SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The night was about showing gratitude.

Board members from the JESPY House filled Giorgio’s Ristorante on Thursday evening to thank and honor local businesses and a television station for their community service initiatives that have helped JESPY's clients.

The JESPY House is a nonprofit that provides housing for adults with disabilities and teaches them life skills.

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“It’s my favorite night of the year. It’s a small token of esteem to all the people in the community who support our mission on behalf of the clients,” said Tara Roberts, organizer of the annual JESPY House Community Appreciation Dinner.

The Community Appreciation Dinner is in its 20th year for the organization that was established in 1978 by four local parents. The original operation launched with four clients and three staff members. Some of the services the JESPY House offers to its clients focus on health and safety, money skills and budgeting, employment skills, social and interpersonal skills, and social etiquette.

“Without the support of the Village of South Orange, JESPY could not have survived and grown for 40 years,” said Roberts.

Local business owners Catherine Fischer and Jackie Podhurst, BCB Bank and NJTV News were honored with plaques at this year’s dinner.

Fischer and Podhurst have provided job training and employment opportunities for JESPY clients. Fischer owns Sadie’s, a clothing boutique in town, and Kitchen a la Mode, a store that sells kitchen accessories. Podhurst owns Jackie & Son Restaurant.

NJTV received an award for its feature story on aging with disabilities in New Jersey. BCB Bank received an award for its ongoing collaboration with the JESPY House.

“They provide some valuable services to a group of individuals who don’t get enough attention. We’re always grateful to participate in events like this,” said Jim Raborn, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at BCB Bank.

BCB Bank is a sponsor for the JESPY House’s SO Invitational golf tournament, which raises money for the services that are offered by the JESPY House and collaborates with the nonprofit on its other projects and initiatives.

“We participate in everything we can, whether it’s by sponsor or volunteering our time,” said Claudine Baptiste, business development officer for BCB Bank. “We do whatever it takes to be part of that community and to help make the community better or that service better.”

The JESPY House has grown over the years. When it first opened more than 40 years ago, the JESPY House had four clients. Now the JESPY House serves 250 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to Roberts.

And the organization keeps growing. JESPY House Executive Director Audrey Winkler said the organization needs more housing so its clients can age in place.

“Since 1978, it’s grown by leaps and bounds because we have now seven residential properties, three program buildings, and 250 clients and over 100 employees,” said Winkler.

Fischer said she got involved with the JESPY House to bridge the gap between the nonprofit and the community. Clients from JESPY work in the two stores Fischer owns and have learned how to complete basic retail tasks.

“They are people looking to learn a skill and have a job. They need a little more time sometimes to master those skills and put them on a resume if needed,” said Fischer.