“My Two Cents” — April 2021

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Last month, in the midst of leasing up our new “ Freedom Village at Town Center” apartment complex, we welcomed Robbinsville mayor David Fried to our community to celebrate a special achievement.  It was to honor and recognize a Robbinsville Freshman, Zoya Jadhav, for winning second place in a Statewide Essay contest.  For her achievement, Zoya won a $ 300 cash prize but donated half of her winnings to Project Freedom, which is really the big part of this story.

As many of you know, Mayor Fried is very proud of his town, Robbinsville, and especially proud when his students from the town, achieve success, and wanted to recognize Zoya for her achievement.  Since she wanted to donate half her award to Project Freedom, he reached out to us, to see if we could host a small gathering to recognize her and give her a Town citation.  Of course we said yes, and so staff prepared some light refreshment and welcomed the mayor, Zoya and her family to our new Community Center.  What also made that day special was that it was Zoya’s 15th birthday. 

It was quite evident to me, in talking to Zoya’s family that they are special people and that Mom and Dad are raising their children to very high standards.  When I asked Zoya what she would like to do with her life, she said that she wanted to become a doctor.  Indeed the story that she wrote, was about a young person who was sick with the Covit 19 virus, and ended up in the hospital.  There, she encounters another child, Charlie, who is chatty and annoying at first, but then also comes down with the illness.  They are now both struggling to hold on and breathe, and form a bond and friendship as they fight this terrible disease.

Her story is fictional yet has a basis in reality for many of those folks who have suffered with this terrible pandemic.  The loneliness, the separation from family, the soreness of having an IV in your arm and the sounds of those hospital monitoring machines, all created a vivid picture of her torture.  Her story is told, one paragraph at a time, with the headings of “ One. Two “ which I think was to mimic the rhythm of those hospital sounds. Yet it is a story of friendship that will ultimately win out. 

The title of her story is “Amity Amidst a Crisis” which means friendship during a crisis, and becomes the ultimate relationship the two sick children forge as they fight to breathe.  So although fictional, her point here is that during times of crisis or major life-changing conditions, we as human beings put aside our petty differences and come together to survive.  We respond to each other and will help each other to overcome those challenges to survive and make a better life.  What a mature thing for a 15-year old student to understand and capture in a story.  The  essay can be found on our website  by Clicking Here

Looks to me that Zoya has a talent and bright future as a writer if that doctor thing doesn’t work out. I think many of us “Adults” could learn a thing or two from her.   Happy Birthday, Zoya. 

 

Remembering Jack Rafferty, Our First “Angel”

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.

–Tim Doherty

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

Right to Left, Jack Rafferty, future NJ Governor Tom Kean, Bill Mathesius, and Norman Smith in the Summer of 1981

“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!

 

Facebook Friends Make Thanksgiving Meal Possible

Just like most people, the COVID-19 pandemic changed Thanksgiving plans for the tenants of Project Freedom at Hamilton.  Traditionally, many of them attended a Thanksgiving early dinner hosted by the congregation of the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Hamilton Square, but not this year.

Determined not to let Thanksgiving go by without the traditional meal at least, the staff of Project Freedom at Hamilton decide to cook a meal for nearly 75 people. But where to get that much food?

Simple. A call went out on Facebook, and turkeys and other food items came rolling in almost daily.

“A huge thank you to everyone in our community who donated turkeys and canned goods to Project Freedom at Hamilton,” said. Melinda J. Sciarrotta, Social Services Coordinator for the Hamilton Complex.  “We prepared a  delicious Thanksgiving dinner for our tenants at Project Freedom at Hamilton and Project Freedom at Robbinsville.” 

Under the cooking direction of Chef Savannah Green, Recreation Coordinator, and the “organizational” direction of Melinda, Project Freedom staff provided a container of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and string beans to the tenants of both properties. 

The remainder of the food donations that we did not use will be distributed to the needy tenants at both properties.

“All of us are so thankful for the opportunity to spread some love and cheer to our Project Freedom tenants,” added Savannah

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays to all!

The staff at Hamilton after preparing nearly 100 meals

From Norman’s Desk – December 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

“True freedom is to have power over oneself for everything,” wrote French philosopher Michel de Montaigne in 1588.  For 36 years Project Freedom has implemented this concept for people with disabilities through our housing and advocacy.  This happens through the generous support of friends and contributors during bad times and good times.

