Anyone traveling to the Hudson Mall on Route 440 in Jersey City might be struck by the odd location of a laundromat right behind the Dunkin Donuts, a party store, several children’s wear stores and Lowe’s Home Improvement Center.
Even the sign strikes an unusual chord since it reads SpARCkling Clean Laundromat, a name Deborah Lorenzetti, chief executive officer of Hudson Milestones, once thought was clever but now admits may be a little confusing.
But there is nothing confusing about the mission of the laundromat since it serves as a vital piece of Hudson Milestones’ adult training and helps people with disabilities learn valuable work habits.
The laundromat was once a local pizzeria, owned by Joseph Scibetta, who currently serves as Chairman on Hudson Milestones’ Board of Directors.
The laundromat came about when one of the clients at Hudson Milestones – a disabled young man on crutches – was asked what kind of work he would like to do.
“He said work in a laundromat,” Lorenzetti said.
So Scibetta — who was on Milestones’ board at the time and with whom this young man was taken — decided to accommodate the boy.
The building, tucked in between Milestones adult training center/administrative offices and the Dunkin Donuts, had previously been a pizzeria.
“Joe converted the building to the laundromat then donated the building to us,” Lorenzetti said. “Joe converted the place so this person would have a place to go.”
Since then, the laundromat has become one of the key pieces in Hudson Milestones’ work program, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and serving as a training site.
Clients even get paid a training salary, and this, too, serves as a way of bringing together the Milestones community, staff and clients.
“We pay them on the same day as the staff,” Lorenzetti said.
This makes the clients feel as if they are sharing something important, and while training checks aren’t large, they allow the person to spend his or her money, even if it is to go out to Burger King.
“It doesn’t matter how much the check is, it has their name on it,” she said.
The work program – which encompasses aspects other than the laundromat — provides a job-like environment and involves and introduces individuals to the world of work.
A well-kept secret in Hudson County
Lorenzetti calls Hudson Milestones one of the “best kept secrets” in Hudson County, because few people know about it and the wide range of services the organization provides.
Hudson Milestones started the Hudson County unit of an organization called Parents Group for Retarded Children in 1950, adopting the title the Hudson Association for Retarded Citizens. Seeking to become more independent of the national organization and to better utilize the limited funds provided through donations, fund-raising and grants from various governmental bodies, the organization changed its name to Hudson Milestones, Inc.
The name is significant because it reflects the goals of the organization, seeking to help people achieve milestones in their lives.
Money, of course, is always an issue, and while Hudson Milestones is funded primarily through city, county, state and federal dollars, donations are always welcomed, and the organization holds one fund-raiser, a golf tournament, every year in order to maintain services.
When Lorenzetti took over in May, 1990, Milestones was broke – a fact that she didn’t know until she took over. She called the chairman of the board of directors at the time.
“I know it was a silly question to ask, but I asked him where the money was,” Lorenzetti said in looking back.
Sadly, there was none, and a significant part of her duties over the last 16 years has been helping to restore the financial well-being of Milestones so that it could continue to provide services to the county’s disabled population.
“I vowed that this place was not going under,” she said. “It became a passion.”
Yet as passionate as she was, she learned some very important lessons from the people she served, especially about courage, and she says she is still in awe of the people who she serves, and admires her staff of workers whose patience and caring has made the program work. Everyone is treated with respect and dignity. The staff listen and respond.
Lorenzetti has numerous stories about significant memories she had acquired while serving as the chief executive officer of Milestones, often giving her lessons in honesty that she had taken to heart.
“In some ways they have become role models for us,” she said. “I’ve learned that just because they may have a disability, they are not totally disabled and have a lot to offer and teach us.”
A network of services throughout the county
Hudson Milestones has facilities of various sorts throughout Hudson County including North Bergen, Secaucus, Kearny, Jersey City and Bayonne, and serves disabled people of all ages through its wide variety of programs.
The organization has two early intervention service centers, one in Jersey City and another in Bayonne as part of the child development center, which deals with children from about one year old to three years old who are at risk or disabled.
The Monmouth Street center currently handles 48 children and has a waiting list for others who want to get their children in.
Group homes and other facilities are sprinkled throughout the county, often existing unnoticed in quiet neighborhoods in places like Secaucus.
One of the significant aspects of services is the Development Day Care that deals with toddlers with delayed reaction or at risk.
Hudson Milestones also provides early intervention services to children and their families from birth until age three where licensed professionals deliver home services to eligible families who reside in Hudson County. This includes special educators, social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and such.
Milestones will also provide home care for children and adults with developmental disabilities, a way to lessen the burden on family members by giving them a few hours reprieve.
For residents of Bayonne, the organization also offers an after school program for children who meet the DYFS income eligibility standard and have a development disability.
While Milestones has the Route 440 site as an adult training center, it has another center in Bayonne. Both provide individuals with opportunities to interact with staff and peers and learn social and work skills.
The Paterson Street Senior Center in Jersey City offers informal recreation and social interaction that involve local seniors who came to play cards, watch day time TV, knit, play bingo or just mingle with other senior citizens there. The community residences that are located in Secaucus, Kearny, Jersey City, and North Bergen, allow adults with developmental disabilities to live in the community.
Milestones also provides recreation programs for adults, and has instituted a Saturday recreation program for teens 15 to 16 that provides them with trips and other recreational activities for 40 Saturdays a year.
“We pick them up and transport them to the event,” Lorenzetti said.
These events could be something as close as the Meadowlands Fair or a visit to the YMCA or to something more distant like a hot air balloon festival, a performance at the Paper Mill Playhouse or a sheep sheering festival.
Through all of the programs, Milestones is trying to enhance its clients self worth, and over the years, Lorenzetti said she has seen it work.
“I’ve seen many good things and have many heart-warming stories,” she said. “I’ve seen people forming relationships. Yes, the work is often difficult and challenging, sometimes even overwhelming, but it also rewarding.”
Sometimes, the milestones in a person’s life are small, yet they are significant, such as the 50-year-old woman who succeeded in putting on a bra for the first time in her life, something that reverberated through the whole Milestones community because it was a significant moment in that woman’s life.
“Those moments are what this is all about,” Lorenzetti said.