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“Building a direct care workforce for an aging population”

By: Cathy Rowe
June 6, 2022

This article was originally published on njbiz.com and is posted here with permission.

At New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, we are always looking at the numbers. So, consider these statistics. The population age 65+ was the fastest growing group in New Jersey between 2010 and 2020, increasing 26.8%, according to usafacts.org/data. This number means the 65+ population increased from 13.5% in 2010 to 17% in 2020. And the trend is expected to continue. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, those aged 60 and older will make up 24.5% of our state’s population.

This trend in aging is a good thing. It represents not only baby boomers reaching retirement age, but also increased longevity. Not only are more people “older” but they are also living longer than ever before. The hope is that these seniors will lead vibrant and interesting lives for many years. However, an estimated 70% will need some type of support as they age. And so, our aging population will increase demand on our care infrastructure.

That is why NJAAW has partnered with PHI, a national organization focused on the direct care workforce, to bring the Essential Jobs, Essential Care initiative to New Jersey, and to build on recent progress in the state to support the direct care workforce. This workforce – which includes certified home health aides, certified nursing assistants, and direct support professionals – provides essential care to thousands of residents in their homes, community settings and in-patient facilities. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, direct care workers provide critical support to older adults and people with disabilities across the state. With our aging population, we know the need will increase just as the workforce is shrinking.

Inadequate compensation, limited training and advancement opportunities, and other challenges are pushing direct care workers away from this sector. With recent increases in minimum wage and demand for workers in other sectors, people can choose to work in easier settings for the same or more pay DCWs need to pay for classes, training and to receive certification from one of several state offices before they can earn their first paycheck in patient care. In addition, nearly 40% of New Jersey’s direct care workers live in or near poverty, and 41% access some form of public assistance. This results in workers paid through Medicaid being eligible to receive Medicaid – an unsustainable situation.

Caring for seniors
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, those aged 60 and older will make up 24.5% of our state’s population.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, those aged 60 and older will make up 24.5% of our state’s population.

It is becoming more and more difficult for providers to meet current and growing demand. So, we are committed to building a strategic road map for recruiting, training and retaining direct care workers that will benefit all New Jersians, both now and in the future.

Currently, there are just over 101,000 direct care workers in New Jersey. PHI estimates that long-term care employers here will need to fill nearly 179,000 job openings in direct care by 2030, which includes new jobs to meet growing demand and jobs that must be filled when existing workers transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force. Our seniors are relying on this workforce to support them; we must do more to ensure it is there for them.

There has been some great progress in recognizing the need for and the needs of direct care workers recently. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office secured higher pay for nursing home workers under COVID. The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute produced a comprehensive report on the need for an across-the-board strategy to expand and prepare the health care workforce in the state. The Coalition for a DSP Living Wage made great strides in helping workers serving people with disabilities. Programs including NJ Pathways and Schools that Can are opening training and establishing career pathways to bring more people into this important field.

In addition, the state has committed funds to this effort – Gov. Phil Murphy earmarked $240 million last July to wage increases for a range of direct care workers; early this year, he signed into law a bill that dedicates $1 million to creating pipeline and career advancement opportunities for direct support professionals. These are great starts. What we need now is to work together to build a strategy that will see us through the current worker shortage, find commonalities, and create advocacy road maps with concrete and achievable policy goals and activities that will work for the long term.

Over the next 18 months, we will continue bringing together representatives from a wide range of providers and services in N.J. for a common goal – to increase and improve the direct care workforce. As we learned in the first convening of the PHI Coalition on May 23 and 24, DCWs have unique skills and character traits. This is a hard job, both physically and emotionally. Older adults deserve a workforce that is qualified to care, and also bring patience, compassion and dedication to their patients.

I invite stakeholders to join us in this effort. We are striving for a strategy that benefits all sectors of health care services. With a well-trained and fairly compensated workforce, all health care and service providers can benefit – whether inpatient facilities or home-based services.

At NJAAW, we advocate for what it takes to age well, encourage people to think ahead about where and how they want to age, and what they need to do to prepare. But no matter how strategic we are, we will never know what support we need until we need it. As they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” So, we must plan for a future where a significant portion of our population will need supportive services to age in the great state of New Jersey. This future needs a strong workforce.

Cathy Rowe is executive director of New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well. The Essential Jobs, Essential Care NJ initiative is supported by The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation.

Creative Aging with the Arts in New Jersey

Romanian Folk Musicians performing through the Folk Arts for Homebound program. (photo: New Jersey State Council on the Arts)

The COVID pandemic has shown us how important connection and community are to our mental and physical health. Virtual art events were a lifeline for people of all ages during the months of lockdown and continue to be, while in-person performances, classes and exhibitions reopen.

As New Jersey arts organizations welcome the public back to their theaters, galleries, concert and exhibition halls, and other venues, they continue to be committed to ensuring both physical and programmatic accessibility.

For older adults, research has shown the benefits of lifelong learning in the arts include bringing joy, strengthening social engagement and improving quality of life. When teaching artists work with older adults in any discipline — music, drama, visual arts, creative writing or movement — participants can expand their skills and confidence, as well as build community with others in the class.

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts is an agency of state government, driven by the belief that the arts are central to every element we value most in a modern society —  in good times and in times of challenge — including human understanding, cultural and civic pride, economic opportunity, creative expression, lifelong learning and overall health and wellness.

