Local couple helps youth on the spectrum

Local couple helps youth on the spectrum

Blumbergs to be honored as school opens center for post-high schoolers

Monica and Kenneth Blumberg visit with Spectrum360’s development director, Diane Berry, left, at the school’s Livingston campus.     
Monica and Kenneth Blumberg visit with Spectrum360’s development director, Diane Berry, left, at the school’s Livingston campus.     

What began in 1883 as the Daughters of Israel Hebrew Orphanage Asylum in Newark, and underwent a name change in 1963 to become The Children’s Institute, has recently become Spectrum360. Over the years, it has evolved from a home for parentless Jewish children to two nonsectarian schools in Livingston and Verona for young people on all points of the autistic spectrum. 

This fall, Spectrum360 will open a third facility in Whippany, the Center for Independence, for 20 high school graduates. Kenneth Blumberg of Livingston, who has devoted his retirement years to serving on the institute’s board of trustees and helping raise funds for its projects, said that after individuals on the spectrum graduate from high school, they “do not receive any state support and may not have the means to support themselves.” 

So, said Blumberg, “we have raised enough money to build this structure, which will teach them how to survive on their own.” 

The center’s purpose is to provide transitions for young people to life after school to prevent them from languishing and “losing the skills they have worked so hard to gain while in school,” according to a Spectrum 360 brochure. 

Diane Berry, Spectrum 360’s development director, explained that the center will have “a habilitation program for those who need greater support. It will provide them with social skills, life skills, personal development, and vocational training so they can live as independently as possible by learning such things as how to shop, cook, and do laundry.”

The organization already offers such extra-curricular activities as filmmaking and culinary arts programs that are not covered by public education funds. “There is a great need for money,” Berry said.

Blumberg and his wife, Monica, are committed to raising that money. According to a Spectrum360 press release, the Blumbergs have “never faltered in their commitment to improve the lives of individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum.”

Because of their support, the couple will be honored at the school’s Hall of Fame Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Park Savoy Estate in Florham Park. Howard McIlvaine, vice president of operations at UNEX, a company based in Lakewood, is also being honored for being “a great advocate for adults with autism in the workplace.”

In an Aug. 30 phone interview, Kenneth Blumberg told NJ Jewish News that he became interested in the school four years ago after he retired from his 35-year practice as a dental surgeon in Nutley. A friend recommended that he become a board member of what was then The Children’s Institute. “I had never heard of it,” he said. But after he toured the school and attended a board meeting, he said, he was “awestruck as to what they do for these kids and how well they are educated. I said, ‘I would love to serve on the board and help any way I can.’”

In a Sept. 1 interview at the school’s Livingston campus, Monica Blumberg, a retired math teacher in the Caldwell school system, said she was made aware of Spectrum360 through working with children on the autistic spectrum in her middle and high school math classes.

Citing one of her students in particular, someone who was “amazing, a very bright young lady [who] got A’s, and in college was on the dean’s list,” Monica said she became more aware of the potential of such individuals. Spectrum360, she said, “takes students who had limited perspectives in their lives and opens up the world to them.” 

In July, The Children’s Institute rebranded itself as Spectrum360. Although the Blumbergs were not involved in that decision, Kenneth said he thinks the word “institute” might have represented a stigma for students and their parents. He said the name change suggests a full complement of educational opportunities for students on all parts of the autistic spectrum, from kindergarten through middle and high school.

He said that for the first 40 years of its existence, the school educated Jewish youngsters. Now nonsectarian, he said, “everybody is welcome. They show love for kids anywhere on the autistic spectrum. It doesn’t matter what religion or what color or what background they are. These are kids who need help.”

One way he is working to provide that help is by heading the school’s annual “Fore the Kids” golf outing at the Montclair Country Club on Tuesday, Sept. 13. 

The Blumbergs are members of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston. “I dedicate as much time as I can to the school,” he said. “This is not a paid position. It is a position of love.”

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