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.
Chandni is a first year MSW student at Rutgers University. She was born in India and came to the US when she was in 6th grade. She loves helping others and has great passion for spreading mental health awareness. Chandni has worked with children in a variety of ways, including: LEGO instructor, PreK intern helper, research assistant in Social, Emotion and Character Development lab, research intern in school system improvement project and paraprofessional mentor for foster children. In her free time, she loves to dance, read fiction novels and hang out with friends and family. She looks forward to gaining this unique experience working with children and families at Who Is My Neighbor.
Chidimma Enekebe grew up in New Jersey. She is a 1st year graduated student in the Rutgers MSW program. She majored in psychology in her undergraduate studies. She was also part of the Rutgers Foster Care Counseling Project in which she was a mentor for a child in the foster care system, providing transportation for the child to and from therapy session and doing recreational activities with them.
Elizabeth (Liz!) O’Donnell is from South Brunswick, NJ and recently graduated from Felician University with a Bachelors in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. She is currently pursing her MSW at Rutgers University while working part-time as an Academic Specialist in Kean University’s Disability Department. She has previously worked with kids as a substitute teacher in preschool and elementary school settings, an aid in an after school program, and a camp counselor at the YMCA. Outside of work and school Liz loves watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netlifx, taking naps with her cats (Rory and Molly), and going down the shore with her friends. She loves meeting new people, hearing their stories, and learning new things!
Gabrielle Callaway is originally from Mobile, Alabama. She recently graduated from the University of Alabama and majored in history with a minor in African American studies. She has an interest in pursuing the Addiction Counseling Training certificate within the Social Work program and will also be playing softball for Rutgers University. She is incredibly excited to work in both the Family Den and The Cave, as well as explore all the other opportunities to work within the Highland Park community. In her free time, she loves playing with her dog Luna!
Hannah Lockspeiser grew up in Highland Park and has been here ever since. Hannah graduated from Barnard College with a bachelors in Psychology. She began a PsyD program at Hofstra, and gave birth to her son after her first semester. She decided to pursue social work instead so that she could better balance her family life and career goals. Hannah enjoys dancing, Zumba, and spending time with her family.
Meixin Sun is an international student from China and in her second year at Rutgers in the Masters of Social Work program. Reading books and doing sports are her favorite activities. She is interested in learning more about American culture through her internship at Who Is My Neighbor. She hopes to help facilitate getting to know each other better and creating more happiness.
Songwon (Song) Oh was born in South Korea and is currently residing in Morristown, NJ. She recently graduated from the College of Saint Elizabeth with a Bachelors in Sociology and a minor in Social Work. She is currently pursuing her MSW at Rutgers University as a full-time student. Her passion, in the field of social work, started when she became legally blind at the age of 17. One day, she desires to work with adolescents and young adults with developmental disabilities in a school setting. Outside of school, Song loves spending time with her families and friends, watching crime and mystery tv shows, listening and singing to music, and making YouTube videos. If you ask her what her favorite food is, she will most definitely say American, Korean, and Spanish. As for desserts, she really loves milk chocolate and ice cream!
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.
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.