“Happy Trails, My Parting Two Cents”

“ Happy Trails to you, until we meet again,  Happy Trails to you, keep smilin’ until then.    Who cares about the clouds when we’re together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.  Happy Trails to you, till we meet again.

Such were the words to the theme song to the TV show, “ Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans” back in the 1950s.  And they fit for my last article in our Newsletter as Project Freedom’s Executive Director.  As of July 1, 2021, I will be retiring as ED, giving the reigns over to our own Tracee Battis.  Knowing Tracee as I do, I am confident she will do an outstanding job, and provide great leadership into the future.  And of course, Norman remains our founder, who constantly reminds us of his vision and mission—Independence.  His influence will continue on and into the future.

I must say, that I never had any idea that this would be the last place for me to end my career.  Back in 1997, I had stopped to talk with Norman about selling my accessible van thinking that it would be better to sell to someone who really needed it rather than just trading it in.  Our conversation that day led to my giving a presentation to the Board of Trustees, who offered me the job.  And as they say, the rest is history.

However, my history with the disability community really started back in 1974, when my daughter, Jennifer was born with CP.  Back then there weren’t many options for services let alone housing.  Marion and I would be involved in organizing parent support for educational opportunities, and ultimately I became involved with Norman in forming Project Freedom.  I remember Norman coming into my gas station with his Dad, and talking to me about his ideas and his vision for independence.  I joined the Board, and became the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees.  As a volunteer, we lobbied our public officials to get funds to build our first housing community in Robbinsville, called Freedom I, which opened in 1991.   Fast Forward to today, and ten projects later, we are just completing our Robbinsville Town Center project, and about to break ground on our second one in Hamilton Township, across from the Library.

I must say it has been a lot of work, not always enjoyable, but always exciting.  Finding a suitable site, getting town approvals, getting our funding, managing the construction, doing the lease-up, and hiring staff—all things that can lead you to pull your hair out.  But in the end, very worthwhile.

So, as I sadly write these words, I don’t have any regrets whatsoever.  I have been fortunate to have worked with our great staff, which keeps growing every day with our consumers, who I know treasure our housing because it makes life easier and gives them a safe, and clean environment.  I’ve also enjoyed working together with my wife Marion, for the past nine years, in a professional capacity, and really need to share my success with her.  And, of course, our Board of Trustees, who for the most part, took on the enormous risks involved, and supported our housing developments. 

So, one thing Marion and I have always done, and that follows the Holy Spirit and trust in the Lord. 

God Bless, keep well and “Happy Trails to you, until we meet again”.

 

 

“My Two Cents” – May 2021

Tenant Writes “Heartfelt Thanks” to PFI Lawrence Staff

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

It isn’t often that we get a thank you from tenants for something done by our PFI staff that has helped or affected their lives.  That is why I was surprised to get a very nice phone call from one of our Lawrence tenants, Peggy Newman, with regard to something she needed to tell me.  So, when I did get to talk to her, she very much wanted to let me know how she felt about our office staff, Robin Brown and Brianne Foley, and how they helped her cope and get through this past year with Covid and all the issues we all faced.

In Peggy’s own words, “There aren’t enough Thank you’s for me to express my thanks for all your help and kindness.  They say there are angels among us, and I am glad that I found mine.  Life’s struggles are so constant in this age, that we live in.  That’s why God has sent two beautiful angels to care for us.  Their names are Brianne and Robyn.  Thank you Jesus, for putting them in my path.  They make each day a blessing”.

Peggy is a long-time resident of our Lawrence community.  She can be seen whizzing around the complex, usually helping others by walking their dogs or running an errand for another tenant.  Peggy usually participates in our activities when we have been able to put them on and is very outgoing and sociable.  Peggy uses a power chair to get around, but like so many others, has been a prisoner in her own home, so I was glad to hear that Robyn and Brianne were able to help her during this time.

Last fall, Project Freedom recognized the work that some other organizations, such as ARM in ARM and the Jewish Family Services agency, for providing food for many of our tenants.  I know that both Robyn and Bri make those monthly distributions to all our Lawrence tenants (Rosario helps as well ) so that everyone gets something each month.  In addition, it gives them a chance to see how folks are doing; and to lend a hand if needed.  Peggy also commented about how she felt that we were all a family who cared about each other and that she felt “blessed”.

