Lara Arp has served as the Director of Who Is My Neighbor, Inc. since September 2011. Born in Texas, Lara lived her middle and high school years in Nigeria. She returned to the U.S. for college and spent the next ten years in Dallas managing a midwifery birthing center. She returned to school and earned a Masters of Divinity degree while working in a church and community-based art gallery. Lara moved to New Jersey in 2008 and to Highland Park in 2012. She is married, has four children, and also works part-time on staff at the Reformed Church of Highland Park.
Anita Shukla-Accardi is the mother of two wonderful children who have enjoyed The Family Den since its earliest days. During her undergraduate education at Rutgers, she had the honor and privilege of working closely with Dr. George Atwood, internationally acclaimed psychological theorist, as both a research and teaching assistant. Through Dr. Atwood, Anita was introduced to Intersubjective Systems Theory, a developmentally and relationally grounded practice theory for working clinically. She went on to complete her MSW also at Rutgers. She has been working in the field of mental health and human services for over 15 years, primarily with adults whose experiences in childhood have shaped the challenges that they face in adulthood.
Last year, Anita decided to take her love for yoga and meditation to a deeper level by enrolling in yoga teacher training at Tula in Aberdeen. She completed a 200 hour certification, and is scheduled to graduate from advanced training in October 2016. She is also involved Kula for Karma, a non-profit that brings free yoga to special populations in need, through which she is currently training to work in Adult Oncology settings.
“Witnessing and supporting my own children’s’ growth and development has been the most powerful learning experience of my life. So often, in my work, I have wondered about the texture of the relationships my clients experienced as children, but had only limited access. When I watch my children, I see the possibilities for their intellectual, social, emotional, and creative growth unfold in process. I am honored to witness and support the growth of the Den Families in any way that I am able. The Den has been a lifeline for my own family, and even though we live Edison we have felt truly welcomed and supported by this community. I hope to contribute to this spirit of hospitality and support as a part of the Den.”
Meredith Gard, a Clinical Social Worker and former nursery school teacher, is extremely excited to become part of The Family Den community. Meredith began her teaching career at the nursery school summer program at the JCC in Scotch Plains. She then when on to become a full-time teacher at Amazing Life Games in Washington, D.C, a collaborative, mixed age nursery school that emphasized social learning, and social-emotional development. Meredith is currently employed as a social worker at Hyacinth Foundation in New Brunswick. Meredith received a Master of Social Work from Rutgers University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from American University with a major in psychology and a minor in both early childhood education and women’s studies.
Meredith lives in Highland Park with her husband and two children who attend the middle school and high school. When Meredith’s children were younger they all really enjoyed reading and doing art projects together. Now that they are teen and preteen, they like to play card/board games and bake together (when the children are up for it!). When Meredith has time to herself she loves to read, take yoga classes, do creative projects, and take walks with friends.
Amilly Castro is a 5th year student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. She will be graduating Spring 2017 with her BA in Social Work with a minor in Psychology. She hopes to further her education at Rutgers University next year through the Master Social Work Program. Amilly has experience working with after school programs at elementary schools, mentoring programs with both middle school and high school kids, and summer camps with children from the age of 6-13. This is the first time she is able to work with infants and toddlers. Nonetheless, she is excited to learn new things through this opportunity. Amilly went to high school in Piscataway and now lives in New Brunswick. She has a baby brother and a baby sister whom she adores and loves to shower with attention every chance she gets. She has two other sisters; one she considers her best friend because they are only 11 months apart, and one that just entered middle school. When Amilly isn’t at school, or working, she enjoys practicing a healthy life style. Her favorite way to distress is by hitting the gym, and investing time in trying to maintain healthy eating habits. Amilly also practices living with a positive mindset. She believes that it is a person’s positivity that fuels progression.
Hi, my name is Briel Knight. I’m currently a graduate student at Rutgers University, and I am looking forward to this year and getting to know everyone. Some interesting facts about myself, I received my undergraduate degree in elementary and special education and taught for 3 years at Newark, NJ. I love movies, fashion, reading, football and trying new food. My goal after graduation is to continue working with kids because kids are the future. I would like to continue helping children inside and outside of the classroom because that is where I find my passion.
I attend Rutgers University majoring in Social work with a minor in Sociology. Upon graduation I will be perusing my Masters in Social Work. My focus post-graduation is to work alongside adolescents. My interest in working with adolescence developed through my volunteer experience at a mentoring program in New Brunswick. My favorite sport to play is football, but I enjoy staying active and playing other sports for exercise. I believe that being active is important, so many of my activities involve some type of moving around. I am excited to work alongside the Family Den and the Cave. If there is any questions please do not hesitate to ask, I enjoy talking to people and engaging in good conversation.
Jennifer Torres was born in Elizabeth, NJ and grew up in Rahway, NJ. After graduating from Rahway High School she went to The Academy of Massage Therapy in Jersey City, where she completed her massage therapy certification. A few years later she realized her true passion was social work, which led her to enrolling at Union County College where she earned her Associates degree in Science. Jennifer is currently residing in Edison, NJ and is working on her undergraduate degree in social work, at Rutgers University. She plans to continue her education and pursue a career as a school social worker.
My name is Rebecca Mnych. I am 22 years old and am an undergraduate student at Rutgers University studying for my degree in Social Work. I have an Associates degree in Liberal Arts from Mercer County Community College. After college I hope to see myself working in a hospital setting helping those battling cancer as well as offering my support and services to their family members. In my spare time I enjoy going to the beach, sailing on my friend’s sailboat, hanging with my friends and family, and taking my dog Bailey to the dog park. I also enjoy traveling and just sitting on the porch reading a good book by the fire pit.
