LIVINGSTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A multimillion-dollar educational center is set to open next week in New Jersey.
It will teach life skills to children and adults with special needs.
Downtown is usually where you can find it all.
New Jersey’s newest one is seems to be no exception – but it’s strictly educational on this main street.
CBSN New York’s John Dias got an exclusive tour of LifeTown before it officially opens next week.
Like most parents do, Kristy Verhage is always teaching her son life lessons. But the Wayne, N.J. mother admits some things are harder than other since her 9-year-old has autism.
“Tough to go to stores with him sometimes, so this is a way for him to learn how to buy things, to purchase things,” Verhage said.
It feels like a typical day in downtown, with people running errands and maybe even watching a movie, but LifeTown is a spin on all of that, because all of it is make-believe.
At LifeTown in Livingston, kids of all ages and adults with special needs learn how to navigate the everyday world.
It’s run by the nonprofit Friendship Circle, which built the replica of a small town inside the Livingston facility, meant to teach everyday skills to kids of all ages and abilities in a safe environment.
PHOTOS: Inside LifeTown
“It doesn’t matter how old or smart you are, you can do anything,” said 7-year-old Reid Weissberg.
“You can learn how to grow up and be bigger and also have a lot of fun while doing it,” said Shane Markon.
Inside the LifeTown building, there’s a basketball court, sensory rooms and playgrounds, but at the center of the new 53,000 square foot building is “Life Village,” a downtown replica that has everything from a bank to a florist and a movie theater – 15 storefronts in total.
Real life medical professionals voluntarily run the doctor and dentist offices, and some kids have taken on roles as police officers and cashiers.
Participants start at the bank, where they take out real money. They can then use that money at the different storefronts, including a movie theater, florist and salon. They even have magazines in waiting rooms and bumps in the road.
“Real life skills. They can experience all different kinds of things,” said Lauren Markon.
The complex cost $16.5 million to build, most of it coming from donations and partnerships.
“The rates of autism have skyrocketed in the last few years and we need more of this, we need more places for our kids.” said Verhage. “Schools focus on educational part, this is more of the socialization, how to play together. A lot of great things.”
“Our programs are based on teen and adult volunteers, we have over 1,000,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, the CEO of LifeTown. “Students can learn and experience life skills, job training, all different types of safety in this environment and then practice it in the real world.”
All of this is open to family and public programming, but you have to reserve a spot online before though.
For more information, click here.