Human Services Newsletter
“A Year We’d Rather Not Repeat (and What We Learned About Us)”
In September of 1983 (3 weeks after I started the internship that has now had me here working for Somerset County for some 37 years) I was hit head-on by a young man who decided it was a good idea to race against another car on Route 27 in Highland Park at over 60 mph. He crossed a double line to pass his fellow racer and unfortunately, there I was, with no means of escape.
A moment in time; a lapse of judgment; a refusal to play by the rules, with the perpetrator of this “act of free will” ultimately walking away with little more than lacerations. The other (sadly, me) spent a month in the hospital but went on to live a full life, albeit somewhat the worse for wear. Where we go, when we choose to go there, and how we handle the environment we find when we get there matters a great deal. Such was 1983 for me, and such is “the now” for the “collective we.”
Perhaps you’re thinking that this analogy is quite a stretch. Is he really comparing a near-death experience produced by an apparent random confluence with our navigation of a pandemic? The answer, stretch or not, is yes.
We have control over so little. Although we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that we can control other people’s actions (let alone their thoughts or feelings), we, of course, can’t. In the end, the only thing we can truly control is our own actions, and that is hard enough. We’ve been faced with some novel choices this year, especially as we navigate Thanksgiving (which will have just occurred when you read this) and the December holidays (chiefly Hanukkah and Christmas) yet to come. We are exhausted emotionally, and those of us who work in the “helping professions” are particularly spent. We have spent the past nine months in an endless cycle of giving of ourselves, reinventing the ways in which we do business, and watching with anxiety and trepidation as we “fail” to do magic (i.e. control the actions of others). As you know, my columns this year detail the ongoing cycle of despair/hope/resignation/hope/acceptance…and then…more hope.
I ended last month’s piece by imagining a “glimmer” for 2021. That glimmer has manifested, at least partially, in the very real emergence of at least three efficacious and effective vaccines. The logistics of vaccine delivery and inoculation are daunting, but I fully expect that six months from now- at most- this virus will, for the most part, be in our rearview mirror. We will no doubt (depending on our view of the “risk/reward” continuum) be angered, inspired, mystified, annoyed, and moved by the actions of our fellow human beings in “handling the environment” we find ourselves in. Perhaps we’ve learned (or more accurately been reminded) this year that human beings are a mix of traits to be admired and traits to be less proud of. In the end, the only traits that matter are the ones we respect and amplify in ourselves, and that our actions connect with our values in ways we are proud of.
In September of 1983 and the aftermath of my accident, I got to experience both sides of the coin and now, decades later, I can honestly say that the traits I admire in others – and in myself – won out.
Happy Holidays, in spite of it all. We take a publishing break in January. See you closer, I hope, to the other side.
December Human Services Public Meetings
3rd @ 7pm Youth Council Meeting
8th @ 12pm Youth Services Commission
8th @ 5pm Freeholder Work Session
8th @ 7pm Freeholders Meeting
9th @ 1:30pm ACODI
15th @ 9am Freeholder Regular and Closeout Meeting
There will be no January Issue of the Somerset County Newsletter.
Somerset County Offices will also be closed on December 24th and 25th and January 1st and 18th.
For more information regarding these meetings or how to get involved with a committee email Johanna at email@example.com
World AIDS Day
Written by: Sarah Walker, Ricardo Salcido and Layla Orlando, Zufall Health Center
"History will surely judge us harshly if we do not respond with all the energy and resources that we can bring to bear in the fight against HIV/AIDS." -- Nelson Mandela
December 1st, 1988 was the day the world changed for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). It was the day the World Health Organization (WHO) finally recognized the HIV epidemic that took the lives of millions and continues to affect so many others. December 1st, 1988 was the day the PLWHA community had been waiting for. Since then, December 1st has become an important day of remembrance for those affected with HIV worldwide.
