LIVINGSTON, NJ — With a little help from their friends at Senior, Youth Leisure Services (SLYS) and on the Camuso Holiday Display Committee, the Livingston Advisory Committee for Disabilities (LACD) recently hosted two holiday events for special needs individuals that drew crowds to both the Camuso display and the community center.

At LACD’s annual holiday party, guests posed for photos with Santa, stopped at a gift table filled with varied selection of shirts, bags, puzzles and more, listened to holiday tunes from a local DJ and laughed together over pizza and desserts that they all brought to share.

In addition to LACD members and adult volunteers, many Livingston High School Key Club members and middle school students were also on hand to serve food, help with Santa pictures, mind the gift table and keep the party running smoothly.

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LACD chair Bob Gebroe noted that LACD/SYLS parties are always fun for all involved because they are “a triple win.”

“The many high school and middle school student volunteers who attend get to experience something that will give them a whole different perspective on every day living,” said Gebroe. “In addition, the LACD committee members who work so hard to make these parties the best that they can be know that they have improved the lives of so many people who are less fortunate, which is our mission. Finally, the special needs population is able to enjoy a fun-filled day with their friends and family and leave with a big smile on their faces, already looking forward to the next party.”

Committee member Alan Karpas agreed, adding that the LACD Holiday Party is the highlight of the year because there’s so much joy in the room.

“The attendees are so happy,” he said. “Volunteers go home with big smiles on their faces.”

After a week of snow squalls, rain and ice, members of the Camuso Holiday Display Committee worked tirelessly to dry pieces of the display to ensure that the light bulbs could be safely lit and animated characters could be turned on for an exclusive event for special needs individuals and their families.

Chief Elf Tom Cooney commented that after many years of practice, the Camuso Holiday Display Committee has become accustomed to “clearing snow, dealing with rain and flooding, mud, wind and freezing temperatures,” but stated that this was the first time an ice storm has brought the display “to a standstill.”

Last week, a large tree mounted with snowflakes was completely encased in ice, which resulted in falling branches that damaged some scenes. And despite the unique beauty of the ice-covered characters, Cooney explained that it would have been a risk to turn them on.

Although the display was temporarily closed to ensure visitor safety, sunlight finally began to melt the ice, and several electric heat guns—which are “sort of like hair dryers on steroids,” according to Cooney—were purchased to speed up the re-opening process in time for the LACD event.

“It took all day, but a group of us was able to carefully melt enough ice off the moving characters and free up anything/everything including the mechanical tree and motor that had also been frozen in place,” said Cooney, adding that the heat guns reach temperatures of 1,100 degrees. “Once everything was seemingly de-iced, we slowly tested every scene. The characters worked and the breakers held so we opened that night and have been open since.” 

Thanks to the volunteers’ efforts, many children and parents attended the LACD event, which featured a special appearance from Santa, a petting zoo, horseback rides and a horse-drawn carriage.

As a volunteer committee appointed by the township council, the LACD “advocates for improved accessibility, enhanced programming and any issues of concern for persons with disabilities,” according to the LACD Facebook page.  

Other popular LACD events include a spring party and a Halloween party, which also follow the committee’s mission of improving the lives of people with special needs and their families.

This year, the LACD has continued its dedication to the special needs community with the following programs:

  • After School Sports Programs – October to May, Monmouth Court
  • Abilities Expo – Resource Fair cosponsored by Livingston Public Schools
  • Shine a Light on Autism Night – Awareness walk and event
  • Social Events – Annual Halloween, Holiday and Spring parties
  • Volunteer Fair – Residents learn about volunteer opportunities
  • Welcome to Livingston Event – New residents learn about town services
  • Kiwanis ARC Day –Kiwanis Karnival is open exclusively to special needs individuals
  • LACD Talent Show – Special needs individuals showcase their talents
  • Parents Night Out – Parents of special needs children enjoy a night out while their kids socialize and play in a safe environment.
  • Dad’s Night Out – Monthly free support group for dads of children with special needs
  • Autism Moms Courage Circle – Free monthly support group for moms of children on the autism spectrum

The committee meets on the first Thursday evening of every month at the Livingston Public Library, where the committee often hosts speakers from various community organizations.
Click HERE for more information about LACD or contact lacdnj@gmail.com.