OAK RIDGE In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President. The film, “ The Sound of Music,” made its premiere. Martin Luther King Jr. led 25,000 civil rights activists on a four-day march in Selma, Ala. The Vietnam War sparked protests worldwide. The Beatles performed their first stadium concert. Pope Paul VI addressed the United Nations. These events made history.
So to in the Paterson Diocese, history was being made. On March 5, 1965, Bishop James J. Navagh officially established the Department for Special Education (now the Department for Persons With Disabilities), with Father John Wehrlen as its founder and executive director. An agency of diocesan Catholic Charities, the DPD will celebrate its golden anniversary in 2015.
The creation of DPD began with the mission to serve people of all ages with developmental disabilities. Its first programs included religious education, a summer camp for children and adults and a nursery for children. Five years later, it became clear there was a need for housing for adults with disabilities. DPD opened its first group home — Murray House in Paterson. It was a dream of Father Wehrlen to open a home specifically for adults with developmental disabilities. That dream of Murray House, now located in Clifton, continues today, currently providing a home for three men and three women with developmental disabilities. It is the oldest group home in the state.
Today, DPD operates nine group homes and two supervised apartments throughout Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties. In addition, it operates the Gruenert Center, a vocational day program for 55 men and women in Lake Hopatcong. The agency also hosts Saturdays at the Center where it provides recreational activities for young adults with disabilities who live in the community. More than 100 adults with disabilities of all races, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs are cared for by DPD.
Now as DPD marks 50 years of providing help and creating hope, it will continue to create history by opening its newest group home — the Giuliano House — to coincide with its golden anniversary. The new house, which will begin its construction phase this month, will be located in Jefferson Township at 1077 Weldon Rd., down the street from DPD’s headquarters here in the Oak Ridge section of the township. This is the first DPD home to be built in more than a decade. The house is named after Dr. Joseph Giuliano, a dentist, who has provided many DPD’s residents with dental care. He is the longest serving DPD board of trustee member.
“We are calling this 50 year celebration ‘Pride in our past, celebrating the present and building for the future,’” said Scott Milliken, executive director of DPD.
The Giuliano House project was made possible through the Olmstead Act, federal legislation created to eliminate state-run institutions. The act states that state institutions create unjustified segregation of people with disabilities. Last summer, the North Jersey Developmental Center in Totowa was closed as a result of this act and several more institutions are slated to close. A state plan has been developed to move residents living in these institutions into communities for the next several years. According to DPD, institutions have been more expensive to operate compared to community group homes.
The Olmstead Act also validates what DPD has already been doing for the past five decades. DPD’s mission has always been to allow those with disabilities live within the community and live their lives as fully and independently as possible with love and dignity.
The Giuliano House will be DPD’s 12th residential home and will welcome four new residents who previously lived at a North Jersey institution for many years. “The home will be for those who have significant physical illnesses aside from developmental disabilities. We are happy to welcome them to the DPD family. They are looking forward to moving in soon,” said Milliken.
The home will be a ranch style house to accommodate the residents’ needs, which include special evacuation exits, lifts and modified bathrooms. Like all DPD homes, there will be staff members working around the clock. The Giuliano House will have a nurse present to enhance the professionally trained staff.
To make this dream come true, DPD has set up a capital campaign with a goal of $200,000. Already $130,000 has been pledged. Also, Partners in Faith, the diocesan capital and development campaign, made a recent allocation to DPD of $30,000.
With the help of the Paterson Federation Knights of Columbus, a registry has been made similar to a housewarming or wedding registry with specific items needed to furnish the new home with appliances, furniture and other household items. To see a full list, visit www.dpd.org/registry.
DPD is creating a souvenir journal to mark the special occasion of DPD’s golden anniversary and the opening of the new home. “We invite everyone to be a part of DPD’s history,” said Milliken.
DPD will also host a 50th anniversary cocktail party at the Brownstone in Paterson on Sept. 15 and is inviting all its benefactors, who sponsored the building of the Giuliano House. Major sponsors will have their names engraved on a plaque that will hang in the Giuliano House.
DPD is always grateful to its donors and welcomes them to visit any DPD home. Chris Brancato, director of development and public relations at DPD, said, “Visitors are always welcome to come to one of our group homes, visit our programs and get a tour. When you step foot in our group homes, you realize that our residents and clients are really being cared for with dignity and respect.”
“Thank you to all as we commemorate this wonderful mission that Father Wehrlen began and to all the directors that continued this mission from Tom Barrett to Julie Tatti,” said Milliken. “DPD has been extremely lucky to have also such a fine board throughout the years, which has consisted of priests, religious sisters, Knights of Columbus, many professionals and now, a resident.”