COVID Pandemic Has More People With Special Needs Feeling Isolated

BELMAR, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – The COVID pandemic has been tough on everyone, especially those with developmental disabilities who may be feeling more secluded than ever.

CBS2’s Meg Baker met with a chef who stepped in to change that for one young woman.

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Chef Mike Harrison and his sous chef Alaina DeMauro are busy in the kitchen of Belmar Fishing Club. The 22-year-old apprentice is living with autism and Down syndrome – and loves to cook.

(credit: CBS2)

Harrison met the DeMauro family through a friend and offered to work with Alaina, who is learning to support herself independently.

“When I first had told her I would do it, it was kind of like, I was thinking, kind of get her out of the house, show her a little cooking, spend some time. But it really turned into more than that,” Harrison said. “It’s really about a connection.”

Their bond is a recipe for friendship.

“I love you,” Alaina said.

You can catch Alaina in the kitchen every Thursday – the most recent lunch special is shrimp scampi.

Alaina’s support professional says she’s seen a big change in her.

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“Opened up Alaina to new experiences and confidence,” said Elise DiAmbrosio.

After aging out of educational facilities there weren’t many opportunities for growth.

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“We need to self-direct them and keep them in the community. They shouldn’t be isolated. They shouldn’t be segregated in any way. They should be in the community and working as a functioning individual,” said Alaina’s dad Nick DeMauro.

Jennifer Brown is the founder of Eiros Group, a support brokerage agency that connects those with disabilities with jobs, housing and more.

“I think the pandemic has emphasized how segregated and isolated people with developmental disabilities are. Even, I mean, not just people with developmental disabilities. I mean, everyone gotten a taste of that,” Brown said.

Chef MIke and the others have created a circle of support for Alaina in the community, one that they all hope to grow.

If you want to volunteer your time safely, or connect loved ones with special needs, CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.


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