The DEVELOPMENTAL SPECIALIST
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Tiger Beat teen magazine. Easterseals. The Palm Beach Post. Bat mitzvah. Fort Pierce Police. Community theater. England. Jan’s Place. New Jersey. A SoHo penthouse. Volunteering. The ukulele. Brooklyn. India. Japan. Special Olympics. Use Your Words writing group.
If there was a diagram showing where each of the above items — and many more — overlap, Wendy Cozine’s photo would be in the center. She describes her traditional Jewish home in New Jersey as similar to living in a John Cheever novel. A favorite memory is going into New York to visit her father’s office in the World Trade Center.
“My dad took the train to work,” she says. “There were cocktail parties. They sprinkled English with Yiddish.”
Cozine’s mother worked at a portrait studio.
“She could sell anything,” Cozine says with a laugh. “Once the photos came out damaged and she convinced the family it was a special effect.”
When her mother applied for a credit card, the company wanted her husband to sign.
“She fought them. It was her money, she said. She didn’t get the card, but she stood up for herself.”
After high school, Cozine began college, but lacked the focus to continue. Back home, she worked at Tiger Beat magazine and met writer Caris Arkin. A shared love of music led them to form a duo called Nevoy Envoy that performed and recorded in New York. And a love for one another led to a wedding ceremony at a friend’s SoHo penthouse.
“Once Carole King was in the audience,” she recalls. “She talked the whole time, but it was cool.”
Arkin also influenced Cozine’s spiritual journey. For years they followed the teachings of Meher Baba, an Indian mystic, making several trips to India. The couple also performed internationally until a six-month gig in Japan proved fatal to the marriage.
“We played all day at Huis-ten-Bosch, the Holland park in Nagasaki, then they’d take us back to the hotel,” she says. “Being together all the time, we grew apart.“
A few years after the divorce, Cozine moved to Florida and lived with her parents while working with a great group of coworkers at The Palm Beach Post. West Palm Beach didn’t hold the same charm as her job, however. She moved to Edenlawn Plantation in Jensen Beach. Then, one night, while singing with a band at a local restaurant, she met Jimmy Cozine, who was finishing his training at the police academy. Not too many motorcycle rides later, they married.
Being married to a cop was a culture shock.
“Before, I never locked my doors or wore a seatbelt!” Cozine says.
Even more changes accompanied the birth of their son, Noah. Born two weeks early with spina bifida, Noah had multiple surgeries as an infant, spending two months at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. The Fort Pierce Police Department worked with Jimmy so he could be with them as much as possible.
“It was a strange, challenging time,” Cozine says. “I wanted a baby, but I didn’t feel prepared. Noah was so different.”
Noah was diagnosed with autism at age 5. Milestones every parent and pediatrician look for were delayed.
“He took his first step at age 3 on Sept. 11, 2001.”
Noah changed the course of Cozine’s life in several ways. He began to blossom with early intervention services through the Early Steps program. When his caseworker told Cozine about a job opening, she applied. She also went back to school, got a degree and certification and now works with Early Steps as a developmental specialist.
“We work with five areas,” she says, “motor, communication, adaptive, cognitive and social/emotional.”
Prior to COVID-19, Cozine assessed the child and coached parents in person.
“Going virtual changed a lot, but it’s been interesting,” she says. With some children, I’m seeing faster language development. Their parents are interacting more. It’s a silver lining.”
Silver linings mean a lot to those who’ve weathered more than their share of storms.
In 2010, the Cozines adopted 13-year-old Kenny.
“He’d had a good foster family, but his photos weren’t on the wall,” she explains. “We wanted to give him more of a family experience.”
Suddenly there were two teens in the home, one with a history of foster care and one with severe disabilities.
Then, shortly after a surprise party for Jimmy’s 50th birthday, he was diagnosed with cancer. The family enjoyed one last amazing trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, stopping at every Harley-Davidson dealership between here and there. He died a few months later.
“Every day I tell my boys how proud I am of them,” Cozine says. “We’re closer now. The three of us are really tight.”
Cozine is also proud of her work. “Early Steps is voluntary,” she says. “Parents have to buy into it. Sometimes they’re intimidated because of the disabilities but I encourage them to play, have fun. It’s great to get a video or text from a parent showing off some new milestone. I really believe in early intervention services.”
Lives in: Tradition in Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Infant/toddler developmental specialist for Easterseals Early Steps program
Family: Sons, Kenny and Noah
Education: Bachelor’s degree in social work from Florida Atlantic University; certification for developmental specialist from University of Central Florida
Hobbies: Music, community theater, writing, yoga, “Hanging with my family on Zoom.”
Who inspires me: “My sons inspire me. My co-workers, the families I work with.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I do a really good imitation of Ethel Merman.”