While we’ve made great strides in battling HIV/AIDS, there is still plenty of work to do. People of color, namely African Americans and Hispanics, are 69 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS than any other population. Even though there is a higher rate of HIV/AIDS in the African American and Hispanic communities it is still imperative that all individuals get tested regardless of your ethnicity and background.
Currently over 38 million people globally are living with HIV/AIDS. HIV is at the forefront of change and innovation in healthcare. There has been a big push for ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic through U = U, Undetectable = Untransmittable. Many medical and healthcare advancements have led to the push for ending the HIV epidemic through prevention and treatment.
2020 has been a very challenging and uncertain year for many people. Zufall Health Center (ZHC) has stayed steadfast and committed to testing and treatment despite all the difficulties this year has presented. ZHC has continued to provide the highest quality of care amidst the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve remained open and have continued to serve the community. We’ve provided free COVID-19 testing, Flu shots, and most importantly free HIV Rapid testing. We want to ensure that above all else the health and safety of our patients stays our top priority.
During the pandemic, not only have we remained open, but we connected 10 newly diagnosed HIV patients into care. Additionally, we have been able to increase our outreach efforts and connect new patients to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to reach our goal towards ending the HIV epidemic.
World AIDS Day is a day to reflect on those who’ve passed, to celebrate those who are still here, and most importantly to raise awareness about a disease which is still affecting our communities. There is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice/stigma and improve education.
ZHC is excited with all the efforts the HIV Services team has implemented for the Day of Remembrance. We have implemented the beginnings of a remembrance rainbow (pictured below) to commemorate all the names of the individuals who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. Additionally, ZHC has many outreach collaborations and community events to educate, test, and treat HIV.
"AIDS Can destroy a family if you let it. But luckily for my sister and me, mom taught us to keep going. Don’t give up, be proud of who you are, and never feel sorry for yourself." -- Ryan White
The Difficulties of Social Distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Written by Andrew Rees, Office of Aging & Disability Services
2020 began as a normal year, but as COVID-19 became more prevalent so did some different challenges for everyone, more than we ever imagined. This global pandemic changed daily living for the unforeseen future and social distancing has become vitally necessary for the health of everyone. The blind and visually impaired are no exception to following this new norm; however, they do face even greater challenges than one would think. Everywhere you turn you see a reminder to be kind and patient with everyone during this transitional phase, this cohort is no different.
The blind and visually impaired are challenged in determining the six foot distance required to adhere to social distancing. For those whom are blind it is important they let individuals know they have a visual impairment when out and about. If they think someone is too close, it is more than appropriate to inform people they have a visual impairment and ask them if they are at the correct distance. It will help everyone to judge their distance when there is an acknowledgement made.
During this pandemic I had an experience similar to the above happen to me. I entered a local shop and upon going to the cashier I encountered a customer also paying. I apparently invaded the six feet social distance guideline without knowing it. The other patron reacted abruptly by saying, “Don’t you know about the virus and social distancing?” I responded, “Yes. I do. I’m sorry, but I am blind. Perhaps you did not hear the tap of my cane and I did not know you where there.” The customer responded, “Are you aware of the virus?” I again said, “Well, I suppose you are not seeing that I am wearing a face mask and I assure you I am aware of the virus and the mask is not a fashion statement.” The customer replied, “So stay where you are, there is a line to the cashier.”
When I am walking, the sweep of the cane along with the tapping lets people know I am there. Most individuals notice the cane and they take the initiative to move and adhere to social distancing. It is important to create this awareness as some may not realize they should move when they see someone with an assistive device. Another tip I can share is that when walking I have kept away from the curb to let others step out into the curb while at the same time making my path defined. This, of course, depends on an individual’s comfort level. For example, I often find people realize I am blind when I use my phone and the phone is speaking to me. This helps me to visually explain my disability without needing to say much at all.
This pandemic and health guidelines are unchartered waters for everyone. This causes a fear of the unknown when looking at the present and the future, this is even more so for those with disabilities. If someone asks for assistance, don’t mock them or make inappropriate comments. If someone is standing too close simply let them know. At the end of the day this will help all of us to become a more cognizant and considerable society.
