Upon entering the Visitation Home in Yardville, N.J., there is an immediate feeling of stepping into a caring and loving atmosphere. Those living inside are constantly smiling and laughing, grateful to see friendly faces. The Catholic shared-living residence houses people with developmental disabilities and several live-in staff members. It is a private, nonprofit organization that depends primarily on donations and the assistance of volunteers, like College students.
Denise Reil, founder and director, began the Visitation Home in 2000 when the State of New Jersey approached her about her future plans for her autistic son. In 2001, the New Jersey waiting list exceeded 6,300 people who were in need of community-based living. Today, that list includes more than 8,000 names.
Instead of waiting to see what the state could do for her family, Denise Reil asked herself, “What can I do to help?”
The Visitation Home first opened in 2003. In 2006, it was expanded to include the house next-door. The original home currently has five female residents, while the second home currently houses four males. A third home will open around the corner and be ready for residents in about a year.
Morgan Reil, Denise Reil’s daughter and College alumna, is a member of the Visitation Home’s live-in staff as well as an employee at the College’s Bonner Center.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after school and this gave me a way of continuing what I loved to do in school,” Morgan Reil said.
Three years ago, the Bonner Center was looking for a new freshman Community Engaged Learning program and Reil, a Bonner scholar, connected the two organizations. Currently three Bonner students each volunteer 10 hours per week there.
Esther Brahmi, a junior history major and Bonner scholar, devotes 300 hours of service each year to the Visitation Home. Brahmi has an 18-year-old sister with Down Syndrome.
“After volunteering at the Visitation Home, I hope she gets to live there some day,” Brahmi said.
Close with her sister, Brahmi also volunteers at various teen nights and day camps her sister is involved with for people with developmental disabilities.
“The residents kind of became like my siblings,” she said. “I miss being with my sister and doing things with her. Being here makes me feel like I’m home.”
Andrew Amadeo, junior finance major and Bonner scholar, lived at the boys’ home at the Visitation Home for six weeks in the summer while taking summer classes at the College.
Jane Cincotta, a live-in staff member at the girls’ home, has a degree in special education from Quincy College in Illinois.
“Since it is a family here, I’ve learned a lot of home skills. You really feel like a mom here. You feel responsibility and try your best to take care of them,” Cincotta said. “It’s interesting getting to know people and the gifts and talents they have. We’re really fortunate overall.”
On a typical day at the home, Cincotta plays bingo with Christine, 41, a four-year resident. When asked if she loves Cincotta, Christine responded, “I need Jane.”
Christine, and other residents, participated in the Special Olympics. She won a gold medal for weight lifting – an amazing accomplishment for a tiny woman of barely 105 pounds.
Cincotta best described the loving spirit of the Visitation Home:
“(The residents) are so genuine and innocent. They teach us how to be better people, to be more caring and loving … they live life, enjoy life. They have something to give. They have value in life even though society may say they don’t.”