Remarkable Newarkers

Remarkable Newarkers: Michele Adubato

Michele Adubato has been making an impact in the City of Newark for decades, first through her work as an educator at Newark Public Schools and most recently as the CEO of the North Ward Center. Credits: NWC
Michele Adubato has been making an impact in the City of Newark for decades, first through her work as an educator at Newark Public Schools and most recently as the CEO of the North Ward Center. Credits: NWC

Remarkable Newarkers is a series profiling people who live and/or work in Newark who are making a positive contribution to the city.

Newark, NJ—Michele Adubato has been making an impact in the City of Newark for decades, first through her work as an educator at Newark Public Schools and most recently as the CEO of the North Ward Center, a nonprofit organization that has served as an anchor to the neighborhood and surrounding communities since it first opened in 1970.

The North Ward Center offers a variety of social and educational services and programs, with the goal of improving the quality of life for Newark residents.

Sign Up for E-News

Driven by a passion to empower others to succeed, Adubato began her educational career as a special education teacher at  Newark's Camden Elementary School and later joined the New Jersey Regional Day School (NJRDS), where as a teacher, vice principal and later as principal, she developed educational initiatives for students with special needs to transition from school to adulthood.

The transition program was recognized by the State Department of Education as a model program for students with disabilities.

In 2010, Adubato founded The Center for Autism, a nonprofit organization that provides day services and opportunities for adults with autism and their families.

Born and raised in Newark, Adubato said her roots are a great source of pride.

“Although I do live down the Parkway now, when someone asks me where I am from, it’s always answered with ‘Newark,’” she said. “It’s like a badge of honor.”

Adubato said along with her Italian Catholic upbringing came a trailblazing spirit that she inherited from her father.

“There was an element of revolution within my family, namely my father,” she said of North Ward Center founder Stephen Adubato, who also founded Newark’s Robert Treat Academy Charter School. “We were raised to be independent thinkers. As most people will say now, I am most like him, which scares and delights me at the same time.”

Adubato said she dropped out of high school during her junior year.

“My mother cried and my father hugged me,” she said. “I went to a Catholic High School in Rutherford and although just a couple of miles from Newark, it felt like I was on a different continent. There was a mixture of racism, indoctrination, and dullness that did not meld with how I was raised. So, I rebelled. I quit.”

But Adubato's father had one condition—that she work full-time.

“The only job I could find was at the old eyeglass factory where the four diamonds are in Branch Brook Park,” she said. “I was a file clerk. First day, I looked at the clock…9:00 a.m. I looked at the clock again- 9:07. This was agony. I was bored beyond belief and realized that I was the lowest person on the totem pole. It was based around not being able to make any decisions and being told what to do all the time. Anyone who knows me understands that is just not in my DNA.”

Adubato returned to school, made up the credits and graduated. 

“I do take satisfaction in knowing that I broke the record for the most demerits anyone has accumulated in that school,” Adubato said. “I say this because it has everything to do with the struggles of attempting to understand your place in this world, both professionally and personally. Also, because I was different and did not fit the mold -- I don’t know really who does. I learned differently. I truly did march to a different drummer, and the school did not know how to handle that. I suffered and learned so much because of it. I learned that children need to be cognitively connected and celebrated for their individual talents and styles. It was a precursor to my success in the educational field.”

After high school, Adubato worked with at-risk youth, which had a profound impact on her career.

“This experience, at a young age, had a profound effect on me professionally,” she said. "These children were coming from all types of emergency crisis situations, ranging from abuse to petty crimes. They would come into the shelter at all times of the day or night, looking shell-shocked and worn out.”

She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts at Rutgers University—Newark, and later earned her certification as a special education teacher as well as master’s degrees in social work and educational administration.

The decision to open The Center for Autism came out of Adubato's frustration at seeing students graduate into the unforgiving structure of the adult provider system.

“When I founded The Center for Autism seven years ago, it was out of need and vision,” she said. “There were little to no services provided for people with autism and their families. I wanted to provide a first-class experience for our families. We now provide premier adult services along with family resources and are now expanding our services.”

Adubato describes The North Ward Center as a microcosm of the history of Newark, citing the mass exodus in the aftermath of the 1967 riots and a city in turmoil.

While many residents chose to leave the city, Adubato said the small segment of North Ward residents who remained had needs that were being neglected in the atmosphere of confrontation and conflict.