Ducky has worked at Bartle Elementary school for nine years. The name Ducky came from a kid ten years ago and never left. Ducky enjoys hiking, swimming, and loves good food. When she not working with kids she likes to spend time with her friends and family.
Julianna is working on her masters degree at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia; majoring in Elementary Education. She was born and raised in Highland Park, working at Yellow Brick Road Preschool all throughout High School. She has a dachshund that she is obsessed with and loves to go to the beach in her free time. She is very excited to be a part of the Camp Cool Environment family each summer!
Meredith Carman joined the Board of Who Is My Neighbor, Inc. in February 2013, was Board Treasurer in 2014 and was elected as the Board Vice President as of January 2015. She is a graduate of Rutgers University holding a degree in Landscape Architecture from Cook College and a New Jersey Certified Landscape Architect since 1999. Meredith has traveled throughout the United States and abroad studying old town development, community design and general design strategies.
Meredith grew up on a dairy farm in New Jersey and retains a love and respect for the environment and great sense of community spirit. This has prompted her to be active in her current community of Highland Park where she serves on the design review committee for Main Street Highland Park, supporting their development as a sustainable community. With the help of Sustainable New Jersey, she was integral in the installation of edible gardens at all the public schools in town. She is pleased to spend time with the students and members of the community teaching them the importance of local food production and the value of native plants in our ecosystems. Meredith also returns to Rutgers University as a lecturer and juror, further exhibiting her commitment to educate others on the importance of our connection to the land.
Her family has grown up in Highland Park for the last fifteen years. It is the only home her children have ever known. Abby, 10 and TJ, almost 8, have acquired their own passion for nature and art not only due to her and her husband’s influences but with much thanks to the amazing individuals who surround them in their community.
Nychey Michel joined the Who Is My Neighbor, Inc. Board in January 2014. She was elected to Board Treasurer as of January 2015. Nychey is a newer resident of New Jersey who hails from Upstate New York where she earned her Master’s in counseling. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in social work at Rutgers University and a certificate in Health and Aging. Her research interests are in disabilities related to chronic illnesses and wellness for mid-aged adults. Nychey connected to Who Is My Neighbor via the Better World Café. Her background is in housing operations and community development. She has nine years of experience as a student affairs professional in higher education, and recently managed volunteer recruitment and service projects for the Ronald McDonald House in New Brunswick. She appreciates community and developed a thorough understanding of interdependence by living on a college campus for several years. She believes that community is important to be good neighbors.
Kathy Malkiewicz is a native of California, but has lived in New Jersey for 25 years (and two years in Highland Park). She is a registered dietetic technician and works as the director of the Senior Nutrition Program of Union County. She enjoys active pursuits outdoors, reading indoors, and singing in the Gospel Choir at RCHP.
Rita Finstein joined the Board of Who Is My Neighbor, Inc. in January 2014. Rita moved to Highland Park in February 1964. While her three children were students in the Highland Park School System, Rita worked at the Middle School as an assistant to the librarian. She graduated from University College of Rutgers University with a BA in 1975, then went on to earn a MA in Administration from Rider University in 1980.
For 20 years Rita worked as an administrator in the English Department of Rutgers University. Food was the theme of her retirement and she began volunteering at the Institute for the Blind in New Brunswick teaching kitchen skills. When the Farmer’s Market opened in Highland Park in 1996 she joined its planning committee. Rita was the on-site manager of the HP Farmer’s Market for the next 16 years. In 2013 when she joined the WIMNI Board, she brought the idea to begin a new senior social group program (Highland Park Senior Social Network). With WIMNI as its’ sponsor, this group is celebrating its first anniversary in February 2015. Rita also volunteers at A Better World Café, is an usher at the McCarter Theater in Princeton and is an active member of a hiking club, The Hip Hikers.
Hagit Mano joined the Board of Who Is My Neighbor, Inc. (WIMNI) in September 2011 and is serving as the WIMNI Family Den advisor. Hagit Mano, a biologist and an early childhood specialist, has been bringing innovative science and math enrichment programs to various educational settings for more than two decades and currently works at Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Childhood Education (NIEER).
“Ever since I had my own children, my dream was to open a parent and child center, where children and adults interact in fun and enriching activities, and where caregivers support each other by sharing their experiences, knowledge and resources. When WIMNI adopted the idea, and Lara Arp took charge, that’s when things really started rolling and The Family Den was born. I hope this center will take a life of its own and fulfill the community’s needs and desires.”
Hagit received a Master’s degree in Biology from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and a Masters degree in Early Childhood Studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She has lived in Highland Park, New Jersey with her husband and their two children since 1996.
Judy grew up in NYC, attended P.S. 9 in Manhattan, Hunter College High School, Hunter College for one year, the University of Michigan for three, and earned a B.A. in English. After graduation she worked as a secretary for a trade magazine called “Rubber Age.” Next stop was Teachers College, Columbia University, for an M.A. in education. She lived in Japan for three years where she taught English at a Japanese company. After returning to the states, Judy lived in Nebraska, Indiana, and Texas. In Texas, she volunteered to prepare people for the citizenship test. After Texas, she moved to England for four years, during which she spent some time working in the base library. Back in the states Judy went to work for the federal government as a computer programmer in Ohio. After retiment she stayed in Ohio for about ten years and volunteered to teach English as a second language and to help in the GED program. In 2007 Judy moved to New Jersey to be nearer to her children.