Through our programs and services, the Council seeks to increase participation in, and access to, arts events, experiences and opportunities for all people — whether they come to the arts as artists, audience members or volunteers.

Through our programs and services, the Council seeks to increase participation in, and access to, arts events, experiences and opportunities for all people — whether they come to the arts as artists, audience members or volunteers.

Mary Eileen Fouratt

Creative Aging initiative

Last spring the Arts Council received a grant from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and E.A. Michelson Philanthropy (formerly Aroha Philanthropies) as part of a national initiative, “Leveraging State Investments in Creative Aging.” This Creative Aging initiative is just the latest in the Council’s decades-long effort to ensure that people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds engage in the arts, and includes:

  • Forming and facilitating a Creative Aging Community of Practice for professionals from a variety of senior service and creative aging backgrounds to meet regularly and discuss topics of mutual relevance.
  • Developing an online knowledge bank of creative aging best practices and resources.
  • Offering the Creative Aging Learning Lab (CALLab) to teaching artists, senior centers and libraries in a cohort-based, 12-month professional development program.

The project will conclude with artist residencies in the participating senior centers and libraries. The Council will be taking our learning from this pilot project to strengthen creative aging projects throughout the state. To receive updates on this and other initiatives, sign up for the Council’s Opportunities for the Field.

Here are a few other resources that help older adults fully engage in the arts in New Jersey:

The Cultural Access Network

In 1992 the Council partnered with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance to establish the Cultural Access Network (CAN) Project to assist New Jersey’s arts organizations in making their programs and facilities accessible to older adults and individuals with disabilities. Since that time, New Jersey arts organizations have led the field in creating accessible programs and venues. Many provide assisted-listening devices, listening device looping for large areas, captioning, ASL-signed performances, large print, Braille, sensory-friendly performances, tactile experiences, audio description, and more.

In addition, New Jersey’s 40 professional theaters have developed virtual tours to give visitors of all ages the chance to see exactly what the physical layout of their theaters are like and now have one-to-one looping for their box offices. In 2020 CAN launched an Accessibility Calendar where you can select the accommodation needed, and a date range, to find accessible programs and performances throughout the state.

Folk Arts for Homebound

Another Council program that is not strictly for seniors but serves many, is the Folk Arts for Homebound (FAFH) program. FAFH was designed to combat social and cultural isolation experienced by those individuals who are unable to leave their homes without assistance from family or caregivers. New Jersey folk artists visit participants to perform or teach a traditional craft in the comfort and privacy of their homes.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual programming allowed FAFH to continue to serve our states’ homebound residents. To learn more or connect with a Folk Arts for Homebound program in your area, email Kim Nguyen, Program Officer, Folk and Traditional Arts.

County Arts Agencies

Many of New Jersey’s 21 County Arts Agencies provide programs for older adults, which are funded through the Council’s Local Arts Program. They are a great resource for older adults to learn more about the arts organizations in their own counties. For information on your county arts agency — often called a cultural and heritage agency commission — email Mary Eileen Fouratt, Program Officer, Access and Community Arts. 

Families First Discovery Pass

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the New Jersey Historical Commission have partnered with the NJ Departments of Human Services (DHS) and Health (DOH) to launch New Jersey’s Families First Discovery Pass program. This program provides families and individuals enrolled in state assistance programs with free or highly discounted admission to arts and history organizations, venues, and programs -– both in-person and virtual. The Families First Discovery Pass Program offers broad access to cultural experiences for New Jersey residents while providing opportunities for cultural organizations to engage new audiences with the goal of building long-lasting relationships.

New Jersey’s arts organizations already serve many older residents, but there is always room for more. Whether you want to hone your creative side as a participant, as an audience member, or as a volunteer, the arts keep you engaged with your community as you learn, grow, and make new connections.

About the New Jersey State Council on the Arts

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, created in 1966, is a division of the NJ Department of State. The Council was established to encourage and foster public interest in the arts; enlarge public and private resources devoted to the arts; promote freedom of expression in the arts, and facilitate the inclusion of art in every public building in New Jersey. The Council receives direct appropriations from the State of New Jersey through a dedicated, renewable Hotel/Motel Occupancy fee, as well as competitive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Watch Episode 126 of NJAAW’s Aging Insights TV to learn more about NJ’s vast array of theatre, visual art, dance, music, museums and heritage sites, and how the NJ Arts and Culture Recovery Fund has helped them not only survive the pandemic but adapt in new and creative ways that accommodate older adults.

Reflection on the NJAAW Housing Series

A guest blog by William Cotrone, NJAAW intern

As the global population continues to grow/age, appropriate housing for older adults is now more important than ever. Most of NJ’s current housing stock was built for young able-bodied adults and nuclear families.

Currently, 30% of homeowners in the US are single and live alone. By 2030, 20% of the US population will be considered “senior citizens,” and most older adults would prefer to live in their own homes for as long as possible. But what if their home is not designed to accommodate them as they age? Fortunately, there are solutions.

Staying in Your Home

Adaptations and renovations can allow people to stay in their homes safely for longer.