“My father wanted to stabilize the North Ward neighborhood by offering job training and educational services to the residents who remained,” she said. “For over 45 years, the Center has remained true to our mission, while the services have expanded. The NWC has become a symbol of stability for Newark. Our operating principal is to offer fiscally responsible programs that build a foundation for an economically viable community. We are also one of the largest employers in this community. Our programs define our community and us.”

The North Ward Center network of services is comprised of Casa Israel Adult Medical Day Center, which serves 120 senior adults, while The North Ward Child Development—one of the largest providers of Abbott preschool programs in the city—educates more than 600 children each day.

The Youth Leadership Development Program—the largest youth leadership program in the city—serves over 2,000 young adults each year, while the Family Success Center helps strengthen families through education and advocacy.

“The communities we touch have been the people who live here every day, and all that comes with living in an urban environment,” Adubato said. “They are primarily Hispanic families, and our services cross the lifespan of these individuals. It is in my DNA to understand and work towards equity and service. My father founded the NWC with one simple goal—to empower the residents of the greater Newark community by providing services designed to strengthen families. I firmly believe that service to others is the highest purpose, and I am honored to be in a position to lead an organization that has served this community so well for so long.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Newark Lures Amazon With $1 Billion Payroll Tax Incentive

July 11, 2018

NEWARK, NJ - Amazon will get a payroll tax break at a cost of $1 billion to the city should the company open its second headquarters here.

It’s one of two ordinances that were approved by the Newark City Council council to sweeten the deal for the corporate giant and stand out among other locations vying for Amazon’s so-called HQ2.

“The City Council has brought Newark a ...

Mothers Mobilize in Newark to Protest Trump Family Separation Policy

June 22, 2018

NEWARK, NJ - A group of New Jersey mothers took time to come to Newark with the kind of loved ones recently taken from other mothers: their children.

"It's unconscionable that our government is stealing children from their parents and locking them up in cages," said Christina Liu, a Montclair mom holding her baby daughter, commenting on President Donald Trump's recent ...

Market Street Patrol Building May Be Named After Late Undersheriff

June 28, 2018

NEWARK, NJ — The death of Essex County Undersheriff Kevin Ryan on June 20 was a "devastating loss" for the department and for the county’s sheriff, Armando Fontoura.

“He was like a son to me. He was always the first one on the scene. He was always there to help. It’s just devastating. There is not much more I can say," Fontoura said in a ...

Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey Opens Camp DeWitt Conference Center and Activity Building

July 2, 2018

HILLSBOROUGH, N.J. – If you don’t know by now, Girl Scouts is much more than cookies, crafts, and summer camp.

In fact, the Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey say they should host your next professional business conference, special event, or any other big celebration in which you are looking to seriously impress.

Look no further than Camp DeWitt in Hillsborough, the site of ...

Upcoming Events


Fri, July 27, 10:00 AM

Lincoln Park, Newark

Lincoln Park Music Festival Sustainable Health ...


Thu, August 16, 5:00 PM

Branch Brook Park, Newark

Movies Under the Stars

Rutgers Prof to Climb Alps for Climate Change Study on Glaciers

July 18, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Lauren Neitzke Adamo has long enjoyed hiking along trails and through forests and over rock formations largely to see the natural surroundings.

“I’ve been a huge science nerd all my life,” said Adamo, who has a doctorate degree and is co-director of the Rutgers University Geology museum in New Brunswick.

Next month Adamo will head to the Swiss Alps ...

To Our Current and Future Representatives

July 17, 2018

To Our Current and Future Representatives - Wherever They May Be:

We can never forget we are a nation of immigrants. 

We cannot fall prey to fear, ignorance and anger when we  have been historically driven by freedom and justice. 

We must have the courage and will to fight hate, bigotry and prejudice. 

We must not wake up to what we hoped was a bad dream and ...

A Statewide Solution on Disposable Bags Aids the Fight Against Litter

June 29, 2018

The New Jersey Clean Communities Council (NJCCC) just released the results of a year-long visual litter study that shows that nearly 10 percent of all litter on our roadways and highways is in the form of plastic and paper bags.

There is no doubt that these bags are of significant and ongoing environmental concern, creating an even more difficult job for our clean communities volunteers across ...