At age 8, he had lost his mother to a prolonged illness; his father had already abandoned him. While still grieving, Xavier’s grandparents faced the challenge of raising their traumatized grandson. The day-to-day responsibility of raising Xavier fell primarily to Rosemarie, his grandmother; his grandfather, Bryan, works full time. “I had no help,” says Rosemarie. “I had nobody.”
Fortunately, that situation changed, when Rosemarie attended a family services fair at the Morris Museum, in nearby Morristown, NJ. There, she noticed a table with a cheerful blue and green backdrop. Jennifer Palmer, the Parents’ Night Out (PNO) Coordinator at the Budd Lake office, along with her colleague at the time, Luann Weber, greeted Rosemarie with warm smiles. They introduced Rosemarie to the Agency’s family-support program. With this service, a caring adult spends 20 hours per month at a child’s home, providing his or her parents or guardians with in-home respite care. Soon afterward, Jen and Luann called a new family support specialist on staff, Daniel Berek.
“It was truly a blessing when Dan walked into our lives,” says Rosemarie. That was five years ago, when Xavier was 8. He is now a teen, which presents a whole new set of needs and challenges. “Dealing with traumatic brain injury is difficult. Xavier’s transition into adolescence complicates matters even more,” she says. “Over the years, Dan has been instrumental in assisting Xavier in dealing with some painful situations,” say Rosemarie. A certified New Jersey teacher for students with disabilities, Dan observes Xavier’s behavior, “translating it into something I can understand and handle,” says Rosemarie. “Dan is able to turn a task into a lesson.”
Golf has long been a passion of Xavier’s. He and Dan have had an ongoing “PGA tournament” in the backyard, with real clubs but hollow plastic balls. There, they have been creating an ongoing story. Other times, they go for a walk, perhaps an outing to the dollar store. “Dan has been able to spend time with Xavier, doing what he loves.” Yet, like most children, Xavier has his electronics, video game consoles, and an iPad. Although they spend most of their time together outside, even the otherwise passive activities of watching short videos or playing a game on Xbox, Dan has been using this “screen time” to create new narratives with Xavier. That said, Dan has set strict boundaries regarding what is age-appropriate and what is not; that includes any violent content. “Dan has been able to entertain Xavier, while injecting life values and life lessons,” Rosemarie says.
“Dan’s level of understanding, compassion, and commitment are remarkable and much appreciated,” says Rosemarie, adding that she went for quite some time without such assistance with Xavier. “That is one of the reasons I so appreciate Advancing Opportunities,” she continues. “In-home respite makes a difference. I am truly thankful and grateful.”