Towns join forces to improve senior life

Above, Maplewood Mayor Vic Deluca and South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, surrounded by various community partners, sign the Milken Institute’s ‘Best Cities for Successful Aging Mayor’s Pledge.’ The two towns recently received a $35,000 joint grant to explore ways to improve the quality of life for senior residents. After six months, the two towns will apply for a second larger grant to implement their plans.
Above, Maplewood Mayor Vic Deluca and South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, surrounded by various community partners, sign the Milken Institute’s ‘Best Cities for Successful Aging Mayor’s Pledge.’ The two towns recently received a $35,000 joint grant to explore ways to improve the quality of life for senior residents. After six months, the two towns will apply for a second larger grant to implement their plans.

MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — A commitment to meeting the unique needs of their older residents resulted in South Orange and Maplewood being jointly awarded a $35,000 grant from the Grotta Fund for Senior Care to develop successfully aging communities.

South Orange and Maplewood leaders Sheena Collum and Vic Deluca will be working together to create a thoughtful and comprehensive action plan that will address various needs to improve the services available and create new opportunities for the seniors in their respective towns.

Some of the areas to be evaluated are health care options, workforce development and job opportunities, living options for older residents, mobility and access to transportation systems, and opportunities for community engagement.

The Grotta Fund is an advisory fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the Greater MetroWest NJ, with a focus on improving the quality of life of older adults and their families living in Essex, Union and Morris counties in New Jersey.

The grant that was received by Maplewood and South Orange is a phase-one planning-stage grant that will run from the period of January through June 2016, with a final report of the recipients’ proposed action plan due by mid-July 2016.

During this time, South Orange President Collum and Maplewood Mayor DeLuca will meet with various stakeholders, consultants, civic organizations and other individuals to expand upon some of the ideas presented in their grant proposal and create a relevant plan to improve the senior offerings in the communities they serve.

“The first stage is a needs-assessment survey where we sit down and discuss the strengths and weaknesses and ways we can improve that we offer in our towns,” DeLuca said in a recent interview with the News-Record. “I think that’s very important for us because I don’t think that we have maximized the service opportunities for our seniors, and we need to reach out to the seniors that we haven’t really reached out to yet and get them involved.”

DeLuca says that the grant money will allow the two towns to bring in a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at what is already available and give them a new perspective as to how to improve existing services.

“The Grotta Fund will supply us with a list of consultants that they have previously worked with, so we’ll be taking a look at that list and hiring someone to come in to work with us,” he said. “We will also be setting up groups with our seniors and stakeholders to take a look at what we already have and what opportunities are available to us.”

Local organizations that will serve as partners in this effort include South Orange Seniors, Jewish Community Housing Corporation of New Jersey, JCC MetroWest, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service and the Jewish Federation.

Both Maplewood and South Orange will also be supporting this project financially and with in-kind services from municipal staff that will support a selected project director.

Maplewood will provide additional project leadership through township Administrator Joseph Manning, a certified municipal finance officer with many years of experience in municipal and grant administration, as well as through Director of Community Services Annette DePalma, an attorney with years of experience in senior-related services.

Working alongside Maplewood, Collum will have an active role in this project and brings considerable planning experience from her position as executive director of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Additional leadership will be provided by South Orange Village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr., an attorney and also a certified municipal finance officer with nearly 20 years’ experience in municipal administration, including the oversight of planning projects and grant administration.

The process will begin with the creation of a local steering committee that will include municipal representatives, partner representatives and citizen members, as well as a professional planning consultant who will be selected to serve as the project director.

From there, an evaluation of the services already in place will be conducted, and then community conversations will take place to assess areas for further improvement. Based on these results, the project director and all other relevant parties will develop an action plan that will then be submitted to the Grotta Fund for review.

If selected the next phase, Maplewood and South Orange will then be awarded a phase-two grant in the maximum amount of $75,000 per year over a three-year period to implement the goals outlined in their phase-one action plan.

According to 2013 U.S. Census estimates of Maplewood and South Orange’s communities, more than 15 percent of the towns’ total population is comprised of adults aged 55 and older, a clear indicator that both communities could benefit from improving the offerings to this particular demographic.

“What is critical, and what I believe impressed the Grotta Fund in evaluating our application, is the firm commitment made by South Orange and Maplewood to not only implement but also sustain the Age Friendly Action Plan to ensure that we permanently improve and enhance the quality of life for our seniors,” Collum said in a recent email to the News-Record.

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