For example, AARP has a free HomeFit Guide that explains how to incorporate universal design principles and products into homes, which are safe and easy to use. Most of the elements in the guide can be done without professional assistance

Another option is to hire either an occupational therapist (OT) or physical therapist (PT) who is also a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS). These individuals can make recommendations on how to repurpose your home to reflect your functional, mobility, and cognitive needs so that you can live safely and comfortably.

A CAPS will examine such things as the entry and/or foyer (Is it clutter free? Is there a rug that could cause a person to slip and fall? Is there enough light?). If an individual requires a mobility device such as a walker or wheelchair, are doorways and hallways wide enough to pass? In the kitchen, a CAPS will scrutinize chair height so that sitting and rising are made easier, floor space so that mobility devices can pass, lighting to assist people with visual challenges, etc.

Probably the most important place to have examined is the bathroom, especially since 80% of falls occur here.

Probably the most important place to have examined is the bathroom, especially since 80% of falls occur here. A CAPS can make recommendations on toilet height, grab bars, slip mats or bathroom chairs for the shower area.

For the rest of the house, stairs should be well lit and have handrails. Another option is a chair lift to take older adults up and down. Smart technology devices might also be beneficial for such functions as turning on the lights or a faucet.

For outside the home, thoughtful landscaping or therapy gardens make a great addition. Engaging with nature has an immense list of health benefits, so make an outdoor space age-friendly. Comfortable furniture for the patio area, safe walkways, good lighting and smart technology increase the ability to enjoy outdoors safely.

Getting Help in the Home

Knowing when help is needed and how to find it can be challenging. One option is to hire assistance directly or via an agency. While Home Health Care (HHC) covers skilled support services (including RN/PT/OT) and is usually paid for by Medicare or insurance following a hospital stay or during recovery, older adults may need a lower level of care to assist them with activities of daily living (ADLs). These services, such as toileting, bathing, dressing, eating, moving, and grooming, can be provided by Certified Home Health Aides (CHHAs). However, CHHA services often have very limited insurance coverage, leaving most people to pay out of pocket.

When deciding what type of provider to employ, consider the following: A family member/caregiver who hires privately may save money, but the “employee” might not have the proper skill set or be insured. Engaging an agency is more expensive. However, such added benefits as knowing that the agency has supervision, specific hiring requirements, insurance, licensed staff, and compliance policies, are often worth the extra cost.

Another option is Adult Day Care. These programs provide care and companionship for older adults who need assistance or supervision during the day. This provides caregivers with a much-needed break and allows them to go to work, school, do housekeeping, etc. Research has shown that social interaction in a Day Care setting improves an older adult’s mental, physical and emotional health as well as reduces the risk of developing depression and dementia.

Finally, for people who need more help or are near nursing-level care, PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) programs allow people to remain at home. While limited geographically, the number of PACE programs in NJ is increasing. More information can be found here.

Residential Options

When staying in one’s home is no longer possible, what are the options to choose from and how does one assess them?

First, independent living is an option for older adults who do not have severe physical or cognitive challenges. An independent living environment usually includes age-friendly features like grab bars, walk-in showers, emergency response services, community dining, age-appropriate entertainment, transportation services, etc. They are relatively affordable at market prices and many are designated as “affordable housing.” If needed, home care, paid by the resident, can be arranged.

The next option is assisted living. Residents of an assisted living community tend to have physical or cognitive challenges but are still able to retain some autonomy. Assisted living units are often smaller than independent living settings because they lack some of the customary rooms of a typical house, like a kitchen. Staff can help residents with ADLs and medication management.

The third option is a long-term care (LTC) facility or a traditional “nursing home,” which provides shelter and around-the-clock care for people with ADL and health difficulties. Reasons for seeking LTC might include that a person suffered a severe injury or medical emergency and needs rehabilitation to return home, or their physical/mental state is diminishing, which could make them susceptible to injuries or illnesses. Long-term care facilities can also provide hospice care and many offer memory units.

Pulling these options together is the “Life Plan Model,” also known as a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). Residents can transition their living situation and care level without having to transfer out of the facility. For example, a typical transition might be going from independent living to assisted living or independent living to rehabilitation. This may be the appropriate option for couples where one needs care services and the other doesn’t.

For all of the options in getting help in the home, or relocating to an age-focused place, it is important to plan ahead.

For all of the options in getting help in the home, or relocating to an age-focused place, it is important to plan ahead. Unless related to a hospital stay, Medicare does not pay for home care or long-term care. If someone qualifies for Medicaid or affordable housing, eligibility should be established as early as possible. Long-term care insurance or private insurance may cover some costs, but most people will be paying out of pocket.

Aging is like the weather. You can plan for it, and anticipate what will happen, but you won’t know until it actually happens. Like the weather, aging and finances can change unexpectedly. Older adults deserve to live with dignity and comfort. They deserve affordable, appropriate and accessible housing and must plan ahead and know their options.

Click here for a summary of NJAAW’s Housing Series and links to the four recorded sessions.

William Cotrone recently graduated from Bates College with a degree in psychology and is and future medical student (hopefully in a field related to aging). He previously interned at senior residential sites in Lewiston, ME.

Warning on Scams Claiming to Support Ukraine

by Cathy Rowe, DrPH, Executive Director, NJAAW

Unfortunately, we have seen this over and over: Well-meaning older adults who want to support a good cause become the targets or victims of a scam

Why Are There Scams About Ukraine?

