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Caregiving in New Jersey Series Overview

By: Darian Constantine

Session 1 – Defining Caregiving & its Impact on Family, Patients & Friends

       The first part of the Caregiving in New Jersey Series was all about defining caregiving and how it impacts caregivers, patients, and friends. Our first presentation was by Courtney Roman of Center for Health Care Strategies, giving an overview on caregiving. Roman explained how a family caregiver can basically be anybody, and we all know people serving in this role. Roman described caregivers as a person who has a significant personal relationship with and provides a broad range of assistance for an older person or an adult with a chronic or disabling condition. These caregivers may or may not live with the person receiving care; their primary goal is to make the person receiving care as comfortable as possible.

          Our second presentation was presented by Kathleen Otte of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explaining a national strategy that can be able to support family caregivers. Otte explains how that strategy can be able to empower communities, agencies, and other stakeholder groups to select actions for implementation; this strategy is a significant milestone in our national effort to improve the way we can support family caregivers and the people they are caring for.

You can view the recording here: https://youtu.be/-6QNJWRSTbE

Session 2Finding Support & Building Skills  

   The second part of the Caregiving in New Jersey Series was about finding support and building skills. Our first presentation was by Mary-Catherine Lundquist of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, COPSA, and Care2Caregivers; Lundquist’s presentation reviewed the different stages of caregiving, as well as what it takes to build a care team while exploring how to identify current connections, exploring community supports, and ways to contact professional support for anyone who is a caregiver.

          Our second presentation was by Robyn Kohn of Alzheimer’s Association. Kohn’s presentation talks about Alzheimer’s Disease, including what it is, how common it is, and raising awareness on what an Alzheimer’s caregiver does. Caring for a loved one going through Alzheimer’s is an overwhelming and highly emotional time for the caregiver and rest of the family, and Kohn sheds light on this. Kohn also discussed ways we can help with Alzheimer’s as individuals, as an organization, and in our communities.

You can view the recording here: https://youtu.be/8Pn-sfp736I

Session 3 -Benefits: Family Leave, Respite Care, NJ Family Leave Insurance

The third and final part of the Caregiving In New Jersey Series was about the different benefits related to caregiving, such as Family Leave Benefits, Respite Care, and NJ Family Leave Insurance. Our first presentation was by Lauren Levant of Jewish Home Family talking about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA is a federal law that is enacted to protect employees’ jobs and medical insurance when they need unpaid time from work for certain family and/or medical reasons.

          Our second presentation was by Jennifer Rutberg of New Jersey Division of Aging Services on Respite Care. Respite care is taking time away from caregiving so caregivers can go back to their duties refreshed and protected from burnout. Respite care can include anything revolving around your self-care and enjoyment.

          Our third and final presentation was by Ellen Maughan of New Jersey Paid Leave Outreach Collaborative talking about Paid Family Leave in New Jersey. Paid Family Leave in New Jersey has existed since 2009 and has expanded in recent years. Employees can use Family Leave Insurance to take care of their loved ones, themselves, or cope with any form of trauma or grief.

We want to thank Parker Life for the support of this series!

You can view the recording here: https://youtu.be/pnizpNgzdAY

We will continue to expand our events on caregiving.  Our next event will be  a webinar for caregivers from Teepa Snow’s “Positive Approach to Care.”  This is offered free to NJ caregivers and people who work with individuals with dementia and will be held Tuesday, May 2 at 6pm.  Register for this event here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_7I3pn_nxTRSGynajBz5qyg

Thanks for being a part of the Caregiving in New Jersey Series!

A Guide for Accessory Dwelling Units: Getting Started

By: Sevki Topcu, Co Founder, HAVEN

More and more people are adding accessory dwelling units to their homes these days and for good reason! ADUs offer a host of benefits, from added income and increased property value to more space and privacy. If you’re thinking of adding an ADU to your home, this guide will tell you everything you need to know to get started.

1. What are accessory dwelling units and why are they becoming more popular?

Accessory dwelling units, also known as mother-in-law apartments, are becoming an increasingly popular way for homeowners to add value to their property. There are a number of reasons why they are gaining in popularity. First, they offer various benefits, from added income and increased property value to more space and privacy. Second, they are a great way to utilize underutilized space in your home. And finally, they can be a great investment, providing a steady stream of income for years to come.

