Photo – Mr. Shawn Rebman and his wife Jennifer
Take a moment to think about having a child. Think about the pleasure of experiencing a first smile, or the reaction when they taste something new for the first time, or even the simple joy of clapping their hands together in excitement. These are simple treasures that every parent should experience. Now take a moment to think of your very own child struggling to accomplish these things and the fear and helplessness that you would feel in turn. The Early Intervention Services for Salem County Special Services School District (SCSSSD) exists to make sure no parent goes through that rattling experience alone with children aged birth to three years old.
I recently had a chance to sit down with the newly appointed Director of the SCSSSD, Shawn Rebman, to discuss the important mission the organization takes on. “Having a child with special needs is a daunting task, regardless of the severity of said need. In that sense, our practitioners focus on helping eligible babies and toddlers learn the basic and brand-new skills that typically develop during the first three years of life and provide their families with the tools to succeed long after we’re out of the home. Simply put, we make sure that these delays don’t result in dead ends.”
Mr. Rebman has a team of 35 professionals that service the needs of 145 families across an area of four counties with Salem County being their primary responsibility. He was appointed to Director on November 1, 2013 after being in the district for six years. With his background, he has a unique understanding of the challenges presented not just to the staff but to the children and their families as well.
“We have the unique opportunity, as a family centered model to be able to be accepted into a family or guardian’s home to provide them with supports. These may be in the form of learning activities or other structured experiences that affect a child directly or that have indirect effects through training parents or otherwise enhancing the care giving environment.”
These professionals are beyond a doubt very special people. “Regardless, of the professional background, our practitioners have to be champions of children first. Early Intervention isn’t a profession where you point your finger and say, I’m going to make a financial windfall, but it is one where the intangible rewards are exponential. Seeing the challenges overcome first hand, getting the hugs and high-fives cause us to be emotionally prosperous.”
The entire team, Mr. Rebman insists, are some of the most generous people he has had the pleasure of knowing. “In addition to the professional credentials, I’m very fortunate to have a group working alongside of me that genuinely cares about wanting our children to be healthy and happy and go out of their way to make it happen. I’d be remised if I didn’t point out that our specialists are our children’s greatest cheerleaders, next to their families. As difficult as our job is, it takes an even bigger professional to be able to compartmentalize the rung of emotions, both good and bad, just long enough until the door closes behind them. Our mission isn’t for the faint of heart. There isn’t a day that you don’t take a minute, no matter how brief, to appreciate how fortunate you are in life.”
Though, the giving nature of the group is immense, they could really use the help of the community. “Something that my staff feels strongly about is giving back, and as such they started a few years ago collecting clothes, toys and food to distribute to the families as needs arise. In years past, we would have a small holiday party with a few families attending and distribute the additional fruits of our labor. With some of the local charitable agencies being forced to cut back on their offerings this season, we’re feeling the brunt of a more exceptional request for assistance.”
“This year, we are attempting to magnify the overwhelming flood of requests by foregoing the smaller, more intimate setting that usually see’s 5-10 families and collect toys, clothes and food on a more ambitious effort in order to support more families in their time of need. What we are normally able to remedy internally has become so significant that we are now looking for ways to meet the needs voiced to us.” This, dear reader, is where we come in.
While the SCSSSD appreciates donations year round, the holidays bring with them an extra weight. “We’re simply looking to supplement the collective efforts of our staff to obtain non-perishable food, toys and clothes/blankets/outerwear, even gently used, to give to our families in need. With those needs so significant, I’m really hesitant to pigeon toe our needs to that outside of the aforementioned. In years past, we’ve normally put together a full compliment of food baskets for the holiday season such as turkey, trimmings an non perishable foods, coupled with an assortment of clothes and wrapped toys which, more often than not become the only source of gifts the family receives that season.”
Because of the SCSSSD’s status under the Department of Education and the Department of Health they cannot accept monetary donations. “The needs are extensive and while we collect for the holidays, we truly never stop with our efforts to provide our children and families with a chance at a better life year round with what we are able to amass. Whether it’s families making room in their child’s toy box for Santa’s expected arrival to someone going out of their way to support our effort by purchasing a toy, we’d truly appreciate whatever comes our way. We’ve done well to date with what we can do, but simply fall short.”
If you can help this holiday season, the deadline for donations is December 20th so that the team at SCSSSD can have time to put together everything for the families.
I know, it seems like everyone needs a little help this time of the year. I know that it is hard on all of us as a blue collar community. Here’s what I suggest if you find yourself not in a position to get something new and shiny to the group: visit stores like the Arc Thrift Store in Salem City. Then, you’re helping two causes at once by purchasing gently used goods that will support the Arc and the families through SCSSSD all at once. Make a trip out to Ranch Hope Thrift Store. There are so many resources available that can help us as a community in this way! Do you think $10 doesn’t go far? Go to your neighborhood food store, ask for a manager, and tell them exactly what it is that you are trying to do. You’d be surprised what you can get in a bag that will help feed a family for that amount of money. We all know you have already been asked a lot by so many. We are simply suggesting that it doesn’t take thousands of dollars to make an impact right here in your own back yard.
As for Mr. Rebman’s goals and community outreach, I believe the work done is an amazing and essential part of our community. Giving any group of people hope and empowerment is so very crucial to a successful community, and I applaud the work of the entire SCSSSD.
“As the new director, one of my external goals outside of the everyday operations of the agency is to reach out to the community and network with like minded professionals. More often than not, people in our community and around the region for that matter don’t know we exist. I’d like to change that. One of the biggest means through which we come to serve our children is through referral and the State Child find. The easiest way to help continue what we do is recognize infants and children who may have a need developmentally or otherwise and refer them, or have their pediatrician assist, to us through the regional hotline 1-888-653-4463. Additionally, I’d like to think that I’m open minded enough to be able to sit and listen to any ideas that the community may have as to how we can better serve them and that I welcome those opportunities to discuss the possibility to collaborate: (856) 678-6686 ext 12 or through email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
“On top of that, we’re always looking for part-time professionals who work in occupational, physical or speech Therapy as well as nurses and other certified professionals both in education and the field of allied health.”
If you can be of any assistance to this great group of people, please make yourself known. You can see a link to their child find poster below and reach out to Mr. Rebman directly. As always, thank you for all that you do.