Day Program

Please enjoy these updates, photos, & more that involve our New Jersey Day Program spaces. We update this page often so check back in with us soon for more live updates.


The Holiday Bazaar + Hanukkah

It’s a holiday miracle, but it seems that every holiday season we find a way to top ourselves from the year before. Few events could be a better example of this than our annual Holiday Bazaar. The bazaar is the December sale that we host in order to raise money for the clients and their activities, and the stats speak for themselves: this year we sold $825 worth of items – a new record for any event! It’s not hard to figure out why; the entire Cog team worked with the clients for months to create handmade items to sell at this year’s market.

One of the heroes of our TRU department is Stephanie Baryla, our Art/Enrichment Therapist; she is involved in almost every UI Rehab creative manifestation. For the rest of us, it’s easy – all we do is come up with the ideas; for her, she’s the one who figures out how to actually execute them. Her creativity is extraordinary yet practical, utilizing trained art therapy techniques to enrich the lives of the clients in astounding ways. Stephanie has her Master’s in Art Therapy and Counseling (MA), she recently received her license in art therapy (ATR) and is about to take her board certification in March (ATR-BC)…that’s more letters than an accountant. As a soon-to-be ATR-BC with her MA, the only thing we need to say is that she is AMA-ZI-NG.

If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.

John Cleese
Edwin painting the fine details of his book angel

Bazaar Items For Sale:

  • Book Angels
  • Yarn Christmas Trees
  • Handmade Ornaments
  • Homemade Body Scrubs
  • Homemade Body Sprays
  • Decorated Sugar Cookies
  • Veggie Cards
  • Handmade coasters
  • Mugs w/ hot chocolate kits

Shawin working like a craftsman on his handmade ornament

The book angels have become a staple at Universal – they are converted from the pages of old books into decorated “angels” with wings, each of them unique based on the client who is painting them. The veggie cards were a surprise addition this year, turning into one-of-a-kind cards made with nothing more than vegetables and colored ink (see below). The handmade ornaments and yarn Christmas trees were as individual and beautiful as the imaginations which created them. As Stephanie loves to say, everyone has an artist inside of them – it’s simply her job to coax it out.

The full display of our 2022 Holiday Bazaar had all kinds of colors, items, cookies, and cards.

Will and the boys playing the Dreidel game
Special edition cards made with real fruits and vegetables dipped in colored ink (celery, peppers, okra, and lemon)

As part of their therapy and community enrichment, the clients also went shopping with Latisha from our Enrichment department to purchase mini gift basket items, which were then assembled during Cognitive therapy sessions throughout the weeks leading up to the bazaar. However, not only did we have an extravagant menu of custom gifts, we also had generous contributions from the families of our staff. Something in the December air always brings out the warmest versions of ourselves.

We were sent handmade yarn coasters from Shawna’s mother (Shawna is our Therapeutic Enrichment Coordinator). The sugar cookies were made and donated by the parents of Lauren, our Community Enrichment Coordinator. Lauren’s parents were extremely gracious with their time; they baked 200 sugar cookies and then spent five hours with the clients at the Day Program teaching them multiple decorating techniques and guiding them through the lessons. The following day, our TRU vocational department wrapped up each cookie in individual packaging with the clients.

Just in case that wasn’t enough for one day, we also celebrated the beginning of Hannukah. Each year one of our Jewish clients volunteers to give the traditional Hannukah blessing and to teach a short lesson about the holiday. After the blessing is finished, the client briefly discusses the meaning behind the holiday and answers any questions that others may have about it. We also set up tables around the dining area to play the Dreidel game – a traditional Hannukah game – which can become very competitive, as all games do. We highly value the diverse cultures and backgrounds of our clients – especially so during the holidays – and we want to showcase those differences while also keeping things lighthearted and upbeat. We ended the day on such a holiday high culminated from an unbelievable amount of effort, planning, and creativity from the clients, staff, and therapists. The craziest part is that there are still more holiday celebrations ahead. These clients sure are living their best lives!

Cards + Carols⛄

December 2022

If there are any words that signify we are in the midst of the holiday season, cards and carols would be two of them. The Cards + Carols Fun Friday event was one of the many special events that we designed with the clients specifically for the holidays. First, the cards – let’s start out by saying that behind every great Universal event, there’s an even greater TRU therapist. For a refresher, TRU is our on-site vocational department that is the center of our art therapy, vocational work, creative designs, craft department, and Cognitive Therapy sessions – and that’s just on a bad day. Every time the clients and team come up with an idea, the therapists at TRU find a way to execute it; this week was no different. There were two kinds of cards that were made for this event: custom fingerprint snowflake cards and ornament cards designed from recycled donations, both pictured below.

