“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.

 

Many fell through cracks COVID crisis. Here’s how to fix it, disabilities leaders say

By Gene Meyers. NorthJersey.com, November 23, 2020

Leaders in the disability community who condemned the state’s COVID-19 response in a recent report said one fi is obvious to anyone with a disability and it’s shocking that it wasn’t to others.

Expand the office of the New Jersey “Ombudsman for Individual with Intellectual an Developmental Disabilities and Their Families” to the “Office of the Ombudsman for People with Disabilities and Their Families,” and fewer people in need fall between the cracks, posited the report, which outlined 23 ways the state failed to protect the disabled community during the pandemic.

Read more of this article here

 

“My Two Cents” – November 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

So, this Covid-19 Virus has affected life in so many different ways.  In the past, around this time, we would be preparing and then holding our Annual Gala fundraiser.  This annual event would attract about 250 people all who would gather at the Stone Terrace by John Henry. 

We would have a live band for dancing, have cocktails and a great dinner.  During that time, we would present our Angel Award, the Stephen Wensley  Award, Robin Heim award and our Freedom Bell Award. 

We would also select our “ Employee of the Year” on that evening, recognizing one of our staff members who distinguished themselves in their performance during the year.  Not this year however….the year of 2020.

Unable to have large indoor gatherings, many non-profit agencies have opted to do a “Virtual Event”.  This is one that is produced either live or with taped video, and is presented over the Internet via YouTube or some other Internet based channel. 

So, this is what we intend to do this year, in place of our actual Gala Dinner.  On December 4 at 7 PM, a select few of Project Freedom staff members will conduct a “Live Stream” Virtual Event as our fundraiser and awards night for 2020.  This event will be held at our Hopewell Community Center in Hopewell Township.  The plan for the evening is to have great music from our local band, “Kindred Spirit”, who will play selected songs in between our awards presentations.  These presentations have been pre-recorded so that we won’t have a crowd of people at the same time during our Live Stream event that night. Our objective is to entertain, and to inform our audience about Project Freedom and to give recognition to those we honor this year.

And so rather than honoring one “Angel” we have selected three this year, and have dubbed them our “Angels of 2020”.  These include outside service agencies such as Arm in Arm, the  Jewish Family and Children Services and the National Equity Fund ( NEF ).  Getting our Freedom Bell award will be the Hopewell Valley School District and the Hopewell Valley Mobile Food Pantry.  Tenant Frieda Davis will be honored with our Robin Heim Award, and tenant Abusammaa “Sam” Ramziddin will be our  tenant Success Story for 2020.  Rounding out our list this year as our “Employee of the Year” is  Dara Johnston from our Westampton community. 

Funds raised through this event are 100% tax deductible and provide support for our tenant programs.  This year, we purchased two brand new Ford 350 Transit Vans which will be used to transport our     consumers and tenants to various functions and medical appointments.

So, mark your calendar for December 4 at 7 PM.  To view this event, just log onto the Project Freedom website by Clicking Here  and look for the link to our “Live Stream” event.

See you then. 

 

 

 

NJ Disability Advocates Release COVID-19 Report

For the past several months,  Project Freedom’s co-founder, Norman A. Smith, worked with other NJ disability advocates to address the gaps, shortcomings, omissions, and faulty planning of the State’s COVID-19  response as it impacted on people with disabilities.  They came together as the Disability Action Committee for COVID-19, and collectively they released our Initial Report at the end of October.

The Committee was convened by Javier Robles, J.D,  the current director of The Center for Disability Sports, Health and Wellness at Rutgers University.  Robles is the former deputy director of the NJ Division of Disabilities Services and a former member of Project Freedom’s Board of Trustees.

“This committee submits the New Jersey COVID-19 Disability Action Committee Report with our experience and recommendations for our state’s residents with disabilities’ future resiliency,” said Robles in his cover letter for the Initial Report.  He noted earlier in the letter that “our state’s health and social justice mechanisms must protect the health and wellness of people with disabilities and uphold their federal, civil, and state rights. We must do better, and we must prepare now for the next wave of this pandemic, the following national catastrophe, or any other emergency that awaits us in the future.”

Current Board of Trustee member Kelly Boyd also served on the Disability Action Committee and worked with Smith on the emergency management/preparedness section of the report

Emergency management and preparedness including people with disabilities has been a priority for Smith since 1999.  Smith has worked with emergency management professionals for more than 20 years to provide critical, disability-specific input on statewide planning and preparedness procedures. He has also worked closely with New Jersey’s 11 Centers for Independent Living Centers (CILs) to educate people with disabilities on how to be better prepared for emergencies and disasters.

