“My Two Cents” – September 2020

A smiling white male with greying hair wearing glasses, a striped blue and navy blue tie, white shirt, and navy blue jacket.
Tim Doherty, Executive Director

So, we are coming to the end of our summer this year, and what a year it has been.  This Covid19 Virus has turned our world upside down; however it seems to be subsiding, at least, in the eastern part of the country for those of us in New Jersey and New York.  Let’s hope that it continues.  So here are some of the things we tried to do and get done this summer:

During this time of lockdown, Project Freedom has tried to continue with “Business as Usual” while setting up protocols to keep everyone safe.  This meant, closing the offices of our sites, with only having limited staff hours, staff working on and off days, and only responding to emergency maintenance situations.  Of course the grass still had to get cut, and sanitizing needed to be done, so those things continued.  Unfortunately we did have to stop all our recreation events and other programs for tenants.  These we hope to be able to operate again, once the governor provides guidance.

Over the summer, we did provide our tenants at Robbinsville, Lawrence and Hamilton with certain essentials and a purchase grocery card so that they could stretch their existing funds. We also provided masks to anyone who needed them and continue to do so.  Our other sites, worked with outside social agencies who provided food bags and other essentials to our tenants at those sites as well, so that no one should be without some help.

The construction of our new Robbinsville “Town Center” location has been pretty much on schedule, with only minor disruptions, such as waiting for all our windows.  We are still waiting on the final nine windows, but are able to work around those issues, so as to continue progress.

One issue should be mentioned for our present tenants.  Those of you who have been laid off or have had your work hours cut and now are finding it hard to make your monthly rent, please call your office manager to let us know.  You are still responsible for the rent; however, we will try to work with you to develop a strategy that can avoid eviction by establishing a payment plan.  This way you can avoid all the hassle of eviction or debt collection.

Finally, one thing we should all realize is that we are in this together….this virus affects everyone, the rich and  the poor, the disabled and non-disabled, the young and the old.  Let’s take the time to check on our neighbors  and relatives, ask how they are doing…do they need anything….how can we help?  By doing that we can keep each other safe and hopefully, when things settle down and society opens up again, we will be able to come together once again.

A African-American woman sitting iin a wheelchair and wearing a mask looks over multi-colored
Robbinsville staaff member Mary Edmondson prepares to distribute supplies.

PF Communities Work Together During Power Outage

On August 11, 2020, Hurricane Isaias made landfall in New Jersey, causing about 3.7 million power outages across the state.  Freedom Village West Windsor was one of those communities affected by this massive outage. 

With tenants without power or air conditioning, the Project Freeeedom staff at West Windsor and Lawrenceville swung into action together to provide breakfast and hot coffee for the tenants.

Then the tenants of West Windsor also jumped into action to help each other.  They donated thawing food to be grilled by other tenants to provide hot lunch and dinner for everyone.

Project Freedom staff was also able to set up a generator to allow tenants to charge electronics and medical equipment throughout the day.

Project Freedom extends immense gratitude to the staff and tenants who helped their community during this time.

With their help Freedom Village at West Windsor was able to turn a disaster into a community enrichment day.

Two white rectangle tables with coffee in disposable boxes, donuts, and breakfast bars.
Blackout Breakfast

Hotsdogs and other grilled food items on a serving plate with servings tongs. Two hamburgers are on the table with other food.

A white rectangle table with phone charging cables.
A charging Statrion for phones was set up powered by a generator.

30 Years After a Landmark Disability Law, the Fight for Access and Equality Continues

By Abigail Abrams, Time, July 17, 2020

Judy Heumann remembers the day she went to register for kindergarten in 1952. She’d gotten dressed up and her mother had pulled her wheelchair up a flight of stairs before the principal intervened. Her disability, he said, meant she was not allowed to attend the school. Heumann had polio as a child, and it left her legs paralyzed and limited her use of her hands and arms. Throughout her time in the educational system, and after she graduated and became a teacher and activist, she had to fight for access at every turn.

“It’s totally different today,” she says. That’s thanks in large part to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the civil rights legislation that was signed 30 years ago this month, on July 26, 1990. Under that transformative law, schools and workplaces are now required to have ramps, elevators, designated parking spots and curb cuts, and to provide accommodations for people with a range of disabilities, including those who are blind or deaf.

Taking inspiration and legal concepts from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA was designed to protect people with disabilities against discrimination and to ensure that they can participate fully in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications. The results today are powerful: most public buses have lifts for wheelchairs; disabled children attend school alongside their nondisabled peers; and employers are generally aware that people with disabilities have civil rights they cannot violate.

But if the 61 million Americans with disabilities are now less likely to confront the same problems that Heumann did decades ago, their fight for true equality is far from over. “The ADA is ultimately a promise that has been tremendously impactful in some areas and has yet to be fulfilled in other areas,” says Ari Ne’eman, a senior research associate at the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and the co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.   Read More Here

Long Road To Hollywood: Why Actors With Disabilities Have Yet To Be Recognized

By Wendy Lu, The Huffington Post, July 19, 2020

A pedophilic circus performer. A comedic womanizer. A killer.