2. The benefits of adding an ADU to your home

ADUs provide extra space for family members, visiting friends, and in-laws.

More and more homeowners are looking for alternatives to typical assisted living or elderly care facilities for an aging parent or loved one. ADUs allow aging parents to stay close to their families while keeping their independence in their own small homes within steps of caretakers.

ADUs can be rented long-term or short-term as independent units for extra income. This additional income not only can pay for the cost of the ADU itself but also provide additional cash flow to homeowners.

3. ADU Regulations

If you’re thinking of adding an ADU to your home, the first step is to research your local zoning regulations. This is important because you need to make sure that you are allowed to build an ADU on your property. If you have ever had to look up your local zoning regulations, you know that they are often lengthy and full of technical jargon. Sometimes the regulations may be hard to decipher.

In addition to the applicable Zoning Regulations, there may be other regulations depending on where you live that may impact the feasibility of building an ADU. For instance, if you are septic and/or well users, the Department of Health may restrict additional construction or require upgrading your septic system.

However, there are a few resources available at your disposal to help with this process:

  • Your municipality’s zoning code enforcer: If you are just curious whether ADUs are allowed in your area, calling your Zoning Department might be the easiest way to find out. Information specific to your property might be harder to acquire with a short phone call as it often requires a couple of hours of work to determine eligibility for ADUs.
  • Haven ADUs has a digestible version of ADU-related regulations on our website. Check it out and let us know if your city is not listed, we are always adding more cities to our database.

4. How to Finance your ADU project

There are a few different ways that you can finance your ADU project. You can take out a home equity loan, HELOC, construction loan, or cash-out refinance. Each option has its own set of pros and cons that you should consider before taking out a loan.

Home Equity Loan: A home equity loan is a second mortgage on your home. You can use the equity in your home to finance the construction of your ADU. The biggest advantage of taking out a home equity loan is that you will have a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan. This can help you budget for your project as you will know exactly how much your monthly payments will be. Home equity loans offer an attractive way to get access to extra cash when you need it, but they come at a price. The interest rates on these types of lending are usually higher than your first mortgage and there are also several other fees that may be associated with them such as appraisal or closing costs for example.

HELOC:  With a HELOC, you can borrow against the equity in your home and get a revolving line of credit. This can be a good option if you are not sure how much money you will need for your project or if you need the flexibility to pay for other expenses during the construction process. The advantage of a HELOC is that you only have to pay interest on the amount of money that you borrow. The downside is that HELOCs often have variable interest rates which can make budgeting for your project more difficult.

It’s important to note that most lenders are likely to lend up to 85% of the value of your home, minus your first mortgage. If you have recently purchased your home and have not built up much equity, a HELOC may not provide you with enough money to finance the construction of an ADU.

Cash-Out Refinance: A cash-out refinance is a type of refinancing that allows you to borrow against the equity you have built up in your home to finance the construction of an ADU. This option will consolidate the finance needed for construction and your first mortgage into a single loan. However, it does require that you have built-up equity in your home in order to qualify. With most cash-out refinances, you will only be able to tap into up to 80% of your home’s current value. Additionally, you will likely face closing costs and higher interest rates than with other financing options. As a result, a cash-out refinance may not be the best option unless you are able to significantly lower your interest rate.

Construction Loan: A construction loan is a short-term loan that is used to finance the construction of your ADU. Construction loans typically have higher interest rates than other types of loans. Once the construction of your ADU is complete, you can then refinance the loan into a more traditional mortgage.

Lastly, there are new loan products out there that would lend you money based on the future value of your property, after your ADU is completed. These types of products are perfect for new homeowners who have not built enough equity to use HELOC or Home Equity Loan options. So if you are interested in this option, make sure to mention it during your initial consultation call and we will connect you with our financing partners!

Whether you are looking to add more space for family or friends, or just looking to generate income from the land you already own, ADUs are a great option to make the most out of your property. Haven also offers free consultation as a first step in exploring ADUs as an option for you. Visit our website for information https://havenadus.com to learn more.

Guide to Home Renovations for Older Adults

Your home is the place where you should be the most comfortable. It’s important for seniors to have a home that is safe, comfortable, and hospitable. If you’ve lived in the same house for years, you’ve likely already added your own touch to the design, but as time goes on, you might need to make some changes. Here are a few ideas to help you live safely and comfortably as you age.

