When students with disabilities “age out” of services with the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ) at age 21, there is widespread hope that these young men and women can participate in a program to enhance and broaden their life and social skills while having the opportunity to gain meaningful employment.

To help make that a reality, ESCNJ recently launched the Adult Community Services (ACS) program, which offers individuals ages 21 and over an opportunity to strive for independence by helping to develop their social, emotional, and life skills.  To explore individuals’ interests, ACS offers opportunities to participate in community inclusion and pre-vocational learning experiences. 

“The goal is to create a hands-on experience that can be transferred into real-world opportunities,” explained ESCNJ Schools Superintendent Mark Finkelstein. “It is the cornerstone of the program to bridge the gap between school and adulthood.”

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ACS cannot succeed unless there are opportunities within the community.  That is why ESCNJ is forming an advisory committee, comprising business, government and non-profit leaders in central New Jersey.  The committee will meet regularly to identify ways in which these ACS participants can build professional relationships within the community that can hopefully lead to long-term, gainful employment.

“ESCNJ has developed a stellar reputation over the years to help students with severe disabilities build skills that can propel them into living successful lives,” said former Sayreville Mayor Kennedy O’Brien, who serves on the advisory committee.  “We need companies and individuals in the community who are willing to give these young people a chance.  We know there is an endless need for people to fill entry jobs; the role of our advisory committee is to help ESCNJ find those opportunities.”

ACS, an approved day habilitation provider through the state Division of Developmental Disabilities and Medicaid, develops trust with families, participants and the community at-large, said Executive Director Allison Sanchez, who runs the program.  “It’s a place for participants to come and know they will be heard, supported, and provided the encouragement to continue to strive towards their goals,” she said.

Besides seeking advisory board members, the program is always in search of ACS participants who can receive job training and other life skills, such as cooking and exercising, at the ESCNJ campus in Piscataway.  The facility features a gym, leisure lounge, and sensory room for participants to use and enjoy.

Due to the pandemic, the program has offered both in-person  service as well as virtual service.  Each program day is six hours.  Those interested in enrolling in the program should contact Ms. Sanchez at asanchez@escnj.us to schedule an in-person tour or visit www.ESCNJ.us for a virtual tour of ACS.  

The next scheduled virtual open house is December 3 at 3 p.m.  Those interested should email Stephanie Jasinski at sjasinski@escnj.us to reserve a spot.  Those interested in volunteering for the advisory board should contact Ms. Sanchez at asanchez@escnj.us.