Karen Alexander, who created model aging-in-place programs as the director of eldercare services for the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, is leaving to take a new job at the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset.
Alexander led efforts to create natural occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, in Parsippany, Caldwell, and Verona. The programs, called LIVE (Lifelong Involvement for Vital Elders), marshal the work of various municipal and social service agencies to provide services for seniors living at home.
She also helped organize the interagency MetroWest CARES, which coordinates services for senior citizens.
She left the federation Sept. 7 and will start her new position as executive director of a newly created home services program at the Wilf campus on Sept. 19.
The Wilf Campus includes independent and assisted-living facilities, a nursing home, a hospice, and a transportation program. Once again, Alexander will launch a set of aging-in-place programs.
“The campus is expanding its portfolio to go to where people are in their homes and provide them with additional programming and support,” she said.
“For me it is an opportunity to take much of what I have learned from LIVE and apply it in a new place.”
Alexander joined the MetroWest federation staff as eldercare director in November 2004, working on a one-year grant to create the first of the federation’s three aging-in-place programs, Parsippany LIVE. The model was later adapted to Caldwell and Verona.
Since then, federation funding has elapsed, but the groundwork laid by Alexander has enabled local leaders in and outside the Jewish communities in those three towns to continue a variety of programs and services for their aging populations.
“It has been seven years, and I never could have envisioned that on the front end,” she told NJJN. “I am proud we figured out a way with limited funding to create infrastructures that are sustainable through the partnerships we created.”
But her accomplishments come with a single regret.
“Demonstration grant funding by its nature is short-lived. That is the nature of the beast,” she said. “But since 2004 we have brought close to $750,000 into this community through the LIVE programs. For something that was a one-shot deal we have seen a lot of benefits in terms of resources that have come to agencies and provided services to more than 2,200 seniors in those three communities. One thing I regret is we have been doing it in a funding environment that has been so challenging.”
At one time a beneficiary agency of three area Jewish federations serving Union, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren, and Middlesex counties, the independent Wilf Campus continues to serve those areas.
“This new opportunity will have some similarities to my present job particularly in the first few years, when we were launching Parsippany LIVE, working in a community and figuring out how to create programs that responded to people’s needs. I am starting from scratch again,” said Alexander.
Alexander’s successor at Greater MetroWest has yet to be named, but she is prepared to pass on a piece of advice offered to her by a former chair of the MetroWest CARES program, Arthur Schechner: “All of us are smarter than any one of us,” she said he told her.
“I made sure everyone at the table had a chance to make a contribution that was valued and incorporated into what we did,” she said.
What continues to motivate Alexander’s commitment to senior citizens is an observation she made as a young social worker in a Los Angeles nursing home.
“Older adults have lots of interesting stories if you sit and listen to them,” said Alexander. “I am looking forward to hearing some new stories and understanding a new set of people’s needs and seeing what I can do to help.”