Safety-Related Renovations

As you grow older, home safety precautions should become more of a priority. Each year, thousands of older adults experience devastating falls that affect their mobility for the rest of their lives. Often these falls occur right in the home. Luckily, falls in the home are one of the most preventable problems, and one of the easiest ways to prevent these injuries is to install non-slip flooring that is easier to grip on to with bare feet or socks.

Another renovation that is a necessity for those who are wheelchair bound is ramps throughout the home. Even if you have an at home nurse that can help guide you up and down the stairs, it’s much safer to have ramps installed to prevent any mishaps from happening. This also allows you to have more freedom in your own home as you become less mobile. If you don’t live in a ranch style home, you might also consider chairlifts to easily access different floors of your home without risking a fall.

Renovating the kitchen area or any storage areas with high cupboards is also something to consider. If you have to dangerously balance to reach items at high places, you’re risking a fall. Redesigning those areas with more reachable storage spaces will help you have an easier and safer time accessing items in your home. Also, make sure that any entrances into your home are easily accessible and minimize tripping hazards.

Comfort-Related Renovations

Safety shouldn’t be the only concern when it comes to renovating your personal space. You should be able to enjoy upgrades that add comfort as well. Living room additions that add more space are great for having friends and family come to visit. Also related to safety, renovating your bathrooms can add to the comfort of your home. Making the toilets and showers easily accessible with plenty of handles for easy access brings you comfort and safety. If you want to avoid slips in the bathroom as much as possible, there are walk-in tubs that are easy to get in and out of and allow much more room. Unlike a traditional bathtub where you likely have to step over the side to enter, a walk in allows you to open a door to enter, making it much more safe and comfortable.

Another comfort related upgrade to your home could be in your outdoor areas like your garden or deck. Having a nice outside space allows you to host family gatherings during the summer months and to spend more time outside. If you enjoy gardening, you could make a stand up garden, which will allow you to garden without having to bend down. If you have an extreme greenthumb, you could have a small greenhouse built, which will allow you to garden throughout the whole year. You deserve to live comfortably during your retirement years, so make sure you make the necessary renovations to make that possible.

Keep Costs In Mind

As a retiree, you’ll want to be careful of how much money you spend on these upgrades since the costs can start to add up. If you do decide to fund these projects with a loan, just be aware of the required credit score for a personal loan and what you’ll likely qualify for. Assuming you have your house in your will, you’ll want your family to inherit a nice house without the added stress of any of the debts you have left over. Cut back on the bigger renovations if you have to and focus on the work that is most vital to your safety in the home.

Guest Room Renovation

Having a guest room is important for when you have family over or when you have someone staying more permanently to take care of you. Updating the look by repainting or replacing old furniture can help provide a more comfortable space for guests.

At the end of the day, your safety should always come first. It’s important to make sure that your home renovations ensure your safety throughout your home. Then you can add comfort upgrades afterwards.

Virtual Age-Friendly Fair Highlights Path to Better NJ

More than 260 people – including key government, business, non-profit and academic leaders -participated in New Jersey’s Age-Friendly Virtual Fair, a first-of-its-kind showcase of the diverse work underway to make the Garden State a better place to grow old.

The Sept. 15 virtual conference featured 34 virtual “table” presentations on myriad subjects that encompass or align with age-friendly efforts – from snapshot looks at strategies to improve transportation, housing, social inclusion, communication and collaboration within a community to detailed examinations of how New Jersey’s physical infrastructure, social support services and elder-care systems can be redesigned to better support aging in place.

Among the dignitaries who offered remarks as part of the event was Kaylee McGuire, New Jersey’s Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Human Services who spoke of her agency’s ongoing work to develop and launch a blueprint for age-friendly communities across the state.

“Together, through age-friendly work, we can develop and enhance outdoor spaces, transportation, affordable housing, social networks, employment opportunities, communication, and community health services,” McGuire said. “The Department envisions a New Jersey where all generations can thrive together.”

The virtual fair was planned by a multi-organizational team, including the Rutgers School of Social Work in partnership with New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, a non-profit advocacy group whose executive director Cathy Rowe was among the early age-friendly community leaders in the state. Grotta Fund for Senior Care and The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation – two foundations that helped fund and form the Age-Friendly North Jersey alliance.

