WEST ORANGE, NJ — The last day for senior citizens to complete the West Orange senior survey is Tuesday, Oct. 31, when the results of the survey will be sent to Montclair State University to be analyzed by the Center for Research and Evaluation on Education and Human Services.
The survey is designed to learn from residents, age 55 and older, what their needs and wants are, to better understand how to improve township services for seniors. The survey is paid for with a grant provided by the Partners in Health Foundation.
The survey asks questions about housing, transportation and quality of life, according to health officer Theresa De Nova. There is also a section where residents can comment on anything that might not be included. There are several ways to take the survey, including online and in person, then handing them in at the health department.
“We’re using it as an informative survey,” De Nova told the West Orange Chronicle in an Oct. 24 phone interview. “We can ask how seniors are using our services and they can rate them. We’re also asking how they’re managing and planning for the future, which will help us.”
According to Councilwoman Michelle Casalino, approximately 688 people took the survey online, and others handed it in physically.
“In the beginning we were told we would be lucky to get 500 responses,” Casalino told the Chronicle in a phone interview on Oct. 21. “But we were ambitious and were shooting for 1,000. The reality is (filling out the survey) can be time consuming. It takes around 30 minutes to an hour to complete.”
She said that, so far, the health department has been happy to hear the feedback from West Orange’s seniors.
“They’ve been telling us their thoughts and ideas and that’s what we were hoping for,” Casalino said. “They’ve been thoughtful with their answers and we’re pleased to see that.”
The town has made an effort to make taking the survey fun for seniors, asking West Orange High School’s Mountaineer Mentors to help with the online survey. The WOHS students sit with seniors, helping them to complete the survey online, as well as building bridges between the generations. WOHS teacher Mallory DeMarco was also on hand at one Mountaineer Mentor technology session to teach chair yoga, helping seniors de-stress after taking the survey.
Stephan Zichella, the Mountaineer Mentor adviser, said that the students went through training during the summer with the health department to make sure they could effectively help administer the survey. There are more than 100 students in the community service program.
“They helped them take the online survey,” Zichella told the Chronicle in a phone interview on Oct. 23. “It worked out well. As kids, they’re a little more tech savvy than older people, so they can help out with it.”
One of De Nova’s goals was to help seniors who had access to computers and the internet become more accustomed to using them.
“We’re not going to get everyone online,” she said, adding that older seniors especially are less likely to take the survey online. “But I want them to be able to use the computer and go online if they are able to.”
Zichella said that the Mountaineer Mentors are enthusiastic about working with the senior citizens, and the learning experience goes both ways.
“The town is really putting a lot of energy into helping the seniors, and we want to help in any way possible,” he said. “Our mentors love working with them. They learn as much from interacting with the seniors as the seniors get out of it, I really believe that.”
According to Casalino, it will take time for MSU to analyze the responses and formulate recommendations for the township. Casalino said MSU’s results are expected by the end of January or early February.
“We want to know how the seniors are doing and how they’re using our services,” De Nova said. “We also want to know what they need to live in West Orange. You want to make sure that people can continue to age in the community that they already live in.”
The senior survey can be accessed at www.westorange.org, and physical copies can be dropped off at the mayor’s office, West Orange Public Library, or the recreation and health departments. The last day to turn the survey in is Tuesday, Oct. 31.