Holiday Party Thank You from Lawrence

‘Twas the night of December 18th, a highly anticipated night for our tenants at Project Freedom at Lawrence, as our Annual Tenant Holiday Party had arrived. The room was filled with joy and laughter as almost 30 tenants, as well as their guests, entered the green and red winter wonderland. Snowflakes guided their path, holiday music playing the background and a beautifully decorated tree lit the room.

Their happiness was evident and their eyes were beaming as bright as the lights on the Christmas tree when they saw the astounding amount of generous gifts before them covering over nine tables amounting in over 100 donations! Gifts donated by the kind hearts of past and present 3Main Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital employees, Gene Menges and amazing anonymous supporters. Not one person left empty handed. Many leaving carrying a multitude of gifts in their hands and a huge smile on their face!

Each tenant had a personalized gift bag donated by Gene Menges in memory of his beautifully spirited wife Michele Menges who played an instrumental role in the orchestration of this wonderful event for the past four years.

An unforgettable historic night it was! While enjoying a delicious dinner from Mamma Rosa’s, the festivities began. The baskets were overflowing with tickets as the Silent Auction commenced. Everyone was excited with the hope of winning one of the marvelous gifts ranging from clothing, household necessities, home décor, games, gift cards, movies and many more.

However, with all of those generous gifts from Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital we couldn’t possibly pass them out alone! Halfway through the night Saint Nicholas himself came ringing his bells riding in on a firetruck with the lights flashing escorted by his elves from Slackwood Firehouse. Santa Claus came just in time to take pictures with the tenants, pick some winning numbers for the remaining gifts as well as pass them out to the lucky winners. Everyone was smiling ear to ear to see Santa himself. Santa definitely enjoyed his time visiting our tenants stating he could stay here forever! He continuously expressed the amount of joy he felt in his heart to see the smiles on their faces.

This indescribable night would not have been possible without the bountiful donations of past and present 3Main Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital. This event would also not have been possible without the beautiful spirit of Michele Menges. The staff and tenants at Project Freedom would like to thank these Angels for all they do!

“My Two Cents” — March 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well when I first heard this news, I smiled and said, ”of course, we are the perfect venue for this kind of news.” 

 
And the news was that NJHMFA wants to announce a new program of financing that will help to fund Special Needs Housing and wanted to do it at our new West Windsor housing community. So, we were honored to have Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver and HMFA Executive  Director Charles A. Richman combine their announcement with our ribbon cutting for our new housing community in West Windsor. Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Oliver eventually could not attend.
 
This Freedom Village site is located off of Old Bear Brook Rd in West Windsor.  This project has been one that has been in the making for over ten years.  I started talks with the owner in the 1990’s and kept in touch with him each year, to see what his timeline was for when this community could begin.  The tricky issue was to get this to conform with the available funding mechanisms, as well as work within the Low Income Tax Credit program, which we did.

Also, the time had to be right for the town politically.  Like what usually happens with our housing, we had an advocate– someone who was a West Windsor resident, and who was also a member of the Project Freedom family.  Her name is Florence Cohen.  Florence was a Board member for Project Freedom for many years, and an advocate for our housing in West Windsor.  She served on the Affordable Housing Committee within the town, and would keep the name of Project Freedom in the forefront of any discussion regarding affordable housing.  Having a family member with a disability only made it more personal for Florence when she talked about Project Freedom housing.

This is not unusual for Project Freedom to have advocates in the towns that we build.  Usually we are contacted initially by parents groups who realize that when their kids get to be adults, there really isn’t any appropriate housing that will meet their needs.  They want to stay in the town and want their now adult children also to live in proximity of where they grew up.  This makes a lot of sense, especially for those with a disability.  So, these people contact Project Freedom to see what we can do to help.  And of course, if we can, we try.

So, having the Lt. Governor asking to come to announce a new housing program was really a feather in the Project Freedom hat.  We have worked hard to build a housing product that fits the need, is sustainable, and is located in locations that are convenient to shops and transportation.  Our West Windsor site is one that fits that bill, with the West Windsor Train station located just a couple of blocks away, and shopping found on the Princeton-Hightstown Road.

So, once again, we have created another housing community that will be open to all—especially those who use a wheelchair or who have mobility issues.  The mission continues.

 

From Norman’s Desk – March 2020

Norman A. Smith looking up at camera smiling dress in a green shirt and cap with CERT written on bothThis month you will be reading and hearing more about the emerging outbreak of Coronavirus-2019 (officially named COVID-19). The situation is very worrisome—especially if you have a disability.
 
Nevertheless, one of the key responses to this type of situation is getting accurate information and trusting the source of it. 
 
