It has already been a long and arduous year, on so many levels. July and August are usually months where we refresh and renew, but 2020 has made this a brutal challenge. These are usually also months in which I take a break from the monthly column and given that last month’s “Marathon” column is still a message I want to send, this month you’ll hear from a few other voices. Peace.
...The waiting is the hardest part,
every day you get one more yard.
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart,
the waiting is the hardest part.
-- Tom Petty
"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding
As I walk through this wicked world
If you prefer to hear the lyrics, please enjoy Elvis Costello performing Nick Lowe's song:
Hillsborough Township Youths Show Great Character
By: Monica Sprague, Municipal Youth Services Coordinator
During this unprecedented time, the Municipal Youth Services Commissions of Somerset County have remained committed to furthering our youth so they can still experience the connection and positive support that extracurricular activities can provide, especially in difficult times. There are fourteen municipal youth services commissions that provide community-based prevention programs that target youth who are at risk or are involved in the juvenile justice system. Each commission is supported through funds provided by the Board of Chosen Freeholders. The programs have served over 5,000 youth and their families and have gone a long way to addressing risk factors within each community. With the onset of the pandemic, the commissions had to assess each of the programs to determine if they could be converted into a virtual format.
The Hillsborough Township Youth Services Commission has, through the years, sponsored the 5th grade running and character development co-curricular clubs: Girls iRUN (I am, Responsible, Unique, Non-drinker) and Boys BLUR (Boys Learning United through Running). The facilitators of these amazing programs have successfully developed a virtual model that allowed them to aid their students to champion their goals; with guidance and best practices in handling topics such as peer pressure, nutrition, substance abuse prevention, confidence-building and self-respect. The programs typically serve over 100 students in the fall and spring each year. This spring there were 110 students, and even parental participation.
A capstone to the program is an annual student-led community event: the Hillsborough Hop 5K conducted by the Greater Somerset County YMCA. This year they had their first virtual 5K for the students and other runners. A running app tracked the time and distance of 159 participants. Results were submitted between May 30th and June 6th. Students from iRUN and BLUR programs made up nearly 40% of the total with 26 and 37 participants, respectively.
The Office of Youth Services will continue to offer technical assistance to the commissions so that they can continue their most important work. For more information, contact Monica Sprague at 908-704-6333.
CONGRATULATIONS SOMERSET COUNTY! A First in New Jersey
by Johanna Moore, Human Services Planning Administrator
According to the US Census Bureau, the number of people ages 65 and older in the United States has been steadily increasing, particularly accelerating when the first Baby Boomers turned 65. Between 2020 and 2060, the projected total number of older adults is to increase by 69%, from 56 million to 95 million. According to AARP, everyday, 10,000 people turn 65 and in the next 10 years, 1 in 5 people will be 65 or older. These statistics and projections are crucial considerations for planning and policymaking not only for the nation, but also here in our County.
This is why we are excited to announce that in April, Somerset County became the first County in New Jersey to be accepted as a member of the AARP Network of Age Friendly States and Communities & the World Health Organizations Global Network of Age-Friendly Communities! This membership recognizes the commitment our Board of Chosen Freeholders and community leaders have towards developing more age-friendly services and to continue supporting the communities to promote well-designed, livable communities for all ages. With this designation, the County’s Planning Department and the Office on Aging & Disability Services takes the lead on facilitating this initiative to work collaboratively with community partners to focus on incorporating an age-friendly lens with planning efforts to support the maximum inclusion of all persons.
Don't miss the “virtual” recognition event with AARP New Jersey State Director, Stephanie Hunsinger, Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson, Freeholder Deputy Director Sara Sooy, Freeholder Brian D. Levine, Freeholder Brian G. Gallagher, Freeholder Melonie Marano, Planning Board Director Walter Lane and Office on Aging & Disability Services Director Joanne Fetzko showing their commitment to make Somerset County the best place to live for all ages.
Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Juvenile Justice System
by Gayle Kaufman, MA, Somerset County Juvenile Institutional Services
Nationwide, increasing attention has been focused on the problem of Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) in the Juvenile Justice System. Youth of color are overrepresented at nearly every point of contact with the juvenile justice system, from arrest through incarceration. For example, when one considers that African American, Latino and Multiracial youth represented approximately 25% of total youth in Somerset County in 2016, it may come as a surprise that African American, Latino and Multiracial youth accounted for 97% of Somerset County kids placed in Juvenile Detention that year.
In order to identify and address the problem at the local level, juvenile justice professionals must first be willing to acknowledge their own implicit biases. Unlike overt racism, which is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior,” Implicit Biases are the unconscious, involuntary, and automatic judgments our minds make, often without our own awareness. You know that little flutter of excitement you feel when you discover that someone grew up in the same town as you? Or the “alert” your brain sends when you are heading to the checkout counter, and see an elderly person ahead of you in line? These are the unconscious messages our brains send, before we even realize we’re making a judgment call. We respond to those messages automatically (excitement and openness when we encounter the familiar; guardedness or fear when we encounter the unfamiliar), and tend to gravitate towards the familiar- our own social groups, ethnic groups, religious groups, and neighborhoods. However, these preferences are negatively reinforced as we are bombarded with messages from advertisements, media and social media that emphasize the differences among us, and we tend to respond in ways that may not always be favorable to the person or people we are encountering. These responses are where we often get into trouble.
