Mercer County an Exemplar of Special Needs Support

by Daniel Meara, Communications Manager for Arc Mercer

View the entire newsletter for more articles: 2017 – NJAC County Biz – July

Some well-known words of Mahatma Ghandi’s echo in Mercer County: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its vulnerable members.” How deeply Mercer takes this quote to heart is evident in its support for people with special needs and their families.

The county’s commitment to providing programs that assist and integrate the people with special needs has won it the admiration of many, not least being Senate President Stephen Sweeney.  Senator Sweeney, during a tour of The Arc Mercer to mark Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, heard one local official after another praise Mercer’s attentiveness to people with Intellectual and Development Disabilities (I/DD).  On learning of the county’s commitment and compassion in this area, the Senator offered this compliment: “Mercer County clearly has supported the special needs community, and many other communities could learn from their example.”

The beneficiaries of the county’s host of Intellectual/Developmental Disability programs are more than 1,000 people with special needs and their families. Through grants, work designated for people with special needs, and collaboration, Mercer County ensures the individuals served become integral members of their communities.

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes takes understandable pride in the county’s focus on special needs.  Executive Hughes said, “Through Occupational Training and Employment Services, people with developmental disabilities are able to become an important part of the workforce in Mercer County by providing a skilled labor force. Our employee café is run by clients of the Arc Mercer, where they receive job training in the area of food preparation, customer service, packaging and more.

He added, “I’m proud that Mercer County is playing an important part in raising awareness about intellectual disabilities. The bottom line is I believe each of us is gifted in our own way. I’m most proud that we continue to do all that we can to help all of our citizens discover their own gifts, so that they can all live full and wonderful lives.”

Integration of special needs individuals takes many forms and is found in all of life’s arenas: employment, recreational and educational. These opportunities are manifest at several county-owned properties. Executive Hughes mentioned one of the pair of cafés in county office buildings that are operated by special needs consumers. As he noted, the cafés, which serve hundreds of county employees every day, give the individuals who run them real-life, community-based restaurant experience.

Another example are the janitorial program set asides Mercer provides for. Through these set-asides, I/DD consumers have the chance to become gainfully employed in professional cleaning services.  More than a few have embarked on careers that got their start through these set-asides.

Getting around the county can present a challenge for special needs individuals. Mercer’s Transportation Coordinating Council identifies transportation demands and integrates social services according to those needs. In addition, Mercer County’s T.R.A.D.E. Transportation assists with the transport of I/DD consumers who live in the far reaches of the county to allow them to take part in programs that enrich their lives.

The Arc Mercer has had a long collaborative relationship with the county. During a recent site-visit to Arc Mercer’s Occupational Training Program, Mercer County Office on Aging and Disabilities Resource Connection Executive Director Eileen Doremus remarked on the close ties agency staff has with program participants. A similar close and fruitful relationship exists between the county and its special needs residents.