Let’s be clear – the people of Ukraine need our support and help. Lives are disrupted, infrastructure is destroyed and peoples’ health, welfare and lives are at risk.

Scam artists are despicable when they take the focus on a crisis and use it to try and rob well-meaning people. 

NJ has a high number of Ukrainian immigrants – the 4th largest community in the United States.  Many came over in the 1980s to work and raise their families, and are now retired. The headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is based here in South Bound Brook, at St. Andrew Memorial Church.

We know the compassion and concern are real. We just want to make sure the support that people want to give gets to the right place – and not in some scammer’s pocket.

We know the compassion and concern are real. We just want to make sure the support that people want to give gets to the right place – and not in some scammer’s pocket.

Why Do Scammers Target Older Adults?

We have this struggle – while we want to help older adults with technology and close the digital divide, we also do not want to expose them to fraud. We want people to be safe and be cautious online.

If you get emails asking for donations, check the address it came from. Do not open an email or click on a link unless you really know where it is from. If you go to a website to get information or to donate, make sure you are going to the site you want and have not been redirected to another site with a similar name. 

Also, the problems aren’t only online. There has been no slowdown in telemarketing scams.

Telemarketing has become an easy way for fraudsters to scams seniors. Many seniors will always pick up the phone – and have been doing so all of their lives. Since we are in our homes more because of COVID or the cold weather, we hear that phone ringing. As our partners at Senior Medicare Patrol advise: If you receive a call and you do not recognize the caller’s telephone number, do not pick up the call. Let your answering machine screen all of your calls.

How to Help Ukraine

Our advice is to donate through an organization you know and trust, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. Locally, if your house of worship is organizing something to help the people of Ukraine, or if there is a Ukrainian church or synagogue you know that is doing something, that might be the best way to ensure that your help will really get there. Also, large church-based charities, usually covering a diocese or synod, are trustworthy places to donate to if they have set up a fund for Ukraine.

We also see that some news stations have screened organizations that are helping Ukraine and are posting this information on their broadcasts as well as on their websites. 

Fighting Scams on Any Topic

Be sure that you never feel intimidated or pressured to give money or any personal information to someone you don’t know. If you feel pressure, hang up the phone. If someone, by phone or email, is trying to make you feel flustered or dumb, know that you are not. Scammers are smart, persistent and only need to trick one person to make money.

Also, while it may be hard, share your experience with others. Tell people about the calls or emails you’ve received that seem suspicious so that they can learn. You will be providing a service by sharing our experience with others.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of a scam, report it to cyber.nj.gov or AARP’s toll-free fraud helpline at 1-877-908-3360.

Finally, always keep up your vigilance:

  • Do not respond to emails if you do not know the source
  • Initiate calls or conversations yourself
  • Double-check the website address if you want to donate online – make sure you weren’t redirected
  • Trust your instincts, not your emotions

Cathy Rowe, DrPH, was interviewed on PIX 11 TV on this topic. Click here to see the video clip and read the news report.

I’m proud of you, New Jersey!

As we wind up 2021, I just want to take a moment to say I’m proud of you, New Jersey! Now, with all the jokes made about the great Garden State, you might not be used to the compliment, but here is why I am proud of our older residents, in particular.

New Jersey was hit hard early in the pandemic and suffered tremendous loss of life.

When we started 2021, we were on the edge of our seats waiting for the COVID vaccine and a return to normalcy. It was a frantic rollout but once the supply caught up with demand, the older residents in New Jersey led the way in getting vaccinated.

December 15 is the anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccinations being administered in the state of New Jersey. According to multiple reports, Garden State residents age 65 and over are among the highest vaccinated group in the country. New Jersey is leading the nation in fighting COVID.

According to multiple reports, Garden State residents age 65 and over are among the highest vaccinated group in the country. New Jersey is leading the nation in fighting COVID.

Now, I am not talking about politics or the misinformation that is affecting personal decisions on getting vaccinated. I am talking about the facts: Our fellow New Jerseyans over the age of 65 remember growing up in a time before vaccines. They can remember when polio, measles and other contagious diseases would shut down schools and swimming pools, and put communities on edge. They had lived through this before.

We hear the term “unprecedented” used in discussions about COVID, the vaccines and mandates. Yes – this is unprecedented; the last time we saw a health crisis of this magnitude, a true pandemic, was over 100 years ago.

Living through the flu epidemic of 1918

There are a handful of people who lived through the influenza epidemic of 1918, which spread worldwide before we had airplanes, cars and the social interactions we were so accustomed to until COVID arrived.  Many of the medical advances we take for granted were not developed – vaccines were in their infancy and penicillin was still 10 years away.

One of my favorite books is Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, written by Gina Kolata and published in 1999. I was deep in my graduate work in public health then and found the book to be a real thriller. (I still do, but realize not everyone shares my interest in contagious things.)

No corner of the globe was left unaffected and the similarities of the 1918 pandemic and COVID-19 are surprising, considering the century of medical progress that has passed in between.

A few years ago, I made a documentary with SOMA (South Orange Maplewood) Two Towns for All Ages, in which we asked older residents about their memories of growing up before vaccines. Stories included children being sent away to family members in the countryside for the summer, to avoid polio. One woman recalled a relative who returned home from World War II a hero, only to succumb to polio a few weeks thereafter. Another witnessed diseases first-hand as a young nurse. Their honest recollections come to my mind every time I hear updates on vaccination rates.