“NJAAW has been a strong supporter of age friendly communities for over a decade now, and we are thrilled to see not only the progress but the momentum that is building in this area. Having worked for 4 years building age-friendly efforts in South Orange and Maplewood, I understand both the excitement and challenges communities face. This virtual fair really opened up opportunities for people to connect, learn and see the possibilities they can bring to their communities”  Cathy Rowe

The goal of the event was to encourage collaboration and idea-sharing among the myriad players involved in age-friendly work, a list that includes community leaders, service providers, older residents, government officials, planners, developers, students, educators, community groups, funders, and more.

“Based on years of research, practice, and advocacy, we know that singular age-friendly programs, projects, groups, and community initiatives can be incredibly powerful on their own,” said Dr. Emily Greenfield, professor of social work at Rutgers. “But they have even greater chance for long-term and equitable impact when done in harmony with those of others.’

 Participation by a number of state lawmakers, Murphy Administration officials, county government and municipal leaders is encouraging because age-friendly strategies must be adopted at all levels of government – and across all government divisions – in partnership with the private sector.

“Environmental and climate changes, transportation infrastructure, affordable housing development, property tax policies, design of parks and other public spaces, election outcomes, public health safety, Medicaid spending – decisions made across all of these sectors can make or break our ability to age with health and dignity in the communities of our choice – for the current generation of older adults and the multitudes to follow, “ said Julia Stoumbos, director of aging in place programs for the Taub Foundation. “More and more people in younger generations will be living to ages 100 and beyond and our community infrastructure must be designed with this in mind.

Leaders of the Age-Friendly North Jersey alliance work in regular partnership with a number of organizations in the state that play a lead role in aging issues. Representatives of many of those organizations – such as AARP New Jersey, New Jersey Future, Justice in Aging, and Corporation for Supportive Housing -, led presentations at the virtual fair.

“It was gratifying to partner with the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, NJAAW, and Rutgers University and to showcase the local, county, state and national leaders and supportive dignitaries who are enthusiastically and collaboratively encouraging ways of better aging in New Jersey,” said Renie Carniol, director of The Grotta Fund. “As a funder in Northern New Jersey, we are pleased to foster so many positive outcomes from our Age-Friendly community grantees and others. We are eager to hear about how this information spurs new leaders, networks, initiatives, and policies in our state that will optimize and enhance quality of life as people age.”

Click here to view the program and other supporting materials for the virtual fair.


End of Life Doulas – Compassionate Support and Expert Guidance for Your Family Through the Sacred Journey of Aging and End of Life

By Adrian Allotey
Eldercare Specialist/Aging Companion/End of Life Doula
You Are Not Alone Elder Care LLC

Clinically managed end of life care is increasingly becoming a hot topic for discussion. Providing care for fragile elderly patients nearing their transition from this world goes beyond learned skills. Medical personnel responsible for providing this specialized care must have an innate sense of attention and dedication to the entire process, the humanistic part in particular. Despite the countless legal and ethical concerns associated with end of life advocacy, the family, patient, and in my case, end of life doula’s role as advocates all come to play here. With ten percent of all US healthcare spending going into the end of life care, it proves why many Americans are increasingly becoming interested in experiencing a period of care before death.

How End of Life Advocacy Has Been Transformed

Since the 20th century, and with advancements in science, medicine, and medical engineering, health professionals have occupied a lot of space where the family and community formerly filled. Care for a dying patient can be managed and made less painful with innovative medical technology. An end of life doula can also have prominence in cases such as these by advocating through the entire transition process.  

For years, end of life doulas have researched ways to enhance the quality of life for all parties involved in the various stages leading to the death of the patient. For this reason, advocacy is a fundamental feature of end of life care. The assistance and sensitive care provided in this period can assist in determining the quality of end of life. More importantly, this relationship is dependent on support and information from the person who is passing and their medical team. 

What Happens to The Patient During End of Life Care?

Patients can exhibit total dependency traits, powerlessness, and helplessness in their final moments. Some may lose continence, the ability to speak, or exercise self-control. This is where advocacy begins. The  end of life doula can represent them and communicate their wishes. It becomes even more crucial when the patient’s initial diagnosis rapidly declines.  

