LifeTown, a 53,000-square-foot immersive educational, therapeutic and recreational facility in northern New Jersey offering inclusive programs for those with special needs, will celebrate its grand opening and dedication on Sept. 9.

New Jersey has the highest rate of children with autism in the United States and within Essex County, where LifeTown is located, is the largest population of children on the spectrum, making the opening of new facility critical to thousands of families in the region.

“The goal of LifeTown is to make the world a welcoming place, integrating people with special needs, including autism, into daily life,” said LifeTown CEO Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum. “LifeTown is a model for people with special needs and all kids—when they play together they naturally come together and don’t notice differences.”

LifeTown Interior. Credit: Courtesy.

The sprawling campus includes an 11,000-square-foot replica of “Main Street” with multiple storefronts helping to train individuals with special needs for independent living.

At its center are LifeTown Shoppes with a realistic-looking branch of the regional Regal Bank, an RWJBarnabas Health medical center, a Words Bookstore, a ShopRite supermarket, electronics store, pet shop, nail salon, copy center, flower shop, clothing store, coffee shop, laundromat, movie theater and a roadway with cross walks and traffic lights.

Sensory activity in one of LifeTown’s hallways. Photo by Faygie Holt.

The shops were designed to offer real-world scenarios in a safe and controlled environment for participants to learn to navigate independent living and job training.

Each store and business in LifeTown Shoppes reinforces skills such as money management, time management, counting, sorting, communication, social skills, sensory integration, decision-making and more.

The Shoppes will be used by special-needs educators and schools, who will be able to practice classroom lessons through such simulation. Staffed by volunteers and student interns, the Shoppes experience will impact everyone involved.

“We are excited about the many opportunities that will be available to train and support young people with special needs,” said LifeTown executive director Toba Grossbaum. “This new facility will empower individuals with special needs to reach their fullest potential and become more independent.”

LifeTown Shoppes. Credit: Courtesy.

LifeTown also provides a full range of activities for children, teens and young adults with special needs and their families. In-house therapeutic settings include art, water, light, sound, sensory and occupational. All programs and spaces are specially designed to accommodate and engage individuals with varying abilities and needs.

In addition to the therapy areas and LifeTown Shoppes, the facility also includes a zero-entry indoor pool, gym, flex spaces and an outdoor football field sponsored by the NFL and New York Jets.

LifeTown offers integrated after-school programs, Sunday respite programs and sports leagues, which are open to both individuals with special needs and their typically developing peers, helping to break down barriers in society.

LifeTown field house. Credit: Courtesy.

The nonsectarian facility was created by the Friendship Circle, a project of Chabad-Lubavitch. Its development was made possible by more than 2,500 private and commercial gifts.

The Sept. 9 grand opening will also celebrate Friendship Circle’s 20th anniversary with a performance by Yaakov Shwekey and the Y-Studs. The free program begins at 5 p.m. and is open to the public.

See here for more information or to arrange a visit to LifeTown and its Main Street Shoppes.

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