So Much More Than Pica

Feb 10
Juan Encarnacion, Program Director
Dungarvin New Jersey
Jimmy, who suffers from pica, and his Christmas inflatable decoration

Pica is defined as the persistent craving and compulsive eating of non-food substances.


Similar to the Monopoly Board game, Dungarvin operates a four bedroom group home on Park Avenue.  The development of this home located in Burlington County, NJ, was generated by Dungarvin winning a Request for Letter of Intent (RLI) requested by the New Jersey Department of Human Services’ Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). DDD was looking for a human service provider to develop a home that would specifically support individuals diagnosed with Pica.  Because of the sensitivity of the diagnosis, our staff received specialized training and are extremely cautious and sensitive to the needs of the individuals in the home.

We were very pleased to introduce Dungarvin to Jimmy! Jimmy was the first individual to be served at Park Avenue.  Jimmy is a young man who, like many of the individuals we serve, came with a past.  He came to us from a Developmental Center and, while he has tried hard to forget his past, he seems to be tormented by the years of institutionalized behavior.

Together with Jimmy, his mom, and his team, we developed and identified strategies to assist with his transition. It has been especially satisfying for Jimmy and his mom to have staff assigned to Park that also worked at the Developmental Center where Jimmy previously resided. This helped for a seamless transition of goals and objectives into Jimmy’s current programming.

Jimmy has made great strides in developing and cultivating his relationships with his roommates and the staff who work with him.  He often shares with our staff that he was so used to getting negative attention while being at the Developmental Center that he never thought he would ever be treated “normal” again. Jimmy has reported that when living at the Developmental Center, he was treated according to his diagnosis and not as an individual. Jimmy has recognized he is so much more than PICA!

When talking with Jimmy, one quickly realizes that his dreams and motivations are no different than mine or yours. Jimmy very effectively communicates that he wants to be treated with respect and dignity. He has ambition.  Jimmy wants people to know that he is a kind soul willing to help anyone with anything. Jimmy has only been at Park for less than two months and already he has made great strides. He interviewed with Meals on Wheels and landed a volunteer position in the community!  Jimmy serves 11 meals throughout the community where he resides. Many recipients of the meals have shared their excitement with Jimmy. One particular individual exclaimed, “Bless your heart, sweetheart.  Your greeting and inquiry about my health just made my day!” Jimmy loves “to do” for others and this opportunity helps foster his desire.

In addition to volunteering his time in the community, Jimmy is also interested in attaining a job. We are working with Jimmy, his team and the community to make this a reality.  A request was submitted to the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to assist Jimmy in finding gainful employment.

Since coming to Park Avenue, Jimmy has taken advantage of some new found freedoms. Jimmy loves to take long walks, drawing, and can be seen almost daily on his bicycle.  Jimmy never thought he would ever get to a Red Lobster restaurant.  He received a Red Lobster Gift card two years ago while in the Developmental Center, yet was unable to use it.  Since residing at Park Avenue, he actually found it while taking inventory of his belongings.  Our staff took Jimmy to Red Lobster and he lucked out: it was “Lobster Fest” the weekend of his trip and Jimmy had a feast!

One of Jimmy’s favorite activities is swimming. Our staff will soon be acquiring a membership at the YMCA, where Jimmy and other residents may go swimming, exercise, and make new friends.   Jimmy also loves cleaning and decorating the house.   He was particularly excited about celebrating the Holiday season in his “own home”.  He shared his excitement with his mom, staff, and the neighborhood by taking on the responsibility of decorating the outside of the home. He worked with staff to purchase inflatable Christmas decorations that he put on the front lawn.

Jimmy has also shared one of his career goals. He is passionate and wants to learn more about bees. In fact, Jimmy has identified a career path to become a bee keeper! Our staff have begun researching this area and would like to take Jimmy to meet a beekeeper this spring.

Like many of the individuals we serve, Jimmy has many challenges ahead of him. We, the staff at Park, welcome those challenges and look forward to Jimmy’s transition back into the community. We know we are on the right track when his mother gave us a great complement during a recent meeting, saying, “You guys are bringing my Jimmy back!”

Contributor Credit: Rick Marsilio, Area Director

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  1. Tiffany Jackson,

    Kudos to Jimmy for not giving up on his dreams, despite challenges along the way; what a lesson for us all!! It’s so rewarding to read about Dungarvin team members living out our mission, all across the country. Let’s keep it up, and go even higher over the NEXT 40 years!


  2. Nancy MN Dungarvin,

    This is a wonderful story! Jimmy is exactly why I love working at Dungarvin. The world is full of Jimmys and Janes, and the caring staff at Dungarvin can make a difference in their lives. It is our responsibility to be Person centered, and really hear what our Persons are saying. Your Staff does this and Jimmy’s success is because of your support. Thanks for sharing Jimmy’s story.