Addressing Special Needs During this Especially Difficult Time

December 9, 2020 | | GNJ News

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the entire population, but for those more vulnerable, the impact has been isolating, debilitating and life-changing. For many intellectually or developmentally disabled, which according to the CDC make up about 24 percent of New Jersey’s population, the transition toward working from home may not be a simple path or impossible. As a result, many have been faced with the decision to either stay at their in-person jobs or forfeit their jobs in exchange for the safety of their homes. Most people with intellectual and developmental disabilities require in-person care or critical therapeutic support in their living environments. Access to those services has been temporarily lost by many during the pandemic. According to a recent report from the New Jersey Disabilities COVID-19 Action Committee, adults with a disability experience food insecurity at twice the rate of those who do not have a disability. As this vulnerable population slips through the cracks of assistance and faces insurmountable financial challenges, churches in GNJ are digging deeper to help.

Resources for individuals with disabilities can be found at If you have a similar ministry, we want to hear from you.

Mays Landing Food Ministry Stretches its Outreach

As relationships deepened through the First UMC of Mays Landing’s food ministry partnership with the Hamilton Township Cares initiative this summer, it was discovered that a local hotel, the Plaza Hotel, was home to homeless and disabled families.

“As our volunteers were delivering food to needy children from the school district, one family’s address was the hotel,” said Rev. Linda Ross. “After delivering the food, the volunteer contacted Amy Hassa (a school board member and licensed social worker), and Amy went over to find 20-30 people living there in terrible conditions.”

As the path toward helping others forged a new trail, Hassa contacted the mayor, police department and the department of health, prompting a deep clean of the facility.

The hotel’s residents were also added to the list of people on the Main Street Pantry client list, so they now receive food from Hamilton Township Cares monthly and from the school district weekly.

“Also, since Amy is a social worker, she has helped some residents find permanent housing,” Ross added.

The people living in the hotel come from all walks of life, most of whom released from Ancora Psychiatric Hospital with no place to go–disabled residents with special needs.

On Nov. 22 the team served a Thanksgiving Dinner to the residents living at the hotel.

“Two of our members cooked the Thanksgiving meal in our church kitchen. They packed up individual meals for our shut-in seniors. Then they went, along with Amy Hassa, Mickey Riggin and other volunteers, to serve the meal in the hotel parking lot,” said Ross.

“I’m sure I saw big smiles behind those masks!”

Ross added that discussions are underway to start a small group ministry at the hotel.

This story is a follow up to “First UMC of Mays Landing: Feeding the Hungry in Southern NJ” in the July Relay)

Hope and Possibility Still Alive at Roseland UMC

It was a little over a year ago when the Community of Hope Center at Roseland UMC in Fairfield, NJ, opened A·cad·e·ME  for  the elderly, youth and those with special needs throughout the community to make it stronger and more sustainable and to serve as a good model for others to replicate.

Two years earlier Roseland UMC, led by Rev. Michael Kim, and Fairfield UMC had merged under the guidance of former Gateway North District Superintendent Manuel Sardiňas so that resources could be combined to renovate the buildings that needed extensive repairs and protect the future of the church.

Today, with the philosophy that all things are possible for people who are intellectually or developmentally disabled, the Hope Center continues to offer programs, employment services and job placement services virtually during a time when their clients need them most.

The organization has over 65 individuals working in the community using these services.

“The center itself has been profitable and has been completely self-sustaining,” said Ted Mayer, a lay leader of Roseland UMC who was one of the catalysts behind the new Hope Center, bringing with him extensive experience in serving the special needs population. He added that it is generating more than $3,500 per month in rental income for these services.

“That money flows back to Roseland and has kept both the administrative staff’s and the pastors’ salaries there current without taking a penny of PPE money,” said Mayer.

He estimated that if the educational classes led by Fairfield-based A·cad·e·ME were live, the rental income would likely be double that. Mayer’s son, Clarke leads classes in photography, computer design, CPR, food prep, music, gardening, job coaching, English-as-a-Second-Language, Spanish, Chinese and filmmaking. There’s even a greenhouse being planned in the yard to serve as another learning center for students.

A·cad·e·ME is for students who are eager to learn skills tailored specifically to their interests. The group’s mission is to prepare people to work with time, education and the needed skills. Their courses offer opportunities to master practical skills for career advancement training or personal enrichment. Prior to the pandemic, this all happened in an engaging modern classroom environment at Roseland UMC.

“The center itself is doing well along with outreach to two other churches that have nowhere else to go, providing us with additional sources of revenue,” said Mayer. “All in all, given both the challenges many churches and their congregations are facing, we truly have been blessed.”

As noted by Mayer, the proceeds of this program are in part returned to the church, so that as the program grows, it becomes a sustainable solution to financial shortfalls that many churches face.

A year ago, Mayer said, “This model gives hope to churches who may be struggling with their identity and their future, creating new vitality.” Those words have only become amplified in the last several months as quarantining has kept many of their clients sequestered to their homes, and churches struggle with creating enough sustainable revenue.

To view the Relay story from November 2019, visit here.

Gateway North District Superintendent William M. Williams III recently met with Mayer who again expressed a strong interest in developing more hope centers like this one.

“We talked about a sustainable niche being created as a result of the pandemic for this type of ministry.  We’re both willing to invest conversation and knowledge into churches that want to build a similar model of hope in their communities. I’m excited about the possibilities.”