For five years, Mallory McCusker, 24, has practiced putting a shirt on over her head.
“She’ll reach up and put her arms through,” said her father, Lex McCusker of Hoboken, with pride. This kind of steady progress makes McCusker feel confident that Mallory is slowly improving. “Mallory’s made progress on life skills,” he said. “It’s slow going, but getting better all the time.”
At the United Cerebral Palsy of Hudson County’s annual VIP Breakfast on Oct. 7, families shared stories of how their loved ones have been helped by the organization.
“The folks care deeply about the clients, and they treat them wonderfully.”—Lex McCusker
When the UCP’s bus arrives each morning to pick her up, Mallory is able to walk downstairs, cross the street, and board. McCusker can see his daughter’s excitement every morning as she leaves for the day program.
“Her face brightens up when she sees the bus. She recognizes the aide to the driver…it’s heartwarming,” he said.
The UCP’s heartfelt care for disabled individuals puts parents like McCusker at ease and distinguishes the organization from others.
“The UCP staff treats Mallory right, respects her and even has some affection for her,” McCusker said. “It’s one less thing to worry about as a parent. It gives you some time off.”
A nurturing environment
Founded in 1951, the UCP of Hudson County provides advocacy and support services for more than 400 individuals with developmental disabilities. Through various programs that cater to adults and children, the UCP strives to give disabled individuals a sense of ability, purpose, and worth.
The Adult with Special Needs program in North Bergen offers individuals assistance in developing habilitation, vocational, communication, socialization, and fine motor skills. Two Growing Tree Learning Centers, both located in Jersey City, nurture children’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual needs. In addition, there are various daycare and afterschool programs for children across Hudson County.
Mrs. A., who requested anonymity, has sent her son to the Growing Tree Learning Center II for the past 18 months. At the VIP Breakfast, she said her son, a foster child, faced an “emotional disruption” at a young age and needs an educational program that is sensitive to his emotional needs.
“If you don’t have a school or a program that understands the displaced emotional strife within the child, and can accommodate and work with the child so that they can deal with their emotions without feeling like they’re going to be punished, [the child can] end up becoming very, very disconnected from addressing their emotional feelings,” she said. “Usually what happens is they end up becoming extremely angry.”
The UCP’s experience with special needs children has enabled them to create a nurturing environment at the Growing Tree II, a place where Mrs. A.’s son thrives.
“What we found out about the Growing Tree is that because they understand people with special needs, they’re able to better accommodate a child like ours,” Mrs. A. said. “The teacher can work with him to give him a little bit more attention and caring, and not feel like it’s an additional, put-upon requirement for them.”
Fundraisers are critical
Mrs. A. acknowledged the importance of recognizing fundraisers at the VIP Breakfast, without whom her son could not attend the Growing Tree II and receive specialized care.
“The work of the fundraisers has been absolutely critical,” she said. “If we didn’t have the fundraising, children like our son wouldn’t be able to participate in the programs, because the fees are fairly high. It’s fundraising that bridges the gap.”
Representatives from the United Way of Hudson County, a philanthropic organization, presented UCP officials with a check for $100,000 at the breakfast, which was held at the Chandelier Restaurant in Bayonne. The money will go toward further developing UCP programs and services, such as providing scholarships to financially disadvantaged day care students and escorting homeless individuals to open shelters.
For Keith J. Kearney, the UCP of Hudson County’s associate executive director, the VIP Breakfast is an important recognition of fundraisers’ efforts and a necessary conduit for continued financial support.
“These people have all given to us in the past, and we want to thank them for that and also kind of encourage them and build them up to continue donating with us,” he said.
For more information or to donate to the UCP, call (201)-436-2200 or visit www.UCPofHudsonCounty.org.