Back in 1983, Netta Meltzer was going through a tough period in her life. She had just endured the losses of her husband, mother and father in the matter of a few months. Then, Meltzer’s daughter went off to college.
“I needed something in my life,” Meltzer said. “I needed an outlook on life. I needed something to occupy my time.”
Meltzer always loved working with handicapped youngsters, so she decided to dedicate her entire life to helping the less fortunate.
Every single day, Meltzer is out helping both kids and adults who are learning disabled or physically disabled. She calls the adults “the special people of North Bergen,” the ones that would have nowhere to go and nothing to do, if it weren’t for Meltzer’s activities.
“Some of them have parents who need a break for a while, because they’re caregivers all day long,” Meltzer said. “I give them their break. They tell me that if it weren’t for this program, they wouldn’t have anything. Once they turn 21, there are fewer and fewer things for them to do. There is no more schooling, but they have to live.”
Meltzer has a wide variety of activities for the participants. They go bowling, to Sports World in Paramus, to sporting events. Recently, Meltzer took her “special people” to see a professional wrestling event.
The tireless Meltzer goes all over the town, picking up her special people via bus and brings them to the assorted activities and places. The program continues all year round.
Last Wednesday night, Meltzer had her annual holiday party for the 35 or so special people who regularly attend her weekly Wednesday sessions. She had her other Christmas party for the 400 or so children last month.
The adults had to wait for their extravaganza until after the New Year.
Still, Santa Claus made an appearance and everyone received gifts and prizes. Some of the wrestlers whom the special adults saw perform last week, like “The Damager” and “The Mambo King,” made appearances to hand out gifts.
It was Christmas all over again for the members of the program, who had an absolute ball.
“Everyone needs someone,” Meltzer said. “These are beautiful people and we have to love them, because they love you back so much. I don’t know if anyone else does something like this.”
Helps parents out April Siegert is more than appreciative of what Meltzer is able to do. Siegert has four children, ages eight through 12, who are all of special needs and all participate in Meltzer’s programs.
“Her activities enable me to take a break and gives me something else to do,” Siegert said. “Without her, I don’t know what I would do. It’s a big help to me. My kids are learning and enjoying themselves and when they come home, they can’t wait to go back. It’s definitely a sense of relief for me. It gives me time to breathe. Without Ms. Netta, they would be sitting at home and driving me up a wall. I’m so very grateful for what she does. She does a fantastic job.”
Meltzer said that she receives a lot of assistance in running the parties, with help from local businesses like Gold Coast Cleaners and Ray’s Auto Shop, which donated a bicycle as well as toys.
The township also came out in full force. Mayor Nicholas Sacco made a personal donation to help purchase gifts. The North Bergen Department of Public Works, with Frank DiPaolo leading the way, North Bergen Health Department, the North Bergen Recreation Department and Toys for Tots all chipped in and lent a hand.
“Frank DiPaolo helps me out so much and gives me whatever I need,” Meltzer said. “Everyone gives so much of their time.”
The student councils at Lincoln School and Kennedy Schools made donations in order to purchase gifts for both parties.
When the program started in 1983, Meltzer had only a handful of children and only three adults. Obviously, the program has grown leaps and bounds since then.
“It’s a beautiful program, and I’m so fortunate to get so much help,” Meltzer said. “I’ve been told by a lot of parents that if it wasn’t for this program, their children would have nothing. We have to remember them. We have to make a special attempt to remember them because they are the special young people of North Bergen.”