For more information on COVID-19 and People with Disabilities check out the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-disabilities.html
Coffee Chat with the County
(Warm the soul, expand the mind)
Written by Cindy Britt, Office of Youth Services
Over the centuries houses of worship have provided and supported members of the community who are seeking assistance with basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. The types of assistance people seek has grown, and now includes such things as mental health, substance use treatment, domestic violence, job readiness, and childcare to name a few. Essentially clergy wear multiple hats including that of a Social Worker. At times it can be difficult knowing who to call, what services are available and how to access them.
The Somerset County Faith Based Subcommittee, “a committee of the Somerset County Youth Services Commission”, learned of the challenges faith leaders face through focus groups that had been held over the last year and a half. Often leaders are not always aware of the services that are available in Somerset County. To begin equipping clergy with information on available resources, the Faith Based Subcommittee held the first in a series of informational sessions highlighting local agencies.
The first Coffee Chat was kicked off on November 19, with the Somerset County Board of Social Services. Tamayra Mota, General Assistance Supervisor and Herardine Lacrete, Adult Protective Services Supervisor presented. During the one-hour session, faith leaders had the opportunity to learn about the agency, available services/programs, ask questions and discuss any barriers they encounter. Eight houses of worship were represented at the first session.
With more and more people in crisis and seeking assistance, communication, and collaboration, between organizations, agencies, schools, and houses of worship is needed. To be able to share the task of moving individuals and families from crisis to sustained stability is a goal we all share. The key is to work together, identifying problems, developing solutions, and reducing barriers. As we step into the new year, take some time to look at ways you personally, your agency or organization can perhaps partner and work alongside other groups in the community to help those in need.
National Stress-Free Family Holiday Month
Written by Shweta Dixit, Richard Hall Community Health & Wellness Center
“When you create something new, you are breaking traditions.” --Steven Srrogatz
Holidays are special events and family gatherings, for which people travel hundreds of miles in order to celebrate traditions with their families and loved ones. Traditions contribute a sense of comfort and belonging, as they bring families together and enable people to connect with their friends. However, the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing this year may make people celebrate holidays in a different way, or even force them to break some of their traditions. Overall, it may increase holiday stress in our lives. That stress is affecting most of the people who are away from home and celebrating holiday season alone for the first time.
December is National Stress-Free Family Holiday Month. Holidays are the avenue to create long-lasting memories. It is the cheerful time of the year. Being in the field of human services, we are aware of the fact that for individuals and families coping with mental health challenges, the holiday season can be a lonely or stressful time and adding in the COVID-19 pandemic perspective will likely make it more difficult.
Maintaining good mental and physical health is very important this year than ever. People can reduce the holiday stress by enjoying the beauty of the season and taking care of themselves. Healthy eating habits, exercise, taking deep breaths, and doing random acts of kindness are some ways to relieve stress. It is important to understand, we may not be able to spend this holiday with our loved ones, but we are spending time apart so we can be with them next year and years after that.
The end of the year is when we should pause and look back to see where we come from, and have a moment to think about where we are going. As we pursue the future with hope, may the holiday season bring out only joy and happiness to you and your loved ones. Happy Holidays!
For more information about COVID19 and holiday celebrations: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html
If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis, call Bridgeway PESS at 908-526-4100 (available 24/7).
Somerset County Hope and Healing
Written by Meg Isbitski, Human Services, Operations & Planning
Have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you feeling fearful, overwhelmed, or burned out? Would you like to learn how to manage and reduce stress? Are you interested in talking with someone?
Somerset County Hope and Healing is a new program offered to all who live and work in Somerset County from Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center. This program is a response to the COVID-19 presidential emergency declaration and is one of 12 programs awarded in the state of New Jersey through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
This program operates from a neighbor-helping-neighbor approach as the community responds and recovers to the physical, emotionally, and financial impacts of the pandemic. Components of Somerset County Hope and Healing include individual emotional support, community education on disaster reactions and recovery, coping skills for managing stress, education, support groups, information & community referrals.
