FAIR LAWN, N.J. – Before meeting each other and forming Elmwood Park Takes Action (EPTA), members all had one thing in common: their children were struggling.
“It was a relief to meet other parents having similar issues. I knew I wasn’t alone,” Nadja Caban Lopez, the group’s vice president, said at a recent meeting at CarePlus in Fair Lawn.
Dawn Berger, president, agreed that there is value in having “others that understand and listen in a non-judgmental way.”
The group, which officially formed in July, is supported by the Bergen County Council for Young Children, a grant-funded program run by CarePlus. EPTA has a mission to “inspire and support others to advocate and take action for children to succeed in our community.”
Its five core members have struggled with things like accessing tutoring and behavioral health support for their children. And they believe that by coming together they can push for further change.
They already have some experience.
Berger said her two children now attend school out of district, but before that, Elmwood Park “didn’t have the support my children and others needed.” The school had one behaviorist on maternity leave, she said. So she wrote letters and created a petition. The district ended up hiring a full time and part time behaviorist, she said.
“If you have a child with a behavior issue and a teacher doesn’t know how to handle the situation effectively, you have to go to others in the system,” Berger said.
Currently, EPTA is focused on educational issues, but the group has broader plans.
“We came together because of the common theme of our kids, but the initiative that we stand for is bigger than that. It is more widespread. It is about the community,” said Stalin Guzman, EPTA’s treasurer.
The group has set specific goals for 2017, including promoting a stigma-free program in the community, attending mental health first aid training, growing and sustaining parent engagement, hosting community events and volunteering.
“Getting people to be more involved, caring about our community, that is what I feel that we are all about,” said Lopez.
Members say they want more people in Elmwood Park to be engaged in what is going on in the borough. So they use their Facebook page to promote not just their initiatives, but others as well. For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page HERE .