Lara Arp has served as the Director of Who Is My Neighbor 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 three children, and also works part-time on staff at the Reformed Church of Highland Park.
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.
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.”
Austin Morreale has lived in Highland Park for eight years and in addition to working at The Cave, he is also the service director for NeighborCorps Re-Entry Services, a local non-profit organization. Austin has worked with children in a variety of ways over the years, including coaching youth soccer teams, assisting with a Sunday school class at the Reformed Church of Highland Park, and working as a lunch and recess paraprofessional at Irving Primary School. His interests include writing, reading, history, soccer, social justice issues, and dogs. He and his wife have two daughters (one in middle school and one in high school), and a deaf pit bull named Poe.
Jessica Jimenez is a parent that found her second vocation when she became a mom in 2014. She moved from Venezuela to the United States in June 2016. By profession she is an architect formed in Venezuela. Jessica loves exploring, learning and playing with little people. Hiking with friends and family is a must in her week. She enjoys every moment that life provides, meeting new people, languages, walking, honesty and a good day outdoor.
Jewel Soroka, a.k.a .Ducky, has worked at Bartle Elementary school for 11 years. She received the Education Support Professional of the Year for Bartle Elementary School in 2018 and Middlesex County Education Association Friend of Public Education Support Professional of the Year 2018. The name Ducky came from a kid 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 Klioze received her Masters degree in Elementary Education at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and just finished her first year of teaching third grade in Northern Virginia. 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.
Ruby was born in Ghana, West Africa, where she spent most of her childhood and later moved to the United Kingdom. She currently is in her senior year at Rutgers University pursuing her bachelors in Social Work and Psychology. She is a firm believer that “The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who cannot do him any good, and how he treats people who cannot fight back” (Abigail Van Bure). For this reason, she takes delight in working with people of all ages from diverse backgrounds with dignity and respect. She loves to give back to society by volunteering to make a difference. Her past and current volunteering opportunities and experiences include being a field coordinator at the National Disaster Management in Ghana, Citizens Advocate for the elderly and currently as a Recovery Coach Specialist for Prevention Links. She looks forward to using the opportunity given her at WIMNI to enrich the lives of the families she gets to work with and also as a source of growth in her personal life, education and career.
Barbara DaCruz grew up in the state of Delaware, where she also graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelors. She majored in Psychology and minored in English. She is now currently attending Rutgers University for a masters in Social Work. She previously worked at a psychology lab, called the Infant Caregiver Project, where she worked with many families. She also speaks Portuguese due to growing up in a household that spoke both Portuguese and English.
Courtney Stormann is a first year MSW student at Rutgers University. Hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Utah, double majoring in Psychology and Sociology and minoring in Human Development and Family Studies. Courtney has worked with children in a variety of ways, including: research assistant in a child development lab, volunteer in a therapeutic preschool, direct support professional at an afterschool program for foster children with developmental disabilities, and summer camp counselor. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, camping, and photography. Courtney looks forward to continuing her education and experience with children and families at Who Is My Neighbor.
Elizabeth Rubin is originally from Boca Raton, Florida. She recently graduated from the Florida State University in Tallahassee and majored in sociology. She fell in love with the beauty of New Jersey and decided that she wanted to pursue a master’s degree in social work at Rutgers. She has a strong passion for helping others and is excited to immerse herself within the diverse Highland Park community. HER goal is to make every person who visits WIMNI to feel welcomed, appreciated, and understood. Not only is she an advocate for humans, she also is an avid volunteer for several programs that aim to rescue animals and find them their “forever homes”. In her spare time, you can find her at the dog park!
Brittany Sjaastad is a first year MSW student at Rutgers University. She has always felt a need to help others no matter what, which is why she is here! She loves Disney and is a true child at heart. In fact, she’s been to Disney World 192 times! In her spare time she finds concerts to go to because music is her passion. This past summer she went to 17 different concerts in 5 different genres of music. If you love Disney or music, she’s your girl!
Amber Allen is originally from Collingswood, NJ and recently graduated from Rutgers University- Camden with her bachelors in Psychology. She switched gears and is currently pursuing my Masters of Social Work at the New Brunswick campus. Some activities she enjoys are painting, traveling, and spending time with her family. Summer is her favorite because she eats a lot of ice cream and goes to the beach in her free time. She has a cat named Binx who is her very best friend! She is always excited to learn about new places, people, different languages and anything to help her connect to others.
Nirmala Mary Thomas (Nimmi) is pursuing her Ph.D. in the field of Environmental Sciences with the option of Exposure Science from Rutgers University since September 2014. She has a Bachelor of Technology in the field of Biotechnology Engineering from SRM University, Chennai, India. Nimmi was born in a mission hospital in South India and has witnessed her family serving in community health and education centers. She has also lived in the United Arab Emirates and Australia during her schooling. Her current projects in grad school are related to associating indoor air quality to occupational health and behavior in low-income apartments in Northeastern US and testing the collection efficiency of portable electrostatic bioaerosol samplers. She currently serves as a graduate mentor fellow for the Rutgers Honors College and a graduate fellow of the Rutgers Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. She is expected to graduate by 2020.
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.
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.
Monique has more than 18 years of experience as a Teacher of the Vision Impaired (TVI). She began her TVI career at St Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City, NJ, where she was a classroom teacher for students with multiple disabilities and an early intervention specialist. Following her years with St. Joe’s, Monique began working as an independent, itinerant TVI in various public and private K-12 schools. Her TVI experience includes children ranging in ages from 3 months to 21 years. Monique graduated from Teachers College with a MA in Special Education, specializing in Blindness and Visual Impairment. Currently she is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University. Her research interests include the intersection of race and disability, inclusion, and the integration of braille and access technology. Monique holds a National Library Service literary braille transcribing certification.