Making Real Changes One Family at a Time

It is with great delight that I accept the Champions of Change Award, on behalf of the Alianza Emergency Preparedness Project Plus and the extraordinary families, who by their participation and support have made the program a great success.

Alianza Emergency Preparedness Project Plus (AEPPplus) is designed to address the disaster readiness of persons with access and functional needs living in a culturally diverse, majority Hispanic/Latino community (Perth Amboy, NJ).  AEPPplus brings individuals, not only to the table, but to leadership positions in disaster readiness.  The overarching goals of AEPPplus are to integrate all individuals into their community’s overall disaster readiness preparations; shift attitudes and change systems to assure a truly responsive and embracing community.

What sets the program apart is its unique one-to-one approach which makes possible the creation of an in-depth, highly personalized “Self Directed Emergency Preparedness Plan”. With a truly person-first design, AEPPplus brings individuals, not only to the table, but to leadership positions in disaster readiness. 

With an emphasis on outreach through non-traditional community organizations and by establishing real partnerships among participants and emergency management officials at all levels, AEPPplus has had exceptional success and acceptance.  Beyond the personal readiness aspects, participants have become an integral part of the community’s preparedness efforts.  Many have successfully completed Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training and have participated in a Regional Red Cross Shelter Drill.  This inclusion and integration has helped to shift attitudes about the necessity of functional needs support from a “special” support to a universal support.  Eventually, AEPPplus will merge best practices into the overall policies and guidelines of local and state first responders and create an easily replicable program which can be adapted to meet local conditions.   

Initially, there was a degree of skepticism regarding the overall success of the program. Characteristics of the community include income and literacy barriers coupled with high unemployment and related social concerns. Often, persons with functional needs believe “they have no voice” and questions of personal preparedness and disaster readiness are never considered.  Through AEPPplus not only have personal needs been addressed, more importantly, participants have become a part of the system, fully participating in established practices; working to develop a ready community, a real community where people… all people… live, work and visit.

AEPPplus is a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities (formerly known as the Cerebral Palsy Association of Middlesex County) and is funded as a Grant of National Significance by the United States Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children & Families.

Venus Majeski is Director of Development & Community Relations of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.

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