This past year was probably the most challenging of Project Freedom’s history.  It has been the opposite of freedom and independence and optimism.  It has been dark and foreboding and a bit scary.

Yet through it all the glimmer of light from the flame of hope never went out. Our tenants—especially those with disabilities–proved their resilience and strength every day as they dealt with the lockdown. We learned how to help each other stay healthy and safe as we fought off loneliness and isolation through technology.

Project Freedom moved forward with opening two new complexes, constructing a third, moving forward on a fourth in pre-construction and a fifth in active planning. All the while, supporting the most vulnerable tenants with donated food and information resources.  Project Freedom’s impact never wavered. Our advocacy never ceased.

With your help, our impact will be greater in the next years as we continue promote freedom through  independent living when the COVID-19 virus is conquered.  This is the season for giving, and if you are so inclined to give to Project Freedom, it is not too late to become a 20120 Supporter! Your gift will be appreciated and acknowledged by yours truly.  Donate Now Button

Project Freedom is also an AmazonSmile charity, and you may select us if you participate in that program as you buy gifts.  Go to smile.amazon.com/ch/22-2532804 and Amazon donates to Project Freedom Inc.

Meanwhile, I hope all of my readers have wonderful and joyous holidays, receive the gift of peace and love, and have the companionship of those dearest to you.

Norman A. Smith,
Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02
Follow us on Twitter @TheFreedomGuys
“Like” us on Facebook.com/ProjectFreedomInc

 

“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.

 

Many fell through cracks COVID crisis. Here’s how to fix it, disabilities leaders say

By Gene Meyers. NorthJersey.com, November 23, 2020

Leaders in the disability community who condemned the state’s COVID-19 response in a recent report said one fi is obvious to anyone with a disability and it’s shocking that it wasn’t to others.

Expand the office of the New Jersey “Ombudsman for Individual with Intellectual an Developmental Disabilities and Their Families” to the “Office of the Ombudsman for People with Disabilities and Their Families,” and fewer people in need fall between the cracks, posited the report, which outlined 23 ways the state failed to protect the disabled community during the pandemic.

Read more of this article here

 

“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. 

 

 

 

NJ Disability Advocates Release COVID-19 Report

For the past several months,  Project Freedom’s co-founder, Norman A. Smith, worked with other NJ disability advocates to address the gaps, shortcomings, omissions, and faulty planning of the State’s COVID-19  response as it impacted on people with disabilities.  They came together as the Disability Action Committee for COVID-19, and collectively they released our Initial Report at the end of October.

The Committee was convened by Javier Robles, J.D,  the current director of The Center for Disability Sports, Health and Wellness at Rutgers University.  Robles is the former deputy director of the NJ Division of Disabilities Services and a former member of Project Freedom’s Board of Trustees.

“This committee submits the New Jersey COVID-19 Disability Action Committee Report with our experience and recommendations for our state’s residents with disabilities’ future resiliency,” said Robles in his cover letter for the Initial Report.  He noted earlier in the letter that “our state’s health and social justice mechanisms must protect the health and wellness of people with disabilities and uphold their federal, civil, and state rights. We must do better, and we must prepare now for the next wave of this pandemic, the following national catastrophe, or any other emergency that awaits us in the future.”

Current Board of Trustee member Kelly Boyd also served on the Disability Action Committee and worked with Smith on the emergency management/preparedness section of the report

Emergency management and preparedness including people with disabilities has been a priority for Smith since 1999.  Smith has worked with emergency management professionals for more than 20 years to provide critical, disability-specific input on statewide planning and preparedness procedures. He has also worked closely with New Jersey’s 11 Centers for Independent Living Centers (CILs) to educate people with disabilities on how to be better prepared for emergencies and disasters.

I’m deeply concerned that New Jersey’s response to COVID-19 did not adequately anticipate the needs of people with disabilities,” said Smith when the report was released. “Having to write letters to remind government officials that people with disabilities have the civil right to life-saving critical care during this crisis is an indication that proper planning has not occurred with direct input from people with disabilities.”

“I strongly believes that New Jersey has the wherewithal and willingness to do better for its citizens with disabilities before, during and after emergencies and disasters. New Jersey must do this not only as a matter of law but, also, because it is the right thing to do,” said  Smith

The entire report can be found here.