Hopefully by this time, patients have taken steps to create advanced directives for their end of life decisions; giving explicit consent for medical choices if and when the time comes.  The patient may authorize a surviving spouse, child, or family member to make these final decisions on their behalf. Admittedly, these are tough decisions to make and may require end of life doula intervention and support.

Ethical Dilemmas

Although the reasons for end of life care are justifiable, they still have ethical dilemmas. There are problems with compromised patient self-sufficiency and communication failures. Meanwhile, of great concern is the issue of symptoms management. It usually brings up the inquiry of whether symptom reliefs prevail over likely risks and side effects.

Shared decision making can also be of great concern. It happens when more than one person is involved in the final choices. Indeed, it has been noted that significant others may fight against the patient’s wishes. However, the crucial choice should be a sign of respect to the dying individual.

Advanced Directives such as the medical power of attorney, “Do Not Resuscitate”  and POST form are vital elements to discuss before the patient gets worse and cannot make decisions. Advocacy at the end of life has come to stay, and more Americans are beginning to see it as a means to a decent and comfortable death.

Lifelong Learning Can Lead to Lifelong Wellness

Education doesn’t have an end date. In fact, it shouldn’t. And while education in the formal sense can be limited to an institutional understanding of the word, lifelong learning is expansive and flexible. Learning to paint with acrylics, analyzing films from the 20th century, discovering an unknown event from history, or how to use photoshop are all forms of education—and are fun! There’s no limit to what and how you can learn, and lifelong learning can be experienced in or out of the classroom.  

Lifelong learning is a privilege that does not have to be cut off at a certain age. Studies have shown that learning, particularly learning new skills, improves cognitive function, especially in aging populations and just as we care for our bodies as we age, we need to care for our minds. Anything that flexes the brain will boast extraordinary benefits to our wellbeing.  

Individuals over 50 who are looking for an opportunity to expand their horizons, learn in an engaging environment, and meet new friends will find it at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Rutgers University (OLLI-RU). We offer noncredit education that is stimulating, friendly, and informal–there are no tests and no grades! Students will be part of a learning community that is full of diversity, insight, wisdom, intellectual and cultural stimulation, and friendship. We offer a variety of affordable classes in multiple locations—New Brunswick, Freehold, and virtually– and run four sessions per year. 

Our instructors are skilled in their field, some having PhD degrees or decades-long experience working in what they’re teaching. For example, Judge Barnett Hoffman, who is currently teaching the popular “Dateline: Criminal Cases of Middlesex County” class has served as judge for twenty years. Another favored class, the “Poetry Workshop”, is taught by Maxine Susman who has published six chapbooks and holds a PhD in English from Cornell University. And the accolades don’t end there! OLLI-RU consistently evaluates its courses and instructors in order to present the best learning opportunities for our students. Our members of the Advisory Council are active members in the OLLI-RU community, some having been with the lifelong learning program since its conception at Rutgers University. 

OLLI-RU is one of the 125 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes across the nation. More than 170,000 people nationwide are members of Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes and here at Rutgers University, OLLI-RU continues to promote the nationwide philosophy of catering to the meet the needs and interests of our community. Our close-knit staff dedicate their time to making sure that the program runs smoothly—from hiring instructors to the registration process. We love talking with the OLLI-RU community and are available to assist participants with any questions or feedback they may have. 

Learning for the sake of learning is not the only benefit of participating in a class. A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) found that that nearly one fourth of people 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated and numerous health risks accompany it. This is a significant issue that can be addressed through community-based activities. A benefit of lifelong learning, particularly in the classroom, is aiding in the creation of a community. Those with similar interests can meet like-minded people while learning something new. Many students at OLLI-RU have formed friendships while taking classes such as “Yoga for Comfort and Relaxation”, “Buddhist Art of South and Southeast Asia”, and “The 50s: Rock Pioneers. OLLI-RU” also hosts one-day classes such as “Classic Italian Cheeses and their Ancient Roman Influences” and “The Art of Forest Bathing”. 

Lifelong learning is an enjoyable way to learn something new, take care of your health, and make new friends while building community. Opportunities for the aging population to learn are endless and thanks to OLLI-RU, are easy to access. Now is the best time to pick up a paintbrush, turn on your computer, open a book, and join a class to explore new terrains that are waiting for you! Find more information on our website: olliru.rutgers.edu

“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.”


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.