On 29 July 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games, Dr. Guttmann organized the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games, a milestone in Paralympic history. They involved 16 injured servicemen and women who took part in archery.
The Stoke Mandeville Games later became the Paralympic Games which first took place in Rome, Italy, in 1960 featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries. Since then they have taken place every four years.
In 1976 the first Winter Games in Paralympics history were held in Sweden, and as with the Summer Games, have taken place every four years, and include a Paralympics Opening Ceremony and Paralympics Closing Ceremony.
Since the Summer Games of Seoul, Korea in 1988 and the Winter Games in Albertville, France in 1992 the Games have also taken part in the same cities and venues as the Olympics due to an agreement between the IPC and IOC.
“SSI has been forgotten by Washington for years — I am pushing my colleagues to make sure that doesn’t happen again this time,” Brown. “I’m fighting to secure updates to the program, and this reconciliation bill is our chance to get this done.”
During D.C.’s annual Pride weekend, Katie Bruckmann and a friend joined the large crowds Saturday evening on U Street NW. Colorful decorations celebrating the LGBT+ community dotted the road and sidewalks, and shops and restaurants welcomed festive patrons who stayed home last year because of the coronavirus.
Bruckmann is a wheelchair user and part of at least 12 percent of D.C. adult residents with a mobility disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During Pride, she noticed some restaurants blocking curb cuts to create more space for outdoor dining, making it harder for her to get back on the sidewalk when she needed. When she was on the sidewalk, some of the already narrow walkways were congested with large signs.
“It was so much fun, so lively,” Bruckmann said. “But there were certain places that we would have liked to have gone to that we couldn’t. That was disappointing.”
“ Happy Trails to you, until we meet again, Happy Trails to you, keep smilin’ until then. Who cares about the clouds when we’re together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather. Happy Trails to you, till we meet again.
Such were the words to the theme song to the TV show, “ Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans” back in the 1950s. And they fit for my last article in our Newsletter as Project Freedom’s Executive Director. As of July 1, 2021, I will be retiring as ED, giving the reigns over to our own Tracee Battis. Knowing Tracee as I do, I am confident she will do an outstanding job, and provide great leadership into the future. And of course, Norman remains our founder, who constantly reminds us of his vision and mission—Independence. His influence will continue on and into the future.
I must say, that I never had any idea that this would be the last place for me to end my career. Back in 1997, I had stopped to talk with Norman about selling my accessible van thinking that it would be better to sell to someone who really needed it rather than just trading it in. Our conversation that day led to my giving a presentation to the Board of Trustees, who offered me the job. And as they say, the rest is history.
However, my history with the disability community really started back in 1974, when my daughter, Jennifer was born with CP. Back then there weren’t many options for services let alone housing. Marion and I would be involved in organizing parent support for educational opportunities, and ultimately I became involved with Norman in forming Project Freedom. I remember Norman coming into my gas station with his Dad, and talking to me about his ideas and his vision for independence. I joined the Board, and became the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees. As a volunteer, we lobbied our public officials to get funds to build our first housing community in Robbinsville, called Freedom I, which opened in 1991. Fast Forward to today, and ten projects later, we are just completing our Robbinsville Town Center project, and about to break ground on our second one in Hamilton Township, across from the Library.
I must say it has been a lot of work, not always enjoyable, but always exciting. Finding a suitable site, getting town approvals, getting our funding, managing the construction, doing the lease-up, and hiring staff—all things that can lead you to pull your hair out. But in the end, very worthwhile.
So, as I sadly write these words, I don’t have any regrets whatsoever. I have been fortunate to have worked with our great staff, which keeps growing every day with our consumers, who I know treasure our housing because it makes life easier and gives them a safe, and clean environment. I’ve also enjoyed working together with my wife Marion, for the past nine years, in a professional capacity, and really need to share my success with her. And, of course, our Board of Trustees, who for the most part, took on the enormous risks involved, and supported our housing developments.
So, one thing Marion and I have always done, and that follows the Holy Spirit and trust in the Lord.
God Bless, keep well and “Happy Trails to you, until we meet again”.
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.
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.
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.
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