Supporting NJ's Senior Community
NJ Advocates for Aging Well (NJAAW, formerly NJ Foundation for Aging) has accomplished some great things in two decades, but there is so much more to do. Our priorities don’t veer too far from what we’ve been working on since 1998, however, they have been adjusted to address the needs of a changing older adult population.
For New Jersey’s older adult population, NJAAW is an organization that is always there for them – an organization that works with tenacious persistence to see to it that every one of them is aware of and has access to programs, services and resources that can help them live well and age well in New Jersey.
In terms of priorities, the issue of Economic Security is the overarching theme of all of NJAAW’s advocacy efforts. Starting with work in 2009 with the Elder Index, we have been focusing on the cost of living for seniors in NJ, as well as how many older adults fall below the Elder Index benchmark and how well support programs are helping to fill that gap. The Elder Index statistics continue to inform much of the advocacy work that NJAAW does, including housing, nutrition supports, caregiving and much more.
NJAAW along with many of our partners are engaged in talking about age-friendly communities and how we can better incorporate both social services and wellness services in senior communities. If a community is age-friendly, it is really friendly for all. Much like economic security, ageism is another issue that cuts across all of our priorities. Ageism is a societal problem, most likely brought on by our own fears of the aging process and of our own mortality. NJAAW is dedicated to breaking down those myths and stigmas associated with the aging process. We want to assist in promoting a positive and realistic image of aging. If we acknowledge the blatant ageism that exists in our society, it will help us raise awareness of the needs of our older adults in NJ.
The NJ Foundation for Aging (NJFA) was established in 1998 with an idea, some stalwart visionaries and the sentiment “of course we can do this.”
Our founders were Executive Directors of County Offices on Aging: Margaret Chester, Susan Chasnoff, Rosemarie Doremus and Carl West, who saw a need for a statewide organization to address the issues they saw in their communities. Those four founding trustees worked with founding Executive Director, Grace Egan to bring NJFA to life. During that first year they met with a consultant to identify advisors to assist the Board, and eventually, they incorporated additional board members with expertise in fiscal management, corporate relations, and gerontology.
With its basic organizational infrastructure intact the Foundation could now focus more fully on becoming an effective “voice for social policy.” New Jersey, a big state with a big population of older adults requires – if it’s going to be heard – an appropriately big voice.
To that end, NJFA became what Grace Egan recalls a primary funder saying was needed: “a provocateur, a facilitator, a networker to bring people together”.
In our inaugural year, we hosted the first annual conference for professionals, which addressed topics and concerns raised by the County Offices on Aging and Senior Centers’ staff. National experts have joined us over the last 20 years to offer keynote presentations on emerging trends, the White House Conference on Aging, and the role of arts for healthy aging, just to name a few topics.
And, right out of the gate, NJFA tackled big issues. 1999 (just one year after being established) was the first year that focused on the program that came to be known as Safe Mobility at Any Age. It was conceived to address one of the most important issues for older adults: transportation. Over the course of several years a large stakeholder group met and created a policy report on the topic and continued to convene over time, as well as host forums and educate policy makers.
In 2009, a historic collaboration took place between NJFA and Gerontology Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston and Wider Opportunities for Women with the generous support of The Atlantic Philanthropies. The result of this collaboration was The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index for New Jersey.
This report is “a tool for use by policy makers, older adults, family caregivers, service providers, aging advocates and the public at large.” The “Elder Index” reveals the sometimes shocking geographically specific measure of income that older adults require to maintain their independence in the community and meet their daily costs of living, including affordable and appropriate housing and healthcare.
The Elder Index work that NJFA started in 2008 and that continues to be produced by the NJ Department of Human Services, elevates the need to pursue economic supports that impact everyday quality of life issues. Which is why we continue to work with many of our colleagues on the issues of housing, hunger, caregiver support and much more.
Early on, NJFA Trustees and staff realized we could not go it alone. Partners from the academic world, the government arena, the philanthropic realm and community-based programs have made our work possible. We appreciate this vote of confidence and affirmation from partners that we have indeed been on the right path.