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. 

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

“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! 

 

From Norman’s Desk – May 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

It is May!  It is time for my annual rant as we near Hurricane Season.

It is time to focus on the looming hurricanes season and the predictions by the Colorado State University tropical study program.  This year is no different—especially because we are in the tail end of the first wave of a pandemic.

Yes, I wrote “the first wave.”  Historically, pandemics come in three waves, and the severity of those waves vary.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has already stated that the next wave of COVID19 will hit this Fall and will be more severe.  

Fall is also the peak of hurricane season, and the idea of a major hurricane crashing into to the US during another severe wave of COVID19 is frightening.  But it needs to be anticipated and planned for with the     lessons we have learned the past three months. We have already seen tornado rip through states this past month complicating the fight against COVID19.

As I write this, the American Red Cross is sheltering nearly 900 people in four states hit by tornados.  Luckily, hotel rooms were available for a better sheltering option than public schools during this outbreak.  Imagine Super Storm Sandy happening now or a major extended power outage.

So now is the time to prepare for both the second wave and foreseeable disasters as we look to opening back up again. If you realized that you should have done a specific task or tasks before the COVID19 shutdown, use that knowledge to prepare yourself better for the next wave and other potential disasters.

That prediction came true over five years ago with Hurricane/Super-Storm Sandy slamming into New Jersey.  This year’s predictions by Colorado State University’s team, now his for a “slightly below” average season for 2019. 

This is the 37th year that the  hurricane research team at the Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University has issued the Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecast.  Dr. William Gray, Ph.,  launched the report in 1984 and continued to be an author on them until his death in 2016. He team is now headed by Dr. Philip J. Klotzbach.

Dr. Klotzbach’s team’s initial prediction is:

A total of 16 named storms with eight hurricanes and four of them becoming major hurricanes.

Last year’s prediction was 13 named storms, five becoming hurricanes, and two reaching the major threshold. Thus, the prediction for this year is for more storms with a greater potential of severity.

The actual number for the 2019 season was 18 named storms; three of these storms turned into hurricanes with two being “major” in power and scale.  So they under-estimated the number of storms but overestimated their severity.

The prediction also estimates the probabilities of at least one major hurricane making landfall:

For the Entire U.S. coastline – 69% (Last year it was 48%)

For the U.S. East Coast including Peninsula Florida – 45% (28% last year)

With this year’s prediction in mind and remembering what we have just gone through, it is not too early to start thinking about severe weather and being prepared for it.  The first step is being more aware of both the potential threat and the “emergent” or imminent threat.  Here is what FEMA recommends that people with disabilities do to address that need.

 

 

 

 

“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. 

 

“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.