So kudos to Lawrence PFI staff; keep up the good work.

L to R: Robyn, Peggy, and Brianne

 

 

 

 

 

“My Two Cents” — April 2021

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Last month, in the midst of leasing up our new “ Freedom Village at Town Center” apartment complex, we welcomed Robbinsville mayor David Fried to our community to celebrate a special achievement.  It was to honor and recognize a Robbinsville Freshman, Zoya Jadhav, for winning second place in a Statewide Essay contest.  For her achievement, Zoya won a $ 300 cash prize but donated half of her winnings to Project Freedom, which is really the big part of this story.

As many of you know, Mayor Fried is very proud of his town, Robbinsville, and especially proud when his students from the town, achieve success, and wanted to recognize Zoya for her achievement.  Since she wanted to donate half her award to Project Freedom, he reached out to us, to see if we could host a small gathering to recognize her and give her a Town citation.  Of course we said yes, and so staff prepared some light refreshment and welcomed the mayor, Zoya and her family to our new Community Center.  What also made that day special was that it was Zoya’s 15th birthday. 

It was quite evident to me, in talking to Zoya’s family that they are special people and that Mom and Dad are raising their children to very high standards.  When I asked Zoya what she would like to do with her life, she said that she wanted to become a doctor.  Indeed the story that she wrote, was about a young person who was sick with the Covit 19 virus, and ended up in the hospital.  There, she encounters another child, Charlie, who is chatty and annoying at first, but then also comes down with the illness.  They are now both struggling to hold on and breathe, and form a bond and friendship as they fight this terrible disease.

Her story is fictional yet has a basis in reality for many of those folks who have suffered with this terrible pandemic.  The loneliness, the separation from family, the soreness of having an IV in your arm and the sounds of those hospital monitoring machines, all created a vivid picture of her torture.  Her story is told, one paragraph at a time, with the headings of “ One. Two “ which I think was to mimic the rhythm of those hospital sounds. Yet it is a story of friendship that will ultimately win out. 

The title of her story is “Amity Amidst a Crisis” which means friendship during a crisis, and becomes the ultimate relationship the two sick children forge as they fight to breathe.  So although fictional, her point here is that during times of crisis or major life-changing conditions, we as human beings put aside our petty differences and come together to survive.  We respond to each other and will help each other to overcome those challenges to survive and make a better life.  What a mature thing for a 15-year old student to understand and capture in a story.  The  essay can be found on our website  by Clicking Here

Looks to me that Zoya has a talent and bright future as a writer if that doctor thing doesn’t work out. I think many of us “Adults” could learn a thing or two from her.   Happy Birthday, Zoya. 

 

Amity Amidst a Crisis by Zoya Jadhav

Note: This is an award-winning essay in a statewide Arts and Writing contest by Robbinsville High School student Zoya Jadhav who chose to donate half her price to Project Freedom Inc.

 

Amity Amidst a Crisis

Another sodden morning of the rains. Another day locked up in the same room. Another day seeing the same faces. Another day staring into a device for hours. Another day drowning in recurring events. Another day in quarantine. Another day living the new reality. 

One. Two.

The blight had washed over the world altogether. Life at an oblivious state hadn’t quite anticipated a detriment of this scale. Many were left at complete losses while others, joyous of the leisurely time left available on their hands. Many like myself, once enjoyed the break from life, however, grew to become lonely and deprived of the socialization that is imperative for human beings to function. 

One. Two. 

It was once estimated over 70% of the population would become victims of this harrowing coronavirus. This certainly proved true for almost a year. People dropped dead like flies and became prey to the predatory virus. People like me, who coerced themselves that they would be spared, fell and landed the hardest.

One. Two.

I lied in a crisp hospital bed, pondering the cause of my current state. IV’s pricked at my skin, leaving my arms sore for days. My eyes were heavy, and I was unable to keep them open. Doctors scurried and nurses followed, masked up and sealed. Protected from me. The busy ambiance left me feeling isolated, even though the environment was far from that of isolation.

