LIVINGSTON, NJ - Mary Laumbach-Perez, an employee of The Children’s Institute (TCI) in Livingston, was presented with the 2015 Passaic County Champions of Disabilities Award for spearheading and creating programs that recognize the potential of individuals with disabilities. The award was presented by the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders on June 17.

“It was nice to be recognized for the work I am doing with low income populations, said Laumbach-Perez, a West Milford resident. “Eventually, I’d like to start a foundation that will financially assist low income special needs families to receive appropriate educational evaluations, allowing them to receive the best and least restrictive education for their children.” 

She added, “My mantra has always been Martin Luther King’s statement, ‘Our lives begin to end on the day we become silent about things that matter.’"  

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“We are so fortunate to have employees like Mary,” said TCI Executive Director Dr. Bruce Ettinger. “She is truly dedicated to ensuring that all individuals with special needs have a place in the community and receive the best education and services available.”

When Laumbach-Perez is not at her full-time job at TCI, working with adults on the autism spectrum, she’s volunteering her time to help low income families navigate the state’s bureaucratic regulations that govern the use of special educational services.

Lack of understanding by families of the regulations and their rights often result in keeping their loved ones from receiving the special services to equalize their educational experience and to live productive lives in the community, according to Laumbach-Perez.

With referrals coming largely through word of mouth, as a volunteer advocate Mary has assisted over 100 low income families from Bergen, Passaic and Morris county school districts, many of them single family households. She assists them in reviewing Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) and Americans with Disabilities Act 504 plans, teaches families advocacy skills, and assists with filing state complaints and due process, often securing pro-bono legal advocates for families when needed to ensure local districts’ adherence to NJ Administrative Code in Special Education.

Laumbach-Perez, an employee of TCI for over six years, said she has a deep understanding of how appropriate education and services can positively impact the lives of individuals with special needs and their families. In her work at TCI, first as a job coach and then as the Assistant Director of the Center for Independence (CFI), a program for adults on the autism spectrum located in Livingston, Laumbach-Perez has helped individuals with autism become more self-sufficient and productively engaged in community life. She oversees CFI’s work assisting clients with vocational and job skills, self-advocacy skills, social and relationship skills and skills for independent community living.

Given the spectrum of services CFI provides, it concerned Laumbach-Perez to see so many other people with a wide variety of special needs who were not aware of what their rights were regarding accommodations. Her volunteer effort to help low income families get needed services for their special needs children was her response.

Laumbach-Perez is also the co-founder of NJ Auditory Processing Disorders Awareness Coalition and founded the West Milford Parents for Successful Students. She has partnered with other professionals to offer special education workshops throughout the state geared towards parents of special needs students. At the November 2015 New Jersey Educators Association (NJEA) Conference, she will be co-presenting a workshop, "Twice Exceptional Students," with TCI employee Randy Palmer, who has also won several awards for his work with technology and special needs students.