On Saturday, May 7, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) joined Autism Speaks to host a Family Services Town Hall in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The event featured a discussion about the existing needs of young adults and adults with autism, and the resources available to them and their families as they age out of certain services into adulthood. There was a special focus on transition planning for adolescents with autism and their families.
Local participating organizations included Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, City of Elizabeth, Elizabeth Public Schools, Elizabeth Board of Education, and Moving New Jersey Forward Foundation.
The program was kicked off by special guest, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez who highlighted his commitment to the autism community and their needs. Senator Menendez discussed the importance of passing legislation that improves the lives of individuals with autism, including his past involvement with the Autism CARES Act.
“Together, we have to be vigilant and united in our support to put a focus on transitioning youth and adult services, so that children with autism are able to fulfill their God-given potential and become successful, independent adults,” said U.S. Senator Menendez (D-N.J.), author of the Autism CARES Act that funds federal efforts into autism research, services and support. “We won’t leave individuals with autism and their families wondering what could have been, what new diagnostic tools, early intervention techniques, therapies and lifelong supports and services could have been discovered to improve their lives.”
The speaker program also featured Charlene Bathelus, President of the Elizabeth Board of Education, and Sergio Granados, Union County Freeholder Vice Chairman.
“It is paramount that all students in our schools, including those with special needs, are being provided with a high quality education and feel a sense of belonging,” said Ms. Bathelus, “During the month of April, we participated in "Light It Up Blue", where blue lights were displayed at all of our buildings as a way for us to show our support and let our students know that we are here to help them succeed both in their education and in their life.”
"Education, employment and housing support can allow individuals with autism to successfully integrate into their community. Providing appropriate support services for adolescents on the autism spectrum is essential to creating a society that is truly inclusive," Mr. Granados. “That is why on the Union County Freeholder board we are working to expand on our services that are geared to individuals with special needs including job placement and training, recreational programs and facilities, and partnerships with special needs organizations throughout Union County.”
The town hall also included a resource fair with local service providers and sponsor organizations. Attendees were given the opportunity to connect with local representatives and gather information about financial planning from New York Life Insurance Company and access resources available through U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’s Office, Union County Division of Youth Services, Elizabeth Public Schools, The EPIC School, Trinitas Regional Medical Center | CARES, New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities, All Topics Tutoring, C.A.P.S. Off to Employment, and Community Access Unlimited.
Michael Burke, Supervisor of Special Services at the Elizabeth Board of Education moderated a panel on transition needs for the autism community, discussing health, education, employment, and financial planning. Panelists included Peter Gerhardt, Executive Director of The EPIC School, Lucille Esralew, Ph.D., Program Director at Trinitas Regional Medical Center; Liz Kinstlinger, Licensed Agent, New York Life Insurance Company; Kerry Magro, self- advocate and Autism Speaks Social Media and Digital Content Producer; and Jennifer Joyce, Director of Supports Program & Employment Services, New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities.
The panel explored how to match the unique needs of the autism community with services, as well as how to promote independence, self-advocacy, and active engagement with the community. The panelists offered insights into how to access the resources made available through their respective organizations, and provided an outline for steps to take when considering education, employment, and financial planning. There were audience questions presented, and as the program came to a close, all were invited to engage with resource fair participants and panelists.
This event featured Spanish translation of the panel, and was live streamed via Elizabeth Public School’s website.
“Autism Speaks New Jersey would like to extend its sincerest gratitude to our special guest, Senator Menendez for his support and participation at this town hall,” said Heather Hays, Executive Director, Autism Speaks New Jersey Chapter. “We are incredibly grateful to our local partners: Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, City of Elizabeth, Elizabeth Public Schools, Elizabeth Board of Education, and Moving New Jersey Forward Foundation for helping to make this event such a success, and to Elizabeth Kinstlinger at New York Life for serving as a financial sponsor of the Town Hall.”
A special thanks goes to the panelists and resource fair providers, for continuing to connect the autism community with important resources, guidance, and options to explore as they continue transition planning for themselves and their loved ones.
To access Autism Speaks Transition Tool Kit, click here.
For the Transition Timeline for New Jersey, click here.
For more about Autism Speaks Adult Services, click here.