One of the biggest fears of parents with special-needs children is who will take care of their son or daughter when they die.
That worry may be allayed for some in Gloucester County and South Jersey after Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) officials broke ground on the first Academy for Neurodiversity on a Oct. 25.
Rowan’s Deptford campus is already home to the Adult Center for Transition (ACT) program that affords young adults with disabilities the vocational, educational and social skills to become independent and contributing members of society. The academy is expected to enhance that mission by providing housing, employment services, workforce training, sports, education, health care and legal services for clients.
“What we have created with the Academy for Neurodiversity is a unique collaborative program that should be a national model for integrating lifelong services for the developmentally disabled,” said former state Sen. Steve Sweeney during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Residences at South College Drive.
“In a single location,” he noted, “we offer multiple levels of education and workforce training, medical, mental health and behavioral services, legal advocacy, transportation, athletics and recreation, and today, we did the groundbreaking for an on-site housing complex,” added Sweeney, who shed a few tears as he referenced a new 24-unit apartment complex for those with disabillities.
“Parents think, ‘Where’s my child going to stay when I’m not here?”
The three-story complex will provide one-bedroom, rent-supported units with a community room, lounges, laundry facilities and office space for an on-site counselor of special services, noted Kimberly Gober, executive director of the Gloucester County Housing Authority.
The project is being funded with $7.365 million in National Housing Trust Funds and $3.75 million in grants from Gloucester County.
“Rowan College of South Jersey is fortunate to be strategically positioned in the two counties of Cumberland and Gloucester, enabling the unique relationship between the Schools for Neurodiversity at the Gloucester County Special Services School District, the Vineland public school district, our dual campus Adult Center for Transition (ACT) programs, and the college’s flagship partner, Rowan University, to facilitate connecting the groups and people that care about neurodiverse individuals,” Rowan College President Dr. Frederick Keating said.
Especially excited about the groundbreaking was Michael Givens, an ACT student at Rowan University’s Steven Sweeney Center for Special Services, a public policy entity that will be next door to the new housing units.
“I’m in my second semester,” he noted. “The program is helping me to take college classes and letting me work at the Together Café. This project gives students a chance to be here on campus.”
“We are developing this campus into an eds and meds hub,” said Chad Bruner, Gloucester County administrator and chair of the Rowan University Board of Trustees. “This special-needs housing project will provide a safe and secure environment for them.”
Dr. Guy Davidson, the Rowan College at South Jersey dean of Academic Achievement Special Services, will chair the new Academy for Neurodiversity. He pointed out that the impetus behind the new initiative is “to strengthen, expand, and enhance the connections and partnerships that are already in place and create new relationships for the benefit of the students and communities that we serve.
“At RCSJ, we’ve been in the business of serving the disabled community in Gloucester County and the surrounding region for a long time,” Davidson added. “With our expansion into Cumberland County and the creation of the academy, we’re more deeply connecting two regions of people and organizations that have made serving the neurodiverse community their life’s work.”