To make the cards, the first step was for the clients to choose their favorite recycled Christmas cards from the donation pile. They then cut the cards into the shape of a circle and glued them onto previously handmade designs with thin string, replicating an ornament. For the snowflake cards, each client used paint to dip their fingerprints onto the cards to become the center of snowflakes. The staff and therapists then helped the clients fill out the cards with their messages to send to their families for the holidays. These kinds of art therapies are especially valuable for clients who have limited use of their arms, hands, and fingers; every client can have their fingerprints dipped into paint to create a custom card for this project, which is what makes a day like this so inclusive and festive.

Since it was Cards and Carols themed, everyone was asked to wear a Santa hat or some other Christmas hat of their choosing. The clients love days like this where they have free reign to be extra silly with their costumes. For any client that didn’t have a hat to wear, we purchased and provided hats that were passed out during the afternoon of the event.

Ornament cards using recycled cards as the cut-outs.

Now comes the Carols part. One of the great loves that the clients have is their love of music; there are few things they look forward to more than when a live singer or band comes in to perform at the Day Program. The band that performed this day was Soular Rhythm, a band that has been coming to Universal for years, usually during the larger events and sometimes even on the weekends. Soular Rhythym consists of a keyboard player and a guitarist – both of whom are singers – who play everything from Top 40 to R&B to Jazz.

Soular Rhythym is always very creative and adaptable to the kind of music we request of them depending upon the event – in this case, holiday music. The clients and staff could not stop smiling and dancing wearing their reindeer antlers and Christmas attire. It was such a warm and happy start to December, with still so many more holiday events to experience until Hannukah, Christmas and New Years. We cherish these events where therapy and play can be so seamlessly intertwined. Keep the holiday fun coming!

Each client customized their own fingerprint snowflake cards.

No matter how different a Who may appear, he will always be welcomed with holiday cheer.

Cindy Lou Who, The Grinch
Soular Rhythym working their magic on the keyboard and guitar


Out of all the holidays throughout the year, Halloween seems to bring out some of the most intense enthusiasm that the clients and staff at Universal have to offer. Sure, we decorate for other events, and there are many times when we get dressed up too. But Halloween has it all: decorations, costumes, sweet treats, competitions and no shortage of creepies, crawlies, and ghostly ghouls.

We tend to get very festive for this celebration; everyone puts in weeks of effort and planning to go costume shopping for the clients and to brainstorm ideas for spooky activities. This year there were three major parts to the day: the Haunted Hallway, the client costume contest, and the costume contest between departments. When the staff dress up it always makes the day extra special for the clients – and the idea of receiving Cognitive therapy from Cousin It or being stretched on the mat by a sushi chef is a particularly funny thought.

The Seasons of the Speech Department: Winter (Ryan), Spring (Olivia), Summer (Jess), Autumn (Daniela)

The client costume contest – judged by the Enrichment Department – had five categories this year: Cutest, Funniest, Most Creative, Most Original, and Scariest. The parameters for the costume contest between departments, however, were intentionally more ambiguous. The winners from our last competition, the PT department, were in charge of deciding which team had group costumes worthy of the first place title.

Sakinah and Suzie during their job interview for their new roles in the maintenance crew


  • Cutest: Leslie
  • Funniest: Sip
  • Scariest: Alex
  • Most Creative: Molly
  • Most Original: Joanie
The Champions of Halloween! The OT Department dressed up as the cast of SpongeBob SquarePants.

The PT judges were not to be envied – this was a tough competition made up of challengers who hate to lose. Nonetheless, a winner must be chosen and this year the title went to the OT department who arrived as a glorious recreation of the characters from SpongeBob SquarePants. But with appearances from the cast of the Jetsons and the Addams Family, a quick stop for an omakase sushi tasting, a walking Reese’s chocolate bar and two very dedicated painters, we can safely say that everyone was a winner.

Aside from the costume madness, the DDD clients were spoiled with a mid-day haunted hallway. Whatever the clients were scared of, it was there – giant spiders on the ceiling, skeletons hanging from doors, mysterious fog hovering in a pitch-black hallway and floating ghosts. The Enrichment Team displayed some of their finest work with the amount of detail and thought they put into the hallway. Each DDD room was taken out separately to be wheeled or walked slowly down the hallway for a true Halloween experience.

They’re creepy and their kooky…
Mysterious and spooky…

Perhaps we love Halloween so much because it’s the unofficial changing of the guard; after putting forth such a big burst of energy for this October celebration, we know that Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are right around the corner. But for now, we witch you a Happy Halloween so, “eat, drink, and be scary!”


