Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pennsylvania professor goes the distance for disabled

Doctor Diane Cavanagh doesn’t mind the once a week drive down to Lake Hopatcong’s Gruenert Center, which is a branch off of the ever bearing tree that is the Department for Person’s with Disabilities, or, DPD for short, in Paterson. In fact, she actually likes it: “Once you get to the Gruenert Center and meet the people there,” she says, pausing to recollect her experience for the past three years, “It’s just a wonderful group.”

And it’s a group that has only benefited enormously from her continued support. So much so, that the center actually awarded her as Person of the Year for 2007, and held a party in her honor this past February at the Brownstone in Paterson. It’s an honor that she says is the greatest award of all.

The Gruenert Center, nudged in along the edge of route 15 near Pathmark and Jefferson Diner, and right above Frank’s Pizza, works to orientate the mentally disabled and place them in society so they can live happy and healthier lives. And what better person to aid in the process than the good doctor, who has been teaching special education at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania for the past 16 years.

“[Helping the disabled] has been a passion of mine since I was 7 or 8 years old,” says Dr. Cavanagh.

One of the ways she’s made a difference is by getting the attendees, who she refers to as “clients,” up and out of their seats. “I gave them ceramics and physical fitness to do. They’re adults, and this keeps them active.”

It also makes them a more appealing group to the workforce looking to hire employees for relatively simple, but important, jobs, like packaging and labeling. And Dr. Cavanagh fully understands the unbridled potential of the mentally disabled, helping to garner jobs for many of the clients who come to the center: “I put together some job training kits to develop their fine motor skills and build their attention span,” she says, and in this way, she has already made them a more efficient group to the public.

This is mainly because she is changing the idea of what an intellectually developmentally disabled person can do, which is something that Kathy DeYoung, who has been with the DPD for the past 22 years, has seen for herself first hand: “[Dr. Cavanagh’s] philosophy is to have a person centered environment where each of our people are stimulated and challenged to work to the best of their individual talents.”

Since many members of the mentally handicapped community still live with their parents or in group homes, a great deal of the time, special education only reaches so high for them, fostering the idea that the mentally disabled can only handle so much. But the DPD feels otherwise.
As Rick DeYoung, the Developmental Assistant for Public Relations and Kathy’s husband puts it: “The vision for the DPD is for it to be recognized by all as a ministry for people with disabilities where they are fully accepted with love and encouraged toreach their full potential.”

It’s a place that offers them the opportunity to feel like a part of society just like everybody else, and Dr. Cavanagh strives to make that mission a reality: “I see it really as a calling.”
And Kathy DeYoung agrees: “Overall, our people appear to be happier than ever before.”

To find out more about the center or to visit the site, contact either Rick or Kathy, at Or just stop on by. As Rick puts it, sometimes, it can get a little crazy, but you couldn’t meet a nicer batch of people. Not even if you tried.
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