“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

 

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.

 

Gateway Food Pantry Helps Woodstown Tenants

The “Gateway Food Pantry” recently delivered produce and food to the tenants of Freedom Village at Woodstown in Salem County. 

The food pantry is operated by Gateway Community Action Partnership, a Community Action Agency.  It is a private and public non-profit organization that serves seven counties in New Jersey and the City of Philadelphia with multiple programs.

This was their first delivery of food to our tenants, and  Project Freedom truly appreciates your generosity and support of our tenants!

 

 

From Norman’s Desk — September 2020

A white male with glasses looking up at camera smiling wearing a green shirt and cap with CERT written on bothThis month marks nineteen years since the attacks of September 11th.  National Preparedness Month is also recognized each September to promote family and community disaster and emergency planning now and throughout the year.

The 2020 theme is: Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.

For many, the memory of that awful September day in 2001 is fading, but my memories are still vivid down to my shirt and tie.  The day started out so bright, beautiful, and refreshing, but it ended so dark and frightening.  The feeling of anger and uncertainty spread around us like a cloaking fog.

That feeling is around us again as COVID-19 has changed our lives, and the future is uncertain as we all work through this “new normal.”

Every year since the attacks, I choose to pay tribute to the three elements that create my memory of that day.  First, I honor the life of my friend and colleague Colleen Fraser who died on Flight 93 with those other selfless heroes who may have saved the U.S. Capitol or the White House and thousands of other lives.  Colleen was a fighter, and she was in good company that morning fighting to take back that plane.

Second, I remember the lives of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died that day.  Most knew going into those buildings that some of them would not come out alive.  They knew this instinctively by virtue of their experience and profession.  They still went in with police officers and EMS personnel to save those who could not save themselves.  They went in to save people with disabilities.

And, yes, thirdly, I remember those people with disabilities who died that day in those towers.  I was not watching the horror on television that morning.  I had a meeting at 10:00, and during that meeting I spoke of Colleen and wanting to connect her with someone.  Later, someone told me of the collapse.  My very first thought was that many firefighters had just died; my immediate second thought was that many people with disabilities had died as well.

This year I also pay tribute to the doctors, nurses, medical support staff, direct care staff, and first responders who put their lives on the line trying to save others from COVID-19.  They also ran toward danger to help others, and many paid with their health or their lives.

How many people with disabilities died that morning in September may never be known.  We do know that the corporations and government agencies housed in those towers hired people with disabilities.  We do know that some people with disabilities made it out because they had a plan, their company had a plan, or some colleague or friend took the initiative to get them out.   We do know that others stayed behind not wanting to burden friends, not wanting to get in the way, or just having unwavering faith that the FDNY would get to them.  We also know that loyal friends stayed behind with them.  We know that some people with disabilities who stayed were rescued but many died with their rescuers.

In the same manner how many people with disabilities have died from COVID-19 may never be accurately known. We do know that nearly 40% of the COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes where many people with   disabilities are forced to live.  We do know that people with disabilities living in the community have been isolated by the lack of community-based direct support workers.  We do know that the government is not tracking the deaths of people with disabilities as a COVID-19 statistic.

Every victim of these national tragedies needs to be remembered and honored.  I feel a personal duty to honor Colleen, The 343, and those almost nameless people with disabilities who stayed behind that September day.  I also honor the nearly 200,000 persons who have died in this pandemic.

As I say each year, let us all remember the victims and the heroes of September 11, 2001, by getting prepared and staying prepared.  You never know how a bright, beautiful, and refreshing day may end. 

PF Communities Work Together During Power Outage

On August 11, 2020, Hurricane Isaias made landfall in New Jersey, causing about 3.7 million power outages across the state.  Freedom Village West Windsor was one of those communities affected by this massive outage. 

With tenants without power or air conditioning, the Project Freeeedom staff at West Windsor and Lawrenceville swung into action together to provide breakfast and hot coffee for the tenants.

Then the tenants of West Windsor also jumped into action to help each other.  They donated thawing food to be grilled by other tenants to provide hot lunch and dinner for everyone.

Project Freedom staff was also able to set up a generator to allow tenants to charge electronics and medical equipment throughout the day.

Project Freedom extends immense gratitude to the staff and tenants who helped their community during this time.

With their help Freedom Village at West Windsor was able to turn a disaster into a community enrichment day.

Two white rectangle tables with coffee in disposable boxes, donuts, and breakfast bars.
Blackout Breakfast

Hotsdogs and other grilled food items on a serving plate with servings tongs. Two hamburgers are on the table with other food.

A white rectangle table with phone charging cables.
A charging Statrion for phones was set up powered by a generator.

From Norman’s Desk – July 2020

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

For the thirteenth time in my life, I will vote again this year to elect the President of the United States of America.  I remember in in 1972 being forced to vote two weeks ahead of time by absentee ballot because my polling place was in accessible.  I  remember in 1992 being challenged at the poll because of my disability, and I remember the empowerment I felt by calling a state hotline while at the poll to “fix” the situation to my satisfaction.

Times have changed for people with disabilities in terms of voting ease.  Now most polling places and polling booths are accessible, but this year COVID-19 is forcing many states to encourage voting by mail for everyone in many states.  Yes, there are still barriers to voting—especially this year in other states, but there is no excuse for any person with a disability not to vote.  Nothing about us without us, right?

But I want to talk again about something besides voting. I want to talk about people with disabilities getting involved with political campaigns. Of course, COVID-19 is preventing this kind of activity this year, but it is important to see how you can become involved through technology and Social Media.

I became involved with campaigns twice when I first starting out as a disability advocate.  I worked on a statewide Republican campaign for governor and a county campaign for a Democrat.  They both lost, and that may be a commentary of the type of person I support. 

Nevertheless, these campaigns opened doors for me, and, more importantly, these candidates, their staffers and supporters gained a greater understanding of my needs as a person with a disability.  This was a great asset in advocating on disability issues through these same people over the years.

The disability community has a saying: “Nothing about us without us!”  It means that people, programs, agencies, and governments shouldn’t make decisions about people with disabilities without our involvement in the decision process.  Well, the decision process for the 2020 elections is moving ahead on all levels of government.  We need to be involved! 

We need to VOTE on November 3!