One. Two.

A blue curtain with bumps and ridges along its body enveloped me and shielded me from what lied beyond the hospital bed I was in. I contemplated: Were there others like me? Was my family here to visit me? Or perhaps, I was just dreaming? These questions lingered day and night as my lungs deteriorated day by day. 

One. Two.

Faces became blurry and all I could see was the blue curtain. Days passed slowly. With each second, of every minute, of every hour, it became harder to breathe. Over a few days, I heard rustling outside of the curtains. Though I couldn’t taste or smell, my hearing senses had remained untouched.

One. Two. 

It was only a week later that I had discovered what truly lied behind the curtain. A vibrant voice tore through, 

“Hey, anyone there? I’m Charlie, what’s your name?”, it asked. Much to my dismay, it was a child. 

“No,” I replied briefly.

“Oh what a lovely name! Nice to meet you No!” the voice squeaked. I immediately rang for a nurse and requested to move away from the bothersome child.

“I’m sorry Cynthia, given your condition, it isn’t possible to move all this equipment. You’ll just have to deal with it,” the nurse refused. 

One… Two…

Though they were heavy, my eyes rolled and burned with hatred for the nurse. I turned on my side, away from the curtain, using the pint of energy I had left. 

One. Two.

Day by day, the child began speaking to me. Regardless of whether I responded or not, he went on and on about himself, his likings, his family, and even included what he disliked. I thought hard in attempts to recollect memories from my childhood. The few I recalled were much similar to what he was going through.

One. Two.

Every day, I grew to enjoy Charlie’s company. Although I didn’t ever speak to him, I assumed my silence implied that I was interested in listening to him. 

One. Two.

Days passed and my condition was worsening. What was once a vibrant voice had grown to become dull and dreary and reduced in its presence entirely. Something was wrong with Charlie. I needed to speak to him.

“Charlie, are you there?” I asked as I shifted towards the curtain. Nothing.

“Charlie? Charlie?” I repeated. No response. I pushed myself off of the hospital bed, forcing myself up. I dragged my medical oxygen machine and reached the blue curtain. My fingers grazed over it feeling the roughness of the curtain. I pushed it aside only to discover an empty bed.

One. Tw…

I woke up to several blurry faces hunched over me. My eyes slowly pried open. I squinted and tried to assess my surroundings. All I could see were the curtains that surrounded me; except, these weren’t blue. I looked around frantically as my heart rate began to soar and my throat began to close. Doctors and nurses crowded around me and slipped me into an oxygen mask. 

“Where is Charlie?” I cried although I couldn’t muster up the energy to do so. Tears seeped from my eyes, soaking my face

One.

A stout nurse pulled back the curtain. A child. A child engulfed in tubes, wires, pipes, and IV’s. 

“Charlie,” I whispered. 

“Take me to him,” I demanded of the nurse. My bed was moved next to his. I reached my hand over and took his in mine. His small, warm hands fit perfectly into mine. I stroked them and wept, my body heaving and throat closing with every shudder. Charlie’s eyes pried open and he stared straight at me. My heart leaped. He was still with me; more importantly, I could see him.

His auburn hair and defined facial structure were just as I had imagined. 

“I’m sorry Charlie,” I pleaded. The monotonous beeping of machines sounded up the room.  “It’s alright, No,” he responded using the last few breaths he could muster up. I let out a lethargic giggle and smiled weakly at him.  I clutched his hand and stared into his eyes. At that moment, I came to a realization: he was infected as well. Pools of tears began to fill my eyes as well as his. 

“Breathe with me,” I said to Charlie. 

“Breathe.”

One. Two. Three.

One. Two. Three.

We breathed in unison, hands enveloped. We were in solidarity; united whilst fighting against the virus.

  

Remembering Jack Rafferty, Our First “Angel”

Tim Doherty and Norman Smith remember John K. “Jack” Rafferty and his impact on Project Freedom’s formative year.

It was sad for everyone in Hamilton and Mercer County to learn of Jack’s passing this February.  He did so much for the citizens of Hamilton  Township and for a little organizations like Project Freedom.  Many people may not know the full true story of how Project Freedom got established.  Much of who we are today, couldn’t have been done, without Jack’s help.  So, here’s the story.

