Lincoln School teacher aide Netta Meltzer has been holding events in North Bergen for special kids (and even for special needs adults) for more than two decades.
Over the years, Meltzer has developed an annual holiday party for special needs children, a party in January for the adults, as well as a Wednesday program and a summer camp for the kids.
“I love people but I love children,” said Meltzer. “I love them and they love me.”
The annual Holiday Party was held last Wednesday, Dec. 12, with 333 special people of all ages in attendance. The party has been a tradition for 28 years.
“There’s no age limit on a special child,” said Meltzer in an interview.
Meltzer thanked Mayor Nicholas Sacco for his support. She also acknowledged Commissioner Hugo Cabrera, who helped set up the party.
Each guest got a gift and was treated to a visit by Santa Claus, a DJ, and pizza. The gifts varied from a scooter to battery operated toy cars.
Meltzer uses a bus provided by Sacco to get the gifts, which filled up two and half rooms in her home. Not all gifts are dispersed for the holiday party, as some will be given away at the annual party in January for special needs people over 21. For that party, Melzer will pick up the guests door to door and transport them to a winter wonderland.
“That’s what this is all about, just to see the smiles on their faces.” - Netta Meltzer
“Once they’re out of the school system, that’s it. They’re on their own. It’s like they’re gone,” said volunteer Dorothy Oms.
Those who joined in on holiday cheer included the township’s Director of Special Education Coordinator Robert Kornberg, Anti-Bullying Coordinator John Belluardo, Police Chief Robert Dowd, Commissioner Hugo Cabrera, and Mayor Sacco.
Wednesday nights are devoted to the special needs children. Outings vary from watching a movie, watching wrestling, or simply eating together. The programs began with three children and currently has 25.
“It gives people something to look forward to each week to be in a circle of friends,” said volunteer Jackie Elwood. “It’s like a family on Wednesday. These kids need something that’s all their own.”
Another program is summer camp, which lasts five weeks and begins the end of June. Campers go to out trips, go swimming, and play games. This past year 97 special needs children attended the program.
“The people that come to her programs, they’re so enthusiastic and their happy to be there,” said Oms. “No other town has a program like this.”
An adult’s passing
A special needs child recently passed away, and for a proper sendoff, Meltzer had a mass in her honor.
She is also helping out two struggling families with money that was raised from $5 photos with Santa at the holiday party.
“She’s got one of the biggest hearts ever,” said Oms. “She does so much more beyond these programs.”
“Netta has dedicated her life the past 25 to 30 years to these programs and she deserves so much gratitude,” said Elwood. “She’s a phenomenal person.”
Volunteers are a crucial component to the special needs initiative. Some of them are Doris Sanchez and Debby Solomon.
Oms got involved because of her brother Joseph Maccagnano, 46, who has Down Syndrome, which is the most common chromosome abnormality. Maccagnano does not miss an event and carries a guitar given to him at last year’s Christmas party everywhere he goes.
“My family has noticed such a big difference in my brother since he’s been in her program. He’s more outgoing,” said Oms.
Elwood has been working alongside Meltzer at Lincoln School and been a volunteer for 10 years.
“Over the years we’ve become a family,” said Elwood.
But the grand event that helps raise money is “Netta’s Auction,” which takes place in April to fund events year round. She accepts donations for the event.
For further information call the Nutrition Center at (201) 865-9846.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org