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!

 

“My Two Cents” August 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Many of you know that our daughter, Jen is disabled and lives at our Hopewell Project Freedom community.  Jen started her adult life in 2003 when she moved into our Lawrence site, and lived there until    moving to Hopewell in 2015.  So, since that time, she has been for the most part, on her own, with Mom and Dan providing emergency support when needed.  Having that personal care support has been critical to her living successfully on her own, out in the community, as well as for many of our tenant consumers.

I have often been asked why Project Freedom didn’t provide that service along with our housing.  This is usually the case with agencies that provide and run, Group Homes.  The Group Home model works very well for many disabled consumers, and it consists of three or four unrelated individuals who live at the home with a care giver.  These homes usually provide 24/7 care by a live in aide or aides, and for many families, this model works very well.  The only problem comes when a consumer is not happy with the care provider, and wants to change that provider.  To do that may require moving to    another location or to another different service provider, something that most consumers do not wish to do.

When Project Freedom set out to create our housing, we sought the ability for the consumer to have the most independence possible.  In essence to be “Master of his/her own universe” and to choose how one would live life with as much independence as possible.  If the person needed personal     assistance, then it was up to them to choose and decide who they would work with and with what  agency. 

At Project Freedom housing,  the individual is not tied to one particular living situation but can change service providers at any time.  The only thing we require is that they pay their rent and their  utilities, and obey our housing rules, which is what is required at any apartment complex.  This promotes independence and choice for our consumers without the risk of losing their present housing or apartment if they choose a different personal care provider.

Finally, those of us who are part of the disability community and those families served, need to recognize the tremendous service that these personal care workers provide to our loved ones.  Because of their efforts, they contribute to the independence and freedom that our families and consumers enjoy.  Furthermore, these workers are not paid a rate of pay that reflects their worth, and often have to work two jobs today to make ends meet.  These folks are also our “ Front Line workers “ who have had to meet the demands of today’s COVID -19 days, with their service in our hospitals and other vital service areas. 

So, hats off to all those who serve in this line of work—you need to know that because you are out the

Long Road To Hollywood: Why Actors With Disabilities Have Yet To Be Recognized

By Wendy Lu, The Huffington Post, July 19, 2020

A pedophilic circus performer. A comedic womanizer. A killer.

These were just a few of the roles that Danny Woodburn was offered when he began auditioning for film and TV roles in the early 1990s. Woodburn, a self-described little person, quickly found that nearly every character he portrayed was “miserable,” broken or evil.

“The go-to, I think, for little people is to make them creepy or animalistic,” the actor and producer told HuffPost.

Even after landing a recurring role on “Seinfeld” and scoring gigs on shows including “Watchmen,” “Jane the Virgin” and “CSI,” Woodburn said he still came across casting opportunities that recycled tiresome tropes invoking pathos for “the sad little man.” Just a couple of years ago, casting agents tried to pitch him on a role in a Christmas special by saying he’d get the chance to kiss a famous performer.  Read More Here

“My Two Cents” – June 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

During this time of the pandemic, many functions and events have been forced to cancel or re-schedule for maybe another time.  One of the most heartbreaking is the cancelling of graduation for all our students, robbing them of the chance to relish their achievements.  And as sad as that is, every generation has been forced to endure some kind of  interruption from events out of their control. This happened to my father in law when he was called up for WWII. 

 My son recently wrote about his own graduation which he had coupled with his grandfather, 50 years later.

 

Graduation Moments Deferred
Written by Tim Doherty Jr.

Graduates in the class of 2020 are missing out on one of the great rites of passage. Never in the past would we have thought the ability to stand on a stage in a gymnasium or on a football field filled with our peers and families would seem like such a privilege, but alas only in loss do we sometimes see the value of what we had. While the ceremony itself adds little to the educational accomplishments of the class, that ‘graduation moment’ somehow acknowledges, celebrates and completes the work of the student, allowing them to begin their next chapter.

While the pandemic is itself without precedent, its disruption to our important life events isn’t. I offer a story of a graduate who also didn’t cross that stage with his peers, but instead got a more personal opportunity to celebrate his accomplishments.

My grandfather, James Wilson, completed his engineering degree at Lehigh University in 1944. His Lehigh experience was one of a poor kid, commuting from a nearby town, during the tumultuous war years. Everything was focused on the war, even the academic year was altered to a trimester schedule to speed the process of minting graduates for the war effort.

In his last semester, he was selected for an assignment in the Merchant Marine, took his finals a few weeks early and shipped out before commencement ceremonies were held. Like so many who sacrificed greatly for the defense of our country, he never dwelled on missing graduation, but it was none-the-less a part of his story. His degree arrived in the mail in a cardboard tube.

Fifty plus years later, I began my own Lehigh education and grandpa got to observe a different version of ‘the college experience’. I lived in a dorm and enjoyed campus life, and grandpa was a frequent visitor and supporter. We enjoyed sharing Lehigh and although already close, were brought closer by this shared bond.