So how do we deal with these biases? How do we make sure that the people who have authority over our children- teachers, police officers, courts- aren’t just responding to their own unconscious reactions, and are treating youth fairly? An article in Psychology Today (“Overcoming Implicit Bias and Racial Anxiety,” posted Jan 23, 2015) offers a few tips for breaking the automatic associations we make every day: “Several practices have emerged that have shown promise—and researchers now are trying to combine these into a set of practices to “break the prejudice habit,” as Patricia Devine and her colleagues have called it. These practices include:
Exposing people to counter-stereotypic examples of group members. In one experiment, for example, people showed measurably less implicit bias toward Asian Americans after they watched The Joy Luck Club, a movie about Asian immigrants to the United States.
Consciously contrasting negative stereotypes with specific counter-examples. For example, suppose you hear or think of a negative stereotype about African Americans. You can compare that stereotype to what you know about a friend or famous person such as Oprah Winfrey or President Obama.
Rather than aim to be color-blind, the goal should be to “individuate” by seeking specific information about members of other racial groups. This individuation allows you to recognize people based upon their own personal attributes rather than stereotypes about their racial or ethnic group.
Another tactic is to assume the perspective of an outgroup member. By asking yourself what your perspective might be if you were in the other’s situation you can develop a better appreciation for what their concerns are.
Making more of an effort to encounter and engage in positive interactions with members of other racial and ethnic groups. Put simply, the more time spent enjoying the company of members of other racial groups, the more that racial anxiety and stereotyping seem to dissipate.”
Some may argue that implicit bias is just human nature. However, we must all take a close look at ourselves and constantly assess if we are drawing on the best parts of our own nature when dealing with others, especially children. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Zufall Health: A Link Between Clinical & Community Settings
by Johanna Moore, MBA, MSW, LSW, Human Services Planning Administrator
On June 24, Zufall’s medical van rolled into Franklin Township arriving at the Wilentz Senior Residence. Wait a minute. Did you say, “Sioux Falls?” That is a very common response from people unfamiliar with Zufall Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Care Center located in the vast expanse of six New Jersey counties, including Somerset. Zufall's humble roots date back to 1990 when Dr. Robert and Mrs. Kay Zufall opened up a small free community clinic in the basement of a church in Dover, New Jersey. Over the 30 years since its first opening with little seed money and the help of volunteer doctors, Zufall Health has grown to now serve over 40,000 patients delivering access to quality, affordable and culturally competent healthcare to all people and communities who experience barrier to care. (Did you know just about everyone has a connection to Mrs. Zufall? To find out more, click here.)
So now that you know the mission of Zufall Health, you can readily understand how during this pandemic, Zufall expanded its activities related to COVID-19 care to serve the most vulnerable residents. When Marnie Kean, Wilentz Senior Residence’s Social Service Coordinator connected with Michelle Blanchfield, Zufall’s Director of Outreach & Special Populations, it made perfect sense to bring COVID-19 testing direct to their residents. With a large portion of Mandarin speaking residents, Blanchfield enlisted the help of a former Zufall colleague (me) to help with translation. Somerset County supports opportunities for staff to volunteer in the community, so I recruited Elizabeth Tong, Career Counselor and Case Manager with Somerset County’s Greater Raritan One Stop Career Center to partner with me as a translator.
The day was a tremendous success thanks to the efforts of Geovani Estacio-Carrillo, Maria Cardona Vigoya, Jorge Castro, Nurse Practitioner Danielle Starling, Sigrid Rodriguez, Angie Gonzalez, and Dr. Lori Jarvis who volunteered for the event.
Zufall Health’s van is continuing to visit multiple sites in Somerset County. Please contact Michelle Blanchfield at email@example.com or (973) 328-9100 x323 if you would like to organize an event in your municipality or at your agency.
PROFILES OF POSITIVE AGING 2020
by Cynthia Vorhees, RN, MS, Administrator Eldercare Services
Each year the Administration for Community Living establishes a national theme to spotlight Older Americans and allow local partners to contribute by implementing special initiatives that highlight citizens and organizations. The 2020 theme is “Make Your Mark”. This theme was selected to encourage and celebrate the countless contributions that older adults make to our communities by sharing their time, experience, and talents that benefit family, peers, and neighbors daily and highlights the difference everyone can make in the lives of older adults in support of caregivers, and to strengthen communities.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Office on Aging and Disability Services recognizing the valuable contributions of the County residents who are mentors/leaders in making a positive impact in the lives of others through the Profiles for Positive Aging Award. This anniversary along with the current pandemic, gives us time to reflect and understand the importance of the theme (Make Your Mark), this special recognition and to thank those who continue to lead by example.
To be honored, we asked the community to consider nominating people they know who are Somerset County residents age 60 or older who have made an impact on them and/or an organization to which they are connected. Examples include leading self-help groups, health promotion activities and serving on community-based committees that are health/safety focused; leading/assisting with consumer-protection related projects.