We have come a long way and I am truly proud that people who can remember the time without vaccines took the lead in getting them to not only protect themselves but also others.

Vaccination rates for people 65+: nationwide vs. NJ

As of this writing, the national vaccination rate among adults age 65+ is 90+% ; in NJ it is over 98% with some communities reporting all residents over age 65 are vaccinated. 

In addition, vaccination rates for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) NJ residents are above the national average, elevating protection in communities that have been hit hardest by this virus. (Source: NJ Department of Health, USAfacts.org and CDC.gov)  

So, well done NJ! Once again, our older neighbors have proven that they are leaders and have so much to teach the rest of us.

I thank all of the people who drew on their life experiences and memories in making their health care decision to get the COVD vaccine. May we all look to your example.


To see the SOMA Two Towns for All Ages documentary “A Time Before Vaccines,” click here. This oral history shares the personal memories of SOMA residents growing up in a time before vaccines, and how now preventable diseases like polio, diphtheria and measles affected their lives.

Pie for Breakfast: Memories of Thanksgiving

By Sue Burghard Brooks

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday as far back as I can remember. There was something magical about Mom, Dad, my brother and me piling into the family car on Thanksgiving eve and driving from our NJ home to upstate NY.

We’d always spend “turkey day” and a few days thereafter with Dad’s side of the family. Inevitably, it would also snow while we were there — and I love snow!

Throughout the years, the Big Event was either hosted by Dad’s parents, his older brother and family or his younger brother and family.

My first cousins were fairly close in age to my brother and me, and we enjoyed spending time together. And we were loud! This made for some raucous times at the proverbial “kids’ table.”

Traditions

Our celebrations were rich with traditions. Great Uncle Steve, sipping his Johnny Walker Black, would tell stories of his travels abroad with the military or with Great Aunt Kate, who would often chime in. If a piano were nearby, Grandpa would play and sing. And without fail, you’d hear Grandma exclaim, “Oh, George!” multiple times, admonishing her husband for yet another groan-worthy joke or story.

Recaps of times gone by and peals of laughter were de rigueur at these gatherings. And the food! I’m blessed to have relatives who were phenomenal cooks and bakers.

My fondest memories are from Thanksgivings of later years, spent in the small-but-cozy Utica, NY, home of Dad’s youngest brother and family: my Uncle Paul, Aunt Marie, their four children, and Aunt Marie’s Mom, “Gram.”

Turkey and Trimmings and Pie — Oh My!

Second cousins eventually joined the family and the kids’ table on their enclosed porch got even tighter! However, there always seemed to be enough room — and endless amounts of fantastic food.

I always marveled at how my Aunt Marie managed to have the gigantic turkey (there could be upwards of 30 people) plus all the fixings and other goodies ready at the same time. She had limited space to do this since family members around the “adults’ table” took up most of the room in her kitchen and counter space was at a premium!

Desserts were a bounty of heavenly homemade pies as well as Italian cookies and pastries from a favorite nearby bakery.

The morning after Thanksgiving, we carried on perhaps the greatest long-standing tradition of all: leftover pie for breakfast.

Giving Thanks

Sadly, we stopped heading upstate for “turkey day” decades ago as families scattered. Many of our elder relatives had also passed on.

As much as my heart aches for “the good old days” — spending the happiest Thanksgivings with Dad’s family and being with those who now are gone or a distance away — I am thankful that I have plenty of fond memories and photos to lift my spirits.

This Thanksgiving, may your heart be filled with gratitude and your stomachs, with delicious food.

And if you’re also unable to spend time with those you love, whether they’re near or far or no longer walking the earth, may your memories be as sweet as pie.

Speaking of pie…I do hope you’ll join me and my relatives in enjoying a slice or two for breakfast the morning after!

Sue Burghard Brooks (pictured above, far right) is entering her third year as NJAAW’s Communications Manager and is also Executive Producer of the nonprofit’s monthly “Aging Insights” TV program. She confesses that her favorite Thanksgiving pie is mincemeat though growing up, she never ate it because her older cousin Ed (pictured front, holding his youngest sister, De) said that it was made of monkey meat!

Grand-families: A different call to action

Guest blog by NJAAW Board member Dr. Charisse Smith.

In the spring of 2020, I heralded a call to action for grand-families across New Jersey. Grandparents and other older family members bravely took on the challenge of helping their students with remote or virtual learning during COVID-19.

They assisted their young students with logging onto such online learning platforms as Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Canvas and plenty of other sites dedicated to virtual instruction. Uploading, downloading, links, passwords, usernames, mousepads, iPads and screenshots had become familiar vernacular for these now tech-savvy older warriors of the web. 

This school year, students are back in their classrooms and the laptops and tablets have taken a backseat to in-person instruction.

Additional challenges for in-person learning

Many students are finding it difficult to adjust to a very long and very different type of school day. Masking, social distancing, quarantining and other COVID-19 school protocols have made the school day especially demanding-particularly for the younger ones who had not benefited from any previous type of in-school experience.

Those students who have had the in-person experience of a “normal” school day are also finding it challenging to navigate through an extra set of expectations — wearing masks all day, not sharing materials and sitting socially distanced from friends in the cafeteria — in addition to catching up to grade-level expectations.

