The Phoenix Center: Helping students with disabilities reach their full potential


The Phoenix Center was founded in 1991 by Geraldine A. Gibbia and Douglas Berrian with 16 students and 12 staff. Today, under the leadership of Executive Director Julie Mower, The Phoenix Center employs 196 staff that serve 145 students with autism and multiple disabilities, from 62 districts and 10 New Jersey counties.


The mission of The Phoenix Center — working in partnership with families and community — is to develop the potential of each student with significant developmental disabilities and those on the autism spectrum ages 5 through 21. We do this through customized, unique and individualized programs aligned with the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, or NJSLS.


  • To prepare students for life beyond the classroom;
  • To provide a full range of parent and family support services such as:
  • Parent educational workshops;
  • Sibling support groups;
  • Parents and family night out events;
  • In-home visits;
  • To implement an integrated learning approach that combines the best of several methods for students and their individual needs;
  • To offer highly customized and individualized educational and therapeutic programs; 
  • To provide access to cutting edge technology in classroom and therapy settings.


We have a customized approach to curriculum development and instruction. We focus on students’ natural abilities and talents to inform our individualized instruction and draw out their maximum potential. We have an integrated approach that combines the best of several methods for students and their individual needs.


  • Students engaged in 3,930 hours of Consumer Family Life Skills in the areas of cooking, laundry, kitchen organization and living space maintenance.
  • Students welcomed an additional humanoid robot to The Phoenix Center Family. Our original robot, Nao, has a sister named Zora. This year, 57 students were able to enhance their listening, decision making and gross motor skills in over 200 hours with this cutting-edge modality.
  • Our fleet of 11 school vehicles transported 73 students in our Rising Futures Employment program to 40 structured learning experiences at 30 work sites in five counties throughout New Jersey.
  • Fifty-nine families benefited from our Parent Education Workshop Series, and 79 families attended Family Night Out events during the school year. 
  • Our students have engaged in more than 90 hours of pet therapy, facilitated by one of our occupational therapists.
  • Our Community-Based Instruction program has conducted 500 trips into our communities so that students can learn how to grocery shop and run errands that many families take for granted.
  • Students in our Chorus performed at Bergen PAC in Englewood and subsequently benefitted from the instruction of one of the artists in residence at Bergen PAC.
  • One of our students is participating in a technology internship at Liberty Science Center.


Resources for The Phoenix Center are developed through the efforts of The Friends of The Phoenix Center Foundation, which include individual and major gift cultivation, grant writing and events.


  • PSE&G Foundation;
  • Columbia Bank Foundation;
  • The Knights of York;
  • Nutley Kia;
  • Novartis Foundation;
  • Dircks Foundation;
  • The Hyde and Watson Foundation;
  • Knights of Columbus;
  • Inserra Shop-Rite Supermarkets.


One of our core values is that every student is someone’s son or daughter, and should be given the opportunity to prepare for life beyond the classroom. The focus of our philosophy is about developing real-life skills through our Transition Program, which includes community-based instruction, supported employment options and vocational training.

Conversation Starter

For more information, go to: or call Julie Mower, 973-542-0743, ext. 302, office; 201-390-1936, cell; or Marc Restaino, 973-542-0743, ext. 340, office; 973-204-2217, cell.