TRENTON , N.J. – New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin today highlighted the achievements of several individuals and organizations awarded at the 27th Annual Governor’s Conference on Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities.  The ceremony recognized honorees for their work to enhance the lives of people with disabilities throughout New Jersey.    

“It is a pleasure to recognize these outstanding individuals and groups who help ensure that all residents are able to enjoy the benefits of recreation,” Commissioner Levin said.  “Recreation plays an integral role in the lives and rehabilitation of people with disabilities.  I am truly inspired by this year’s award winners.” 

Seven awards were presented at the 27th Annual Governor’s Conference on Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities, which took place on Wednesday, May 24 in East Windsor.

Evelyn Aronow Dolan Citizen’s Award for Advocacy and Promotion of Recreation for
Individuals with Disabilities

The Evelyn Aronow Dolan Citizens Award for Advocacy and Promotion of Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities is given to an individual who - through legislation, education, public relations, technical support or financial support - has promoted growth and development, and has made a lasting contribution to community recreation services for individuals with disabilities in New Jersey.

This year’s award was presented to Alexandra and Dr. Paul Abend, a father and daughter team that created a year round sports program for disabled children called the Sports Clinic for Kids with Special Needs.  The Abends started the sports clinic four years ago and with only three participating children to develop skills such as fine motor, muscle tone, balance, eye-hand coordination and self esteem. Today, the clinic consists of over 20 participants ranging in ages from five to 15 years, and with varying disabilities including tourette’s syndrome, down syndrome, autism and neurological impairments.  The free program is open to any child with special needs.  

New Jersey Distinguished Agency Recreation Services Award
The New Jersey Distinguished Agency Recreation Services Award is given to an agency that has developed outstanding recreation programs and services that demonstrate a commitment to the integration of people with and without disabilities.  Three categories are established within this award for nonprofit, governmental and for-profit agencies. 

This year’s Nonprofit Award was given to the John D. Young Lions Blind Center in Absecon, which was established to provide opportunities to the blind or visually impaired.  In cooperation with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, the Center began offering recreational computer training at the center.  With the use of two specialized pieces of software, the program has given the blind and visually impaired an opportunity to learn technology previously unable to them, including grocery shopping, emailing friends and family, taking educational online classes, and playing cards on the internet with both sighted and blind players from around the world.

This year’s Governmental Agency Award went to the NJ Library for the Blind & Handicapped, which hosts a monthly Children’s American Sign Language Story Hour as part of its Deaf and Hard of Hearing Awareness Program. This program provides an opportunity for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to experience something that hearing children often take for granted: a library story hour.  The story hour was created for first, second and third graders from the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf.  The story hours are open to the public and have been expanded to include handicapped teens and learning disabled elementary school children who use American Sign Language as part of their daily routine.  The story hour raises public awareness of the importance of English literacy for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

The winner of this year’s For-Profit Award went to Quest Karate in Long Valley, which started an adapted karate program with Matheny Medical and Education Center in the summer of 2004 led by Tom Kately, owner and head instructor of Quest Karate.  On a weekly basis, Quest Karate runs practice for 10 of Matheny’s students.  Staff adapt the karate moves to suit each student’s needs and abilities. The students learn basic karate moves, and at the same time enhance self-discipline and self-esteem.

Alvin Slootsky Exemplary Recreation Lifestyle for an Individual Award
This Alvin Slootsky Exemplary Recreation Lifestyle for an Individual Award is awarded to an individual with a disability who exemplifies a lifestyle enriched through participation in recreation experiences, and who by that participation, has enriched the lives of others.

This year’s honoree was Clarinda Marie Brueck, a teacher, record-breaking athlete and amputee from Fairview.  Clarinda teaches physical education and science classes, and coaches a number of sports at Lincoln School in Fairview.  Besides her successful educational and professional endeavors, Clarinda has participated in marathons, triathlons, biathlons and iron man competitions for over 20 years. In the Ironman World Competition in Hawaii in 1997, she was the first female amputee to finish. Her accomplishments are enviable for any athlete, with or without a disability. 

Ted Kaplan Exemplary Recreation Team Award
The Ted Kaplan Exemplary Recreation Team Award is presented to a recreation group, club or sports team that has created unique ways to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. 

The award was given to the Franklin Thunder Basketball Program in Franklin Township, Somerset County, in which young women in grades 7 through 12 and on the high school basketball team serve as mentors for disabled high school students in the community.  Sponsored by a grant from the United Way, the program develops team skills, increases socialization opportunities and improves fitness for participants.

Ruth Hughes Innovative Accessible Recreation Facility Award
The Ruth Hughes Innovative Accessible Recreation Facility Award is presented to a recreation facility where opportunities go above and beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and encourages individuals with disabilities to engage in recreational activities and pursue once in a lifetime experiences.

This year’s award was given to Sensory Garden in South Brunswick Township.  Six years ago, Ellen Gambatese, the mother of a young man with a disability, had a vision of creating a park facility in South Brunswick that would meet the diverse needs of all of the Township’s residents with an emphasis on the inclusion of people with disabilities. Her recommendation was to create a garden in one of the Township parks to include flowers that not only had visual appeal, but also appealed to the sense of smell and touch. The sensory Garden at Veterans Park has planting beds elevated by a retaining wall in a serpentine pattern. The retaining wall allows residents in wheelchairs to touch the raised planting beds, and serves as a guide for people who are blind or visually impaired.  Additional renovations compliant with the American with Disabilities Act include trail improvements and upgrades to the existing trailhead parking area.

The Annual Governor’s Conference on Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities is sponsored by DCA’s Office on Recreation, the New Jersey Commission on Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities, and the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association.