March 20, 2013

“Enable New Jersey” Helps Disabled With a Group of Volunteers 900 Strong

According to a national survey, eight out of ten people with disabilities have no regular social contact with those who are not disabled. Such statistics help further the mission of Enable New Jersey, which has been providing a wide range of services to the disabled for the past 24 years.

Interaction with members of the community is a recurring theme for the organization, which will honor architect Michael Graves and Justice Virginia Long at a gala celebration on April 27, to be held at the Grounds for Sculpture. Art by people with disabilities will be on view at the event.

“We take our commitment to helping people belong to a community very seriously,” says Sharon Copeland, the chief executive officer of Enable, which is based in an office on Roszel Road. “We are thrilled to help people who want to live in the community. We know that when there is more interaction between people who have disabilities and people who don’t, there is greater understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities. They get involved in everyday activities, which is so important.”

Mr. Graves, who lives and works in Princeton, has been paralyzed from the waist down since contracting an infection in 2003. He will be recognized at the April 27 event for his most recent work designing products geared to individuals with limited mobility. “The work he has been doing lately is fantastic,” Ms. Copeland said. “People with disabilities are so often invisible. It’s wonderful when people like him hold up this cause and say, ‘our lives can be richer.’”

Ms. Long, now retired and living in Lawrenceville, “has ruled on different issues that help improve the lives of people who have disabilities in New Jersey,” Ms. Copeland said. “She still works part-time for Fox Rothschild and continues her commitment.”

Ms. Copeland cites Enable’s volunteer program, built “on a shoestring,” as unique. “Last fiscal year, we had 900 people involved as volunteers,” she said. Ms. Copeland is particularly enthused about the organization’s work with the Center for Faith Justice, which pairs high school students with non-profits.

“There has been a real commitment to help young people understand broader societal needs and issues through this program,” Ms. Copeland said. “Each week, five or six kids come to our day program and do projects. We’ve had a youth group coming to one of our group homes for six years to play board games, read to them, and just kind of hang out. What is so critical about all of this is that often, people with disabilities don’t have great social skills. They tend to be invisible. And these volunteers help them feel valued. They bring respect, a sense of importance. It’s a fantastic way to help the broader community understand the needs and the humanity of the people we serve, as well as helping make connections.”

Some volunteers want to work one-on-one with a client, while others prefer a group setting. “We love it when a family says they want to do something together,” Ms. Copeland said. “But if someone wants to work one-on-one, we do our due diligence and run criminal background checks. We are cautious.”

The organization’s interfaith advisory board takes a holistic approach to people’s needs. “Faith is important to a lot of people with disabilities. We are very respectful of backgrounds and choices, and we don’t try to push any denomination,” Ms. Copeland said “We have a good group representing different faiths One of our interns this year is from Princeton Seminary. We want to get the message across to people going into the ministry that it is important to be open to people with disabilities.”

The April 27 fundraiser for Enable at Grounds for Sculpture is titled “A Taste of Art & Spirits.” Live and silent auctions will include dining opportunities, private wine tastings, artwork, tickets to television shows, and more. Visit