We all know that Project Freedom was Norman Smith’s dream for achieving his independence.  When he returned home from college living once again with his elderly parents, he felt his life was taking a step back rather than a step forward with a new life.  He had successfully lived in New York at college with his roommate, and knew that he could accomplish anything he put his mind to if only given the supports he needed.

So, Norman along with Frieda Applegate started the Nottingham Recreation Center for the Physically Limited. They organized a day program and then began to think about the other needs such as housing.  Long and short, Norman gathered community support with others, including myself, who had family members with a disability.  Along the way, Jack Rafferty, the mayor of Hamilton heard about Norman’s efforts and over the early years provided meeting space for his program activities.  Eventually Jack ran and won a single term in the New Jersey Legislature, and as part of that membership was able to get a single grant for $ 150,000 for Project Freedom.  After several years of fundraising, bingos, and the like, it was this grant that really gave Project Freedom the ability to hire an architect and seriously talk about housing.

That effort became reality in 1990, when Project Freedom was able to win tax credits that year and ultimately build our first Project Freedom on Hutchinson Rd in Robbinsville.  We tried to find land in Hamilton, however none was available at the time.  We did finally build in Hamilton in 2000, when we purchased land from St. Anthony’s on Kuser Road. 

Along the way, many people helped get Project Freedom where we are today, but it was that initial support from our Hamilton Angel, Jack Rafferty, that really got us going.  In subsequent years, Jack would come to our yearly gala’s and helped with our ongoing fundraising.  He was so proud when we were able to finally bring our housing to Hamilton, and build our 48 units there on Kuser Road.

As Mayor of Hamilton Jack helped so many other non profits and community organizations in Hamilton.  I know that he is personally responsible for the success of the Hamilton Y and all that they offer Hamilton consumers.  Jack Rafferty will always be remembered as our Angel.

–Tim Doherty

This month is the 37th anniversary of Project Freedom’s incorporation as an          organization in New Jersey.  It was our first serious step toward bringing an idea into concrete reality.

             

In the life of any organization, there are moments in time when an individual makes a big difference.  Project Freedom has had many, but in those early years when the path to success was fraught with obstacles, one political person was truly Project Freedom’s first angel.

John K. “Jack” Rafferty was mayor of Hamilton Township when the “Project  Freedom” concept was first      conceived.  By shear happenstance, I was invited to write for Jack’s unsuccessful run for governor, and as I have written many times, that brief opportunity gave me visibility and credibility to promote the idea of what   Project Freedom became.

In fact, our name came out a meeting with Jack when he asked Frieda Applegate and me what we were going to call this “house” we wanted to build.  Frieda looked at me, and with very little thought “Project Freedom” popped out of my mouth.  And that became our marketing tool before we incorporated.

A couple years later, Jack became Assemblyman Rafferty, and  he was able to secure $150,000 state grant for Project Freedom through legislation.  This was fuel for our planning engine as it empowered us to get             architectural plans and hire all the professionals for the development phase of a building project. 

 

Jack did that for us at a time when we were spinning our proverbial wheels.  From there, we had a path to move forward.  The path had more pitfalls and obstacles, but we had a way forward and professionals to help.

 

I’m remembering this because my friend Jack Rafferty passed in February .  He is mourned by many in New Jersey as a decent and dedicated family man, public servant, and politician who loved his community.

In an online remembrance of Jack, I contributed these thoughts:

“Jack Rafferty was a friend; he was a friend to me, a friend to Project Freedom, and a friend to the disability community.  I was a small part of Jack’s gubernatorial campaign, and this opened doors for me to co-found Project Freedom.  When Jack was in the legislature, he secured seed money that enabled our first complex to be planned.  Jack established one of the first Mayor’s Office for Disabilities in New Jersey during a time when we had very limited community visibility.  He truly was an angel to Project Freedom, and for that reason we gave Jack our first Angel Award.”

We will miss Jack, but his legacy continues every time we open a new community.   Rest in Peace, my friend.

