“My Two Cents” — January 2021

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well what a year 2020 has been!  What started out as a normal year, became topsy turvy with the emergence of the Covid-19 virus, and how our lives did change.  No longer could we go out to dinner, assemble in church, or visit our grandparents in nursing homes.  Many companies were forced to have employees work from home, but many people also got laid off. 

Our own work schedules have been altered so that our offices had to close, our recreation programs put on hold, and Board and staff meetings became “Zoom” meetings.  Schools closed, and then opened and closed again while offering virtual learning became the order of the day for schools and colleges. 

For Project Freedom though, it was a productive year.  We finished construction on two large housing communities, one in West Windsor and one in Gibbsboro, leased them up and continued construction on a third in Robbinsville. At the same time, we laid plans for a second community in Hamilton having won the funding and Tax Credits in 2019.  We hope to break ground for “Hamilton Woods” in the Spring of 2021.

The year started out in sadness in losing our long time Lawrence receptionist, Nate Smith, who was our good friend.  However, as PFI continued to grow we added construction manager, Bob Fasulo and Human Resource Manager, Marilou Chinchilla, as well as adding Gibbsboro Manager Wendy Pritsky.  Joanne Sherry, took over the new West Windsor Community while Brianne Devlin stepped up to become our Lawrence Manager.  

We restructured our management team, appointed Jackie Elsowiny, Frank Sciarrotta, and Dara Johnson as Regional Managers.  These changes were necessary to manage the growth we had just experienced, and have made our organization stronger, as we look forward to 2021.

As we enter 2021, there is great anticipation that the new vaccines, which have been developed at Warp Speed, will provide the protection we all need from this pandemic, and that very soon we will be able to return to a more normal lifestyle.  For me personally, it will be my last year as Executive Director, as I hope to retire on July 1, marking my 24th year of service.  What started out as a visit with Norman to sell my handicapped van, became my life’s work.  It has been a wonderful and exciting journey, seeing a small non-profit housing company grow to over eleven housing communities of over 500 units.  I am grateful to all whom I have worked with, from our Board of Trustees, our dedicated staff and our wonderful tenants.  You have made that journey special.

Finally I want to thank my son Tim and daughter Jen for always supporting my efforts, but most of all, my wife Marion, for being my sounding board and providing her wisdom and guidance.  Working with her every day has been special.  So the reins are past to another special lady–Tracee Battis, who will become the new Executive Director.  Tracee not only has the talent, experience and knowledge to handle the job, she also has the heart.  Our Mission is safe in her hands.  Project Freedom continues the journey. 

Happy New Year!

 

“My Two Cents” – December 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

So, as I write these words, it is Thanksgiving Weekend, and I am  suffering from the guilt of eating too much this year.  Even with only our immediate family present…the five of us…it was good to get together to enjoy each other’s company.  My brother and sister- in- law, called in via ZOOM as did my son’s friends from Florida, Lauren and Zack.  It was good to hear their voices and to see them, albeit from a small IPad screen.  This year, 2020 may be remembered for the canceling of programs, and of wearing masks and social distancing, but also for the obstacles that were overcome, much more than what we were not able to do.  All in all, still many things to be thankful for.

Certainly, as I look back on this year, and most of last year, our Project Freedom team and managers were very busy, finishing the construction of our West Windsor site, as well as following up with our Gibbsboro project.  Although West Windsor was started prior to our Gibbsboro site, the rains of 2019 delayed most of that construction for almost an entire year, so as to catch up with the construction schedule for Gibbsboro.  It is hard enough bringing in one of these projects let alone, two at the same time. 

BE that as it may, our staff did an excellent job in leasing up both sites, in record time.  Even with COVID-19 disrupting everything this year, our PFI team was able to lease up all 72 units in Gibbsboro, as well as hire staff to run the operation there.  We held monthly, then weekly lease up meetings to talk about applicants and to keep on top of the progress.  It finally paid off when the last tenant signed their lease in early July. 

Also in 2019, we broke ground for our Robbinsville site construction which is due to finish in the first quarter of 2021.  This project has been going much smoother than West Windsor, however has still felt the effects of Covid-19 virus.  Our cement contractor had his entire crew be exposed to the virus, which necessitated them quarantining for fourteen days, so no cement work got done during that time. 

In addition, we have struggled in getting windows and appliances for this project, which has given me a few more grey hairs.  It is only within the last few weeks have we gotten all required windows, and have also received the appliances for the first building. Now that those issues have been overcome, it looks more likely that we will be able to meet our schedule for final CO’s.

This year we have also had to be creative about scheduling staff for office and maintenance work.  No longer can we have two people working in the same apartment at close proximity to each other, so  getting to turn apartments over and going into tenant apartments has been more difficult this year.  But we have managed to keep on track and keep everyone safe.

