A Cup Of Coffee With Helene Bernstein Bergman
By Elizabeth Alterman
Published March 20, 2012
The mother of twin boys is an attorney and child advocate.
Helene Bernstein Bergman is looking forward to the 19th annual, which will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday at
Presented by the Westfield Parent-Teacher Council Special Education Committee, the event is free and open to the public.
Bergman, who co-chairs the Westfield Special Education Committee with Lisa Kops-Wendel, said the two were recruited five years ago, and it has been “a natural fit.”
Having met a decade ago through a local club for parents of twins, Bergman said she and Kops-Wendel were already friends and because each possesses different strengths and weaknesses, they complement each other nicely.
The two have been working for the past year on tomorrow evening’s event, which typically attracts between 200 and 300 people annually.
“What’s nice is that it draws in not only parents of special ed students but also parents who are trying to get a little assistance for their child,” Bergman explained. “Maybe they think something’s wrong but they can’t put their finger on it; this is a very non-threatening way to pick up some information.”
The evening features 10 individual workshops hosted by a range of professionals from doctors and psychologists to financial representatives and attorneys. Parents and educators can select which two of the 10 one-hour sessions they would like to attend. The first is held from 7:40 to 8:40 p.m. and the second begins at 8:45 and ends at 9:45 p.m.
Bergman said a resource table will provide parents with additional information. Applications will also be available for the annual Katherine E. Cuthbertson Memorial Fund, which presents four high school seniors, who have received special services, with scholarships.
“It’s really amazing to read their applications,” Bergman said. “They’ve not only excelled personally, but through school and their extra-curricular activities. As a parent of a younger special education student, you worry, but you read these applications, and say, ‘they’re going to be okay.’”
Bergman said the district has been extremely helpful to the committee in its efforts.
“We have a new superintendent of special education, Mike Weissman, who started this year and has been very supportive of the parent group,” she noted.
Bergman said the committee has been able to form a nice partnership between parents and the administration. Meeting once a month, the group spends the first half-hour mingling before a formal presentation is made from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Weissman attends the meetings as well and makes himself available to hear the concerns of parents.
“It’s nice bringing different parents together whom I might not have met necessarily and we learn from each other and most of these programs are a result of parents having relationships with these professionals or service providers, or success with their child,” she said.
The mother of eighth-grade twin boys, Bergman also started a support group for parents of special education students through.
“I just felt like it was something that I wanted to do before my boys graduate from Roosevelt, which is this year,” she said.
Bergman, who is also a high-conflict divorce attorney with a practice in Brooklyn, said she has always been an advocate for children, working on their behalf in many of her cases throughout the past two decades.
Three years ago, the counselor decided to expand her practice into the field of divorce mediation and bring that portion of her business to Westfield, where she works out of her home.
“As a result of realizing that most families are not served by going into court and fighting these big battles out, I learned there was another way to address a lot of these issues, which was through divorce mediation,” she said. “It’s a way for parents to figure out what’s in their family’s best interest without having to hire lawyers and have the court system impose its own values. It empowers them to come up with their own agreements.”
Bergman said because she is also an attorney, once both parties reach an agreement she is able to offer advice beyond what a mediator who is not a lawyer can provide.
“They have the comfort of knowing that the person they’re mediating with is also an attorney, so they are able to find out what can happen should they choose to go to court,” she said.
One aspect of mediation that she has particularly enjoyed is seeing parents work together to focus on their family rather than on the reasons why they are divorcing. Bergman also said meeting in her home often puts clients at ease.
“People walk into a lawyer’s office and their marriage is dissolving, it’s emotionally devastating; mediation is a less stressful, less costly way of resolving your conflict,” she said.
Bergman said anyone interested in learning more about mediation can visit her website or contact her for a consultation.
*Note: Bergman said she enjoys a cup of coffee with milk and Splenda.