I’m going to be blunt about this: The “tinfoil hat wearing wingnuts” are out there already with disinformation to fit their own agendas or mania. These theories are fabricated using facts, half-truths, and outright lies woven together to fit any point of view about health issues or politics. They can be laughable except these flights of fantasies will obscure the correct information and messaging needed to keep us safe and well.  Misinformation is disruptive and will lead to people dying.

I saw one tweet that contained a claim that was not true, and the link for more information redirected me to an online store to buy masks, but then I saw another tweet dismissing the use of masks.  People are trying to make a quick buck from the outbreak, and people are trying to scare us for their own pleasure.

My message is this: Do not rely on Facebook or other social media to for information to make urgent health decisions!  

Your Facebook friends may be  good sources for gossip, recipes, sports trivia, or where to go fishing, but accurate information in these situations may not be a Facebook post shared a zillion times.  The quantity of shares or views does not indicate the quality or accuracy of the information.

Sadly, even our elected officials can pass on erroneous information that they may have heard or read from an unreliable source. It is easy to pass on tainted information as you try to appear to be on top of everything, and it is hard on the ego to appear not to know authoritative information.

By the time you read this, any accurate information that I can pass along will be outdated and may be inaccurate.  Personally, I rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information, I check CDC.gov daily for updates. 

“My Two Cents” – February 2020

Remembering My Friend Nate

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

By now most of the Project Freedom community knows that our friend, Nate Smith passed away in January.  Nate Smith was a tenant and employee at our Lawrence office and served as our receptionist there—answering the phones, and greeting our many visitors each day.  Nate could answer most questions regarding our housing…which application to use, and if there were any vacancies at our other housing sites.  He loved to come to work each day and was an inspiration to all of us who got to know him. 

There is a Chinese proverb, that says, “ It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness”.  I think that that philosophy is one that best describes my friend Nate.  Nate was born with spinal bifida, and used a wheelchair for mobility.  Because of this condition, Nate had a ostomy when he was a young boy, and lost his sight when he was a young man, so he had his share of problems and issues.  I think for me, having to go each day with what he had to contend with, certainly would have made me a very sour person.

But not Nate Smith.  He talked to me one day, on our trips to the doctors, or wherever, and told me that, early on, he struggled with his limitations, especially when he became blind.  However, I remember him    saying that, he realized that he didn’t want to go through life being a negative person, and holding on to his bitterness.  His attitude was that he accepted his condition, and was going to make the best of what he had.  He was going to be positive in how he comported himself and live his life to the fullest.  He would light the candle, rather than curse the darkness.

And that is what he did.  Anyone who knew Nate, couldn’t help but smile and see his positive, gentle nature.  He was always interested in what I was doing…what new housing project I was working on.. and how it was going.   He was also, always handsomely dressed, and took pride in his appearance.  I would sometimes comment that he really looked good today… saying he could appear as a model in GQ magazine.  He chuckled and said that the credit should go to his friend Essie, who picked out his clothes each day. 

Nate also was fiercely independent, and wanted to make sure that his trips to the hospital at times, didn’t ultimately result in his returning to a nursing home.  This is a fear that I have heard from many of our tenants who are disabled.  He was ever so grateful for his apartment at Project Freedom and for his status as our receptionist, and to be able to live his life as he saw fit, making his own choices.

Our Project Freedom family suffers today at the loss of our friend, Nate Smith.  For someone who lived in darkness, he was a bright light to all of us who knew him.  God bless and God speed Nate, you will not be forgotten.

 

From Norman’s Desk – February 2020

Norman A. Smith looking up at camera smiling dress in a green shirt and cap with CERT written on bothLast month saw the Democratic presidential candidates begin to focus more on people with disabilities and our issues.  This took place as candidates dropped out of the race.

Each of the major Democratic candidates completed the 15-question 2020 Disability Voter Candidate Questionnaire  written by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. The nonpartisan voter questionnaire is about   a variety of disability issues was sent to all the viable presidential candidates. 

This candidate canvasing was being done in conjunction with RespectAbility’s online publication TheRespectAbilityReport.org, an online publication covering the intersection of disability and electoral politics. The    answers to the questionnaire will be turned into nonpartisan voter guides for all 50 states.  The same questions will be sent to candidates for governor and senate as well.

When Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar released her detailed disability policy plan  the senator held a live event. Klobuchar detailed her plan and held a panel discussion with three local disability experts, delving deeper into specific aspects of her plan.

In a press statement released prior to the disability-focused event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Klobuchar cited her “a strong track record of standing up for people with disabilities.” Key highlights of the plan include commitments around long-term care, expanding healthcare access, and advancing economic opportunities as well as promoting disability rights at home and abroad, as reported by Lauren Appelbaum for TheRespectAbilityReport.org

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren continued to outreach to the disability community with a live chat on Twitter with advocates with disabilities from around the country.  Then in her closing statement for the CNN/Des Moines Register Debate last month, Warren specifically mentioned people with disabilities in her vision for what her presidency will bring.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, IN, took to Twitter as well to reach people with disabilities.  Buttigieg himself  answered questions live on Twitter from advocates during a Disability Town Hall.  His campaign also released on Twitter a series of videos featuring supporters with disabilities.

