SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — As part of its Aging in Place initiative, South Orange nonprofit JESPY House will be opening a new residence, the Michael Och Center for Aging, for clients. The new center, which will be located in South Orange, was supported by a generous donation from a private donor.
The acquisition of a new living space for the nonprofit’s clients is just one piece of the Aging in Place initiative that JESPY House started in 2017, with the goals to help strengthen, expand and integrate services for older clients that will allow them to stay in the community as they age.
“When JESPY House was founded 40 years ago, the clients were in their early 20s, and their parents were looking for a place for their adult children to go where they could socialize and learn valuable skills,” JESPY House’s marketing and community relations supervisor Tara Roberts said in a recent interview with the News-Record. “While the aging process starts to hit other populations at 55, the population that we serve starts to feel it at age 45 — osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes, and sometimes with a dual-diagnosis of anxiety or depression. Their worries are different because they realize the family members who help care for them are getting older too, and they wonder if they will be able to continue living and working in this community as they age.”
Roberts said 95 percent of the clients JESPY House serves don’t drive, so a majority, if not all, of their time is spent in South Orange.
“Between rent and patronizing local businesses, our clients put about $3 million back into this town,” she said. “We have 100 clients that are 45 or older, and the majority of them work full-time, part-time or volunteer at local training sites to enhance their employability.”
Realizing that the aging process would have a greater impact on their clients, JESPY House personnel set out to increase their knowledge of how to provide the best care and resources to those they serve. Two sizable new grants they received to support this work were $193,388 from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, and $75,000 from the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation.
“A portion of the funding from the Laurie Foundation grant went to upgrades for our existing shared housing to add accessibility features to them,” Director of Development Amy Engel said in an interview with the News-Record. “We realized that we needed funding to provide staff with targeted information about aging in intellectually and developmentally delayed populations. We saw that we were having an increasing number of clients contending with a variety of issues.
“We felt that the older clients needed more info about health and wellness and that they needed more dedicated resources,” she continued. “We also realized that we really needed more space for some of our older clients. We started looking at houses around South Orange, and we were able to raise the funds to purchase it from a private donor who is very committed to our mission.”
Responding to the need for a more specialized and accessible home for their most vulnerable clients, Engel said that the goal for the new house is to house nine clients, and will feature common areas for socialization, daily nurse visits and a van at the clients’ disposal for transportation to activities at other JESPY House locations. Each room will be handicapped accessible and the house will have an elevator as well. The Michael Och Center for Aging will allow clients to remain in South Orange, where they are comfortable and accepted by the South Orange and Maplewood community, while receiving the supports they need to stay safe and healthy.
“As part of our Aging in Place initiative, we implemented a one-year immersion training for about 75 percent of our staff,” JESPY House Director Audrey Winkler said. “Some of this training allowed staff members to attend specialized workshops and seminars that focused on geriatric assessments and best practices for improved services. Other staff members have received certifications in areas of direct support, as well as, licensed clinicians becoming specialists in both gerontology and intellectual and developmental disabilities. This is vital training because all of our staff interact with clients and they should be trained in how to best help them.”
The new shared residence is co-ed and anyone may apply for a space, even if they aren’t currently receiving services from JESPY House.
“Clients who will be selected to move into the new house are those who face more difficulties in getting to activities, whether it is because of age, nutrition issues or physical limitations,” Engel said.
One person who looks forward to moving into the new space is Nancy Jacobs, a South Orange resident who has been a JESPY House client since 1992.
Jacobs lives independently in South Orange, and enjoys the camaraderie that being a part of JESPY House has brought to her life.
“If there’s a problem, there’s always someone to talk to, and if there’s an emergency, there’s always someone to call, so even though I’m on my own, I’ve never really been alone here,” she said in a recent interview with the News-Record.
Jacobs, who is an avid bowler and loves knitting, is excited about the positive changes that the new residence will bring to her routine.
“I look forward to not eating alone anymore, or not being able to socialize with others because the weather is bad and I can’t go out for activities,” she said. “I am looking forward to being with other people. It’s time for me to not be on my own anymore.”
Photos Courtesy of Sonya Kimble-Ellis