatts have been longtime ECLC supporters. Judy Greenblatt and her son, Brandon, co-founded the P.A.I.R.S. Program at Millburn High School, along with Bruce Litinger and his son Jonathan. Through P.A.I.R.S., students volunteer to spend time doing recreational activities and building friendships with their peers at ECLC’s school in Chatham. All three Greenblatt children, Brandon, Jake and Maggie, participated in P.A.I.R.S. during high school. Later, Judy Greenblatt served on the ECLC Board of Trustees for 10 years.

“With this challenge grant, the Greenblatts continue to demonstrate their devotion to ECLC and helping children and adults with disabilities!” said ECLC Executive Director Bruce Litinger. “We are so grateful for their ongoing support. By raising $2 million, it will fulfill our goal of creating a stable future for P.R.I.D.E. We will be able to give our families peace of mind that P.R.I.D.E. will have a solid foundation to withstand the unpredictability of government funding.”

ECLC Wellness Fair & Fitness Walk on May 4

In the SKIL (Seeking Knowledge for Independent Living) program, students made drawstring bags for anyone who pre-registers for the Fitness Walk!

The community is invited to spring into action at ECLC of New Jersey’s Wellness Fair & Fitness Walk on Saturday, May 4, at ECLC’s Chatham school for students with special needs!

The one-mile walk steps off at 9:30 a.m., and follows a leisurely path around the neighborhood. It will end back at ECLC in time for the start of the Wellness Fair. Registration costs just $5 per walker. Those who pre-register will receive an ECLC drawstring bag. Registration is open at www.eclcofnj.org. Check-in and registration on event day open at 9 a.m.

The free Wellness Fair runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with interactive demos and presentations, a vendor fair, kids’ activities, health screenings, dance performances, door prizes, fitness, nutrition, yoga, music, giveaways, summer camp representatives, pet therapy and much more.

The events take place at the ECLC Chatham School at 21 Lum Ave., located directly behind the Chatham Borough municipal building on Fairmont Avenue. Childcare will be available, staffed by ECLC teachers and volunteers. For more information, please contact Wellness Fair Coordinator: Anne Fields (973-635-1700 X423).