EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ – Dylan was in the holiday spirit, wearing a Santa hat on top of his head and a big smile on his face.
He and his friends from the Sayreville-based Pathways to Adult Living had just finished singing “Feliz Navidad,” “The 12 Days of Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Winter Wonderland” and other holiday classics last week.
They sang with such passion in their voices and love in their hearts that the songs – and some holiday cheer – echoed throughout Barnes & Noble.
And when they were done singing, Dylan was asked what he wanted for Christmas.
“I don’t need anything,” said Dylan, 18. “Being in PAL is all I care about. I feel so lucky to be in PAL.”
There were smiles, singing, arts projects, scavenger hunts and even a robotics demonstration when the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey was invited to spend the day at the Barnes & Noble at the Brunswick Square Mall.
Since founding in 1977, the ESCNJ has evolved to provide educational and business services to more than 700 school districts and municipalities throughout the state. The ESCNJ’s budget has grown from approximately $17 million to nearly $115 million as of 2018.
Raissa Prus, the supervisor of community-based instruction for ESCNJ, said PAL, Academic Learning Center in Monroe, Future Foundations Academy in Piscataway, Piscataway Regional Day School and Nuview Academy in Piscataway took part in the all-day festivities.
Having the students spend a day at the bookstore was a great way to help introduce the public to ESCNJ and all the work it does with students whose disabilities range from moderate to severe autism, pervasive developmental disorders, communication, physical, orthopedic and cognitive impairments and more.
It was also a great way to get the students into a new space where new experiences could take place.
For instance, Sammy gave his first interview.
He took a break from steering a robot back in the store’s music section along with his fellow Future Foundation Academy students to talk about how it felt to put on a demonstration.
“We are having a lot of fun,” he said. “I love to build robots and make them go. That’s my favorite part.”
Jen Nesi, a social worker at Bright Beginnings Learning Center, distributed information about ESCNJ during the afternoon.
Later, Dr. Erik Solberg, the principal at Academy Learning Center, presented programs and information on autism to the public.
But maybe most importantly, it was a day for ESCNJ students to spread holiday cheer and have fun. Just ask Dylan.
When he and his friends at Pathways to Adult Living finished singing a bunch of holiday songs, he was asked how it felt to get up on the little stage in the children’s section and sing.
“It feels beautiful,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun being here and it’s a lot of fun singing.”