Tim Doherty and Norman Smith remember John K. “Jack” Rafferty and his impact on Project Freedom’s formative year.
It was sad for everyone in Hamilton and Mercer County to learn of Jack’s passing this February. He did so much for the citizens of Hamilton Township and for a little organizations like Project Freedom. Many people may not know the full true story of how Project Freedom got established. Much of who we are today, couldn’t have been done, without Jack’s help. So, here’s the story.
We all know that Project Freedom was Norman Smith’s dream for achieving his independence. When he returned home from college living once again with his elderly parents, he felt his life was taking a step back rather than a step forward with a new life. He had successfully lived in New York at college with his roommate, and knew that he could accomplish anything he put his mind to if only given the supports he needed.
So, Norman along with Frieda Applegate started the Nottingham Recreation Center for the Physically Limited. They organized a day program and then began to think about the other needs such as housing. Long and short, Norman gathered community support with others, including myself, who had family members with a disability. Along the way, Jack Rafferty, the mayor of Hamilton heard about Norman’s efforts and over the early years provided meeting space for his program activities. Eventually Jack ran and won a single term in the New Jersey Legislature, and as part of that membership was able to get a single grant for $ 150,000 for Project Freedom. After several years of fundraising, bingos, and the like, it was this grant that really gave Project Freedom the ability to hire an architect and seriously talk about housing.
That effort became reality in 1990, when Project Freedom was able to win tax credits that year and ultimately build our first Project Freedom on Hutchinson Rd in Robbinsville. We tried to find land in Hamilton, however none was available at the time. We did finally build in Hamilton in 2000, when we purchased land from St. Anthony’s on Kuser Road.
Along the way, many people helped get Project Freedom where we are today, but it was that initial support from our Hamilton Angel, Jack Rafferty, that really got us going. In subsequent years, Jack would come to our yearly gala’s and helped with our ongoing fundraising. He was so proud when we were able to finally bring our housing to Hamilton, and build our 48 units there on Kuser Road.
As Mayor of Hamilton Jack helped so many other non profits and community organizations in Hamilton. I know that he is personally responsible for the success of the Hamilton Y and all that they offer Hamilton consumers. Jack Rafferty will always be remembered as our Angel.
This month is the 37th anniversary of Project Freedom’s incorporation as an organization in New Jersey. It was our first serious step toward bringing an idea into concrete reality.
In the life of any organization, there are moments in time when an individual makes a big difference. Project Freedom has had many, but in those early years when the path to success was fraught with obstacles, one political person was truly Project Freedom’s first angel.
John K. “Jack” Rafferty was mayor of Hamilton Township when the “Project Freedom” concept was first conceived. By shear happenstance, I was invited to write for Jack’s unsuccessful run for governor, and as I have written many times, that brief opportunity gave me visibility and credibility to promote the idea of what Project Freedom became.
In fact, our name came out a meeting with Jack when he asked Frieda Applegate and me what we were going to call this “house” we wanted to build. Frieda looked at me, and with very little thought “Project Freedom” popped out of my mouth. And that became our marketing tool before we incorporated.
A couple years later, Jack became Assemblyman Rafferty, and he was able to secure $150,000 state grant for Project Freedom through legislation. This was fuel for our planning engine as it empowered us to get architectural plans and hire all the professionals for the development phase of a building project.
Jack did that for us at a time when we were spinning our proverbial wheels. From there, we had a path to move forward. The path had more pitfalls and obstacles, but we had a way forward and professionals to help.
I’m remembering this because my friend Jack Rafferty passed in February . He is mourned by many in New Jersey as a decent and dedicated family man, public servant, and politician who loved his community.
In an online remembrance of Jack, I contributed these thoughts:
“Jack Rafferty was a friend; he was a friend to me, a friend to Project Freedom, and a friend to the disability community. I was a small part of Jack’s gubernatorial campaign, and this opened doors for me to co-found Project Freedom. When Jack was in the legislature, he secured seed money that enabled our first complex to be planned. Jack established one of the first Mayor’s Office for Disabilities in New Jersey during a time when we had very limited community visibility. He truly was an angel to Project Freedom, and for that reason we gave Jack our first Angel Award.”
We will miss Jack, but his legacy continues every time we open a new community. Rest in Peace, my friend.
–Norman A. Smith