All too often, families of children with special needs find themselves on a difficult journey they never expected. The goal of the nonprofit Putting the Pieces Together (PTPT) is to reach out and let these families know they may be on a road less traveled, but they are not alone.
It all began when Deborah Wertalik and Tara Banuls, a grandmother and a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum, decided to create a support group for families affected by autism. That first get-together in July 2005 set the stage for what would become a years-long tradition of special families gathering on Thursday evenings to share their wisdom and experiences, support one another through difficult times and celebrate triumphs— no matter how big or small.
Soon the organization began offering members informative guest speaker forums on a variety of topics. Then, the talk turned into action. Next, PTPT began making programs, such as listening therapy, music therapy classes, and social skills and peer modeling groups, available to families.
Holiday celebrations are also challenging to navigate for families with special needs. As such, PTPT began organizing its own holiday festivities, including Christmas with Santa, breakfast with the Easter Bunny and a Halloween party. And because everyday activities that typical clans take for granted can be seemingly impossible for children with challenges, PTPT started organizing activities for member families. Now those who otherwise might never be able to enjoy things like a family outing to the cinema could attend private movie screenings for children at the Williams Center Cinema in Rutherford, thanks to Putting the Pieces Together.
The organization is also devoted to initiating awareness at events, such as the Born to be Wild Motorcycle Run, Too Hot to Handle Softball Challenge and the Hearts 4 Autism Walk. In addition, PTPT educates the community about special needs with programming like workshops that help librarians better understand and assist individuals with autism.
One of the organization’s most noteworthy achievements— and something it saw a pressing need for— is its Special Angels Recreation program. This year-round sports and recreation activity group is for children with different needs. Activities include T-ball, bowling, soccer, flag football, basketball, family swim time, a football cheer squad and dancing with the PTPT Exceptional Dance troupe.
From its humble beginnings, Putting the Pieces Together has certainly evolved to become a burgeoning force for an often overlooked yet important population of children and families. Its mission remains simple: to create and offer recreation and social opportunities for differently abled children while providing support and educational empowerment for those who love them. “Our children deserve to have choices of extracurricular activities,” says PTPT’s founder Deborah Wertalik. “And now they do.”
Putting the Pieces Together is a recipient of the Jefferson Award, a prestigious national recognition in volunteerism. The organization and Wertalik have also been awarded plaques and proclamations from a host of government entities.
Testimonial from Selena, age 16
"I have learning disabilities, but it’s OK, because now I am learning new things every day. When I was in public school I always got bullied, but now I don’t care if kids made fun of me because I know everybody is different and that we all have different needs and desires for the future.
When I joined Putting the Pieces Together, a group that has sports and activities for autistic children, I learned that kids with autism can show the world that they can play a sport and be the best at it. It also teaches them that they learn and try new and better things. I joined cheerleading and love it.
Putting the Pieces Together is amazing. It shows children that they can do anything in this world and that they have a bright future. Parents love to see their children making friends at practice and having fun.
Autistic children are amazing and important because they have a special need that not everyone understands. I think PTPT deserves an award for being the best autism group ever, and I hope it spreads around the world so everyone will know how important autistic children are. I, Selena, support autism and I hope you will, too."
Putting the Pieces Together relies solely on volunteers, donations and grants. To lend your services or learn more, call (201)966-8738. Write to [email protected] to receive the monthly e-mail newsletter. Full information can be found at www.puttingthepiecestogether.org.