I’m deeply concerned that New Jersey’s response to COVID-19 did not adequately anticipate the needs of people with disabilities,” said Smith when the report was released. “Having to write letters to remind government officials that people with disabilities have the civil right to life-saving critical care during this crisis is an indication that proper planning has not occurred with direct input from people with disabilities.”

“I strongly believes that New Jersey has the wherewithal and willingness to do better for its citizens with disabilities before, during and after emergencies and disasters. New Jersey must do this not only as a matter of law but, also, because it is the right thing to do,” said  Smith

The entire report can be found here.

From Norman’s Desk – October 2020

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

 

Readers of my monthly column should know by now that I’m interested  in politics, and especially the intersection of politics, disability, and the resulting public policies that impact on people with disabilities. 

The interest stems from being trained as a journalist during the Carter-Ford presidential campaign while living on a college campus with many activists with disabilities. I caught the “inside politics” fever.

And, by happenstance, I became involved with two political campaigns upon returning to New Jersey.  One for a Republican and one for a Democrat, and I quickly learned that disability-related policies are not partisan issues at the local level.

I also learned that participating in campaigns is a great way to educate people in politics about “our   issues,” and it is very helpful in building up credibility if you decide to do something unusual like start building housing to support people with disabilities.  I cannot tell you how helpful it  is to advocate for something with politicians who know you personally.

This is why I encourage anybody with a disability to get involved with politics.  First and foremost as   voters.  Then, if you like a candidate, become involved by volunteering with the campaign.  Become  engaged, ask questions, and don’t just focus on disability issues.

We live in the Community. We need to ask about issues beyond our own because our needs for safe neighborhoods, effective and efficient local governments, well maintained infrastructure, and well-run services are just as great as our able-bodied neighbors

I’m a great believer in democracy even as messy and raucous as ours is right now.  What is happening now, however, is not that unusual if you delve into early U.S. history.  If it existed, Twitter would have been used by Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to insult and degrade each other in their campaigns.  Instead, they used the printing press to print daily or hourly “broadsheets” to accuse each other of lying, cheating, or having scurrilous vices like enjoying Thespians..

Our democracy is cheapened by the ugly discourse, but it is endangered much more by people opting not to participate in the process.  Sure, there are winners and losers with participatory politics elections, and, sure, democracies sometime make huge mistakes with major consequences. The key  to democracy is to stay engaged no matter who wins or loses.

A year ago I predicted we would be in the most contentious presidential campaign in my experience.    Little did I know that we would be smack in the middle of a deadly pandemic, a racial  reckoning, seemingly endless natural disasters, and wacko fringe elements stoking civil strife for the causing chaos.  It is enough to make someone disengage.

But we can’t!  So, let’s get and stay engaged!

 

“My Two Cents” – October 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

As fall approaches, we all enjoy the vibrant colors of the surrounding landscape, and Project Freedom is usually busy planning its annual Angel Award Dinner, a tradition that spans more than 20 years.  This year, due to COVID-19 protocols, we will not be able to host a celebration with 250 guests in attendance.  Instead, we will celebrate the resiliency of our staff and tenants in navigating today’s new and challenging world.         

Quietly and faithfully, five organizations have been providing food for our Project Freedom neighborhoods.  Arm in Arm, and the Jewish Family & Children Services of Greater Mercer County organizations have been delivering grocery bags on a monthly basis to tenants experiencing food insecurities.  The Hopewell Valley Regional School District and Hopewell  Valley Mobile Food  Pantry have been bringing food and meals to some of our Hopewell families.  The National Equity Fund Inc. generously donated $ 10,000 to Project Freedom to provide food for 137 tenants in three of our communities.  These five organizations have been the Angels of 2020 for many of our tenants who benefited from the gift of food.  We would like to recognize each of these outstanding organizations for the food relief that they provided to many during the past seven months.

So, this fall, instead of attending our annual Angel Gala, we instead invite you to tune in to a Live Stream event, which will honor and recognize our heroes of Project Freedom as well as entertain you.  Please mark your calendar now for this exciting, new event.  Project Freedom will Live Stream a program on Saturday, November 7, 2020 from 7:00- 8:00 PM from our Hopewell campus on Denow Road in Pennington, New Jersey.  This Live Stream program will include music by the wonderful local band, Kindred Spirit, information on the newest Project Freedom communities, and a presentation of awards to our 2020 honorees. 

The funds from our Angel Award Dinner have supported programs and services for our tenants each year.  In the past, our attendees and sponsors have given generously to this annual event, and we are grateful, and we hope that you will continue to do so this year as well.

Donations can always be made by mailing your check or by credit card to Project Freedom Inc.  Or by going to our website at www.projectfreedom.org.  All donations are tax deductible. 

Help us continue the work of building housing communities that promote Independence for everyone.  So, in order to attend our Live Stream Fundraiser, just log onto our website at www.projectfreedom.org and tap on the link, Live Stream Event.

See you then.