These were just a few of the roles that Danny Woodburn was offered when he began auditioning for film and TV roles in the early 1990s. Woodburn, a self-described little person, quickly found that nearly every character he portrayed was “miserable,” broken or evil.

“The go-to, I think, for little people is to make them creepy or animalistic,” the actor and producer told HuffPost.

Even after landing a recurring role on “Seinfeld” and scoring gigs on shows including “Watchmen,” “Jane the Virgin” and “CSI,” Woodburn said he still came across casting opportunities that recycled tiresome tropes invoking pathos for “the sad little man.” Just a couple of years ago, casting agents tried to pitch him on a role in a Christmas special by saying he’d get the chance to kiss a famous performer.  Read More Here

Area Service and Community Groups Aid Tenants

In times of disasters and national emergencies, individuals and organizations have always stepped in to fill the gaps in the response. The COVID-19 response has been no different with individuals making masks or going shopping for people who cannot get to the stores safely.

Community organizations serving Mercer County have stepped up to support the tenants of Project  Freedom’s three legacy complexes, Robbinsville, Hamilton,, and Lawrence.

This  support was exemplified by the  Princeton Corridor Rotary Club. This long-time supporter of Project Freedom sponsored $1,500 of groceries for the tenants.  In the past, this socially-minded club supported the acquisition of a generator for Robbinsville.

 Meanwhile, Project Freedom tenants in Robbinsville, Hamilton, and Lawrence were lent a helping hand by the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) of Greater Mercer County.

JFCS is a nonprofit community service agency with a mission to strengthens individuals and families by empowering people to care for themselves and others.  Family Resources are available including an on-site health food pantry and a wide network of community partnerships.

The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry Truck  began bringing the resources of the JFCS brick-and-mortar pantry to distribution sites in Mercer County since January. The 16-foot truck is a healthy-choice food pantry that for people with food security issues in Mercer County.

The pantry-on-wheels delivered bags of fresh food in Wegmans’ reusable shopping bags to tenants in Robbinsville and Hamilton. In the following weeks, the truck visited the Lawrence complexe as well.

Another community organization, Arm In Arm, also delivered food to Lawrence, Hamilton, and Robbinsville tenants on a regular basis.  Formerly known as The Crisis Ministry, the  organization founded in 1980 by leaders of Nassau Presbyterian Church and Trinity Church in Princeton to help community members who were struggling financially.

Today as Arm In Arm, 20 staff members and hundreds of volunteers welcome more than 4,000 families to its food pantries and other support services.

NOAA predicts Atlantic hurricane season will be unusually active

The NOAA outlook calls for a 60 percent likelihood of an above-average season, with a 70 percent chance of 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 of which will become hurricanes. Three to six of those could become major hurricanes of Category 3 intensity or higher, and there is a chance that the season will become “extremely active,” the agency said.

The agency is basing this outlook on several factors, including an above-average West African monsoon season, below-average wind shear across the Atlantic, and an absence of an El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean that can stifle Atlantic hurricane activity. Much of the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea currently has unusually mild sea surface temperatures for this time of year, including record warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes get their energy by siphoning moisture and energy from warm ocean waters.

Read the complete article from The Washington Post by clicking here

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.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Party Thank You from Lawrence

‘Twas the night of December 18th, a highly anticipated night for our tenants at Project Freedom at Lawrence, as our Annual Tenant Holiday Party had arrived. The room was filled with joy and laughter as almost 30 tenants, as well as their guests, entered the green and red winter wonderland. Snowflakes guided their path, holiday music playing the background and a beautifully decorated tree lit the room.

Their happiness was evident and their eyes were beaming as bright as the lights on the Christmas tree when they saw the astounding amount of generous gifts before them covering over nine tables amounting in over 100 donations! Gifts donated by the kind hearts of past and present 3Main Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital employees, Gene Menges and amazing anonymous supporters. Not one person left empty handed. Many leaving carrying a multitude of gifts in their hands and a huge smile on their face!

Each tenant had a personalized gift bag donated by Gene Menges in memory of his beautifully spirited wife Michele Menges who played an instrumental role in the orchestration of this wonderful event for the past four years.

An unforgettable historic night it was! While enjoying a delicious dinner from Mamma Rosa’s, the festivities began. The baskets were overflowing with tickets as the Silent Auction commenced. Everyone was excited with the hope of winning one of the marvelous gifts ranging from clothing, household necessities, home décor, games, gift cards, movies and many more.

However, with all of those generous gifts from Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital we couldn’t possibly pass them out alone! Halfway through the night Saint Nicholas himself came ringing his bells riding in on a firetruck with the lights flashing escorted by his elves from Slackwood Firehouse. Santa Claus came just in time to take pictures with the tenants, pick some winning numbers for the remaining gifts as well as pass them out to the lucky winners. Everyone was smiling ear to ear to see Santa himself. Santa definitely enjoyed his time visiting our tenants stating he could stay here forever! He continuously expressed the amount of joy he felt in his heart to see the smiles on their faces.

This indescribable night would not have been possible without the bountiful donations of past and present 3Main Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital. This event would also not have been possible without the beautiful spirit of Michele Menges. The staff and tenants at Project Freedom would like to thank these Angels for all they do!

“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.