Countywide council supports families, those with disabilities

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Rebekah Novemsky had been going to Statewide Family Support Planning Council meetings for years before she became the family liaison to the state program that offers support to New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities and their families about a year ago. Novemsky is a Maplewood resident whose son Liam has developmental disabilities. She attended the council’s Essex County meetings, which are under the state umbrella of the organization. The 10 different countywide councils were created in 1994 to work with the New Jersey government to support those who need it.

“We help them with transitions from school to adult life, transportation and employment,” Novemsky said in a phone interview on Aug. 1. “We provide information to them about how to get through those things.”

The county councils work in partnership with the state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities and Children’s System of Care to advise policy issues that affect people with developmental disabilities. But the value in the council, according to Novemsky and communications liaison Gary Brown, is the forum it offers families to connect with others dealing with similar issues.

“The system can be complex, so they don’t always know what’s available,” Brown said in a phone interview on Aug. 1.

And it’s not always the person with a disability who needs support. They do need help in the areas Novemsky mentioned, and so do their families.

“The information is powerful,” she said. “We work with the families to guide them. We meet with other children in the families and talk about how they can help.”

There’s no expiration date as to how long the councils can help, Novemsky said; they will provide support throughout a person’s lifetime. Children with developmental disabilities often have an Individualized Education Plan at school, and the council can help a family navigate how the curriculum works. Once a student is out of school, they have to learn how to transition into adulthood, and as they age, they have to learn how to navigate Social Security.

Brown said the councils are always looking for new participants in an effort to keep their membership strong and ensure they can support as many families as possible.

“We always want to recruit new members, especially those who are younger, for succession,” he said. “We want to make sure we can continue this into the next generation.”

The Essex County Council on Developmental Disabilities meets the first Wednesday of every month in Bloomfield, at the Bloomfield Civic Center, 84 Broad St., at 7 p.m.

According to Novemsky, what she values most about the council is that it allows her to spend time with others who understand what she and her family are going through.

“We support each other because we learn the most from others,” she said. “You can support me better if you’ve gone through the same thing.”