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Empowering Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

The Hirsch Family

For some families, life before SCARC, Inc. can be a bit challenging. Managing everyday life – work, family and other obligations – is complex enough, but trying to do that while also caring for your loved one with developmental disabilities, making sure they are living their own meaningful life, is easier said than done. The Hirsch Family found out just how much SCARC truly helps to empower its individuals and to offer respite to families with loved ones with developmental disabilities.

Fifty years ago a beautiful baby boy was born in Bergen County, NJ to a mechanical engineer, Curt and his wife, LaVonne. They immediately loved their blue-eyed wonder, Peter, but knew that something wasn’t quite right.

Shortly after Peter’s birth, his doctor diagnosed him with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome occurs when an individual has three, rather than two, copies of the 21st chromosome. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome, which include low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes and a single deep crease across the center of the palm. Every person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees or not at all – however, individuals with Down syndrome have an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer's disease, childhood leukemia, and thyroid conditions.

Although this syndrome is a common chromosomal condition, occurring in one in every 733 births, in the 1950's, it was a frightening diagnosis.

Regardless of their news, the Hirsch’s continued to love their son and find ways to ensure he lived a well-rounded and engaging life.

“As months passed Peter became harder to control and required constant supervision, depriving our four other children of attention,” said Curt Hirsch. “At age 6 Peter was admitted to Woodbridge State School where he lived until he was 21.”

The beginning of his own life came after Peter became an adult at 21. He lived in private homes with other individuals with Down syndrome and was within that system for 11 years, until the sponsored home he lived in closed.

 “Thankfully his sister Marie was very much a part of Peter’s life and was ready to help us take care of him at that time,” said Curt. “He then moved in with her and her family.”

Marie, having grown up with a disabled brother, made herself a career as a special education teacher and has taught in Franklin since 1980.

 “It seemed only natural that we took Peter in,” said Marie. “My then six-year-old daughter thought it was great, as she got to play with her ‘cool’ uncle. They also did their chores together, learned how to do laundry and prepared simple meals.”

The living situation worked for a while, but as time went on it became increasingly difficult to manage everyone’s schedule and still schedule social events for Peter.

“While it was great for my daughter and we enjoyed having him around, it grew very difficult,” added Marie. “It was stressful managing everyone’s schedule. We wanted Peter to be independent and live his own life, but he still needed a lot of assistance to enable him do that and finding that time was hard.”

During her tenure at Franklin School District, Marie had met Richard Lecher, Ph.D. , SCARC’s Chief Executive Officer, at various events for individuals with developmental disabilities. Over the years, their paths had crossed many times, even before Richard had learned of Peter and his disability. It was only a matter of time before the two had talked about Peter, his disability and his needs.

“Marie was a great teacher. She worked hard to enhance the lives of her students with developmental disabilities in the school district,” mentioned Richard. “When she told me about Peter, we were more than happy to help her and her family. She has been inspirational in the lives of many, including her brother.”

SCARC’s support was very helpful in getting Peter into a sheltered workshop right away, and eventually in 1998 when SCARC’s Hampton group home opened up, Peter moved in. He has been very happy there.

Since then, Peter has taken full advantage of everything that SCARC has to offer. He is currently a part of SCARC’s Harvest Home Clothing Program and partakes in many sporting events including bowling, basketball, and hiking, as well as dances, movie nights, special activities and outings. He also sings with SCARC’s choir.

“I can’t thank SCARC enough. Our family is very fortunate to have such a caring and dedicated organization provide so much for Peter,” said Marie. “He is never at a loss for things to do and we are relaxed knowing that he is well-taken care of, in good hands and is genuinely happy. SCARC was and has been a great relief for us, as well as a solid support system. He spends Sundays and holidays with family and is proud that he has his own place to return to – just like the rest of us.”

Peter still lives in the same group home that he moved into in 1998 and lives an independent life, full of socialization and family – whether it’s his nuclear family or his extended SCARC family.

Latest News & Upcoming Events

SCARC Receives UPS Foundation Grant
Dr. Richard Lecher, President and CEO of SCARC, Inc., announces that the SCARC organization has received a grant of $10,000 from the UPS Foundation of Atlanta, Georgia.
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2017 Gordon Shelton Memorial Walk-a-Thon
Gordon Shelton Memorial Walk-A-Thon Sussex County Fair Grounds May 21, 2017 - 11AM-3PM http://scarcwalk2017.kintera.org
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