Home Sweet Hudson Project: A Non-Profit Founded by Stevens Students

Most college seniors are bogged down with the dreaded task of large group projects that need to be completed in order to graduate. Once this assignment is handed in, most seniors celebrate and pray for at least an average grade to move on to ‘the real world’. Stevens Institute students Sarah Berger {22}, Alyssa Coelho {22}, Nicole Crockett {21}, and Ryan Rham {22} are not just seniors.

Home Sweet Hudson Project is a non-profit 501©3 organization whose mission is to raise awareness of and advocate for the often-overlooked adult special needs community. Through their work, the organization hopes to advocate for more group homes and encourage more state and federal legislative changes to help families better provide for their special needs children. Other goals of the organization include support for transportation assistance, consolidation of resources for parents, and community engagement for the persons living with special needs. Read on to learn about this non-profit that is lending a voice to those in need.

How It Got Started

home sweet hudson

When tasked with their senior design project at Stevens Institute of Technology, Sarah, Alyssa, Nicole, and Ryan were inspired by the work of local community advocate David Tornabene. David is a business consultant who volunteers with The Jubilee Center and The Mile Square Theater here in Hoboken.

The girls did not have initial plans to go this route with their project, but after a few meetings and learning more about the need in this community, they knew something needed to be done. In our conversation with the founders, they shared their lack of expertise in the non-profit world.

“We are finance majors.” Ryan shared. They collectively communicated that they had no idea how to set up a non-profit and very little knowledge on marketing their efforts. Their innocence in this space is hardly apparent to the outside world as they are already making huge strides in Hudson County with their initiatives.

To kick off the project, the founders completely immersed themselves in the adult special needs community. They meet with parents of children with developmental disabilities, a special needs educator, psychologists, the Stevens Director of Disability Services, and even attended a live stream of the Legislative Disability Caucus. It was then that they learned individuals over the age of 21 teachers what is known as “the dreaded cliff”, a loophole in the system that leaves parents and caregivers without many resources they once had.

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At this time, adults with special needs are disqualified from many resources including benefits received from Social Security Disability Insurance {SSDI} and Medicaid. Occupational program options, and arguably the most important, social interaction and community engagement can be found in the education system.

home sweet hudson

Parents who relied on these programs were thrown into tough situations when it all came to a screeching halt at the beginning of the pandemic. Sarah mentions “the parents that we spoke with were individuals that displayed courage, tenacity, and an overwhelming dedication to their children.”

In our interview, the founders share more on the need for social interaction and engagement. “A greater challenge was presented during the pandemic,” Sarah shared. She went on to explain “many day programs were moved virtually or canceled which provided a new set of hurdles for these individuals and their parents who are juggling full-time jobs.” Interaction, engagement, and companionship are necessary for the well-being of these individuals.

The Next Step

Founders of Home Sweet Hudson Project’s largest undertaking is the creation of their Buddy Program. In speaking with them, Alyssa shared insight on her experience spending time with a local member of the special needs community. This virtual visit was the inspiration behind the creation of a Buddy Program, a project that will pair trained student volunteers and special needs professionals with individuals in the special needs community to foster interaction and engagement.

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The founders have shared their plans and goals with big names in the community. They have already garnered the support of Mayor Bhalla and Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro and have developed a meaningful relationship with M&T Bank during the process of registering with the state as a non-profit.

In looking to the future, a major goal of the organization is to partner with the City of Hoboken to build a new group home for individuals with special needs. The conversation with the Mayor and Assemblywoman fared promising to make this dream a reality one day. To continue in their efforts, the support of the community is needed.

How to Help

Home Sweet Hudson Project is set to take on impactful endeavors to help move this community forward. Gathering volunteers for their buddy program is a need right now, however larger than that need are the funds to train these enthusiastic volunteers. Education modules or a background in special needs education is vital to participate in the buddy program.

Visit Home Sweet Hudson Project’s site to donate to this initiative. Follow the organization on both Instagram and Facebook @homesweethusdsonproject to get the latest on their organization and to find out more details on an exciting virtual fundraising coming this summer. 

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Written by:

Jordan and Joelle, contributors and volunteer coordinators to HobokenGirl are true Jersey Girls. Originally hailing from down the shore in Hazlet, NJ, the girls made their "rite of passage" move to Hoboken a few short years after graduating with degrees in Communications from Loyola University. Outside of their 9-5 as senior publishers in NYC, the twins can be found baking cookies, reading the latest books, or walking their yorkie-poo Chica. Like many 20-somethings, Jordan and Joelle are balling on a budget and know how to score the best deals around town