CONTACT: Sebastian D’Elia, (908) 527-4419


Students with disabilities provide companionship to elderly patients

Elizabeth – The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced that the Runnells Junior Volunteers Program at Runnells Specialized Hospital has been granted a 2008 Acts of Caring Award by the National Association of Counties. The award was issued to only 18 counties nationwide, covering six categories of volunteer service.

Union County’s Runnells Junior Volunteers received the “best of the best” award for Elderly Services. Students from Westlake School in Westfield participate in the program.

“The students who participate in Runnells Junior Volunteers are a real treasure, and we are grateful to the National Association of Counties for recognizing one of Union County’s most successful and cherished activities therapy programs,” said Chairman Estrada. “By volunteering at Runnells, our Westlake students build lifelong skills while they help seniors in need of assistance and companionship.”

Westlake School operates under the authority of the Union County Educational Services Commission. It serves students from age 7 to 21 who live in the Union County area and have multiple disabilities including cognitive impairments and autism.

Runnells Specialized Hospital is a Union County facility located in Berkeley Heights. It provides long term nursing care as well as rehabilitation and adult psychiatric services.

The Runnells Junior Volunteers engage residents at Runnells in bingo and other past-times, serve refreshments, and assist those in wheelchairs. They also help Runnells staff with light tasks such as folding laundry.

“These simple activities add up to an enriching experience for the students, and in turn they enliven Runnells with their youthful presence,” said Chairman Estrada. “The Junior Volunteers program is a unique and innovative way to improve the quality of life for young and old alike.”

While at Runnells, the students receive assistance from the hospital’s staff in improving or learning new skills. The program is credited with enhancing social interaction and improving cognitive development. It also helps build vocational and independent living skills, providing the students with better employment opportunities upon graduation.

The Acts of Caring Award is part of Counties Serve America, a project of the National Association of Counties in partnership with Freddie Mac. The award recognizes county-sponsored volunteer programs that enhance or preserve the quality of life in communities.

In addition to the Junior Volunteers, Runnells Hospital maintains a vigorous volunteer program
for ages 14 and up. For more information on volunteering at Runnells, call the hospital at