Adler Center living out the dreams of its founders

Adler Center living out the dreams of its founders

Elaine Adler says Mike’s goals are being realized for people with aphasia

Participants make a mosaic at the Adler Aphasia Center.
Participants make a mosaic at the Adler Aphasia Center.

When Elaine and Myron (Mike) Adler founded the Adler Aphasia Center in 2003, they had big goals and even bigger dreams. What they did not have was a blueprint.

“Truly, we didn’t know how well we could do, because we didn’t really have a model,” Ms. Adler said.

So what they did, said Karen Tucker, the center’s executive director, was build on what did exist. “We used three different models — the senior center model of growth and development; the clubhouse model of Gilda’s Club, which stresses socialization and peer support, and the life participation model, an evidence-based speech pathology approach asking how we can help members get back into living with aphasia,” she said.

Their ultimate goal, Ms. Adler said, was to reach as many people as possible. So far, they have reached thousands — helping members and their families through direct service, resources, training, and education.

Mike Adler died last year at the age of 91 — his first yartzeit was observed on September 15. “He was our visionary,” Ms. Tucker said. “His commitment, dedication, and understanding of others with aphasia was the foundation for how we ran the center.” Indeed, the center’s upcoming gala has been titled “Strengthening Voices for Aphasia — Remembering Mike Adler and Honoring His Vision.”

Fortunately, Elaine Adler is still committed to that vision, and a great deal has been done since her husband’s death to help bring it about. Ms. Adler is well known in both the local and international aphasia community. She continues to support the National Aphasia Association; AphasiaAccess, a national organization focusing on the life participation approach to aphasia; and the Adler Aphasia Center at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem, which she will visit soon when she travels to Israel for her youngest grandchild’s bar mitzvah celebration.

Ms. Adler’s name is well known in the wider community as well. An active supporter of the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative, the Gold Foundation, and the Community Resource Council, she is a board member of the Jewish Home Family. Together, she and Mike helped create Ramapo College’s Adler Center for Nursing Excellence .

Still, the Maywood center has a special place in her heart. “I’m so very proud of our people,” she said. In addition to helping people with aphasia, a speech disorder most commonly caused by a stroke or brain injury, “We’re very seriously taking care of caregivers and families,” she said. “I know the hell they go through.” Mr. Adler had a stroke after bypass surgery in 1993 that left him with aphasia.

Mike and Elaine Adler
Mike and Elaine Adler

“We look at the whole person and how aphasia affects the whole family,” Ms. Adler said. “Mike’s vision was to have people be comfortable with themselves and their families and friends because it’s so frustrating not being able to speak when you still know everything.

“When I first met them, Mike had already had all kinds of speech therapy,” Ms. Tucker said. “He finally met a guy who said, ‘You’re fine. Just get on with it.’ That’s what our folks needed.

“When you’re relaxed, you’re willing to try. Our little lab here has proved to be so helpful because our members go back out into the community. It can happen for others as well.”

“We want to spread the word,” Ms. Adler said. “We’re not a money-making business. We’re here to help people. We talk to everyone,” she added, joking that “If you’re Jewish and belong to a synagogue and haven’t heard about the center, your head has been in the sand.” She pointed out that Robin Straus, the center’s outreach coordinator, has made it her business to offer presentations wherever she is invited. Often, members with aphasia join her.

“So many folks have visited us,” Ms. Adler said. “We’ve had people from Australia, and a young woman from Italy who brought a friend to interpret. They don’t do enough in Italy and wanted to bring back some of our thinking. We also train doctors and nurses, planting seeds for the future within the medical community. We want them to see that people with aphasia can laugh, have fun, and are intelligent.”

The work of the center “impacts the lives of whole families,” she continued. “We hear story after story.” For example, she said, the young son of a center member came to family night and asked a cogent question about his mother’s condition. Getting an answer that set his mind at rest, he was able to sleep through the night for the first time since his mother’s stroke. Some children of members go on to become speech pathologists themselves, she said.

At its annual gala on October 6, the center will formally launch its Anniversary Campaign. Ms. Adler has agreed to match up to $500,000 a year, dollar for dollar, until 2018, when the center will celebrate its 15th anniversary. “We want to be able to sustain what we have and be able to grow,” she said. To date, the campaign has raised $225,000.

