Mt. Bethel Village, Warren's first-of-its-kind residential project for adults with developmental disabilities, has recruited Deputy Mayor Carolann Garafola to serve as executive director.
Garafola, currently the principal of the Horizon High School of Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey in Livingston, has long worked with people with disabilities. She noted she began her career teaching younger students, then high school-aged students—and will now be working with adults.
"I feel like I'm growing up with my students," she said.
The facility is under construction on Mt. Bethel Road, next to the Mt. Bethel Volunteer Fire Co., but Garafola's work is already waiting her Sept. 12 start date.
"What I'm going to be doing is meeting with parents an going to conventions to talk to people about this project," she said. She added she'll also be writing job descriptions for the staff to be hired, co-ordinating the facilities' color schemes, decorations and furniture based on the needs of residents, and performing outreach with other organizations.
She will manage the day-to-day operations of the facility after its opening, expected in the fall of 2012.
Mt. Bethel Village will serve as a residence for an estimated 41 adults with such disabilities as autism and developmental disability. Using assisted living centers as a model, the project may set a new model for addressing the residential needs of such adults as they age.
The project is the brainchild of Warren resident Paul Abend, and is being undertaken by Chelsea Senior Living, the company behind the Chelsea Assisted Living residences. Garafola noted she was invited to seek the post by Chelsea CEP Herbert Heflich, for whom she had worked as a speech therapist for in an assisted living center some time ago. She will work out of the company's Fanwood offices.
"It's kind of ironic because I started my career there," Garafola said.
During the time the facility is constructed, Garafola will also be meeting with the 200 or more people who have inquired about finding a residence for family members. She'll need to establish criteria for acceptance, and the standards for applications.
"This is all new ground we're breaking here," she said.
Garafola has some experience in launching facilities for people with special needs: she helped open the Horizon High School, guiding the center's growth from a single classroom to its current eight classrooms. Prior to her work at Horizon, she was the executive director and principal of the Children’s Therapy Center in Fairlawn.
“It’s very exciting to be involved on the ground floor with such a unique project,” Garafola said. “The need for housing for this population is so urgent, we are already getting inquiries from interested families even before the structure exists.”