Crazy Hat Day

We love to get a little crazy here at Universal (some would say it’s more than a little crazy.) Whenever there’s no official holiday to observe we find a way to design our own celebrations. One of our silliest and most creatives days is Crazy Hat Day – it’s a Fun Friday event that is all about ridiculous, over-the-top hats.

One of the major differences as these Fun Friday events have evolved over the past few years is the participation of the staff, specialists and therapists – and this is not by accident. The formation of our Enrichment Department during the early months of the pandemic was a distinct turning point for the way we run our Day Program. The goal of the Enrichment Department is exactly as it sounds – to enrich the lives of our clients outside of their scheduled therapy sessions.

For Crazy Hat Day, all of the hats were handcrafted in our TRU vocational facility, handmade by the clients and therapists themselves. There were contests for both the staff and the clients, with the top three winners of each group receiving Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards as their prizes. (We’ve had many debates but it seems that people here prefer Dunkin’ to Starbucks).

You’re mad. Bonkers. Off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret…all of the best people are.

Alice in Wonderland

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!

The Queen of Hearts

The other major factor is the changing population. As Universal has continued to welcome more DDD clients over the years, we have adjusted accordingly: What does it mean to enrich the lives of our clients? How can we keep them engaged and fill the empty time slots on their schedule? What do we do with clients who don’t receive any scheduled therapies? The TBI clients have also benefitted greatly from these questions and the solutions they’ve inspired.

While a write-up about the Enrichment Department would require it’s own page, for now we will say that the impact has been dramatic and tangible. We have weekly groups, Fun Friday events, community outings, weekend activities and much more. The Enrichment Department has created an atmosphere of unity, consistency, and structure to the events and outings that were already taking place at Universal; they have greatly encouraged interdisciplinary communication and participation from everyone as a whole.

Obviously, there is tremendous benefit and necessity to scheduled therapy for our clients – things such as Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech, Cog, and so on; that’s why individuals and families come to Universal in the first place. But we wanted something more for the clients – something to fill their hours when they weren’t receiving therapy.

These events are one of many positive changes that bring variety and creativity to the day, something beyond the daily notes and treatments; it brings purpose to each week, even if that purpose is a little crazy.

The “Farewell, Summer!” Carnival

August 2022

It was not easy to say our goodbyes to this year’s summer. But while all good things must come to an end, it doesn’t mean they have to end quietly – so we figured it might as well end with a carnival. Yes, there was a dunk tank. All kinds of carnival games. We even had a caricature artist. We spared no one and nothing to make sure this was a proper send off to our most energetic summer yet.

As usual, this event took weeks of planning, creating, and execution – however, once or twice a season we make the event extra fun by hosting a competition between departments. The winner receives major bragging rights in addition to a $100 cash prize for their department. This time we challenged each department to create a custom carnival game for the clients based on five criteria: it must be Fun, Functional, Creative, Colorful, and Accessible. The judges for the competition would be the previous winners, the Enrichment Team, who could not participate this round. (For fairness, the team and clients decided to always assign judging duty to the previous winning department for the following competition.)

There was Balloon Pop, a Ring Toss, Angry Birds Slingshot, Pie in the Face, Toss the Cookie, and Race the Spaghetti! All the carnival games were astoundingly creative but the first place prize went to the PT Department for their Angry Birds Slingshot game, with a well-deserved second place going to the Pie in the Face game from the Speech Department (specifically to our Speech Therapist Erin Alvino for volunteering her face!) It begs the question, what wouldn’t we do for these clients?

Pie in the Face!

More than anything else during the summer carnival, the clients look forward to the dunk tank. It’s their chance to dunk their favorite (or their not so favorite) staff. Here was this year’s roster:

Will, Activity Specialist
Tiffany, Director of Vocational and Cognitive Therapy
Lawrence, Physical Therapy Aid
Ryan, Speech Therapist
Nancy, Head RN of the Medical Department
Erin, Speech Therapist

These names were high on the clients’ lists for dunk victims. But in great spirit, all of the above mentioned braved the dunk tank like champions and encouraged the clients to do their worst. In order to drop the staff into the water the clients had to throw a ball from behind the marked line and hit the target with enough aim and strength. We are happy to report that the clients made sure every person on that list went for a swim.

The star of our show, THE DUNK TANK

During an event like this, our therapists incorporate all kinds of therapy sessions into the activities. The PT department worked with individual clients at the dunk tank on goals such as standing balance, coordination, and strength. The carnival games were designed not only to be fun, functional, and accessible to the clients but to also work on Occupational, Physical, and Cognitive therapy goals as well. The therapists at UI Rehab have always believed that great therapy should not be confined to just a gym inside a building – even if it means creating a carnival right in our own courtyard.

Farewell, Summer! See you next year.

Love, UI Rehab

Caricatures and Their Models!…




WINTER 2021/2022

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