RINGWOOD, N.J. — Marisa Thomas of Ringwood enjoys the shore, being in a crowd and hanging out at the Garden State Plaza.
Pair almost anything with the sounds around her — or the music of Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion — and the lifelong borough resident is happy as can be.
Thomas, 27, happens to be blind and living with cerebral palsy along with severe developmental disabilities. It doesn't seem to bother her much, though.
“She is completely, blissfully unaware that she is disabled,” said Thomas' mother, Linda Zani Thomas. “She has a very strong will and just continues to move forward.”
Thomas is among roughly 2,500 medically fragile adults with severe developmental disabilities in New Jersey, and one of only approximately 500 who are living at home with their families, Zani Thomas said.
It hasn't stopped her from being an agent of change, though, her mother said.
Thomas was the first student at the Skylands School for the Exceptional. She was one of the 24 founding students of Red Ribbon Academy in Wayne.
Thomas was the youngest person to attend the Nordoff Robbins Center for Music Therapy at New York University and she was Ringwood’s first honorary special police officer.
The list goes on and on.
Thomas and her classmates at The Academy, who range in age from 21 to 49,have outlived expectations, Zani Thomas said.
"Because they have now made it into adulthood, they are literally like a new type of adult in our country and in New Jersey," she said.
A fundraiser for The Academy is being held on Sept. 16, at Macaluso’s in Hawthorne.
“As a parent and an advocate, I know that the families of these type of adults really, we need a lot of help in terms of creating day programs and recreation opportunities for them."
Families could also use assistance with respite care and transportation, she said.
Email Linda Zani Thomas to support the families of medically fragile adults with severe developmental disabilities or to purchase a ticket for the Hawthorne fundraiser.