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March brings awareness to developmental disabilities

ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County's largest employer is going the extra mile to bring awareness to the people it serves.

Melissa Newell, Community and Staff Relations Manager for Mountain Lake Services, appeared before the Essex County Board of Supervisors at their March 1 regular meeting to ask for support in declaring March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in Essex County.

"The purpose of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is to recognize that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are valuable, contributing members of our communities," said Newell.

As part of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and in honor of their 35th anniversary year, Mountain Lake Services will be sponsoring several events throughout Essex County aimed at helping people in the community become more familiar with the company.

Mountain Lake Services provides services to more than 500 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, 200 of which are served in 42 separate residences county-wide. The company employs 625 people, 492 of which are full-time.

Newell noted how many of the individuals served by Mountain Lake Services work for local businesses through the company's supported employment services.

"These employment opportunities offer businesses tax breaks while giving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities opportunities to build upon and further develop their work skills," she added. "The work provided by these individuals is appreciated by the employer and the communities where the jobs exist, as it brings together a more diverse community and leads to understanding and valuing of each individual's contribution."

Many individuals receiving services also volunteer time at local animal shelters, libraries, food pantries, schools, fire departments, and other programs, Newell said.

Recently, advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities has led to changes in the way language is used in legislation, substituting the term "intellectual disability" for what was previously referred to as "mental retardation."

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