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 has three children and also works part-time on staff at the Reformed Church of Highland Park and the Affordable Housing Corporation.
Staff and Leadership
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.
Jewel “Ducky” Soroka
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.
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.
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.