Since students returned to school, educators and parents have expressed concern about learning loss due to the shortcomings of virtual learning and the lack of “real school” social interactions.

To help students adjust to the social and academic demands, schools have added an additional layer of supportive learning opportunities to the student day: Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

What is Social Emotional Learning?

According  to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotion, and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.”

There are public school districts in NJ — Westfield, Deptford, Clayton, Paulsboro, Readington, Eatontown and Jackson among them — that have adopted SEL curricula, which address student self- and social-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making and relationship skills.

When schools are committed to the tenets of an SEL curriculum, the strategic instructional opportunities and practices enhance a positive classroom climate and help students become self-aware, caring, responsible and engaged lifelong learners.

I am again heralding the call to our Grand-families–partner up!

As grand-families and caregivers, you can also support in-school SEL by finding out about your school’s SEL curriculum and becoming more involved with your student’s school.

The benefits of grand-family/school partnerships

Grand-families partnering with schools that support SEL provide a win-win for the entire school community. Intergenerational older adult/student relationships provide wonderful opportunities for SEL and development.

Stanford University psychology professor and Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura Carstensen, states that as we age, our brains improve in the areas of complex problem-solving and emotional intelligence. Both of these are great qualities of a great mentor! Children can benefit from the counseling and experiences older adults can provide.

Carstensen points out that older adults are exceptionally suited to meet the needs of children because both welcome meaningful, productive activity and engagement. Older adults can help children develop self-awareness and empathetic skills that are essential to building healthy relationships in school by cultivating their relationships at home; identifying, communicating and acknowledging emotions, and modeling empathy and coping skills.

Our students thrive when schools and all families partner together. As one of the first in my school community to see students arriving at school, I have observed our older adult family members walking young students to their class lines outside on the blacktop playground. I’ve also heard their morning conversations, which have included making sure that the students are respectful toward their friends when joining their class line and ensuring that they say “good morning” to classmates.

At lunchtime, my first-graders are eager for me to read their “love notes” — words of encouragement and daily affirmations from their grandmas and abuelitas tucked inside their tiny lunch boxes. These are definitely warm-and-fuzzy moments, even for me!

Grand-families, please help our schools!

Schools have room for improvement. Our schools can be consistent in creating spaces where families feel welcome to share their culture, language, wisdom and skills.

Reach out to your child’s school, teacher or principal to develop a partnership. Join your school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Parent Association. The skills, wisdom, and time you volunteer may make a difference in how your young family member connects socially and emotionally to school.

Let’s continue this course of positive relationship building and support because we all are family–parents, students, grand-family members and educators. Thank you!

Click here for my list of ideas and resources.

Dr. Charisse Smith

NJAAW Board member Dr. Charisse Smith, principal consultant and owner of Sankofa Educational Consulting, LLC, in Trenton, NJ, is the new Curriculum Supervisor for Social Studies, kindergarten through grade 6, for Trenton Public Schools. A member of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa Inc. – Pi Chapter, an organization of professional educators, she and her chapter sisters focus their volunteer efforts on youth, education and service to the Greater Trenton area community. Smith and her husband, Steven, are the proud parents of Raven and Satchel. She is also a caregiver for her parents, Richard and Saundra.

Sanctuary

This post was written by author and clinical psychologist Mary Flett, PhD, amid the California fires in October 2020. It is reprinted, with permission, from “Valuing Ourselves as We Get Older,” the first in Dr. Flett’s new three-book “Aging with Finesse” series. Dr. Flett, who worked extensively with aging adults, is the featured guest on the 125th Episode of Aging Insights TV.

I ran away this week. Fled. Gave up the ghost. Abandoned my post. It all finally became too much and so I fled to a place that wasn’t in the pathway of raging fires, appeared to have taken appropriate precautions for COVID and held happy memories of better times for me. I returned home, somewhat chastened, definitely improved in mental state and capacity to face what is a continuing challenge, but also keenly aware of how much I need sanctuary.

I was intimately familiar with the location I chose to flee to. My husband and I had spent untold hours driving around this area, exploring the back roads, dead ends, as well as shopping, dining, and getting to know the locals. Even contemplating it as a place where we would retire. It is incredibly beautiful, has a delightful small-town ethos, not just because it actually is a small town, but also because it has all the big-city amenities that we had come to expect.

But this time it was different. And different in that slightly off-kilter way when the audio is off from the video. The places I remembered were still there, but with new names, and restrictions, because of COVID. Some of our favorite hidden by-ways still remained but were now filled with new buildings and without the quaint, small-town feel. There was an edge to the exchanges with masked store clerks and customer service folks. Lines were long and shelves were thinly stocked.

Maybe it was my mood or maybe it was a combination of the weather, which was overcast but cool, but I could not find what I longed for – that feeling of relief and letting go that comes from being in a familiar, welcoming place.

I stayed in a perfectly lovely hotel, now barricaded with plexiglass because of COVID, but reassuringly hermetically sealed from the room entry to the prophylactic covering on the remote. Still, I felt like a caged animal.

I stayed in a perfectly lovely hotel, now barricaded with plexiglass because of COVID, but reassuringly hermetically sealed from the room entry to the prophylactic covering on the remote. Still, I felt like a caged animal.

