Public Info

Freeholders Announce First Office For People With Special Needs Office In New Jersey

Chairman Granados announces office as part of initiatives for 2018

Union County Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados and Freeholders Linda Carter, Christopher Hudak and Bette Jane Kowalski join Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, Union County Manager Alfred Faella, members of the Elizabeth City Council and Board of Education in cutting the ribbon officially opening Union County’s first inclusive public playground in Mattano Park in Elizabeth in October, 2016. The ceremony took place during Union County’s Family Fun Day in the park. Fun for all ages and abilities, the inclusive playground at Mattano Park features a variety of accessible play equipment including a Merry-Go-All, Roller Slide, Roller Table, Swing Seats, and more. (Photo by Jim Lowney/County of Union).

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has established the state’s first Office for People with Special Needs, which will promote inclusion, conduct outreach, and provide recreational, educational and social opportunities for residents living with special needs.

Union County Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados announced the new office as part of his “Moving Union County Forward” initiatives for 2018 in his address during the county’s 162nd Annual Reorganization. The office uses existing manpower and resources, at no additional expense.

“This Freeholder Board is dedicated to promoting equal opportunities and inclusion for all residents, and especially for those living with special needs,” said Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados. “Having volunteered my time extensively within these communities over the years, I am excited by the creation of this office, and I pledge to continue to keep working to ensure that no resident is left behind or unable to pursue their dreams or an opportunity because of a disability or special need.”

The Office will operate under the new Division of Outreach and Advocacy in the Department of Human Services.

The creation of the Office for People with Special Needs was immediately hailed by advocates and administrators in the Special Needs community:

“It is tremendous news to hear that Chairman Granados created this office as part of his initiatives and that the Union County Freeholder board is deepening its commitment to serving individuals with disabilities,” said Kaylee McGuire, CTRS, Community Recreation Coordinator, for the Recreational Therapy/Child Life unit at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside. “We are happy to see the great work that the county does for individuals with disabilities continue, as it provides incredibly meaningful activities, services, and resources. These programs are vital to the health and well-being of our citizens, and provide opportunities for children and adults to be active and engaged members of the community. The County of Union has been a true partner and friend to us at Children’s Specialized Hospital in serving the community, and we are excited about more opportunities to come. ”

Karen Lewicki, Special Olympics Area 5 Director, noted her organization has enjoyed a “strong” relationship with the County and its Parks Department for years and was excited to learn about the creation of the new division.

“They (County) have been more than generous donating facilities for league play and competitions, hosted several events such as Saturday morning Golf Program and offered to run our track meet at Warinanco Park in Roselle,” said Lewicki. “We value our partnership, and believe they provide a much needed service to the special needs community and we hope to continue our relationship as it becomes a more ‘disabilities’ focused organization moving forward.”

The County has provided a strong platform for engagement for special needs residents, especially during the past few years, having broken ground on a Sensory Friendly Trail in the Watchung Reservation that will open later this year, the creation of a new inclusive playground at Mattano Park in 2016, and Granados’ announcement of the Level the Playing Field grant program, as Union County will become the first County in the state to have every municipality build an inclusive playground for children of all abilities. The County also continues to fund “Sensory Friendly” theatre performances at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway.

The mission of the Office for People with Special Needs is as follows:

  • To provide recreational and social opportunities for residents living with special needs including physical, cognitive and developmental challenges;
  • To provide outreach to community groups and organizations to identify needs and interests of persons and families living with special needs as an opportunity to design effective programs;
  • To develop additional resources to fund programs targeting engagement of persons living with special needs;
  • To identify and implement an effective means of communication to educate community residents on programs and social events available such as yoga, ceramics, zumba, cooking, golf, swimming, sensory friendly theatre shows, a carnival and a barn dance.

The Office for People with Special Needs has already established partnerships with the following agencies/organizations to create programming:

  • Special Olympics of New Jersey Area 5 (Union County)
  • Children Specialized Hospital (Mountainside)
  • New Jersey Devils
  • Community Access Unlimited (Elizabeth)
  • Kean University (Union)
  • Prevention Links (E-Port Community Center)
  • Linden Spectrum All-stars
  • High Expectations Inc. (Clark)
  • Union County Educational Services Commission (Westfield)
  • Elizabeth Public Schools
  • Elizabeth Parent Support Group
  • Inroads to Opportunity (Roselle)
  • Jardine Academy/Cerebral Palsy League (Cranford)
  • Ashrams for Autism (Yoga national company)
  • Summit TryCan
  • Elks Eastern Central District (Union County)
  • Newark Bait and Fly Casting Club

For more information or to be on the distribution list please email the office at or call 908-527-4781. Manuel Ramirez is the Coordinator for the office, and Nicole DeAugustine is the Assistant Coordinator.