–Norman A. Smith

Right to Left, Jack Rafferty, future NJ Governor Tom Kean, Bill Mathesius, and Norman Smith in the Summer of 1981

“My Two Cents” — January 2021

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well what a year 2020 has been!  What started out as a normal year, became topsy turvy with the emergence of the Covid-19 virus, and how our lives did change.  No longer could we go out to dinner, assemble in church, or visit our grandparents in nursing homes.  Many companies were forced to have employees work from home, but many people also got laid off. 

Our own work schedules have been altered so that our offices had to close, our recreation programs put on hold, and Board and staff meetings became “Zoom” meetings.  Schools closed, and then opened and closed again while offering virtual learning became the order of the day for schools and colleges. 

For Project Freedom though, it was a productive year.  We finished construction on two large housing communities, one in West Windsor and one in Gibbsboro, leased them up and continued construction on a third in Robbinsville. At the same time, we laid plans for a second community in Hamilton having won the funding and Tax Credits in 2019.  We hope to break ground for “Hamilton Woods” in the Spring of 2021.

The year started out in sadness in losing our long time Lawrence receptionist, Nate Smith, who was our good friend.  However, as PFI continued to grow we added construction manager, Bob Fasulo and Human Resource Manager, Marilou Chinchilla, as well as adding Gibbsboro Manager Wendy Pritsky.  Joanne Sherry, took over the new West Windsor Community while Brianne Devlin stepped up to become our Lawrence Manager.  

We restructured our management team, appointed Jackie Elsowiny, Frank Sciarrotta, and Dara Johnson as Regional Managers.  These changes were necessary to manage the growth we had just experienced, and have made our organization stronger, as we look forward to 2021.

As we enter 2021, there is great anticipation that the new vaccines, which have been developed at Warp Speed, will provide the protection we all need from this pandemic, and that very soon we will be able to return to a more normal lifestyle.  For me personally, it will be my last year as Executive Director, as I hope to retire on July 1, marking my 24th year of service.  What started out as a visit with Norman to sell my handicapped van, became my life’s work.  It has been a wonderful and exciting journey, seeing a small non-profit housing company grow to over eleven housing communities of over 500 units.  I am grateful to all whom I have worked with, from our Board of Trustees, our dedicated staff and our wonderful tenants.  You have made that journey special.

Finally I want to thank my son Tim and daughter Jen for always supporting my efforts, but most of all, my wife Marion, for being my sounding board and providing her wisdom and guidance.  Working with her every day has been special.  So the reins are past to another special lady–Tracee Battis, who will become the new Executive Director.  Tracee not only has the talent, experience and knowledge to handle the job, she also has the heart.  Our Mission is safe in her hands.  Project Freedom continues the journey. 

Happy New Year!

 

Facebook Friends Make Thanksgiving Meal Possible

Just like most people, the COVID-19 pandemic changed Thanksgiving plans for the tenants of Project Freedom at Hamilton.  Traditionally, many of them attended a Thanksgiving early dinner hosted by the congregation of the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Hamilton Square, but not this year.

Determined not to let Thanksgiving go by without the traditional meal at least, the staff of Project Freedom at Hamilton decide to cook a meal for nearly 75 people. But where to get that much food?

Simple. A call went out on Facebook, and turkeys and other food items came rolling in almost daily.

“A huge thank you to everyone in our community who donated turkeys and canned goods to Project Freedom at Hamilton,” said. Melinda J. Sciarrotta, Social Services Coordinator for the Hamilton Complex.  “We prepared a  delicious Thanksgiving dinner for our tenants at Project Freedom at Hamilton and Project Freedom at Robbinsville.” 

Under the cooking direction of Chef Savannah Green, Recreation Coordinator, and the “organizational” direction of Melinda, Project Freedom staff provided a container of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and string beans to the tenants of both properties. 

The remainder of the food donations that we did not use will be distributed to the needy tenants at both properties.

“All of us are so thankful for the opportunity to spread some love and cheer to our Project Freedom tenants,” added Savannah

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays to all!

The staff at Hamilton after preparing nearly 100 meals

From Norman’s Desk – December 2020

Norman A. Smith looking up at camera smiling dress in a green shirt and cap with CERT written on both
Norman A. Smith
Co-Founder &
Associate Executive Director

“True freedom is to have power over oneself for everything,” wrote French philosopher Michel de Montaigne in 1588.  For 36 years Project Freedom has implemented this concept for people with disabilities through our housing and advocacy.  This happens through the generous support of friends and contributors during bad times and good times.