I planned on staying for four days, assuring myself that in that time the danger from fire at home would have decreased, and I would have enjoyed a brief vacation. But circumstances conspired to cut the time short. So I returned home.

Not much had changed at home. The fires continued to burn, the air continued to be unbreathable, and there were still bills to be paid, calls to be returned, and appointments to be kept. But I had changed. This is what is so fascinating to me.

I realized that my home is my sanctuary, and in no small part because of the miscellaneous unconscious items that I take for granted.

It was as if I had hit the “re-set” button. I realized that my home is my sanctuary, and in no small part because of the miscellaneous unconscious items that I take for granted. My shower head is adjusted to the way I like it. I know just how long it will take for the water to get hot. My coffee set-up is organized and the muscle memory to get that brew done requires only that I remember to boil the water. My favorite channels are easily accessed on my TV and radio. My bed has my sheets and pillows and my chair is molded to fit my body. The pictures on the walls, always just slightly askew, soothe my soul and bring happy memories to mind.

This level of familiarity is vacated when I am in a new place. And while the novelty of a different shower, coffee set up, working the TV and adjusting to pillows and chairs is an effective way of stimulating my aging brain, when I am depleted emotionally and psychologically, and when I am at my core threatened with extinction, that novelty drops to the bottom of the list and I am left even more fatigued.

I have seen this emptiness in the eyes of people whose homes have been incinerated in the fires. I have seen this surrender in the drooping shoulders of people who have stood in long lines only to be told the forms they need to fill out to start their lives over are located in another line, even longer. I have seen this in the shuffling strides of those who are homeless and now without work or purpose.

Where can I go when home is no longer safe?  I am not the first to ask this question. Whether it be women who are physically and economically tied to partners who make their lives unsafe or whether it is the increasing numbers of people who are becoming climate refugees, where do we go when our homes are no longer there?

Seeking sanctuary

In my reviewing these last few days, I came to the conclusion that I was seeking sanctuary. I was seeking a place of refuge, a place where I would find peace and tranquility. An experience where I would feel connection and belonging. For me, this can be found in nature or in the company of others. What truly brought me “home,” was not just returning to my house, but lingering in conversation with friends who reached out to see if I was OK.

I find myself wondering whether my time here in California is spent. I have lived here for 41 years – the longest I have lived in any one state. While I can go through a checklist of places that have lower environmental risk and are possibly more economically advantageous as I approach retirement, I now realize that what is essential is that I am able to connect with and build community. And that is a daunting prospect in these current times.

I understand better why some people stay behind to protect their property. I have more compassion for those who return and put themselves in what are irrationally unsafe environments. It is hard to leave a place that brings such comfort from the unknown. What all this has taught me is that I am going to have to leave sometime. It will either be by my own choice or because I am forced to leave. The challenge is knowing when to exercise my options.

Mary L. Flett, PhD, is an author, clinical psychologist and nationally recognized speaker on aging. She has just published “Aging with Finesse,” a three-book series of short essays exploring valuing ourselves as elders, connecting with others, and acquiring essential skills for aging well
and aging better. She is the Executive Director of the Center for Aging and Values and is launching Five Pillars of Aging, where she will be offering online seminars on aging
.

Home is where the heart is

by NJAAW Executive Director Cathy Rowe, DrPH

I recently had a discussion with one of my oldest and best friends. Both of her parents, who no longer drive, are facing physical challenges as they age in their bi-level home in the suburbs.

My friend and her siblings help with doctors’ appointments, meals and whatever else possible, while working, raising their kids and doing the things we all need to do.

When I suggested that my friend look into getting help, she immediately replied, “I am not sending my parents to a nursing home!”

This was the inspiration for NJAAW’s Housing Series webinars in February.

I will leave my friend’s name out, just in case she is reading this blog, but I think her reaction is one that many people have because they are not aware of the range of housing options for older adults.

There isn’t one large leap from living independently in one’s home to needing assisted living — there are numerous steps and choices.

There isn’t one large leap from living independently in one’s home to needing assisted living – there are numerous steps and choices.

Housing needs are not clear-cut nor consistent. There are a continuum of needs, finances, preferences and opportunities.

Housing is likely the biggest investment most of us will ever make — our home becomes a place we can call our sanctuary, and build memories. As such, the “where” and “how” we live are among the most important decisions we make. And these decisions cannot — or should not — be made suddenly or in a moment of crisis.

According to statistics, more than 23% of NJ’s total population is over 60 — and by the year 2030, all Baby Boomers will be of retirement age. Additionally, studies show that the majority of adults 50+ wish to remain in their homes and/or communities as long as possible, with a sense of independence and connection.

We need to spend time educating ourselves about available options, planning in advance for adapting our current home, exploring our next home and preparing for change.

We need to spend time educating ourselves about available options, planning in advance for adapting our current home, exploring our next home and preparing for change.

For all of these reasons, we are hosting the NJAAW Housing Series, bringing together experts in the realm of NJ housing to explore options at each stage and need, to help you make informed decisions for yourself or for the older adults in your life.

The series takes place online on consecutive Wednesdays in February at 4 p.m.

Speakers will explain strategies to help you stay in your homes with modifications and built design. They will also discuss options for getting help in the home, downsizing and when assisted and supportive living becomes necessary.

You’ll find more information at njaaw.org/events. Please register once for Zoom links to all four sessions Those who register will also have on-demand access to session recordings.

