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.
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!
Sarnya is an International student from India doing her 1st year MSW in Rutgers School of Social Work. She is an engineering undergrad with experience working in an IT firm and also in leading a small nonprofit organization in India. She can speak English, Tamil and a little French. She believes in the language of love above all other languages and that is what keeps her going. She is studying social work because she is naturally good at helping people and wanted to do it for the needy. Her long term interest is to work on women issues and gender equality. She love kids and is having a great time here.
Jessica is currently in the bachelor’s of arts social work program at Rutgers University. She is an undergraduate senior getting ready to apply to the one-year advance standing master’s degree program for next year. She is a full-time student but a part-time clerk right at Stop and Shop as a dairy clerk.
Molly grew up in Passaic County in NJ. She transferred to Rutgers after attending Montclair State University her freshman year. She changed her major from elementary education to social work after taking her first sociology class during her sophomore year. She joined a sorority, Sigma Kappa, in the spring of 2015. She also joined the Douglass Residential College at that time, which is an on-campus program for women’s leadership. She loves animals and has 2 dogs and a cat. She is passionate about human rights and helping others. Her favorite season is summer; the beach is her favorite place. In her free time she enjoy reading, writing, makeup, and photography. After graduation, she hopes to get my MSW/LCSW and eventually work with kids and teenagers in therapeutic settings.
Briana Wills is a graduate student at Rutgers University working on her Masters Degree in Social Work. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a career in Art Therapy. Along with working with people, she also has a tremendous love for wild-life, art, and nature.
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.