With a growing number of senior citizens no longer willing or able to drive, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ is sponsoring efforts to prevent the elderly from feeling isolated in their homes.
“South Orange on the Go” shows seniors how to get around their area by foot and public transportation. The program features talks at and outings from the Jewish Community Housing Corporation’s Village Apartments.
“Non-driving seniors are three times more likely to stay home on any given day than someone who is still driving,” said Karen Alexander, director of eldercare services for the federation. With the inability to get out of the house “comes depression and loneliness,” she said. “If you can get people out more, you can give them activity that helps stave that off.”
Since the spring, the program has held several educational sessions with NJ TIP, which promotes travel independence for seniors.
Alexander’s program has also sponsored group walks in South Orange and a May 30 trip via public bus to and from the Livingston Mall.
The program is now in the second of a two-year, $16,000 incentive and innovation grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The JCHC underwrites part of the transportation booklets that are being disseminated among South Orange seniors, explaining their transportation options.
The outings begin at the Village Apartments, where 30 to 40 seniors gather for a kosher lunch program two days each week. Residents of the JCHC’s B’nai B’rith Apartments a mile away and from other South Orange senior programs also gather for the lunches and travel programs.
“If you are going to teach people how to use public transportation and how to walk safely around their neighborhood, it is easier to plan if they start at the same place,” said Alexander.
“They may have taken buses when they were much younger and lived in the city. But when they moved to the suburbs they didn’t use the bus anymore and are not familiar with the New Jersey system, its routes, or its fare structure.”
The group has also made a behind-the-scenes visit to the South Orange Performing Arts Center, gone to the town’s Baird Center for a docent-led tour of its art exhibits, and visited a nearby gourmet supermarket.
“We help people understand what their particular sphere of mobility is,” said Alexander. “It can help increase their independence and reduce their frustration. We want to make people aware of what is readily available, because that makes their world bigger.”
Serving as Alexander’s “eyes and ears” in South Orange is Frances Bucien of JCC MetroWest in West Orange, who coordinates the kosher lunch program at the Village Apartments. “People are getting in the habit of going out together and walking together, and in some way we are increasing the visibility of this group of seniors,” said Bucien.
The gourmet market has agreed to provide free delivery for customers from the Village Apartments. SOPAC is looking into the possibility of providing more programming of interest to Jews and senior citizens, Bucien said.
Alexander praised the cooperation of the various Greater MetroWest agencies involved. “The more partners we can get around the table, the more power and strength we have,” she said.
She added that she hopes to extend the program to the area near the JCC on Northfield Avenue in West Orange. It includes the JCHC senior residences of Jewish Federation Plaza, and a stop on a NJ Transit bus route. Without a nearby shopping district, however, part of the focus of that part of the program “will be about safe driving,” Alexander said.