Somerset County Hope and Healing services are available at no cost. All who work or live in Somerset County are eligible, regardless of income, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, or belief system. Special populations include: front line staff, first responders, educators, children and families, older adults, veterans, those with disabilities/access and functional needs, and immigrants.
How do I know if I should call?
- If you or your family is experiencing feelings of isolation, fear, confusion, anxiety, or stress.
- If you or your family have experienced any losses related to COVID-9 including the loss of a loved one, a job or income, housing, food security, health insurance, and/or personal safety.
- If you or your family would like to learn skills to manage stress.
- If you or your family would like individual or group support.
- If you or your family need assistance being connected to community resources.
To access Somerset County Hope and Healing program services: 908-231-6414
For media/business inquiries contact our Media Outreach Coordinator: 908-255-3067
This program is brought to you through the New Jersey Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling Program (CCP). The CCP is provided by Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services and is funded through a FEMA/SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant. Services are provided through the Board of County Commissioners by the Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center, Somerset County Department of Human Services.
Somerset County Hope and Healing • 908-231-6414
Confidential • Anonymous • No Cost
Thinking About Purchasing a Home?
Written by Susie Suter, Central Jersey Housing Resource Center
ENROLL IN OUR FREE VIRTUAL WORKSHOP IN ORDER TO:
- SAVE $
- FIND OUT ABOUT GRANTS
– GET SPECIAL 1st TIME HOMEBUYER MORTGAGE RATE/PRODUCTS
Central Jersey Housing Resource Center (CJHRC) is known for our comprehensive programs and is proud to now be offering a virtual homebuyer workshop in addition to our individual (phone) or online program.
For potential homebuyers considering purchasing their first home, CJHRC has created a new virtual webinar scheduled for January 12 and January 14, 2021 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. This is a certificate program and most lenders require pre-purchase counseling from a HUD agency in order to provide special mortgage products and grants. If eligible, your certificate also results is a discount from numerous real estate attorneys in the area and meets one of the requirements for most downpayment and closing cost grant programs.
CJHRC is a HUD certified agency. While participants first submit documentation to their counselor in advance, they then log in on two evenings to listen to local professionals cover the following topics:
- Money Management
- How to get a Mortgage
- Role of a Real Estate Attorney
- Homeowner Insurance
- Fair Housing
- Home Inspection
- Affordable Housing Options
- Available Down payment & Closing Cost Assistance Grants & More
If you are interested in participating, please call (908) 446-0037 and speak to one of our counselors who will provide you with all the details.
CJHRC is a full service HUD Housing Counseling Agency. All of our counseling services are FREE, and counselors can be reached at 908-446-0036 Monday – Friday from approximately 9-5. Please visit our website at www.cjhrc.org and click on the Housing Resource Center tab to view resources. Please follow us on FaceBook (Central Jersey Housing Resource Center) or Instagram (cjhrc_housing) where announcements about resources, services and tips are posted regularly.
The staff at Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Somerset County would like to wish everyone a warm, safe, and happy holiday season this year. We look forward to providing even more events and resources in the new year.
Somerset County 4-H
Somerset County 4-H: DIY Science
December 8th, 3:00pm-4:00pm, Open to the Public in Grades 1-4
Put on your lab coats and get ready for some do-it-yourself science! Join us on December 8th from 3 to 4pm on Zoom where we’ll be exploring the wild world of hands-on science. In this fully interactive event, we’ll show you how to make your own groovy lava lamp, master the weather in your own home, and create mystifying magic paper towel art.
Somerset County 4-H: Jolly Gingerbread Challenge
Now Until December 16th, Open to the Public in Grades K-13
Somerset County 4-H is hosting our very first virtual gingerbread challenge! Completely open to the public for youth in grades k-13 (one year out of high school), we want you to send us your most imaginative gingerbread creations. Whether it’s a gingerbread man, house, car, room, or something else entirely - we want you to get creative!