When it came time for me to graduate, I contacted the university president who agreed to the idea– grandpa should walk in commencement ceremonies with me. It took a little prodding from my grandmother to get him to agree because he didn’t want to take away from my graduation. But I can honestly say it was a far more special day because he participated. After my name was called and I walked across the stage, shook the hand of the University president and received my degree, I turned around just as the announcer read “James Francis Wilson.” Immediately, the whole arena roared with applause and the crowd gave the 75 year old graduate a standing ovation as grandpa finally had his ‘graduation moment’.

While it’s impossible to know what either my or my grandfathers graduations would have been like otherwise, the circumstances of his commencement deferred gave us a special opportunity to personalize our experience. I offer this story because it might be the case for the class of 2020 that your ‘graduation moment’, although deferred, is now yours to choose. Perhaps instead of video commencement or drive thru graduation, the best idea is to offer the class of 2020 the opportunity to participate in a future ceremony (hopefully not 50 years later), maybe with a sibling or at a particular reunion anniversary– whatever might make it even more meaningful to the individual. I hope the administration of schools and universities will give this some consideration, so that instead of the class of 2020 being the class who didn’t have a graduation, they’ll be the class who got to have their ‘graduation moment’ on their own terms.

 

 

“My Two Cents” – July 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

These past months have been some very difficult ones, having to deal with this Covid-19 virus.  Many of us have had to schedule work hours so that we would reduce the likelihood of personal interactions with others.  We have reduced our general freedom to travel or visit, opting for staying home, or at least limiting the places that we go to.  My day out seems to be our weekly visit to the grocery store, then back home.  So, for me, work, home or grocery store, and that has been it.

For those who have been laid off, or who have had their work hours reduced, that has also reduced the amount of income they are now getting.  For some of our tenants this is true.  Yet we are constantly    approached by outside agencies and groups who perceive the need, and then try to answer the call.

At Project Freedom we have been fortunate to have some local agencies provide food and other household goods for our tenants.  The local organization called “Arm in Arm” has, on a regular basis, dropped off bags of groceries for our tenants.  They have delivered to all of our Mercer County sites several times during this pandemic. 

Another local agency, the Jewish Family & Children‘s Service  (JFCS) has also brought food    supplies to our Mercer County sites with their mobile Food Truck. They were referred to us by Board member, Bob Buda Jr. who helped us with their connection.   We received a check for $1,500 from the local Princeton Corridor Rotary for tenant supplies and our local pizzeria, in conjunction with Nottingham Insurance Agency, Varsity Pizza also brought 42 pizzas, last Thursday, for our tenants at Lawrenceville. 

These good works continue to happen as we make our way through this pandemic.  Americans have   always risen to the occasion when necessary, and we are seeing that today.  That is why, through this column, I want to publicly thank Beth Englezos of the JFCS, David R. Fox of Arm in Arm and members  of the Princeton Corridor Rotary for their support in these challenging times. And to small business owners, such as Kevin Murphy of Varsity Pizza and Jack and Greg Blair from Nottingham Insurance for their community support and their work for Project Freedom.  We will survive this virus and come back stronger as a community and nation.  So, for now, let’s just take care of one another.

 

From Norman’s Desk – July 2020

Norman Smith ineen shirt and cap with a sash over his shirt with a female using crutches standing on his right. A male is standing to her right, An American flag is behind the male and female.Our nation celebrates its Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4th.  We celebrate the idea that this nation wanted to be free from rules, regulations, and laws created without input from the Colonies.  This year the celebration will be different for me.

We will try celebrate the concept that each person has equality in the eyes of the law even though we know that it is not reality for many.  People are treated differently     because of skin color, race, gender, gender identity, age, and, yes, disability.

I live with a disability, so I focus on those inequities in my writing.  Nevertheless, the struggle for racial equality has never been far from my life. I lived in Philadelphia in 1962 at a school for kids with disabilities.  The direct care staff was made of African-Americans, and I remember watching the Civil Rights struggle on the TV news with them.  I remember their tears and their quiet anger.  I remember trying to make sense of why black people were being beaten.  It didn’t make sense to me.

The turbulent 60’s went by with all the racial, social, and political strife, and in the mid-70s I found myself at Long Island University riding an elevator with a schoolmate.  The schoolmate was black, male, and in NYPD handcuffs.   I knew him well since we served on the Dorm’s Council together.  He was arrested by a white police officer for (I later learned) a minor charge.  My schoolmate said something to me in greeting and was promptly shoved violently against the elevator wall by the officer. 

I was shocked and angered.  My schoolmate later returned to warn me not to say anything about the shoving.   He said it would make his case more difficult. I agreed, but this incident opened my eyes to what “equality under the law” actually means.

