The New Jersey Council on Development Disabilities will recognize Marianne Pettineo Wednesday for her advocacy work on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities.
On Wednesday, Pettineo, who was nominated for the award by councilwoman Lisa Swain, will receive the Elizabeth Boggs Family Member Advocate Award, which is given annually to the family member of an individual with a developmental disability who has shown outstanding advocacy efforts in the area of developmental disabilities.
“I’m sure that there’s numerous other people more deserving, but I was very honored to be recognized by my council people for the work that I did in our community,” said Pettineo, the current ADA Committee co-chair and municipal secretary. “Having your efforts recognized really does energize you and it really does validate…that the stuff that you’re doing is worthwhile and appreciated.”
Swain said she nominated Pettineo because she’s done so much for special needs individuals within the community, even before taking the helm of the ADA Committee this year.
Pettineo’s advocacy for special needs individuals has grown from a personal initiative for her daughter to one that stretches community-wide.
Among other initiatives, Pettineo planted the seed for the borough’s Club Fun program, provided a voice for Fair Lawn school children with disabilities as a PTA president and has been instrumental in spearheading the recent resurgence of the borough’s ADA Committee.
She picked up the cause of special needs individuals more than 30 years ago, shortly after the birth of her daughter, Danielle.
“I was only 24, my husband was only 25, “ Pettineo said. “I had no experience raising children, never mind a child with special needs.”
Yet within 10 days of Danielle’s birth -- after being told there was no room for her newborn daughter to enroll in an early intervention program -- Pettineo crafted a letter to state legislators asking that additional funding be allocated to early intervention programs for special needs infants. Five months and numerous phone calls later, Danielle found a spot in an early intervention program.
“It’s kind of a blessing that she was my first child because I had no preconceived notions of, well you roll over at this age, or you walk at that age. All that went out the door,” Pettineo said. “My husband and I worked as hard as we could.”
Their hard work and parental support paid off. In spite of her limitations, Danielle excelled from an early age.
At 18 months, she started at the Felician School for Exceptional Children, and by age 3, with parental support and the assistance of homemade flashcards, she began to read.
Danielle continued to shine verbally in special education classes in the Ridgewood Public Schools system, where she was frequently asked to read along with her general ed peers, Pettineo said. Today, Danielle works two part-time jobs – one at Regal Collections on River Road and the other doing a variety of odd jobs at borough hall.
“What I like about the borough job is it gives the borough and the community exposure,” Pettineo said. “It’s good for her to interact with the community and it’s good for the community to interact with her.”
Pettineo likes to note that it was actually Danielle who got her the job as municipal secretary, not the other way around.
“When I say that I work at the borough of Fair Lawn and that my daughter does as well, I always like to point out that she was here first and I got the job as a result of people knowing me through her,” Pettineo said.
Danielle, who began working at borough hall as a volunteer, performed so well that she was hired part-time by borough manager Tom Metzler in May 2006.
“Metzler called me up to say what a wonderful worker she was and how they loved having her at the borough and asked if I could write up a little resume,” Pettineo said. “So I did, and at the bottom of the resume I put that because Danielle exhibits such wonderful work habits and work skills and is a good employee, it’s her parents hope that one day she’ll get a part-time job.”
Soon thereafter, the Pettineo’s hope became a reality when Metzler called to notify them he’d hired Danielle -- a gesture for which Pettineo said she remains eternally appreciative.
Pettineo, who will travel to Trenton with family and friends Wednesday to accept the honor, said she will share it with her husband, Gary, and her two sons, Michael and Matthew, who always have been extremely supportive of Danielle and their mother's advocacy work on behalf of individuals with special needs.