When the board of governors at Ramapo College told Mike and Elaine Adler they needed more space for the School of Nursing, they looked at the proposed plan and said yes, Elaine recalls.
The expansion plan was "a good fit with our thinking and our desire to help society," she adds.
Those who know the Adlers find the story unsurprising.
"Ramapo College is extremely fortunate to have earned the friendship and generosity of Mike and Elaine Adler," Dr. Peter P. Mercer, president of the college, says. "Their focus on and commitment to healthcare issues has a tremendous impact on the field."
To the Adlers, giving seems second nature, and they do it with little fanfare or ceremony. At Ramapo, their $2 million gift helped fund the Adler Center for Nursing Excellence, the new home of Ramapo's highly acclaimed and rapidly expanding nursing program, as well as state-of-the-art labs. Since its inception in 1993, enrollment in the school's undergraduate nursing program has risen significantly, reaching 440 students this year. To meet the demand, Ramapo added a Master of Science in Nursing Education in 2002.
"There is nothing more important than a knowledgeable and compassionate caregiver," Elaine says.
Their gift also launched a $54 million renovation of the G Wing, home to Ramapo's School of Theoretical and Applied Science and the School of Social Science and Human Services.
"Mike and I are privileged to be able to help prepare future generations for the challenges that face our region, state and country," Elaine says.
Beyond the bricks and mortar, the Adlers fully fund a nursing scholarship each year and have enthusiastically supported other Ramapo initiatives – including the Annual Fund, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Adler Theater in the Berrie Center for the Performing and Visual Arts – for more than 25 years. In fact, Elaine traces her involvement in Ramapo back to a tennis match at Indian Trail Club more than 25 years ago, when her mixed doubles partner, Bob Scott [then the president of Ramapo], asked her to serve on the college's board.
"I was drawn to the school's services for handicapped students and intrigued by the number of students who were the first in their family to go to college," Elaine says. "I've always been interested in health care and education, so I joined to see what it was all about."
Twenty-five years later, she continues to serve on the school's board of governors.
The Adlers' interest in Bergen County health care is well known. A decade ago, they founded The Adler Aphasia Center in Maywood, a post-rehabilitative therapy center addressing the needs of people with aphasia, a language disorder caused by stroke or traumatic brain injury, and their families. The Adler Aphasia Center is the only one of its kind in the New York-New Jersey area, which, Mike estimates, is home to 20,000 people with aphasia, including himself.
"Before I die, I want aphasia to be known and understood beyond the medical community," Elaine says. "A million people have it, and no one even knows what it means. It can happen to anyone, at any time and at any place, and increasingly we are seeing younger and younger people with aphasia."
In their quest to make aphasia better understood, they opened a satellite program, the Adler Aphasia Center at JCC MetroWest, last summer in West Orange. The center in Maywood treats more than 80 members, as well as drop-ins from as far away as Italy and Aruba.
"They find us through word-of-mouth, newspaper articles, speech language pathologists, physical therapists and even Google," Elaine says.
The Adlers' goal is simple.
"We want to be a haven for people [with aphasia] who might otherwise stay home and ask 'why me?' and while away their time doing nothing," she explains.
To that end, the center offers a broad range of programs and activities facilitated by speech language pathologists whose shared goals are to enhance communication skills of the center's members, provide opportunities for social and peer support, and build members' self-esteem and self-confidence.
"Everything we do is fun," Elaine says of the center's engaging, participatory programs, such as a public speaking group, a mock trial court complete with a judge and jury, and a choral group.
The Adlers are particularly excited about the global outreach the center is doing via Skype.
"Our members Skype with newfound friends with aphasia in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Nicaragua – all over the world," she says. In fact, computers are key to the members' experience, thanks to specially designed keyboards and programs.
Given the Adlers' interest in education, the center's work isn't all fun and games. In 2011, the center brought together 21 noted speech pathologists from all over the world to form the Aphasia Alliance Group. Under the leadership of Dr. Audrey Holland, the nationally recognized professor emeritus of speech and hearing sciences at the University of Arizona who is now the center's director of research, the group exchanges ideas, strategies and best practices. In addition, the center offers training and education programs to healthcare professionals, educators and others – anyone who is interested in improving the quality of life for a person affected by aphasia.
Such innovation and outreach come naturally to the Adlers. Mike also serves on the board of the National Aphasia Association and, in the past, has served on the board of Hackensack University Medical Center and the United Jewish Community of Bergen County.
Likewise, Elaine embraces virtually any cause that might lighten the load of those around her. More than half a dozen other organizations benefit from her sound judgment and endless generosity, including the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, the Center for Interreligious Understanding, the Community Resource Council, and the Jewish Home and Rehabilitation Center in Rockleigh.
"I'm very busy with my other lives," she says.
Set Sail with the Adlers
The Adler Aphasia Center will mark its 10th anniversary in a novel and decidedly nautical way.
"We're setting sail on a 'cruise for a cause'," explains Elaine Adler, who co-founded the Adler Aphasia Center a decade ago with her husband, Mike.
The first-ever aphasia cruise from the Northeast, the seven-night voyage aboard Celebrity Cruises' Summit will sail roundtrip from Cape Liberty to Bermuda, bringing together the Adlers, staff and friends of the Adler Aphasia Center, and people with aphasia and their families.
"It is a wonderful opportunity to vacation with family, meet others that share the center's passion for helping those with aphasia, and enjoy some great R&R," she says.
The cruise also gives Adler Aphasia Center members an opportunity to meet others with aphasia during onboard group sessions with one of the center's licensed speech-language pathologists.
The trip was organized by Mainly Meetings Travel, a Bergen-based travel agency specializing in travel arrangements for people with health- or age-related challenges.
Contact Linda Cutrupi at (201) 568-2146 for more information.