This past year was probably the most challenging of Project Freedom’s history.  It has been the opposite of freedom and independence and optimism.  It has been dark and foreboding and a bit scary.

Yet through it all the glimmer of light from the flame of hope never went out. Our tenants—especially those with disabilities–proved their resilience and strength every day as they dealt with the lockdown. We learned how to help each other stay healthy and safe as we fought off loneliness and isolation through technology.

Project Freedom moved forward with opening two new complexes, constructing a third, moving forward on a fourth in pre-construction and a fifth in active planning. All the while, supporting the most vulnerable tenants with donated food and information resources.  Project Freedom’s impact never wavered. Our advocacy never ceased.

With your help, our impact will be greater in the next years as we continue promote freedom through  independent living when the COVID-19 virus is conquered.  This is the season for giving, and if you are so inclined to give to Project Freedom, it is not too late to become a 20120 Supporter! Your gift will be appreciated and acknowledged by yours truly.  Donate Now Button

Project Freedom is also an AmazonSmile charity, and you may select us if you participate in that program as you buy gifts.  Go to smile.amazon.com/ch/22-2532804 and Amazon donates to Project Freedom Inc.

Meanwhile, I hope all of my readers have wonderful and joyous holidays, receive the gift of peace and love, and have the companionship of those dearest to you.

Norman A. Smith,
Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02
Follow us on Twitter @TheFreedomGuys
“Like” us on Facebook.com/ProjectFreedomInc

 

“My Two Cents” – December 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

So, as I write these words, it is Thanksgiving Weekend, and I am  suffering from the guilt of eating too much this year.  Even with only our immediate family present…the five of us…it was good to get together to enjoy each other’s company.  My brother and sister- in- law, called in via ZOOM as did my son’s friends from Florida, Lauren and Zack.  It was good to hear their voices and to see them, albeit from a small IPad screen.  This year, 2020 may be remembered for the canceling of programs, and of wearing masks and social distancing, but also for the obstacles that were overcome, much more than what we were not able to do.  All in all, still many things to be thankful for.

Certainly, as I look back on this year, and most of last year, our Project Freedom team and managers were very busy, finishing the construction of our West Windsor site, as well as following up with our Gibbsboro project.  Although West Windsor was started prior to our Gibbsboro site, the rains of 2019 delayed most of that construction for almost an entire year, so as to catch up with the construction schedule for Gibbsboro.  It is hard enough bringing in one of these projects let alone, two at the same time. 

BE that as it may, our staff did an excellent job in leasing up both sites, in record time.  Even with COVID-19 disrupting everything this year, our PFI team was able to lease up all 72 units in Gibbsboro, as well as hire staff to run the operation there.  We held monthly, then weekly lease up meetings to talk about applicants and to keep on top of the progress.  It finally paid off when the last tenant signed their lease in early July. 

Also in 2019, we broke ground for our Robbinsville site construction which is due to finish in the first quarter of 2021.  This project has been going much smoother than West Windsor, however has still felt the effects of Covid-19 virus.  Our cement contractor had his entire crew be exposed to the virus, which necessitated them quarantining for fourteen days, so no cement work got done during that time. 

In addition, we have struggled in getting windows and appliances for this project, which has given me a few more grey hairs.  It is only within the last few weeks have we gotten all required windows, and have also received the appliances for the first building. Now that those issues have been overcome, it looks more likely that we will be able to meet our schedule for final CO’s.

This year we have also had to be creative about scheduling staff for office and maintenance work.  No longer can we have two people working in the same apartment at close proximity to each other, so  getting to turn apartments over and going into tenant apartments has been more difficult this year.  But we have managed to keep on track and keep everyone safe.

Finally, although this year, we will not be able to hold our staff Christmas Party, we still hope to ZOOM together to share some fun, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  Knowing that a vaccination is around the corner, gives us hope that 2021 will be a much better year.  So, here’s wishing everyone a safe Merry Christmas.