Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) launched its new Academy for Neurodiversity at the Gloucester campus Stephen M. Sweeney Center for Special Services on Oct. 25, 2023, in partnership with Rowan University and its medical schools, the Gloucester County Board of Commissioners, Vineland Public Schools, and the Schools for Neurodiversity at the Gloucester County Special Services School District.
“What we have created with the Academy for Neurodiversity is a unique collaborative program that should be a national model for integrating lifelong services for the developmentally disabled," remarked former Senate President Steve Sweeney. “In a single location, we offer multiple levels of education and workforce training, medical, mental health and behavioral services, legal advocacy, transportation, athletics and recreation, and today, we did the ground-breaking for an on-site housing complex."
This Academy was founded to ease the daunting process of identifying and obtaining the right resources for individuals with special needs who have aged out of the public school system. Students with differing abilities, ages 3-21, identified as eligible for special services, qualify for various forms of assistance while attending public school. Once a student exits high school, those legal entitlements end and arrangements for essential services become the sole responsibility of the individual, family members, or legal guardians.
“Rowan College of South Jersey is fortunate to be strategically positioned in the two counties of Cumberland and Gloucester, enabling the unique relationship between the Schools for Neurodiversity at the Gloucester County Special Services School District, the Vineland Public School District, our dual campus Adult Center for Transition (ACT) programs, and the College's flagship partner, Rowan University, to facilitate connecting the groups and people that care about neurodiverse individuals," said RCSJ's president, Dr. Frederick Keating.
The Academy for Neurodiversity was designed to function as a centralized service provider in Gloucester and Cumberland counties to guide, advocate, and locate resources for adult residents with special needs. It employs a strategic approach to connect post-high school adults with critical services across eight categories: Athletics & Recreation, Education & Workforce Training, Employment Services, Housing & Sustenance, Legal Advocacy Services, Medical Services, Mental Health & Behavioral Services, and Transportation.
"At RCSJ, we've been in the business of serving the disabled community in Gloucester County and the surrounding region for a long time," stated Dr. Guy Davidson, RCSJ Dean of Academic Achievement & Special Services and chairperson for the new Academy for Neurodiversity. “With our expansion into Cumberland County and the creation of the Academy, we're more deeply connecting two regions of people and organizations that have made serving the neurodiverse community their lives' work."
One of the most celebrated aspects of the Academy is the construction of a housing complex on RCSJ's Gloucester campus consisting of 24, rent-supported, one-bedroom apartments for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The three-story building project, funded with $7.365 million in National Housing Trust funds and $3.75 million in grants from Gloucester County, will include a community room and shared lounge areas, laundry facilities and office space for an on-site counselor of special services.
“What's incredible here is the partnerships between RCSJ, Rowan University and our medical schools, the Special Services School District, the two counties and our housing authority that have teamed up so smoothly to serve the needs of those who need our assistance the most," reflected Chad Bruner, Gloucester County Administrator and Rowan University Board of Trustees Chair.
The strength of the Academy for Neurodiversity is in its rapidly expanding network of 30+ partners who work together to enrich the lives of individuals with differing abilities by providing holistic care and resources in an unbiased, inclusive environment. At the heart of the Academy is the belief that through awareness and access to appropriate resources, along with educational and vocational opportunities, adults with special needs will come to enjoy the full range of experiences afforded by our society.
“This joint collaboration will enable the Gloucester County Special Services School District to help neurodivergent learners shape their identity and help the world to see the unique strengths of each child's abilities rather than focusing on disabilities," said James Dundee, Gloucester County Special Services District Superintendent.
This concept brings with it a sense of hope that all individuals – regardless of their socioeconomic status and how they read, think, experience, socialize, or attend – will be recognized for their gifts and extended equal rights and privileges as valued members of a diverse and thriving community.
To read more about Rowan College of South Jersey's Academy for Neurodiversity and its network of partners visit RCSJ.edu/Neurodiversity-Academy.