LIVINGSTON, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the leading advocate in Congress for individuals living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families, today toured LifeTown, a state-of-the-art, 53,000-square-foot, educational, recreational and therapeutic facility in Livingston that serves the needs of individuals of all ages with ASD. According to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 35 children in New Jersey are diagnosed with autism by their fourth birthday.

“Incredible. LifeTown is a truly transformational facility with the look, feel, sounds and smells of a real American town square,” said Sen. Menendez. “I cannot imagine a better, safer, more unique environment to provide individuals with ASD real-world experiences, and the tools they need to live independently and happily. LifeTown’s success is about focusing on all that children and adults with special needs can contribute to our communities and can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.”

Jersey Jobs Tour: LifeTown

Designed to give each individual the skills to reach their full potential, Zalman and Toba Grossbaum opened the doors to LifeTown late last year. During his visit, Sen. Menendez experienced Life Village, a simulated Main Street with traffic lights and sidewalks, and lined with shops, a movie theatre, a bank, office space, a park and a medical center where students can gain real-life experiences and learn lessons on budgeting, problem solving and communication.

“It is an honor for us that Senator Menendez visited LifeTown, as he has been a tremendous advocate for people with special needs and their families,” said LifeTown Executive Director Zalman Grossbaum. “At LifeTown we are creating a future that is more inclusive and with endless opportunities for each person to realize their full potential and mission in this world.”

Words Bookstore recently opened up a location in Life Village. Last summer, Sen. Menendez visited Words Bookstore, a family-owned business in Maplewood specializing in providing literary, educational and job opportunities for folks with developmental disabilities and their families.

"Working with Zalman and Toba Grossbaum on their decade-long journey to realize the LifeTown dream has been an honor and a privilege," said Jonah Zimiles, LifeTown board member. "As owners of Words Bookstore, my wife, Ellen, and I are proud to open a store in LifeTown to assist special needs children and adults. We are grateful for LIfeTown's terrific board and staff, and we appreciate that Senator Menendez's steadfast support for individuals with autism and other disabilities has played a vital role in creating the supportive, inclusive culture in New Jersey that has made LifeTown possible."

LifeTown also offers a sensory space that mimics a park and beach, a handicapped-accessible pool and bowling alley, a gymnasium, and a lounge where families and caregivers can relax and network.

Earlier this year, Sen. Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, introduced the Autism Coordination, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act of 2019, legislation that shapes federal autism policy and investment in research, early detection, and the development of new treatments and therapies for those living with ASD. The bill builds upon the current, Menendez-authored law, which expires in September, and, for the first time, includes language that expands those efforts to address the challenges and needs of individuals well into adulthood and “across [their] lifetime.”

Livingston’s LifeTown is an extraordinary place, which has a real Main Street for individuals on the autism spectrum or with special needs to get necessary life experience to integrate into our communities.

Thank you for the tour! @fcnj — Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) April 29, 2019

In addition to reauthorizing existing federal autism programs through 2024, Autism CARES 2019 calls for an additional $368 million above current funding levels over the five years, and strengthens those programs by adding the phrase “across the lifespan” where appropriate to ensure they can address the needs of individuals with ASD and other intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout all stages of life. The provision builds upon key elements of Sen. Menendez’s Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation (AGE-IN) Act that were incorporated in the 2014 law to address the needs of youth and young adults as they transition out of school-based support to independent adulthood.

Autism CARES 2019 also:

  • Authorizes research under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address the entire scope of autism spectrum disorder;
  • Designates regional centers of excellence for ASD research and epidemiology
  • Directs activities to increase public awareness of autism, improve the ability of health providers to use evidence-based interventions, and increase early screening and detection
  • Increases funding to $23.1 million to the CDC for developmental disability surveillance and research;
  • Increases funding to $50.6 million to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for education, early detection, and intervention, with priority for new grants given to applicants in rural or underserved areas;
  • Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide a report to Congress on the health and well-being of individuals of all ages with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

Despite the Trump Administration’s efforts to zero-out Autism CARES funding for research, treatment and services to help those with autism, Sen. Menendez was able to secure $49 million in the 2018 omnibus spending bill, an additional $2 million above previous spending. That legislation also included Kevin and Avonte’s law, which amended the Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to support initiatives to help ensure children with ASD who wander from their caregivers return home safely by providing first responders, schools, and community members additional support and information for engaging with individuals with ASD.

In 2016, Sen. Menendez received the 2016 Legislative Leadership Award from the New Jersey Association of Community Providers (NJACP) in recognition of his ongoing leadership, passion and commitment to ensuring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are afforded every opportunity and choice to live as independently as possible.