As we celebrate Independence Day, we need to remember equality is not universally applied.  We need to remember the sacrifices of those who have died for the concepts of independence, liberty, and freedom.       

Sometimes they died without enjoying those lofty concepts. Sometimes they didn’t die but moved into my world to endure additional inequalities of a disability.

We must also remember that the fight is not over for many people. Expecting the promise of freedom to be obtained or kept without struggle and sacrifice is foolhardy. Our history teaches that participatory governance over oneself or one’s country means stepping up to participate and sacrifice.  Individuals must take up the cause of freedom, work together, and battle for the promise to be kept.  This is true now for many people with and without disabilities. 

So, while we celebrate what happened 244 years ago, let us remember for many of us the struggle for freedom continues! 

 

Area Service and Community Groups Aid Tenants

In times of disasters and national emergencies, individuals and organizations have always stepped in to fill the gaps in the response. The COVID-19 response has been no different with individuals making masks or going shopping for people who cannot get to the stores safely.

Community organizations serving Mercer County have stepped up to support the tenants of Project  Freedom’s three legacy complexes, Robbinsville, Hamilton,, and Lawrence.

This  support was exemplified by the  Princeton Corridor Rotary Club. This long-time supporter of Project Freedom sponsored $1,500 of groceries for the tenants.  In the past, this socially-minded club supported the acquisition of a generator for Robbinsville.

 Meanwhile, Project Freedom tenants in Robbinsville, Hamilton, and Lawrence were lent a helping hand by the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) of Greater Mercer County.

JFCS is a nonprofit community service agency with a mission to strengthens individuals and families by empowering people to care for themselves and others.  Family Resources are available including an on-site health food pantry and a wide network of community partnerships.

The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry Truck  began bringing the resources of the JFCS brick-and-mortar pantry to distribution sites in Mercer County since January. The 16-foot truck is a healthy-choice food pantry that for people with food security issues in Mercer County.

The pantry-on-wheels delivered bags of fresh food in Wegmans’ reusable shopping bags to tenants in Robbinsville and Hamilton. In the following weeks, the truck visited the Lawrence complexe as well.

Another community organization, Arm In Arm, also delivered food to Lawrence, Hamilton, and Robbinsville tenants on a regular basis.  Formerly known as The Crisis Ministry, the  organization founded in 1980 by leaders of Nassau Presbyterian Church and Trinity Church in Princeton to help community members who were struggling financially.

Today as Arm In Arm, 20 staff members and hundreds of volunteers welcome more than 4,000 families to its food pantries and other support services.

“My Two Cents” – May 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Seems like forever that we have been able to go to a retail store or go out to a restaurant for dinner. Because of the COVID-19 virus, Only essential businesses are allowed to stay open, with staff working shifts so as not to have a crowd of people in one office or conference center at a time.  Many small businesses are closed such as hair salons, barber shops, spas, and small retail boutiques, with many pizza shops and small restaurants only doing take out service.  Even weddings have been cancelled, and funerals services have been truncated, with only immediate family members in attendance.  All of us, obeying the Executive Order from Governor Murphy which has effectively shut down New Jersey for a month now.  Is this now the new normal? 

Now some folks would say that the closing of the State was a drastic action, and something maybe the Governor didn’t have to do.  Of course, it is always easy to second guess, after the fact and be a Monday Morning quarterback.  However the fact remains that New Jersey has been one of the hardest hit states, along with New York, that have suffered the greatest effects of this pandemic.  Next to New York, New Jersey has had the most cases per capita of infection, and I believe the most deaths due to this virus, than most other states in the US.  This COVID-19 Virus is nothing to fool around with, and not something to take lightly.

So, for a month now, we have been inside, sheltering in place, many working from home when we can.  For Project Freedom Inc., we have shut our community centers and put staff on rotating work schedules so that we could avoid any large groupings, and thereby reduce our chances of interaction.  Staff still monitors the phones, but we are only really attending to emergency maintenance issues.  Now that the weather is getting warmer, there will be grass cutting and      outside maintenance being done at the properties, so that work needs to be kept up with, otherwise it can get out of hand.  PFI staff is still available for help if tenants need anything and continue to check on many of our tenants.

So, as of the Governor’s latest news conference, he has laid out several conditions that would need to be in place before he will lift the “stay at home order”.  These conditions are a reduction in new COVID-19 cases, more testing of healthcare workers and then the public in general, along with the reduction in hospitalizations.  The Governor is still undecided if he will allow schools to reopen this current school year, which really needs to be done for most people to go back to work.  What is feared mos is for the virus to have a comeback when business is open again; thereby losing all the gains achieved by staying at home.

So, let’s all continue to do our part.  Wash our hands, wear our masks, stay 6 feet away and avoid any large crowds.  By doing so, we will protect ourselves as well as one another.  And, also keep the faith.  We will get through this in time for sure… America has done it in the past, and we will continue in the future. 

 

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.