HAMILTON, NJ -- Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin paid a visit on Wednesday to constituents and staff at Allies, Inc. that provides housing, healthcare, meaningful employment and recreational activities to people with special needs in the communities of their choice.
“We truly appreciated Mayor Martin taking time out of his busy day to meet all of us, and to speak directly with the people that we serve and get to know them," said Don Tretola, Chief Public Affairs & Program Development Officer at Allies Inc., who noted that those in attendance were just one small fraction of 1,000 employees that work hard to make a difference in the lives of those they serve every day.
During his visit, Martin was given a guided tour of the headquarters by staff of the 20-year old nonprofit and participated in a “Q & A” session with four of the unique individuals with special needs -- Edward Iannone, Carol Duncan, Dennis Bernhardt, and Daniel DiMarco -- who served by Allies and residents of Project Freedom housing Hamilton or Robbinsville. The individuals were very excited to meet the Mayor and eager to have the opportunity to share their thoughts about their lives and what matters to them.
Iannone kicked off the discussion by telling the Mayor that “he knows he’s new, so he’s going to go easy on him.” Duncan enthusiastically expressed her appreciation for the “good, great and wonderful people at Allies.” An avid Eagles fan, she shared that she has enjoyed her job as a dishwasher for 22 years.
Bernhardt, who spoke through an assistive device, introduced himself to the Mayor and shared that he has lived at Project Freedom in Hamilton since March 28, 2003, and was happy to meet him. The smile on his face certainly showed it.
“I’ve lived in 3 nursing homes. And this beats living in a nursing home," said DiMarco, who has been served by Allies since November 2001. "This feels like a real home. It gives you independence. Every day I’m learning to be more independent.”
DiMarco previously owned a business at the mall where he delivered food and soda to people who worked there. He needed to reconfigure his wheelchair to do it, but he really enjoyed helping people.
DiMarco, the most outspoken in the group, also shared that he appreciates going out to different activities, the Allies’ Day Programs, and attending baseball games ensuring the Mayor that he shares his "die-hard" passion as a Mets fan.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to see firsthand how Allies, Inc. serves people with special needs. It’s incredible that in just over 10 years this organization, headquartered in our backyard, has grown from 4 employees to over a thousand and is active in 19 of New Jersey’s 21 counties," said Martin. "I look forward to continuing to partner with our community nonprofits to find ways to better serve our residents with special needs so that they can have the full quality of life they deserve.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “24.6% of adults in New Jersey have some type of disability.”
During the Q&A, Martin shared news of a Health and Special Needs Committee that will help to assess the needs of people in the Hamilton community and asked the group what he could do to help them.
In response, DiMarco pointed out that many medical offices in the Hamilton area are not wheelchair accessible. He also is working on a petition to raise awareness that it can be hard to get on the exam tables.
Tretola noted that the constituents of Allies and others with disabilities want the same things as everyone: to live as independently as possible; to have meaningful work; to have the freedom and accessibility to be able to visit doctors’ offices and other places without issues; to enjoy recreational activities and new experiences; and to help others and give back, because it makes them feel good.
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