Jawonio has a long-term partnership with the people it serves. Those seeking services from can be as young as three days old. They may require assistance and care from the New City-based nonprofit throughout their lives.
“We make a lifelong commitment to people,” said’s President and CEO Jill Warner. “We have the services to make a lifelong commitment to people. We will work with them throughout their life to help them live as full and rich a life as possible.”
The full-service agency helps people with special needs at any age from infants through senior citizens. Most of its funds come from the state and federal governments with additional money coming from grants, fundraising and donations. An upcoming event is the Fifth Annual Jawonio Kidz Express on Thursday, April 26 at the New York County Club in New Hempstead.
“Jawonio is an agency that provides services to people with special needs throughout their lifespan,” said Warner. “We really specialize in people with developmental disabilities who have complex medical problems as well as behavioral health challenges. We’re very proud of the successes of our people.”
Jawonio comes from a Native American word meaning independence. Its programs have evolved over the years from its origin as a family service in 1947.
Warner said the agency has seen “miracles” from its early intervention.
Audiology testing for newborns begins at three days old using technology to identify hearing loss in infants. Warner said the agency’s philosophy is to work with children as early as possible to help them reach their potential.
Its early intervention program works with children from three months old to three years old who have been identified as having developmental disabilities. The program currently enrolls 70 children who receive occupational, physical and speech therapy.
As they get older, the children can enroll in a special education/pre-school program that incorporates learning and socialization skills in the curriculum. The classrooms are specially designed and adapted for their needs. Diana Hess, Jawonio’s chief communications officer, said that program integrates non-disabled and disabled children together in the classroom.
In the past few years, the program has modified to meet emerging needs. It serves children with learning delays, socialization issues and more recently more children on the autism spectrum some of whom are very isolated or have extreme behaviors. A child psychiatrist will be joining a neurologist on the staff.
“We are working toward stabilizing them enough to go into a normal school environment,” Hess said. “We identify what kind of supports that child is going to need.”
Warner gave an example of the effectiveness of early intervention. She said children who came to Jawonio with serious mental health problems and went through its various programs have returned years later as successful and contributing members of society.
To ensure children maintain their progress throughout the year, there is a summer camp. It features an adaptive therapeutic swimming pool that allows youngsters in wheelchairs to get out of them and enjoy the water.
Another population Jawonio services is the medically fragile in wheelchairs or using feeding tubes.
“We take care of the medically fragile,” Warner said. “We have the medical wraparound, the medical expertise to work with these children.”
Warner said the doctors in its health clinic are specially trained to work with children and adults with disabilities and their offices have equipment that medical offices serving the general public do not have.
“We’re the only agency in Rockland County with a very strong behavioral health component,” she explained. “We are also an agency that has specialized in clinical services from the beginning.”
She noted more than 300 people with persistent mental health needs are working in the community with the help of Jawonio. She said the jobs are meaningful and the wages are competitive. The New City-based organization employs 1,000 people, many of them through its document imaging services and cleaning company.
Day programs geared to those with developmental disabilities and medical issues and teaches them skills to live in homes, helps them find volunteer opportunities in the community and offers an arts program in Nyack. Some of their artwork has been featured in libraries around the county and will appear in the New City Library beginning May 1.
Day Services also includes job placement assistance which over 30 years has placed approximately 4,000 people in jobs.
“We are the largest placement agency for people with disabilities,” said Warner. “We identify people’s strengths. We find a job that can work around their strengths."
The organization also runs a successful commercial cleaning business and a scanning operation. Warner said the profits from these enterprises help to make up for the reduction in government funding.
Another component is a behavioral recovery program with the services of a nutritionist, psychologist, psychiatrist and social worker for individuals who have had persistent psychiatric and mental health problems. They are offered classes in relapse prevention, healthy lifestyles as well as job training and placement assistance. Warner said they have the capability to serve 250 people.
Over the years Jawonio has developed intermediate care facilities, group homes, and specially adapted apartment units for people with varying needs and abilities. More recently a home for Alzheimer’s patients opened with a circular interior so people cannot get lost.
Warner said the organization is working on the development of numerous initiatives with local government.