“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 202000

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. 

“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.