Special Needs Symposium highlights WOPD programming

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Police Department hosted a Special Needs Symposium at Liberty Middle School on April 27, offering residents the opportunity to learn more about caring for someone with special needs. Officer Chris Jacksic told residents about the department’s Take Me Home program, which allows residents to register a family member who is at high risk of wandering away, so that officers can safely locate and bring them home. There were also representatives from Essex County Special Olympics, the West Orange Special Education Parent Advisory Council and the West Orange Elks at the symposium to give residents information about the programs they run for special needs residents in West Orange.

“This is a constantly revolving and evolving system,” Jacksic said at the event about the training that officers in the department receive to work with special needs residents. “We’re ahead because we know how important it is to work with special needs.”

Jacksic said his daughter has autism and his mother has dementia, which he cited as reasons he took the helm of the Take Me Home program. Residents can register a loved one of any age who is at risk of wandering away; police will then have a photograph of the registered person, as well as any pertinent information that help officers identify and bring them home safely. The program is modeled after those similar in Pensacola, Fla., and in San Diego, Calif., according to Jacksic.

“It’s a personal passion of mine,” he said at the symposium. “Our concern is how they can get home; we’re all about trying to get people home safe.”

The program will be expanding to include events with senior citizens, according to Jacksic.

Amber Newsome, a member of West Orange SEPAC, also spoke at the event. The parent group supports students in the West Orange School District who have special needs.

“It’s a pay-it-forward organization, parents helping other parents,” Newsome said at the event. “We’re here to help you educate yourselves and lead you to the right person.”

Newsome said she became involved with SEPAC because another parent had helped her when she discovered her children had special needs.

“I got involved because another mother held my hand,” she said.

Photos by Amanda Valentovic

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