Somerset County 4-H Association: 9th Annual Community Holiday Dinner
December 25th, Starting at 1:00pm, Open to the Public for All Ages
The annual Somerset County 4-H Association Holiday Dinner is returning this year with an emphasis on safety and community health. Due to the limitations of COVID-19, we are inviting you to a delicious take-out only lasagna dinner at no cost.
New Jersey 4-H from Home
Opportunities Throughout December
Take advantage of a variety of online webinars, events, clubs, and resources for both youth and families on the Rutgers New Jersey 4-H from Home website. No membership is needed for a majority of the events, so check out what you or your child might be interested in.
Family & Community Health Sciences
Every Tuesday and Friday
Join FCHS this December as they cover a variety of delicious Fall inspired recipes every Tuesday at 12pm and Friday at 11am on Facebook Live. With a focus on nutrition and wellness, these free classes are live and encourage engagement and questions.
Available 24/7 on YouTube
Visit the FCHS YouTube channel ‘Somerset County Family & Community Health Sciences’ for an engaging mix of videos covering a wide variety of dishes, meals, cultures, and information. This is a great way to learn a new meal or explore your health and wellness at your own pace.
Available Upon Request
FCHS is able to provide free, online classes and lessons for community groups, schools, and early care sites. Our classes cover a variety of topics that involve nutrition, health, and wellness for all ages.
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Trained Rutgers Master Gardeners of Somerset County are here to help you with your lawn and garden questions. Although offices are still closed to the public, we are accepting questions via our helpline email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Events in December
Check out the Rutgers NJAES Home, Lawn, and Garden website for a variety of information including upcoming events covering topics like home landscaping, local wildlife, Fall gardening, and more. The page also has links to a bounty of great, free resources to take advantage of.
A Time to Be Grateful
Written by Kristin Borys, Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center
2020 has been a challenging year for all; especially those struggling with mental health and substance use. The Reach for Recovery Program at the Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center was proud to host its first annual “Grateful Giving” Thanksgiving Event for the R4R clients on 11/25/2020. The program provided a traditional feast and an All Recovery Meeting to those that attended. We were happy to have nine attendees that celebrated and shared feelings of gratitude and hope with each other. The Reach for Recovery Program is a voluntary peer recovery program that supports individuals through their wellness journey. The entire Reach for Recovery Team would like to thank the Center and the County for supporting this valuable work that we do.
When COVID-19 vaccine comes, VA will be ready
Working with federal partners to distribute and administer
Official Blog from the US Department of Veterans Affairs shared by Deborah Rano, Veterans Services
Planning is underway at VA to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available. VA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a phased plan based on five core ethical pillars: safety, maximizing the benefit of the vaccine, equity, fairness and transparency.
Veteran and employee safety remain our #1 priority. The plan takes into consideration a number of risk factors, including risks of acquiring infection, severe illness and death if infected, and transmitting the disease, as well as the risk to essential workers, including health care personnel.
VA medical centers across the country performed planning exercises in late October to prepare for initial receipt of the vaccine.
Offering the vaccine first to health care personnel and Veterans
Initially, we expect supplies to be limited. Based on these risk factors, VA will offer the vaccine first to high-risk health care personnel (HCP), as they are essential in continuing to care for patients throughout the pandemic. As more vaccines become available, VA will offer the vaccine to high-risk Veterans. VA’s ultimate goal is to offer it to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated.
Preparing VA facilities
VA medical centers across the country performed planning exercises in late October to prepare for initial receipt of the vaccine. These exercises help sites determine how they will distribute immunizations. They based the decisions on the number of doses available and coordinated communications with Veterans to schedule their immunization.
They also addressed ordering, storage, handling, and administration of the vaccine.
Listening to Veterans
Additionally, VA has been conducting listening sessions and interviews with Veterans across the country to gauge their interest and determine the best methods for reaching out to our diverse Veteran population.
Your local medical facility will update you as vaccines become available.