FANWOOD, NJ – At graduation, numerous students with disabilities "age out" of the specialized schools they’ve attended their entire lives, which leaves their parents with a big question: What’s next? 

Fanwood resident Allison Sanchez, the new executive director of the Educational Service Commission of New Jersey’s (ESCNJ) “Adult Community Services,” has the solution: expand vocational and social skills of people with disabilities to prepare them for potential competitive job opportunities. 

“All of my life, I’ve had a genuine passion for helping others and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives,” Sanchez said. 

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In her new position at the ESCNJ, Sanchez is taking her passion to the next step. The organization operates six specialized schools that serve students ages 3-21 with autism, multiple disabilities, and at-risk behaviors. This fall, she will work with students who have graduated from their specialized school programs to develop a life-skills learning program that prepares students for independence and potential jobs, which is ESCNJ's long-term objective.

“I am focused on developing a strong program to enable individuals to explore their interests and be given opportunities to increase their skills in a true job setting,” Sanchez said. “Participants will receive individualized mentoring that teaches vital skills such as how to dress for an interview, do laundry, and budget time and money.”

Sanchez began working with individuals with developmental or mental diagnoses shortly after college graduation. 

“I took an individual with a mental health diagnosis grocery shopping, and while I was at the register he stood to the side talking to himself,” Sanchez recalled. “A fellow shopper asked if the `crazy person’ was with me. I was floored by her audacity because that is not how you address or define people. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be an advocate for this population.”

From 2005 to 2019, Sanchez worked at JESPY House, where one of her accomplishments included building relationships with local employers and matching them with individuals with disabilities eager to work. Now, at ESCNJ, she is excited with the opportunity to build a more extensive program from the ground up. 

“Right now, we are still hiring and developing the program,” Sanchez said. “Once the program begins, I will be in charge of further development, enhancing the role of technology, following best practices, and most importantly, maintaining solid communication between myself, staff, and families.” 

“Parents are excited because they love ESCNJ and they like the progress that they see in their children,” said Sanchez. “I want parents to know that they are heard and will continue to be heard. Their input is important to me.” 

In July, criteria for admission will be released, and the new executive director has no doubts that the list of interested families will continue to grow. 

“In all my years of service, nothing has given me greater pleasure than doing something for the benefit of others,” Sanchez said. “I am just so thrilled. The program is going to be a success. It’s going to be phenomenal!” is Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s only free daily paper. Sign up for our daily eNews and follow us on Facebook and twitter @SPF_TAP. Download the free TAPinto App for iPhone or Android.