Finally, although this year, we will not be able to hold our staff Christmas Party, we still hope to ZOOM together to share some fun, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  Knowing that a vaccination is around the corner, gives us hope that 2021 will be a much better year.  So, here’s wishing everyone a safe Merry Christmas.

 

“My Two Cents” – November 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

So, this Covid-19 Virus has affected life in so many different ways.  In the past, around this time, we would be preparing and then holding our Annual Gala fundraiser.  This annual event would attract about 250 people all who would gather at the Stone Terrace by John Henry. 

We would have a live band for dancing, have cocktails and a great dinner.  During that time, we would present our Angel Award, the Stephen Wensley  Award, Robin Heim award and our Freedom Bell Award. 

We would also select our “ Employee of the Year” on that evening, recognizing one of our staff members who distinguished themselves in their performance during the year.  Not this year however….the year of 2020.

Unable to have large indoor gatherings, many non-profit agencies have opted to do a “Virtual Event”.  This is one that is produced either live or with taped video, and is presented over the Internet via YouTube or some other Internet based channel. 

So, this is what we intend to do this year, in place of our actual Gala Dinner.  On December 4 at 7 PM, a select few of Project Freedom staff members will conduct a “Live Stream” Virtual Event as our fundraiser and awards night for 2020.  This event will be held at our Hopewell Community Center in Hopewell Township.  The plan for the evening is to have great music from our local band, “Kindred Spirit”, who will play selected songs in between our awards presentations.  These presentations have been pre-recorded so that we won’t have a crowd of people at the same time during our Live Stream event that night. Our objective is to entertain, and to inform our audience about Project Freedom and to give recognition to those we honor this year.

And so rather than honoring one “Angel” we have selected three this year, and have dubbed them our “Angels of 2020”.  These include outside service agencies such as Arm in Arm, the  Jewish Family and Children Services and the National Equity Fund ( NEF ).  Getting our Freedom Bell award will be the Hopewell Valley School District and the Hopewell Valley Mobile Food Pantry.  Tenant Frieda Davis will be honored with our Robin Heim Award, and tenant Abusammaa “Sam” Ramziddin will be our  tenant Success Story for 2020.  Rounding out our list this year as our “Employee of the Year” is  Dara Johnston from our Westampton community. 

Funds raised through this event are 100% tax deductible and provide support for our tenant programs.  This year, we purchased two brand new Ford 350 Transit Vans which will be used to transport our     consumers and tenants to various functions and medical appointments.

So, mark your calendar for December 4 at 7 PM.  To view this event, just log onto the Project Freedom website by Clicking Here  and look for the link to our “Live Stream” event.

See you then. 

 

 

 

“My Two Cents” – October 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

As fall approaches, we all enjoy the vibrant colors of the surrounding landscape, and Project Freedom is usually busy planning its annual Angel Award Dinner, a tradition that spans more than 20 years.  This year, due to COVID-19 protocols, we will not be able to host a celebration with 250 guests in attendance.  Instead, we will celebrate the resiliency of our staff and tenants in navigating today’s new and challenging world.         

Quietly and faithfully, five organizations have been providing food for our Project Freedom neighborhoods.  Arm in Arm, and the Jewish Family & Children Services of Greater Mercer County organizations have been delivering grocery bags on a monthly basis to tenants experiencing food insecurities.  The Hopewell Valley Regional School District and Hopewell  Valley Mobile Food  Pantry have been bringing food and meals to some of our Hopewell families.  The National Equity Fund Inc. generously donated $ 10,000 to Project Freedom to provide food for 137 tenants in three of our communities.  These five organizations have been the Angels of 2020 for many of our tenants who benefited from the gift of food.  We would like to recognize each of these outstanding organizations for the food relief that they provided to many during the past seven months.

So, this fall, instead of attending our annual Angel Gala, we instead invite you to tune in to a Live Stream event, which will honor and recognize our heroes of Project Freedom as well as entertain you.  Please mark your calendar now for this exciting, new event.  Project Freedom will Live Stream a program on Saturday, November 7, 2020 from 7:00- 8:00 PM from our Hopewell campus on Denow Road in Pennington, New Jersey.  This Live Stream program will include music by the wonderful local band, Kindred Spirit, information on the newest Project Freedom communities, and a presentation of awards to our 2020 honorees. 

The funds from our Angel Award Dinner have supported programs and services for our tenants each year.  In the past, our attendees and sponsors have given generously to this annual event, and we are grateful, and we hope that you will continue to do so this year as well.

Donations can always be made by mailing your check or by credit card to Project Freedom Inc.  Or by going to our website at www.projectfreedom.org.  All donations are tax deductible. 

Help us continue the work of building housing communities that promote Independence for everyone.  So, in order to attend our Live Stream Fundraiser, just log onto our website at www.projectfreedom.org and tap on the link, Live Stream Event.

See you then.

 

“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.

 

“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.

 

“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.