With the aid of a $100,000 federal grant, a team of partners that range from houses of worship to a volunteer rescue squad, and additional support from the Partners for Health Foundation, United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ is launching a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) in Verona.
It is called Verona LIVE (Lifelong Involvement for Vital Elders), and like similar programs in Parsippany and Caldwell, the goal is “to foster an elder-friendly community that meets the needs of its aging members,” said Karen Alexander, director of eldercare services at UJC MetroWest.
Verona has 5,000 senior citizens among its 13,500 residents. It includes “a significant concentration of Jews over age 85 compared to other communities in Essex County,” Alexander told NJ Jewish News in a Nov. 29 telephone interview.
But because of its government funding stream “our program must be nonsectarian,” she added. “We are very firm that everybody is always welcome.”
That fact enabled Verona LIVE to enlist the First Presbyterian Church and Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church to join in its partnership, along with the Conservative Congregation Beth Ahm of West Essex.
Among MetroWest agencies, the Jewish Vocational Service, Jewish Family Service, Daughters of Israel nursing home, and JCC MetroWest are contributing to the effort, in addition to Dorot and the Partners for Health Foundation.
They join myriad municipal agencies in Verona, including the police and fire departments, the public library, and the Senior Citizens Club in forming a multi-service offering for people over 60.
The program entered its planning stage last spring and was launched in mid-October with a partners’ meeting.
Since then, some 60 Verona seniors have been recruited to join in what Alexander calls “listening sessions.”
“We hear from older adults what their concerns are, how they need help, and we are connecting them to the resources in their community,” she said. “We are also interested in hearing their ideas about making their community a better place in which to grow older.”
“Every community is different, and we need to understand who the players are and what the culture of the community is before we do what we do,” said Rachel Cohen, the site coordinator for Verona along with Roberta Schoenberg. “It is collaboration every time. We are not coming in with a cookie cutter program. But we bring a certain expertise and a set of partners who can provide certain services.”
Wendy Sabin from JFS has begun spending Tuesdays at the Verona Community Center to do short-term counseling and referrals for people who need more in-depth services.
In January, Marty Moscowitz, a handyman from JVS, will lend his expertise to Verona LIVE.
Each will present a program at the community center that will be videotaped for broadcast on the town’s public access cable channel.
“We intend to broadcast each week. We will publicize our programs and do outreach to people who may be homebound and unable to reach the community center,” Cohen said.
Alexander launched the first LIVE program in Parsippany in 2004 and one in Caldwell four years later.
Yet she has had concerns about whether there might be a fourth LIVE program in the MetroWest area, given the pledge of many in the House of Representatives’ incoming Republican majority to abolish earmark grants. New Jersey’s U.S. senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8) secured the earmark funding for Verona LIVE. Last year, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) secured an earmark for an aging-in-place program in Union County.
“The horizon for earmarks, given the new Congress, “is not looking good for 2011 and 2012,” Alexander said. “However, people are aware of what we are doing, and we have a couple of private agencies among our partners who may yield more opportunities. We’ll see.”