The Arc Mercer Remembers Cathleen Mayernik

November 16th, 2017

The Arc Mercer held a ceremony remembering the late Cathleen Mayernik, who inspired her family to do everything in their power to ensure that her special needs would not stand in the way of her living as full a life as possible. The Mayernik family, known throughout Mercer County and beyond for their decades of passionate advocacy for people with special needs, credits Cathy for instilling in them an attitude of “she can.”

The ceremony took place in The Arc Mercer’s Alice’s Garden, where a recently planted ‘tree of life’ reflects Cathy’s indomitable spirit and beauty. Cathleen was a beloved resident of The Arc Mercer’s Twin Ponds Group Home until her passing.

Attending the ceremony were Cathy’s sister, Adrienne Mayernik, her niece, Stephanie Pratico, and Cindy White, another niece. Tom Baffuto, Executive Director of The Arc of New Jersey, also attended, as did a strong showing by The Arc Mercer family that included Board of Directors President Rick Koreyva, Board members Sebastian Panebianco and Maria Fischer, and Executive Director Steve Cook.

In contrast to the services available today for people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (I/DD), when Cathleen was growing up it was left to her family to open doors and create opportunities for her. In her remarks, Stephanie Pratico offered an example, recounting that parallel bars were constructed for Cathy to help strengthen her legs and arms. Now, decades later, such apparatus are now routinely found at facilities for people with I/DD.

Stephanie spoke of her own two children who have Downs Syndrome. She said she is grateful her son and daughter were born at a time when programs and services for people with special needs were readily available. She said her son, now 24, could not attend the ceremony because he was working, and that her daughter would do likewise.

Her sister, Adrienne, captured the difference between the 49 years Cathy spent in an institution and the years afterwards, which she spent living in the community: “When she came into the community, she had choices.”

Arc Mercer Executive Director Steve Cook said ceremonies such as this stand as important moments by placing attention on the Arc’s history, lending “meaning and purpose to the work.” To the many staff at the ceremony, Steve said that whether or not they do direct service, “you contribute to the agency in meaningful ways.” The impact of this work, he said, “reverberates over decades.”

The Arc of New Jersey’s Tom Baffuto described The Arc Mercer as the center of innovation, as it always finds a way to expand services and overcome obstacles. He said it is people like Cathleen who are the best advocates, for it is their desire to live in and be part of the community that is the impetus for change.

Advocacy was not Cathleen’s only gift. Her niece described her as the glue and the laughter that kept the family together. She had a similar effect on her Arc Mercer family.