As much as Mike was challenged by technology, he liked it,” Ms. Adler said. “He wanted to be cutting edge and do the latest and the greatest.” As a result, the center looks at technology seriously. For example, since there are not many aphasia centers, and New Jersey does not have a well-developed system of transportation for the disabled, the Maywood center has created “virtual aphasia groups,” coordinated by speech pathologist Janice Dittelman. Through this project, people with aphasia interact through a screen.

“It doesn’t matter what you talk about as long as you’re communicating,” Ms. Adler said. “It’s not traditional ‘boring’ speech therapy. They’re talking about relevant topics with people.”

Karen Tucker
Karen Tucker

“Our members have friends all over the world,” Ms. Tucker added; program director Chrysa Golashesky has Adler members using Skype to talk to people in Australia, Alaska, and Israel. “We wake people up at all hours,” she joked. In two weeks, a virtual group will talk with Sean Maloney, chairman of Intel China. “He spoke at our 10th anniversary dinner,” Ms. Adler said, adding that members also soon will talk to Carl McIntyre, who has aphasia and has made a movie about it.

Ms. Adler said that she and her husband hoped that the center would exist “into perpetuity. Aphasia is never going to go away. If we can keep this going, if people will be kind enough to help us grow, it will be for their benefit.” She pointed out that 80 percent of the center’s budget comes from donations. “Insurance doesn’t recognize us,” she said.

While the Maywood facility is the flagship aphasia center, a smaller version of it has been created in West Orange. Other groups, offering opportunities for people with aphasia and their families to come in every other week, also have been instituted throughout the state. So far, there are “conversation groups” in Bridgewater, Hammonton, Maywood, Monroe, Morristown, Scotch Plains, and Toms River. Three more areas will be targeted in 2017. The groups are being run in conjunction with JCCs, universities, churches, and social service organizations.

One of the year’s most colorful achievements, Ms. Adler said, has been the building of a donor wall. It’s made up of mosaic flowers crafted by center members under the guidance of designer Bonnie Cohen, who spent two days at the center as an artist in residence.

“The members took pictures of their flowers on their phones,” Ms. Tucker said. Their work was then shipped to Cohen’s studio, where she added leaves and mosaic tiles. On completion it was returned to the Adler center, where it can now be seen in the entrance lobby. “Every member took pride and was excited,” said Tucker. “They could identify the flowers they made.” So far, $225,000 has been raised toward the wall, although the campaign to sell plaques will launch officially at the Oct. 6 gala. The plaques cost a minimum of $2500 and are available in three sizes.

The center’s corporate partner program also was expanded this year. “We are partnering with Deloitte, Becton Dickinson, Eisai, Novartis, and UPS,” Ms. Tucker said. “We are fulfilling their corporate volunteer requirements as they volunteer here while we teach them about aphasia and how to help advocate for those living with it.”

“Many large corporations encourage employees to become part of the community, either giving them time to volunteer or else making monetary donations,” Ms. Adler explained. In some cases, they invite members of the center’s “Something Special” program, who set up displays of the jewelry and other items they make to help subsidize scholarships. “People see how wonderful it is to work with our members and then they come here to work with them to make gift items,” she said.

“Something Special is branching out into corporate venues to sell jewelry,” Elissa Goldstein, the center’s director of development and communications, said. “The program should hit the $300,000 revenue mark in October since it began in 2009.”

Member programs go way beyond jewelry-making, Ms. Tucker noted. This year’s technology offerings include fantasy football and a member-written newspaper. In the West Orange facility, members are learning how to tend a garden. Members like new activities, she said. “From day one, we’ve said, ‘What do you want to do? They have so little control. It gives them a feeling of empowerment. They take ownership.”

“I often say I love each and every one of our members because they’re so brave,” Ms. Adler said. “It’s not easy when you can’t say what you want to say and do what you want to do.

“I give them so much credit. They just forge on.” Before they developed aphasia, “many of them led very productive lives — judges, doctors — it really doesn’t matter.”

Who: The Adler Aphasia Center will hold its annual gala

What: Strengthening Voices for Aphasia — Remembering Mike Adler and Honoring His Vision

When: Oct. 6 at 6 p.m.

Where: 60 West Hunter Ave., Maywood

Honorees: The center will honor Investors Bank, a longtime supporter of the organization, and member Christine Byrnes and her family, who have helped the center in various ways for many years. Harry Carson, a New York Giants Hall of Famer, will speak about traumatic brain injury. Steve Adubato will be master of ceremonies.

For more information: email Elissa Goldstein at

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