Aging in place is the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.
New Jersey legislation (A353) that proposes $250,000 “to fund one or more low or moderate income apartment buildings or housing complexes, where at least half the households are headed by someone 60 or older” and/or neighborhoods where the children have moved away and the parents have remained, flies in the face of national research. In fact research identifies the values in meaningful intergenerational opportunities, civic involvement, and lifelong learning. Isolation is an unwelcome demon to be avoided at all costs, whether in a room, apartment, house, or institution.
Since 2009 the Aging in Place Partnership (AIPP), a tax exempt, non-profit organization located in South Brunswick, has been building the foundation to ensure South Brunswick residents (and those who are interested in moving to the township) can “age in place.” As our name implies we are an organization of partners. What is not obvious immediately is the variety of like and unlike organizations the partners represent, and the inherent value of shared information, expertise, and facilities. The partnership is truly an informed, decision-making group of committed individuals who recently celebrated five years of successful aging in place services, programming, and events as an all-volunteer agency operating with a budget under $10,000.
I believe this proposed legislation has the emphasis on the wrong syllable. You do not need $250,000 to create or identify NORCS (naturally occurring retirement communities). AIPP knows it can be done with no funding and is willing to help interested individuals and organizations get started. What is needed is the financial support to address the needs identified by the stakeholders once a NORC is successfully established.
Transportation is our most challenging priority, and I would expect funding community curb-to-curb services could be critical to most, if not all NORCs, if they were to succeed. We continue to work with technical guidance and support from the National Center for Senior Transportation (NCST), Easter Seals, and representatives from state, county, and local government and non-profit transportation service providers to create the most efficient/effective transportation options. We know how critically important transportation is to our community and the region and, with help of these invaluable representatives, we are confident of success in creating the most efficient/effective transportation options.
With the recent donation of a wheelchair accessible van provided by one of our AIPP business partners, we will soon introduce our first volunteer driver, curb-to-curb para-transit service in the township. Simultaneously we are reaching out to organizations and individuals in other Middlesex, Somerset, and Mercer communities interested in developing their curb-to-curb service in collaboration with the Aging in Place Partnership transportation committee and/or working together with non-profit and government agencies to create a seamless transit plan for the tri-county region (Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset).
In the meantime I encourage the legislature to get behind enacting the Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 65 supporting non-profit organizations and volunteer drivers providing transportation assistance to mobility-challenged individuals.
Since our start, AIPP has initiated programs and events to meet the needs within our five priorities, accessibility, health, wellness and safety, housing and home maintenance, quality of life (cultural, education, recreational, and social), and transportation. By using community facilities for various programs and services we can save taxpayer dollars, provide better access to services, and promote community cohesiveness, effective tools in avoiding depression and isolation and in maintaining a healthy life style.
In South Brunswick we promote a livable community and encourage active involvement. Older citizens enjoy interacting with young residents and the opportunity to build alliances with other community members while sharing facilities that serve a variety of needs. For example space within a school building, senior center, or library; a subsidized housing community or an assisted living facility; the township’s public works building, local bank, or business provide opportunities for a wide variety of workshops, topic driven conferences, intergenerational programs, poetry blasts, health fairs, congregate meals, medical evaluations, information on a wide range of topics vital to the population, and much more.
The Senior Center’s kitchen, auditorium, and wellness center serve the larger community after hours for community-wide annual dinners, monthly jazz nights, senior art exhibits, current movies, lectures, recreation, and family events including weddings. The municipal building hosts receptions and juried art exhibits of artists in and around South Brunswick. In a tight budget climate such economies are important and add to the quality of life of the community.
AIPP concurs with a recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures and AARP stating that nearly 90 percent of people over age 65 want to stay in their home for as long as possible, and 80 percent believe their current residence is where they will always live. However, for older adults to age in place, their physical and service environment must be accommodating. We know what it takes. Tax payer dollars to fund buildings filled with seniors is not the answer. There are many wonderful options to be considered. Remaining active in the community is a proven way to maintain morale and avoid isolation while keeping seniors healthy, happy, and safe in their homes as they age in place. We welcome all who want to get involved.
Jacque Rubel is the director of the Aging in Place Partnership. Prior to AIPP Rubel’s career focused on arts and humanities education. He has worked for government programs including the County Cultural and Heritage Commission, State Department of Education, and State Council on the Arts, as well as non-profit organizations such as the NJ State Teen Arts Program, Institute for Arts and Humanities Education, and the NJ State Summer Arts Institute at Rutgers. AIPP can be reached at 732-305-7079.