Inside a brightly painted, converted home in Fair Lawn, 25 developmentally disabled adults spend their days cooking, gardening, taking exercise classes and working side by side at large tables, packaging plastic combs, toothbrush holders and soap dishes for a local company.
Everything they do, they do together. They’re watched over by the six staff members of the Opportunity Center, a day program for adults with special needs established nearly 50 years ago.The scene is different at a newer day program in Wyckoff for 11 autistic adults. They report to their work stations inside an office suite at the YMCA every morning, their first task is to check their daily planners, each filled with individualized to-do lists. A couple will then head off to a job in the kitchen at a corporate building, while two others might go to a volunteer stint at an animal shelter as another pair spends an hour folding napkins at a restaurant in Ridgewood.
Their days are a mix of work, volunteering, exercising and lunch at restaurants. They are trailed the entire time by one of the many job coaches at the 5-year-old program, some getting one-on-one attention.
The two programs are not just born of different eras, but also different visions — one where some participants have been comfortable for decades, the other emphasizing work and interaction in the community — for how the 28,000 special-needs adults in New Jersey should spend their days.
Under a controversial plan being considered by the state Division on Developmental Disabilities, the Fair Lawn program could be in jeopardy.