A special population’s very special response

A special population’s very special response

As she posed by a poster of an animated short film she had made, Kristen Zachares smiled. For the first time in a week she was able to return to the WAE Center in West Orange on Monday from her home in Woodland Park. Electricity had returned to the alternative learning center for people with disabilities just a day before.

“I am very happy to come back here. I was really cooped up at home, but I got a lot of work done after the power came back on,” Zachares told NJ Jewish News.

For Zachares and more than 60 other artists, the WAE Center — an acronym for Wellness, Arts, Enrichment, a program of the Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled — is a vital community. But from the time Hurricane Sandy arrived until Sunday, Nov. 4, its doors were closed.

“We didn’t have power, we didn’t have heat, we didn’t have phone service or the Internet,” said Rene Fulvenlogen, the center’s program manager. “So those of us who lived close by in Verona and West Orange checked in periodically and have given updates to members by Facebook, by e-mail, by smile signals — whatever it took.”

When the center was at last back in business, members and staff greeted each other with hugs and laughter, then gathered in a circle to share their experiences and their coping skills. Some of those who live in JSDD group homes faced an extra set of challenges during the storm: Only two of the organization’s 10 group homes had power.

“Our residents were amazing hosting others,” providing air mattresses and floor space for sleeping, said Linda Press, executive director of JSDD, a partner agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

“Slowly [the homes] have been coming back on-line,” she told NJJN. “We have learned that the people we serve are incredibly resilient and willing to help others. They come together in a storm. This hurricane has brought us an opportunity to think about our humanity. That is what life is about.”

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