PHILADELPHIA — Rowan College of South Jersey recently opened a program where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities of all ages can get support for their housing, education and medical needs all at once, creating a one-stop care model that officials hope will become a national model.

The Academy for Neurodiversity, located on the campus of the community college in Gloucester County, will include a new three-story residential building with 24 one-bedroom units for adults with disabilities, job training and educational programs and recreational opportunities such as a sports league. The residential building, which is under construction, will have common areas for socialization.

Having one place where services are concentrated is especially important for adults with disabilities, Rowan College President Frederick Keating said.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

When people with intellectual and developmental disabilities graduate from programs meant for school-age children between ages 18 to 21, they are at risk of losing connection with services. The new program aims to assist in that transition by connecting services for different phases of life in one centralized place.

The program will also expand access to medical care for children, Keating said. Traditionally, parents in South Jersey had to take their child to either Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia or Nemours Children’s Hospital in Delaware. The Regional Integrated Special Needs Center at Rowan, a health clinic located on the same campus, signed on as a partner to the initiative and provides a closer option for parents.

A partnership with Gloucester and Cumberland Counties is enabling the academy to provide human services support such as job training and connecting families to area school districts to assist with education. Other partners include the community college and Rowan University for those seeking higher education. Rowan’s two medical schools are also involved to help with health care.

Long time in the making

Officials from school districts, counties and the academic institutions gathered late last month at Rowan College to formally launch the program. Stephen Sweeney, the former president of the New Jersey State Senate, attended to celebrate the fruition of a personal and professional dream more than a decade in the making.

“There is nowhere around this state, and I’m willing to challenge in the country, that puts all these pieces together,” he said.

The father of a child with Down syndrome, Sweeney knows how difficult it is for parents to navigate the wide-ranging services a child with a disability needs. He started pushing for a one-stop shop in 2010 when he was served on the Gloucester County board of commissioners.

His greatest fear: finding a place for his child to live when he no longer can provide that care. Including housing in the program gives him peace of mind.

During his remarks at the event, Sweeney teared up.

“I’m hoping that when people see this, other places say ‘we should do this,'” he said.

© 2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.