In a partnership that could be a national model for the provision of lifelong services for the developmentally disabled, Rowan College of South Jersey, the Schools for Neurodiversity at the Gloucester County Special Services School District, Rowan University and its medical schools, and Gloucester and Cumberland County governments on Wednesday announced the creation of the collaborative Academy for Neurodiversity on the RCSJ campus.
The three-story Residences at South College Drive will provide 24 one-bedroom, rent-supported apartments for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with a community room, lounges, laundry facilities and office space for an on-site counselor of special services, said Kimberly Gober, executive director of the Gloucester County Housing Authority.
The project is being funded with $7.365 million in National Housing Trust funds and $3.75 million in grants from Gloucester County.
Guy Davidson, the RCSJ dean of academic achievement & special services who will chair the new Academy for Neurodiversity, said the impetus behind the new initiative is “to strengthen, expand and enhance the connections and partnerships that are already in place and create new relationships for the benefit of the students and communities that we serve.”
“At RCSJ, we’ve been in the business of serving the disabled community in Gloucester County and the surrounding region for a long time,” he said. “With our expansion into Cumberland County and the creation of the Academy, we’re more deeply connecting two regions of people and organizations that have made serving the neurodiverse community their lives’ work.”
Former state Senate President Steve Sweeney, now the chair of the Sweeney Center for Public Policy at Rowan, said the academy could be a game-changer for individuals and their families.
“In a single location, we offer multiple levels of education and workforce training, medical, mental health and behavioral services, legal advocacy, transportation, athletics and recreation, and, today, we did the groundbreaking for an on-site housing complex,” he said.
RCSJ President Frederick Keating was thrilled to be part of the process.
“Rowan College of South Jersey is fortunate to be strategically positioned in the two counties of Cumberland and Gloucester, enabling the unique relationship between the Schools for Neurodiversity at the Gloucester County Special Services School District, the Vineland Public School District, our dual campus Adult Center for Transition programs and the college’s flagship partner, Rowan University, to facilitate connecting the groups and people that care about neurodiverse individuals,” he said.
Gloucester County board of commissioners Director Frank DiMarco noted that Gloucester County has been on the cutting edge of a wide range of shared services, from countywide tax assessment and ambulance services to jails, but said the partnerships that have been created to provide coordinated special services to the developmentally disabled have been the most rewarding.
Chad Bruner, Gloucester County administrator and Rowan University board of trustees chair, said the collaboration is key.
“What’s incredible here is the partnerships between RCSJ, Rowan University and our medical schools, the Special Services School District, the two counties and our housing authority that have teamed up so smoothly to serve the needs of those who need our assistance the most,” he said.
Sweeney, who championed programs for the developmentally disabled as both Gloucester County freeholder director and as Senate president, joined Keating in leading a tour of the Stephen M. Sweeney Center for Special Services’ job training and placement programs and the Bankbridge Developmental Center’s autism unit following the news conference.