Since 2002, the Hudson County chapter of Arc has been helping individuals with developmental disabilities, and providing families with resources.
"My job is to make sure that the families in Hudson County receive the services they need, and that they are registered with the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD)," said Sandra Vasquez, director.
Their next meeting will be Oct. 13, with invited guest speakers for the evening from Amerigroup, who will be talking about changes in Medicare. Group meetings are free, and care is available for families who need it during the meeting.
They will also host an upcoming fundraising event on Oct. 26. A donation of $50 is requested to attend the event. Their goal for the evening is to raise about $10,000.
Decades ago, the name "Arc" stood for the Association of Retarded Children, but the group has expanded to help adults and people with other developmental disabilities.
Up to 500 families
Over the years the organization has grown, from serving 100 to 500 families in the Hudson County area. They offer bilingual programs for their patrons and families in areas from job training to after care.
At the end of this year, the local Arc is anticipating finally becoming an independent entity. Hudson County's Arc has actually been under the umbrella chapter of the state since it opened, and now will be the official chapter for Hudson County.
"We're hoping by the end of the year we will become self-sufficient and become an independent chapter," said Vasquez. "The most important thing is to let the community know that we are here to assist them."
Helping the family
One of the most highlighted and beneficial programs at the Arc is the After School Program, which is a recreational program serving children ages 6 to 21.
"We first started with eight children, and now we are serving 14 children with disabilities [in the after-school program]," said Vasquez. "We mostly have working families, and a lot of single parent families."
The program was first implemented in July of 2002, and runs from about 3 to 6 p.m. The kids are dropped off by their parents or bused by their schools to the Arc center, which is located at 405-409 36th St.
Program aides assist them with any homework, and have daily activities with the kids incorporating arts and crafts, music, exercise, and movies.
"Their disabilities range," said Nadia Cabana, coordinator for the program. "We do have low-functioning to high-functioning, and they all walk and are somewhat independent."
"I have a lot of friends, and I like the blocks," said Mauricio DeFarnecio, 13.
The kids typically follow a schedule when they first arrive, which includes a snack and free play.
While some head for blocks and coloring books, others like Christina Paletta of North Bergen, who has Down syndrome, will run straight for the back play room.
"When she gets out of the car, she runs to the door," said Kathy Paletta, Christina's mother. "One of the things I like in particular is the open space, because kids can run around and feel safe. I'm a single parent and it's such a help when we get a program like this. For three hours I can go home and rest. I have that down time to run errands or if I have to go to work."
"Its really a time for them to socialize with other children, and gives an opportunity for parents to work or run errands," said Cabana.
Paletta recently enrolled Christina in the after-school program at the Arc, and has seen the positive effect on her daughter over the last few weeks.
"I know my daughter," Paletta said. "If she didn't like it, she would be standing by the door with her coat," said Paletta. "She just felt right at home. The program aides are really great. They play with her and give her the attention she needs."
There are five aides and 14 children currently registered with the after-care program.
"They are actually college students working towards a degree for children with special needs and counselors getting a bachelors in Special Education," said Vasquez. "Each of the employees have been in the program for about two years, and they're very patient."
The Arc also offers services such as the recreational program, which caters to kids and their siblings to help develop social skills and confidence. They also offer an Employment Day Program, which caters more to adults with developmental disabilities.
"I am very excited with our programs and new staff, and not many agencies provide services to the Latino community," said Vasquez. "It's very gratifying and we're very excited to know that the Arc is finally going to be an independent chapter of the Arc of New Jersey."
In order to qualify for the programs, parents have to first subscribe their child with DDD, and are then given a referral to the program, but the family has to request it. DDD actually provides annual funding for the programs at the Arc.
"If the family doesn't get registered, they can miss out on the programs they offer, and a lot of Latino families don't know due to the language barrier, so it's important," said Vasquez.
She added, "We also recently had our annual walkathon, where we raised over $30,000 and over 300 people attended the event, including Rafael Pineda." Pineda is the anchor for Univision News on Ch. 41, and served as chairperson for the Walkathon this year. He also sits on the board of directors for the Arc.
"It's going to towards the programs and services of the Arc," said Vasquez.
Among the multiple organizations and companies who helped sponsor the event were Goldman Sachs, TD Bank North, the Provident Bank Foundation, and Amerigroup, as well as several private sponsors.
The upcoming fundraising event is Oct. 26. Anyone who wishes to make a contribution can contact the Arc at (201) 319-9229, or send check.