Eden School staff celebrate major career milestones

When Ken Dorfman was first hired as a teacher at the Eden School, he was conducting classes out of a church basement in downtown Princeton. It was 1981, and Eden was a new school without a permanent home.

A lot has changed over the last 40 years, but one thing remains the same — Ken still wakes up every day excited to come to work at the Eden School.

“It’s not just a job — this is a career that you want for the rest of your life,” said Ken, who is celebrating his 40th year at Eden.

Tyrone is celebrating his 30th anniversary at the Eden School this year.

Ken is one of six Eden School staff members celebrating a major career milestone this year. Lead Teacher Tyrone Burston is celebrating 30 years at Eden, and Teaching Assistant Terry Kincs and School Counselor Dina Rizzo-Kormondy are celebrating 25 years, and Teaching Assistant Debra Dellasala and Assistant Director of Clinical Services Nikole Mauger are celebrating 20 years. 

“I don’t know where I’d be without them,” said Director of Educational Services Dr. Cindy Bott-Tomarchio. “They are invaluable to the program.”

As the Lead Teacher of Transition to Employment, Tyrone helps students learn skills they can use in the workforce. He was instrumental in starting the program as well as sustaining it during coronavirus-related closures.

“Even during the pandemic when we were hybrid and the students weren’t working yet, Tyrone reached out and kept in touch with every employer,” said Cindy. “He kept that lifeline going so when we were ready the kids could go right into jobs that were still available.”

For Tyrone, the most rewarding part of his job is helping students learn skills to secure employment after graduation. “For a lot of our parents, there’s such an unknown after graduation,” he said. “When students get jobs, their lives are changed forever. There’s nothing more special than giving those kids an opportunity to go out and work.”

“He loves to see the kids work,” said Cindy. “He likes to be the bridge to help them transition to adult services. He’s such a steady, solid presence.”

Dina has been an instrumental connection between the school and students’ homes for families for over two decades. From organizing events and activities for siblings and extended family members to helping new families, Dina supports families in nearly every stage of their journey.

“The most rewarding part of my job is watching the growth of the kids as well as their families, and how it all operates as a family unit,” said Dina.

For Terry, communication is her passion. She helps students communicate in a natural fashion so they can be heard in the world — a key part of Eden’s overall mission. 

“When I walked through the doors of Eden I knew that this was a place that I could see myself staying for a very long time. Then I blinked and here we are 25 years later,” said Terry.

Terry loves that each day brings something new. Since each student learns in their unique way, teachers can be creative. Even after 25 years, Terry is still learning new things. “Being able to see the accomplishments of the children, no matter how big or small, truly brings joy to me,” she said. “I know that we are not only helping the individual but the families as well.  Eden is just an amazing organization that I am proud to be a part of.”

When asked what kept Nikole here for 20 years, her answer is simple — the families and her colleagues. 

“I’m grateful to be able to come to a job where I feel appreciated and feel like I’m making a difference,” said Nikole. But the most rewarding part of her job is seeing all the progress the students make in all areas of their lives – in the classroom, with their families, and out in the community.

During her 20 years here, Deb has worked in nearly every classroom. But no matter where she’s working, she always puts the students’ needs first. 

“She always puts outcomes first,” said Cindy. “No matter what role or what hat she has worn, she looks ahead to the future for each of her students and helps facilitate their growth to be as independent and productive as possible.” 

Deb’s current role working in transition to employment and managing the school store is a perfect fit, as she gets to help the high school students become young adults and learn employment skills they can take into the workforce.

While every employee at the Eden School does what it takes to help their colleagues and Eden families, perhaps no one does it with a more positive attitude than Ken. 

“He never thinks of himself first — he is always, always thinking of everybody else,” said Cindy. “He’s the first one to sign up for somebody’s birthday or a special event, he gets activities going for staff outside of work, he loves the Eden Autism 5K — his social spirit is pervasive. It brings us all together.”

From bonding with colleagues to spending time with families, the connections Ken made over the last 40 years have made Eden a brighter, better place to work.

“Eden was a family, you saw that right away,” said Ken. “I knew right away that this is where I could be for the rest of my career.”

All of the Eden School staff who are celebrating a 5-year milestone were honored during the Homecoming celebration last month. All Eden staff who are celebrating 5, 10, 15, 20+ year anniversaries will be celebrated during the virtual Service Awards ceremony.