While these efforts are notable, many disability advocates want the mainstream news media to pay attention to disability issues as part of their overall coverage of the candidates.   For the first time in my political memory, a debate moderator asked a question specifically on disability policy during the December debate.

“Are there specific steps you would take to help people like Kyle to become more integrated into the workforce and into their local communities?” asked Politico’s Tim Alberta, citing as an example a young adult with a disability from Iowa.

This sent the “disability-Twitter-verse” into orbit.  Unfortunately, only three candidates were able to respond, but Elizabeth Warren seized the moment to highlight her background as a Special Education teacher.

Readers have asked me which candidates have better disability policies, and my answer will always be as a journalist: Look for yourself. Evaluate for yourself. Make your vote count for what is important to you.

 

 

From Norman’s Desk – January 2020

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

The new year brings another president campaign and election into greater focus.  People with disabilities are expected to have major impact on this   election, and many campaigns retargeting people with disabilities to gain our votes.

As reported on by Eric Ascher for RespectAbility.org, seven presidential  campaigns made history together last November in Iowa as they participated in a Democratic Party forum, Accessibility for All, focused on issues affecting people with disabilities. This is the first time this campaign season that a forum was held specifically on this topic.

The forum was moderated by Catherine Crist, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Disability Caucus, and by Cindy Hanawalt, MD PhD, Immediate Past President of the Linn County Medical Society.  Hanawalt’s questions focused more on health care while Crist’s questions focused on employment, education and other disability rights issues, reported Ascher.

Six candidates participated in the Forum themselves: Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. John Delaney, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and businessman Andrew Yang.  Former Sen. Chris Dodd spoke on behalf of Vice President Joe Biden. 

The questions were generated by Iowans with disabilities. There were approximately 100 people in the audience at the Forum, with some audience members coming and going throughout the day, wrote Ascher.

This is another sign that politicians are taking our vote seriously enough to direct time to obtain it.  Time is second to money as a vital resource to any campaign, and six major candidates spent their time to engage directly with people with disabilities on our issues. 

In addition, disability advocates praised last month’s Democratic presidential debate for including a prominent question about how candidates planned to address the needs of people with  disabilities.  Among the three candidates who got a chance to respond, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s comments drew some of the most lavish praise.

Readers have asked me which candidates have better disability policies, and my answer has been and will be: Look for yourself. Evaluate for yourself. Make your vote count for what is important to

you.

People with disabilities need to value their votes by voting for the candidate whom addresses their needs and values the best.

“My Two Cent” – January 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

As I write these words in December, we have just been notified that Project Freedom has won the Low Income Housing Tax Credit award for our new Hamilton project to be known as “Freedom Village in the Woods”.  We still have to obtain a Federal Home Loan Bank Award, which we hope to apply for this coming Spring.  This project will mark our twelfth housing community that Project Freedom has  created.  All our housing is barrier free, making life a bit easier for someone who uses a wheelchair, yet it is also appreciated by someone who is not physically disabled.

Previous special needs housing has been designed for the individual in mind—someone who would live alone.  Group homes were formed that would put three or four individuals together, strangers in reality,     creating a family of sorts, each “family” sharing a single family home.  This model continues today, but     really doesn’t guarantee the independence that many people really want.  Making your own decisions,    and choices, is really what independence is all about.  Our housing, because it is leased based housing, provides a greater ability for the individual to preserve their housing independence by not risking their housing option if they need to change their service provider.

More and More, our housing has evolved into real family housing—not just one bedroom units for single individuals.  Our housing also includes two bedroom and three bedroom units, creating family environments for those who are disabled, and not disabled.  This now creates a new dynamic and greater integration for the person who does have a disability.  Real neighborhoods begin and relationships develop, creating a more natural environment for people to live.   People start to think about their neighbors—maybe even worry about them if they deviate from their normal routine.  They learn their kids’ names and other family members, and often share home baked goods.  That is really what being part of a community is all about.

Over the years, I have seen so many success stories from our disabled tenants.  One such person, who used a wheelchair and lived in a second floor apartment, had to crawl up an outside stairway in order to get into his apartment.  Needless to say, when he moved into one of our barrier free units, it allowed him to access his apartment without that indignity.   I have also seen how our young consumers become more  responsible, maturing by having to make their own decisions, however small they may be at first.  I know in our own family; it is gratifying to see how Jen has become so independent—and more confident in handling her own issues.  This is how we all learn to become responsible individuals—by having the  opportunity to make those decisions and learn from those outcomes.

