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Jerry Costello

A Red Carpet Experience

How does this sound: a “night club” exclusively for developmentally-disabled people, complete with lights, velvet ropes, and red carpet? It sounded pretty terrific to Matthew Mandell, who was only 15 when he turned the club idea into reality. Now, four years later, he’s an old hand at it—and it promises to be at least a once-a-year event, one that brings special smiles to a group of 100 very special people.

                It’s all done under the watchful eye of close supervision, of course, and Mandell has to rely on the cooperation of a lot of people to bring it off. But bring it off he does, and it makes for the most memorable of nights. The fourth “club experience” was recently held in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where Steve Janowski wrote about it in The Record, a Hackensack-based newspaper.

                Mandell got started on the project through his mom, Gail Tamirian-Mandell, who’s been taking him to Life Opportunities Unlimited since he was an infant. That’s the nonprofit she founded in 1995 for adults with developmental disabilities—and so it was hardly a total surprise when young Matthew came to her with his idea. After all, he reasoned, these were the people he grew up with, more like his brothers and sisters than a group of special adults. He wanted to do something for them—to give something back.

                What it amounted to was a night on the town. They were people who often felt unwelcome at dances, he sensed—at gatherings of any sort. His mother was skeptical at first, but came to see that young Matthew was dead serious…and so Club LOU Tonight (the initials are for Life Opportunities Unlimited) was born.

                This was the second year that the event has been held at Park West, a local restaurant that has a private room on the second floor. Mandell, now a sophomore at Cornell University, makes sure that the red carpet is there for his guests, adults 21 and over from throughout Bergen County.

                Mandell depends extensively on donations to make the evening special. As reporter Janoski explains: “Ridgewood’s finest restaurants contribute the food, and its firefighters act as the club’s security. A DJ and lighting professionals set the mood, and a photographer will take photos to provide keepsakes.”

                Two local banks join in sponsoring the event, and, as Mandell said, “Everyone just joins in to make this a wonderful night.”

                Stephanie Wong, Park West’s director of catering, echoes that. “It’s just something that we want to do to give back to the community,” she said. “We’re happy to be able to volunteer and be there for the whole event.”

                Mandell enjoys being on hand as the guests arrive, watching their expressions at their first sight of what the evening has in store. “When they see that red carpet with the velvet ropes,” he told Janoski, “and the fire department dressed in security uniforms, their faces light up. Because they think, ‘Wow, this is something special.’’”

                And it is.