In 2013, the Adler Aphasia Center — an innovative and highly respected provider of support services to people with aphasia — opened a satellite center in West Orange at JCC MetroWest. On August 30, that facility moved to a larger space in the township, at Congregation B’nai Shalom, paving the way for more members and enhanced programming.
According to a recent study, 70,000 people in New Jersey have aphasia, a communication disorder most often caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. It can strike people of all backgrounds and all ages. Indeed, said Sharon Glaser, the West Orange center’s program director, her members range in age from 20 to 90.
Today, the Adler Aphasia Center — founded in Maywood in 2003 — offers three locations, in Maywood, West Orange, and Toms River. Additionally, it runs bimonthly aphasia communication groups in Bridgewater, Haddonfield, Hammonton, Maywood, Monroe, Morristown, North Bergen, Scotch Plains, and Toms River.
Ms. Glaser, a speech pathologist who lives in Edison, not only works in Adler’s West Orange facility but also is a part-time facilitator for Monroe Township. She shares her speech pathology duties in West Orange with fellow professional Randi Rosenstein.
All Adler centers use group treatment to help members regain conversational skills and resume the activities of daily life. They also provide social opportunities for members to connect, support for caregivers, and community awareness and education.
Before its move, the West Orange center rented space from the JCC MetroWest. With covid, “The JCC needed to socially distance its programs, so our space was no longer available,” Ms. Glaser said. With the Adler Center’s old quarters now being used for youth programs, “it gave us the opportunity to look for a space that would be better for us.”
Thanks to the efforts of Adler board member Jill Tekel and community leader Barbara Trench, Ms. Glaser was steered to its new home. The two women now are the co-chairs of Adler’s upcoming open house. (See box.)
“It’s a wonderful community,” Ms. Glaser said of the congregation. “We’re renting two classrooms that have been refurbished.” In addition, the synagogue is letting the aphasia center use other areas of the building, such as the large conference room and lobby.
“We have more room,” Ms. Glaser said. “It will allow us to increase membership and build programs requiring more space.” Even more, “One of our members is a contractor. He helped us design and install a brand new kitchen. And we also received a generous donation of office furniture.”
Ms. Glaser is particularly pleased that the new center has been able to welcome people back in person for the new semester. Of course, she said, they are masked, socially distanced, and temperature-checked.
“Right now, we’re open as a hybrid,” she said. Usually, the center serves coffee and cake at 9:30 and begins its first program at 10. Now, there is no food. And rather than offering three class sessions, it offers only two, with the first program from 10 to 11 and the second from 11 to 12. “Everyone goes home at 12 and has lunch at home. Then we Zoom from 2 to 3.
“During covid, we closed and moved to Zoom,” she continued. “It worked out very well. We were proud to get everyone up and running so quickly.” Some members still join only online. There are some advantages to that. “One of our new members, who went to Maui, just Zoomed us today at 2,” she said. “He said he wasn’t going to miss his group.”
Programs change each 15-week semester. This semester, West Orange is offering a music class, Adler’s Got Talent, Sports and Spats (famous rivalries), and a class called Chatting about Aphasia, where people tell their own stories. “We’ll also welcome some researchers to discuss the latest developments,” Ms. Glaser said.
The center also offers game groups and “Name Your Adventure,” where members plan out fantasy trips in detail, determining transport arrangements, lodging, and other elements of a trip. Zoom support groups are held for caregivers. Right now, as a result of the need for social distancing, a computer lab is unavailable.
The center’s volunteers “are itching to get back,” Ms. Glaser said. “One volunteer came today just to see the new facility.” On October 22, the West Orange Center will hold a formal open house and “gala ribbon cutting.”
The center now has 21 members “and we hope to grow.” It also hopes to interact more with other Adler Center aphasia groups. “We visit Maywood every August for its annual play, and are very happy to have a partnership with Adler Israel, at Hadassah College, which has an Anglo group for immigrants from English-speaking countries,” Ms. Glaser said.
Ms. Glaser, who lives in Edison, has been a speech pathologist for more than 35 years and has worked with people from all walks of life, from children through corporate personnel. Working at Adler “is so unique,” she said. “You’re able to really help someone enhance their communication abilities and their quality of life, their emotional well-being. Their worlds have turned upside down. There’s a lot of depression.” And yet, she said, “we’ve formed a wonderful community and have been able to help both members and families.”
“I learn something every day from our members,” she continued. “I feel like the thing that impresses me most is the resilience of our members and how they’re able to keep going in the midst of their disability and changes in their lifestyle and ability to work.” She’s proud of the work the center is doing. In fact, she said, “We’ve had quite a few return to work from our program here. A very proud moment.”
Her goal now is twofold. First, “I definitely want to increase membership. A lot of people with aphasia are sitting at home, not getting the support they need. I also want to increase awareness in New Jersey and reach out to underserved communities. Essex is very diverse,” with its Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish-speaking communities. “That is a challenge.”
Funding comes from different sources, including tuition — although it is traditionally Adler’s policy never to turn anyone away for lack of funds. The center also has two grant writers, and recently received a grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.
For more information about the West Orange program, call Sharon Glaser at (973) 530-3981 or email her at email@example.com.
Who: The Adler Aphasia Center
What: Will hold an open house at its new West Orange location
When: Friday, October 22, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Where: B’nai Shalom, 300 Pleasant Valley Way, West Orange
What else: Special presentation by guest speaker Alan Zweibel, original SNL writer, five-time Emmy award winner, best-selling author and former Adler Aphasia Center family member. Breakfast provided, raffle prizes and giveaways from Something Special, the exclusive Adler store, both outdoors and indoors. Anyone entering the building should wear a mask.