WEST ORANGE, NJ – In order to help parents and caregivers who often find it frustrating to advocate for their own child with special needs, whether it be for additional educational support or job training, the West Orange Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (WOSEPAC) sponsored its first Resource Expo on Thursday at Edison Middle School.

Those who attended the expo heard representatives from numerous special needs advocacy and counseling groups, lawyers who specialize in this area, a group that trains young adults with autism for employment, and groups that provide recreational and social outlets for this population.

The program began with welcoming remarks by Xavier Fitzgerald, principal of Edison Middle School, who said his daughter is benefiting from being in a special education program, and Gina Velazquez, resource chair of WOSEPAC.

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“I’m proud to introduce all of the representatives here tonight who offer wonderful programs to children and young adults who live in West Orange,” said Velazquez.

First to present was Dance Warriors, which showcased two of its exercise/dance instructors who work with special needs children. Lisa Charles, of Dance Warriors, said this group’s Special Warriors Program includes classes such as Zumba, yoga and music therapy for children six years and up who have special needs.

Ann Marie Sullivan, CEO of Spectrum Works, spoke about her non-profit organization provides a job training and employment program for young adults with autism. She explained that trainees work alongside Spectrum Works job coaches and partner-company mentors to develop professional skills.

“Trainees are integrated into positions with a range of low and high skilled tasks that provide employment opportunities to individuals across the autism spectrum,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan added that Spectrum Works is now working with two companies that are committed to its model, and are a “supportive, inclusive environment for young adults with autism.” The companies are Green Distribution, a large screen-printing company, and Rent the Runway, an online dress rental service. To learn more, call 201-552-2055 or email info@spectrumworks.org.

Joanne De Simone spoke about the services of the Alliance of Private Special Education Schools of North Jersey, which offers a comprehensive list of resources. This includes the Find a School Tool by clicking HERE. The alliance holds an annual conference focusing on advocacy strategies and tools for parents, and it offers college scholarships to graduating high school students with disabilities.

David Giles, Esq., discussed his firm’s focus on special education issues and its commitment to “providing zealous, effective, holistic representation of students with disabilities and their families.”

He was followed by another lawyer in the firm, Rebecca Rosenfeld, who said, “It is an honor for me to represent families who have children with special needs when their rights are being denied. They are truly champions.”

Rosenfeld said she became interested in specializing in this area of the law when she saw “many young people ill served by the system, and not properly classified.”

Marisa Cohen, director of Special Needs Services of the JCC MetroWest, highlighted the agency’s Junior Sunday program for children ages 5-18.

“This program for children with disabilities is filled with arts and crafts, structured games, music therapy and recreational swim,” she said. “Participants are provided one to one support by our highly qualified staff and volunteers.”

To learn more about the JCC’s special needs programs, email mcohen@jccmetrowest.org.

The next presenter was Robin Gershon-Halpern, who provides psychological counseling and educational consultations that include helping families better cope with special education issues. She runs support groups for parents of special needs children and for siblings of special needs children.

Presentations were also made by representatives from New Horizons Day Camp, which offers flexible scheduling options to meet the needs of children with disabilities; Special Needs Advocacy Associates, which delivers support to parents through effective advocacy and collaborative relationships with schools; PASSE (Parents Advocating for Special Services in Education), which provides advocacy for parents and their families; Proud Moments ABA, a behavioral health agency that helps children with autism learn, grow and reach their highest potential; the West Orange Recreational Department, which provides year-round recreational programs for children with special needs; and the West Orange Elks, which has a Special Children’s Committee that offers an Elks S.C. Scholarship that covers the cost of attending Elks Camp Moore in Pompton Lakes (call 973-731-9177 for information).