So, as this new year begins, we look forward to continuing the journey of creating more barrier-free housing that creates an independent environment for everyone.  This year, we hope to open our West Windsor and Gibbsboro developments to new consumers who have the dream of a nice, safe place to live.  One that will allow everyone to become independent.  

Have a Happy New Year.

 

Project Freedom Awarded Funding for New Hamilton Complex

Opening the door to over 1,200 new apartments affordable for families, seniors and residents with special needs, the Murphy Administration announced today it has awarded over $22 million in annual 9% federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). The highly competitive tax credits are expected to generate $214.7 million in private investment to create 17 developments totaling nearly $325 million to help build a stronger New Jersey.

Among the 2019 awards, administered under the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s (NJHMFA), was one for Project Freedom for its Freedom Village at Hamilton Wood located in Hamilton Township, Mercer County.  This is the 12th successful award of LIHTCs for the organization. Once completed by 2022, Freedom Village at Hamilton Wood will be the second Project Freedom complex in Hamilton Township and the seventh in Mercer County

The LIHTC program, which was established by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, is the most prolific source of funding for new affordable rental apartments for residents. Under this administration to date, NJHMFA has financed or awarded tax credits toward the creation or rehabilitation of over 6,400 affordable apartments across the state, and an additional 440 market-rate apartments with a total development cost of $1.45 billion.

 

Groundbreaking Marks Start of New Affordable Apartments, Supportive Housing in Mercer County

ROBBINSVILLE – A groundbreaking last December kicked off the construction of Freedom Village at Robbinsville, which will provide 72 apartments affordable to families as well as supportive housing for special needs residents and was funded in part by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA). NJHMFA executive staff attended the ceremony.

The development, built by Project Freedom across from Robbinsville Town Center North, will include four three-story buildings and a community center to provide one- to three-bedroom apartments for families with incomes up to 50% of the area median income.

Project Freedom, a Mercer County-based nonprofit organization, develops and operates barrier-free housing to enable individuals with disabilities to live independently. Ten apartments will provide homes for residents with developmental disabilities, and eight apartments will be for residents with mental health challenges. The apartments will feature wider doorways and hallways, and all will be accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs.

“We are very pleased to once again be working with Project Freedom to create affordable homes for families and for residents with special needs,” said NJHMFA Executive Director Charles A. Richman. “The development of supportive homes that provide for independent living is a key component of NJHMFA’s mission to enable residents with special needs to fully integrate in the community.”

NJHMFA awarded the $20 million development highly competitive 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), which are expected to generate nearly $13 million in private equity. NJHMFA administers the federal LIHTC program in the state which is a key tool in the creation of affordable housing for working families, seniors and residents with special needs. The project also includes $600,000 from Robbinsville’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund; $500,000 in Mercer County Home funding and $1.7 million from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York.

Freedom Village at Robbinsville is the tenth project for which NJHMFA has provided Project Freedom financing, resulting in the development of over 500 affordable apartments throughout Mercer, Ocean, Burlington, Camden and Salem counties.

The  new Robbinsville development joins Project Freedom’s original Robbinsville 30-apartment community which opened in 1991. It is close to restaurants, a bank, pharmacy and other retailers as well as an NJ Transit bus stop.  

Last December, NJHMFA took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for Freedom Village at Gibbsboro which will provide 72 apartments affordable to families, with 18 for residents with special needs. An October 2018 groundbreaking marked the construction start of Freedom Village at West Windsor which will also provide 72 affordable apartments including 18 for special needs residents. Both developments were financed in part by NJHMFA. The West Windsor community will be completed by February 2020 and the Gibbsboro community by April 2020.

Freedom Village at Robbinsville is expected to open in October 2020.

“America’s Medicaid Trap” for People with Disabilities

An Essay by Anna Landre

A young white woman with chin-length brown hair smiles at the camera. She wears a white shirt and sits in a black motorized wheelchair. Behind her are several blooming cherry blossom trees.
Anna Landre

Most non disabled people I meet seem to assume that the U.S. government provides disabled Americans all the services and supports we need to survive, and even thrive, as equal citizens.

Once, when I was coming home from the grocery store, I lost my grip on my bags and had to ask a passing stranger to pick them up for me. He was happy to help, but remarked, “They should give you a helper for things like this!” I almost laughed. He was right, but I have a hard enough time convincing unsympathetic government bureaucrats that I need to go to the bathroom more than once every 12 hours each day — let alone that I require help with more mundane tasks like grocery shopping. 

I’m twenty years old and a wheelchair user, and I need the services of a personal assistant to do some everyday activities like getting out of bed and getting dressed each day. If I and other disabled Americans are going to succeed in settings like work, home, and school, supports like these are an imperative. Unfortunately, though, they’re often withheld — keeping our success and inclusion far out of reach.

Read More at Disability Visibility Project by Clicking Here