SEARCH Day Program to expand with new addition


Staff Writer

Ocean TownshipOcean Township OCEAN TOWNSHIP — The dream of expanding the SEARCH Day Program for individuals with autism finally became a reality on Aug. 9.

The program, located on Wickapecko Drive in Ocean Township, will combine two separate locations into one expanded facility in a much-needed addition. An official groundbreaking ceremony was held last week at the Wickapecko Drive site, and it is projected to be completed by this time next year.

According to Katherine Solana, executive director of SEARCH, the nonprofit organization rents the second facility on West Park Avenue, where it serves about 20 of the 60 children in the program. Once the expansion is completed, all of the children will be in one place.

The facility will also provide recreational facilities for the growing autistic population and their families, she said.

Solana explained that the expansion was in the works for five years.

“I can’t believe it is finally coming to fruition,” she said, adding that it was due to the generous support of families, professionals and the many people in Ocean Township who came out in support of the project.

Solana said they held a fund-raiser at the Old Orchard Manor on Friday night with about 125 people in attendance. In her speech, she said that the program was born from the determination of concerned parents and professional who came together wanting to find appropriate education for children with autism.

The SEARCH Day Program was founded in 1971. It was the first New Jersey nonprofit, state-approved school specializing in innovative programming for people with autism. Although the program is located in Ocean Township, it serves people from around the state. It is a nonaversive, positive behavioral support agency that provides intensive individualized services by qualified professionals to students from ages 3 to 21 years.

The program provides several services, including academics, career development, speech and language, occupational therapy and social services.

According to the New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community, autism is a developmental disability characterized by atypical, repetitive behaviors and deficits in social and communication skills. Current estimates suggest that one in every 250 individuals is affected by autism in the country.

Autism is usually diagnosed during the first three years of life and is four to five times more prevalent in boys than in girls. Although the range of severity may vary, Solana said that impairments are typical in three main areas: social, communication and behavioral.

“As we look to the future, our new school brings with it renewed hope and energy that we will continue our mission to assist individuals with autism in attaining quality-of-life outcomes, which guarantee a brighter future for us all,” she said to the audience at the fund-raiser.

Solana explained that the organization is in a matching grant phase.

“Every dollar that is donated is being matched by the Dorothy B. Hersh Foundation.”

SEARCH is seeking donations to support the construction of the expansion.

“This is one area where people can actually see their contributions being used brick by brick.”

Anyone interested in providing support should contact the SEARCH Day Program at (732) 531-0454.