Special thanks to our sponsors for letting us provide this series at no cost to NJ residents: Raise the Roof Sponsors Parker Health Group, Inc. and Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NJ, Build the Walls Sponsors AARP NJ and New Jersey Relay & CapTel and Lay the Foundation Sponsor Springpoint.

I hope you can join us!

Resources for Grandfamilies: A different call to action

Dr. Charisse Smith
Dr. Charisse Smith

https://www.njaaw.org/2021/11/01/grand-families-call-to-action/These ideas and resources for my guest blog titled “Grandfamilies: A different call to action” are just a small slice of the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) pie. Grand-family members: Our students still need you! Use those SEL skills that have carried you through life and life’s challenges. Thank you!


SEL partnership questions for the student’s school

  • Does this school have multiple ways to maintain two-way communication with families; to invite families to understand, experience, inform and partner with the school to support our students’ social and emotional development?
  • Do families participate in the school’s/district’s SEL team?
  • Does this school or district provide meaningful opportunities for all families to learn and contribute to SEL?

Ways older family members can support SEL

  • Participate in any back-to-school events and parent-teacher conferences (in-person or online)
  • Add yourself as a communication contact between the school and home
  • Share information with the school/teacher about how your child learns best
  • Mentor a student or two
  • Become a from-home volunteer for your child’s school (stapling packets, cutting out laminated decorations, volunteering your translation skills for flyers and information that are shared in the community)
  • Share your culture with your child’s school
  • Help unpack and repack your child’s book bag or backpack to check for important information about school and schoolwork
  • Practice SEL activities with your student

SEL activities you can do at home

  • Dedicate time to talking with your child about their day to help students navigate the art of conversation
  • Pay attention to your child’s behavior before and after school
  • Help establish and maintain routines such as preparing for school in the morning, homework time, playtime, bath time and most importantly, bedtime
  • Establish an open line of communication (texting, FaceTime-ing, etc. with older students)
  • Be aware of “red flags” or changes in “normal behavior” (losing interest in school, friends, or favorite activities), eating (loss or insatiable appetites), and/or sleeping behaviors (unable to sleep, sleeping during school hours)
  • Read books or watch online storytellers that promote SEL
  • Participate in mindfulness exercises together, such as walking, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, coloring with crayons or colored pencils or watching clouds
  • Attend school SEL activities

Resources for grandparents and others caring for school-age children

  • Why Social-Emotional Learning Is Suddenly in the Spotlight
  • The Whole-Brain Child by neuroscientist and parenting expert Daniel Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson: This New York Times Bestseller explains the child’s developing brain and how we can best support it.
  • Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby: Follow the stories of four different young children, known in their respective classrooms as the “troublemakers.” This radical take encourages us to shift our adult perspective to better understand the and sometimes confusing behavior of children.
  • SEL Framework: CASEL

SEL literature for young readers

About being yourself

  • Yo Soy, I Am by Trenton, NJ-native Jacquelyn León: This is the tale of how a child’s name came to be. It is interwoven with family, history, culture and love, to fortify the connection between the child’s name and the child’s identity to the world. The book celebrates and honors the home as the child’s local roots grow and blossom across the world.
  • Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love: Julián is a boy who lives with his abuela (grandmother) in New York City. Although his preferences and attire may seem unconventional, he is supported by those around him to be himself.
  • The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf: Bulls are supposed to fight, correct? Not Ferdinand. A peaceful and calm bull in the bull-fighting rings of Spain, Ferdinand remains true to himself despite the pressures to change.
  • Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown: Marisol McDonald is a biracial girl with red hair and brown skin. In many ways, Marisol defies the norms and sometimes confuses those around her. She is, however, confidently herself!
  • Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson: Chloe and her friends have no interest in playing with Maya, the new girl at school who wears ratty hand-me-down clothes. But when Maya leaves school and Chloe realizes her mistake, she learns that you don’t always get a chance to apologize. 
  • The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig: Brian is unnoticed by the other students in his class. He is never included or invited until the new student, Justin, arrives and shows us that it just takes one friendship to change a person’s life.

About sharing and gratitude

  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams: Classic and award-winning story about a family’s home being destroyed by fire. A young Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save their coins to buy a really comfortable chair for all to enjoy.
  • Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister: Rainbow Fish has beautiful glittering scales like no other in the ocean. While at first, he refuses to share his most prized scales, he learns that when he does, he creates invaluable friendships.

About overcoming fear and anxiety

  • The Good Egg by Jory John and Pete Oswald: The Good Egg is always doing what it should, even taking care of the other eggs who are not doing their best. But when the Good Egg’s own shell starts to crack, it realizes that balance and self-care are more important than perfection.
  • Jake the Growling Dog Shares His Train by Samantha Shannon: Follow Jake, a sweet, kind, and misunderstood dog, as he learns more about sharing, facing his fears, and the many remarkable differences in the world

SEL literature for older readers

  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: Jesse’s colorless rural world expands when he becomes fast friends with Leslie, the new girl in school. But when Leslie drowns trying to reach their special hideaway Terabithia, Jesse struggles to accept the loss of his friend.
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft: Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of a few kids of color in his entire grade.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz: Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants, and her mama, papa and abuelita to care for her. But suddenly, tragedy forces Esperanza and mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp.