SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Local businesses and officials gathered at Giorgio’s Ristorante in South Orange for the JESPY House Community Appreciation Dinner on May 16, which honored NJTV News; Jackie Podhurst, the owner of Jackie & Son; Cat Fisher, the owner of Kitchen a la Mode and Sadie’s; and Claudine Baptiste and Jim Raborn from BCB Bank. The nonprofit organization, which helps adults with learning and developmental disabilities live independently, holds the annual dinner to honor the local businesses and residents who assist JESPY in helping its clients.
“We’ve done this for 20 years,” JESPY House Executive Director Audrey Winkler said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “We want to celebrate our local community and the people we work with.”
JESPY House works with several South Orange businesses on training programs for its clients that allow them to hone a skill and potentially be hired. Fisher has been working with JESPY House for the last year on a training program at both her businesses, and hired one JESPY client who now works for her each week for approximately four hours.
“It’s been going great, I hired one of the girls in the training program,” Fisher said in an interview with the News-Record at the event.
Each client moves at their own pace in the program, completing it in as much time as they need. Fisher said they usually focus on one specific skill or task, giving them a chance to focus on and master it. Even if they don’t end up working for her, Fisher said JESPY House clients benefit from the program.
“It gives them empowerment and makes them feel good,” she said. “It also gives them a chance to master a skill and put something on a resume and show they’ve learned something.”
Winkler said holding a job is important to the more than 200 clients of JESPY House, 80 percent of whom are currently employed.
“They do all different types of work,” she said. “We want to show the businesses here what our clients can do when they hire them. That’s really important for someone who wants to be independent.”
Podhurst wasn’t able to attend the awards ceremony, but she has a history of hiring JESPY House clients at her restaurant. Representatives from NJTV were also unable to attend the event, but they too were honored by the organization for their four-part feature on aging among the developmentally disabled population. JESPY House was featured in two of the four parts.
BCB Bank has been a longtime sponsor of JESPY House events, and Raborn, the bank’s senior vice president and chief administrative officer, said becoming involved with the community is one of the most important things the bank does.
“We want to be part of the community when they need us,” Baptiste, the bank’s business development manager, said at the event. “It’s my passion to give a helping hand to any organization in the community who needs it.”
Ahadi Bugg-Levine, a member of the JESPY House Board of Trustees, grew up in South Orange and began volunteering with the organization before joining the board. She was once honored at the Community Appreciation Dinner, and said in an interview with the News-Record that it’s one of her favorite events of the year.
“Our clients are helping the businesses here and these are employers that recognize that,” Bugg-Levine said. “It’s important to rely on that knowledge and it’s a great relationship to have with the businesses. They’re responsive to the community needs and this gives them some recognition as well.”
Winkler also stressed the importance of working with the businesses in South Orange, because it’s where most JESPY House clients live.
“They live, work and breathe here,” she said. “This is where they work, eat and go to the movies. This is where they spend their money. Most of our clients don’t drive, so they’re social here. They’re voters and constituents, so it’s important to have a local presence here.”
Photos Courtesy of Sonya Kimble-Ellis