By Gordon Nary
Photo; Scott presents an award to Kaleigh O'Halloran. The Department of Disabilities (DPD) of Catholic Charities honors the people we serve. Each year DPD gives out 5-6 Outstanding achievement awards and 1 Frank X. Graves award who was a former Mayor of Paterson. NJ. That person is also honored at the NJACP Community Stars Award dinner in Princeton.
Gordon: When did you join St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and how has the parish enhanced your faith?
Scott: I became a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in 1992 when I moved to Jefferson Township NJ from over an hour away in another County. I came to Jefferson as a result of me working at the Department for Persons with Disabilities, A Catholic Charities Agency in the Diocese of Paterson. The DPD is a private, nonprofit, 501 (C) 3 organization that provides residential, vocational, case-management and spiritual services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. DPD operates in three counties and Jefferson Township, Oak Ridge is where the main offices are for DPD along with several of its programs. Saint Thomas has always enhanced my faith not only because of the work and support the Parish gives to the people we serve, but also being a Parishioner myself with my wife and raising three daughters as well. The Pastor at St. Thomas, Rev. Matthew Twiggs and Parochial Vicar Rev. Dawid Zajecki have been more than supportive of our mission. Past Parochial Vicar Rev, Jhon Madrid is also a member of our Board of Trustees and Pastor Emeritus Monsignor Fitzpatrick is still involved in all we do as well.
Scott: I started at DPD when I was 22 years old and have been with DPD for 26 years. I was very fortunate to have two great mentors in Thomas Barrett and Julie Tatti who encouraged me to get an advanced degree and taught me what it meant to be a good role model, person and Executive Director over the years. They took me under their wing and taught me invaluable lessons of running a large organization. I am fortunate enough to have a great Associate Executive Director in Joanna Miller who has been with DPD for 19 years and has grown up in the organization with me. We often have joked between us that someday the kids were going to take over the family store and here we seem to be. Even though retired from DPD, Tom and Julie are always there for us and actively engage in agency events and continue to lend their support to us and the organization. Joanna and I are lucky to have GREAT staff and we always say the staff, especially the direct care staff who are so caring in what they do, are the backbone of the organization.
Gordon: Approximately how many people with disabilities does your agency assist?
Scott: DPD operates in three counties, has an annual budget of $8,000,000 dollars and provides support to 72 adults in our Group homes and Supervised apartments, we care for 58 people Monday through Friday at Gruenert Center in Lake Hopatcong, a day program offering a wide variety of activities and work during the day, we provide case-management/Support Coordination services for over 50 families, we operate Saturday at the Center for 30 families as respite and activity for young adults, have an active volunteer program of over 100 active volunteers and have a wonderful Pastoral Care program which provides Bible Study, Lenten activities, Rice Bowl and visiting those who are now in nursing homes or other facilities. We are also fully accredited by COA, The Council on Accreditation since 1986.
Gordon: What have been some of your greatest challenges in meeting special needs of the disabled?
Scott: Obviously the greatest challenge is funding and meeting the needs of our community. There are over 8,000 adults in NJ waiting of get into a program like ours. We are very thankful to our supporters that help us raise funds every year to provide all the extra things that government funding does not provide. It allows us to have quality programs and deal with situations that are sometimes outside the box.
Gordon: At a time when many parishes and agencies may not utilize many social media tools, what has been your experience in using social media communication resources?
Scott: DPD has used social media for several years and find that more and more people use social media to get their message out. Our Development Director, Christopher Brancato does an amazing job with tweeting and facebooking and we have been retweeted by Catholic Charities USA, Temple Grandin, and the Supreme Knights of Columbus. We have taken classes at NYU on leveraging social media and have used their advice on a strategy and our operational plan includes social media goals and objectives. We have an online auction for our annual Golf Outing event and use Patrick’s Pals and use an online funding site that uses social media to raise funds for Patrick’s Pals.
Gordon: Based on your experience, how aware are pastors of that there are people with disabilities in their parishes?
Scott: Under the guidance of our Bishop, Most Reverend Arthur Joseph Serratelli, STD, SSL, DD, and our Vicar General, Rev. Msgr. James T. Mahoney, PhD, they are very supportive of Catholic Charities and all we do for our disabled population. We have quarterly meetings with new pastors to show them all that Catholic Charities does as a whole and how we can help if they have a situation in their Parish where people need help. DPD is very lucky to be able to have ads in our Parish bulletins for both volunteers and staff and I personally receive about three calls a week from families who are looking for support who have been directed by their Pastor to give me a call.
Gordon: People with intellectual and developmental disabilities may need catechesis. How is this need addressed?
Scott: DPD was started by Monsignor Jack Wehrlen in 1965 and one of his early efforts was providing catechesis. That program has now turned into C.A.R.E – Catholic Adult Religious Education which is provided at St. Thomas on the second Monday of every month for over 30 adults with developmental disabilities. This is open to people we serve in our programs and families living in the community and usually involves a religious lesson, singing with our CARE choir and always a snack and reflection.
Gordon: What was you response to the new Sesame Street Muppet with autism?
Scott: Part of DPD and Catholic Charities values is Advocacy and Convening. I think it is wonderful that students these days are more understanding of differences and more tolerant of each other. It all starts with education and the children in this world will one day be the adults in this world. Educating our youth, I believe is an important part of our responsibility. DPD has a wonderful relationship with our local high school, Jefferson Township, NJ. Principal Dr. Plotts and I have worked together to provide and annual Dunk for Disabilities basketball game at the school and we have students with special needs come to DPD on Fridays to work with cooking and life skills training. DPD also offers a scholarship to two local students interested in going into the special education field each year.
Gordon: I hope our readers will consider making a donation to help support your critical work. What are your top three greatest needs?
Scott: DPD constantly fundraises to support all of the services we provide. Our top needs and how you can help is by sponsoring one of our events, where every dollar gets put back to the services we provide, donating money for something on our wish list, or becoming one of our volunteers and making a difference in someone’s life with a disability.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview and your leadership in addressing the needs of the disabled.