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Katonah Couple Brings Joy To Special Needs Kids, Adults In Westchester

Nancy Dwyer Bellini and Joe Bellini of Northeast Special Recreation. The photo was taken at Nyack Haverstraw music festival on a field trip.
Nancy Dwyer Bellini and Joe Bellini of Northeast Special Recreation. The photo was taken at Nyack Haverstraw music festival on a field trip. Photo Credit: Facebook

KATONAH, N.Y. -- A Katonah couple is helping to make sure people with special needs in Westchester enjoy a balanced life through recreation.

Nancy Dwyer Bellini and Joe Bellini both work for North East Westchester Special Education. The community based therapeutic recreation agency serves kids, age four to seniors.

Nancy is programs director and Bellini is program coordinator for the agency where they both met in 1992.

The agency receives funding from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, town assessments, program fees and donations. It is run by a board of directors comprised of superintendents of recreation in the communities it serves, Bedford, Briarcliff Manor, Lewisboro, Mount Kisco, Mount Pleasant, New Castle, North Salem, Pleasantville, Pound Ridge, Sleepy Hollow and Somers.

North East programs offer a variety of year-round recreational activities designed with the specific support needed for participant success in this environment.

Programs may focus on teaching skills, developing friendships, correcting social of behavioral deficiencies and having fun.

Program options include: Special Olympics training and competition in a variety of sports, art and music therapy, community trips, vacation programs, summer day camp, dances, theme parties, therapeutic swim, leisure activities, social skills training and much more.

Nancy talked recently to Daily Voice about her decades-long career and about the agency.

She earned her undergraduate degree in art, then a master’s in adaptive physical education and therapeutic recreation at Long Island University, then became certified as a therapeutic recreation specialist. Husband Joe ’s background is in biology. He is running the summer camp this year, she said.

They met while working there in 1992, she recounted.

"He was a part-time staff and now is running the summer camp program."

Nancy said she's know many of the program's participants for decades.

“I’ve grown up with many of our participants and worked with them as long as they’ve been here.”

There are 500 participants, people living in the towns served in group homes, supervised apartments and at home with families.

A person who takes part in the program must have a developmental disability prior to turning 21 that doesn’t allow for typical growth. People with autism, cerebral palsy and downs syndrome are examples.

Although she’s Program Director, “I’m still very much hands on and also oversee our other staff,” Nancy maintained.

The camp Joe's runs, for example has 64 four to 21-year-olds and is run by 50 staff.

Looking back on 25 years and why she’s stayed so long, Nancy said, “It really doesn’t get any better than this. It’s an amazing job. The people I work with, the part-time staff, many who were here for 25 years (also). Where else can you walk into a program and they’re excited to see you? They have so much to share with you.”

The mom of three said the job has allowed her flexibility to raise her family. “All three have spent time here at the agency working. My youngest daughter, 17, is now a camp counselor and wants to go into the field.”

For more information, click here or call (914)-347-4409.

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