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READ Article on Foundation's Far Reaching Effect

Author: Gloria Geannette
Written On: Fri, 14 Aug 2009

Linda Walder Fiddle is a on a mission. The Ridgewood mom is a nonstop bundle of energy. She was an attorney for a top New York City law firm and had a successful career in public relations, but her passion now is The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation.

The all-volunteer public foundation was inspired by the life of her late son Danny, who had Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and it is a mother's passion that is evident in her dedication. Although her son was only 9 when he died, Fiddle was already well aware that there was a vast need for programs and services for adults with ASD. That realization drives her to develop and award grants to residential, vocational, educational, recreational and family programs that benefit adolescents and adults.

Recent grantees include innovative programs that hold special appeal for Fiddle. One of these is "Recipe for Success," a program for the Triform Camphill Community in Hudson, N.Y. The residential community received a grant to help launch a cookie making business.

In Santa Monica, Calif., money will go toward expanding a musical theater and film program where adolescents with autism will be able to write stories and appear in a live production along with their typically developing siblings and peers.

Closer to home, West Bergen Mental Healthcare received a grant to create a role model counselor-in-training program for young adults with Asperger Syndrome. The young adults are learning CPR along with practicing their social skills in a work environment. The goal is that they will be excellent role models for younger campers with the same syndrome.

And right in Ridgewood, Fiddle is working closely with the YMCA on two programs. One is an extension of an already successful art program and the other is a special pilot exercise program that can be used as a model throughout the country.

Arts Unbound provides education and vocational training in visual arts. In 2007, Fiddle funded a pilot program in Orange for young adults and adults with autism with artistic talent to take master art classes and then exhibit and sell their work. Thanks to an additional grant, classes have now expanded to the Ridgewood YMCA.

Fitness Independence Training (FIT) is a new exercise program which started on June 6. Kathi Meding, executive director of the YMCA's Oak Street branch, is thrilled with the program. "It's going beautifully," she said. "Linda put the whole thing together through her incredible network."

The YMCA provides memberships, instructors and the facility, while the supervisors come from the Alpine Learning Group. FIT matches up six adolescents or young adults who could benefit from an exercise program with six peer mentors. "Our goal is to identify participants who can transition to our typical exercise classes and go independently just like any other member here," noted Meding. The participants meet twice a week for four hours at a time. First they have a 45-minute step aerobics class, followed by a yoga class and swim time. The peer mentors help them as much as needed to follow instructions and to learn the routines of locker room. "Linda did most of the recruiting for peers and she's gathering all the information," said Meding, who is very impressed with Fiddle's dedication.

Fiddle is very appreciated by the people she works with and by the individuals and families that The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation was created to help. Now she is also receiving outside recognition for her public service. In May she won a Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference and in June she received the Jefferson Award for Public Service.

Always humble, Fiddle says that she is thankful for support from her husband Fred, her daughter Ava and her town. "I am so grateful to this wonderful community of Ridgewood," she said. "People really care. The merchants and women's clubs have been so supportive of our efforts to enhance people's lives right here in our own backyard."