2020 Profiles of Positive Aging Awardees
As role models, these honorees: utilize their talents/skills to benefit and inspire others; Embrace an active lifestyle in mind, body, or spirit; Share their time, experience and knowledge positively impacting their community; & live life to the fullest! Ready to read the profiles of the 2020 award winners? Click on Angela's picture.
The Emotional and Behavioral Impact of the Pandemic
on Children and their Families
by Marla Mathews, MFT, LMFT, Director, Family Crisis Intervention Unit
Working with at-risk youth and families, the Family Crisis Intervention Unit (FCIU) is seeing a wide range of both positive and negative reactions from the children and families we serve in response to the unique challenges posed by the society’s attempt to slow the spread of COVID 19. Impacts are felt as a result of parents working from home, children being home schooled and the challenges inherent in finding household goods that have not been prepared for the sudden surge in demand. For some families, the impact is felt much more directly and sometimes devastatingly when the disease hits the family and/or its loved ones directly or when someone in the family has lost a job or had to be furloughed or had his/her hours decreased as a result of the business closures.
With each family being unique and with each family experiencing the various potential impacts in such a multitude of ways and to such varying degrees, it’s not surprising that we are witnessing such disparity in the impacts to our children and families. In fact, most of us are probably seeing such disparity amongst families in our personal lives as well.
The first reports I was hearing from the Crisis Intervention Specialists in our unit included reports that some of the children and families were experiencing a decrease in both their interpersonal and relational stress. For youth who had been finding getting to school on time, completing their schoolwork and/or had been finding it difficult to navigate relationships with their peers, the sudden absence of those stressors meant instant relief. Depression and anxiety were lessened. This in turn meant that the family in some cases was encountering less conflict as phone calls from the school about their child’s behavioral problems stopped. The family unit was in some cases responding to the lack of outside responsibilities and packed schedules and the end of social obligations outside the home in a very positive way as they quickly found themselves relying on one another to meet their social needs. This meant that they were playing games together and talking more and even sharing more of the household responsibilities: all things that we as family therapists would always recommend in order to improve family relationships. Stay-at-home means that the family has been forced to be a unit in a way that has not been customary for a long time. Many child or family therapists would tell you that our overworked, overcommitted and overstructured lives have contributed to a wide range of childhood and familial problems including depression, anxiety, addiction and relational conflict. With the freedom to find new ways to fulfill their needs, some children are even exhibiting greater autonomy and creativity by filling their time with new pursuits and hobbies such as crafts or playing an instrument that they had not picked up in years and learning new skills by helping their parents cook a meal, for example.
In cases where the children were frequently disobeying house rules around curfews or spending time with friends that were a negative influence, the stay-at-home orders have caused the children to remain at a home when their parents’ attempts to keep them at home were unsuccessful. One particular case involved a child who had been consistently refusing to abide by such house rules until the child’s parent got COVID 19 and the child took the need to quarantine seriously.
Unfortunately, the stay-at-home orders have posed many challenges to many if not most families. Some of these challenges are different than their typical issues, some are much the same, but have been exacerbated.
For many children who struggle in school due to learning disabilities or emotional difficulties, the lack of structure and lack of additional support by school personnel has been particularly problematic. These children are falling behind at higher rates and are likely less motivated to complete their schoolwork. Their parents are experiencing greater stress as they find themselves unprepared but needing to put forth more effort to help their child or at least monitor their child’s schoolwork. The one silver lining if there is one, is that perhaps they are understanding their child’s difficulties in a way in which they were previously unable to fully understand, and this will eventually prove helpful. But the negative factors tend to outweigh this fact, at least for now. It means there is greater stress, greater conflict and a negative impact on the family’s functioning.
Many children are experiencing greater isolation and loss of peer support, which for adolescents is especially difficult as it is developmentally appropriate for them to rely on their social networks more heavily than younger children.
The worst impacts are experienced by those children and families for which home is not a safe place. The families that previously struggled with physical and emotional abuse are likely to be exposed to domestic violence and child abuse at much higher rates as there is no escape to work or school and the family’s emotional and sometimes financial distress is greater as the impacts of society’s shut down means loss of jobs.
As we work to engage and help our children and families, we are conscientious of the wide variety of potential impacts our clients are facing and work to address them with sensitivity and proficiency. Sometimes that translates to working harder to engage or keep engaged a child or family that may be looking for a reason to disengage from treatment and may use the excuse of the school stressors being diminished or the inability to conduct live sessions as a reason to take a break. It also means that we have to help our clients find more creative solutions to our tried and true methods of devising and implementing rewards and consequences for their children as cutting off access to WiFi, for example, may prove more difficult when it is necessary for completion of schoolwork or provides the child’s only social outlet. Or, a parent cannot tell a child that he/she is not permitted to participate in something such as a school activity or going out with friends over the weekend since that is not happening anyway.
However, all crises present us with opportunity; an opportunity to address something that has always needed to be addressed but perhaps was too well hidden to fully appreciate. We are observing aspects of our clients’ functioning that we would otherwise not have been privy to; both good and bad. This enables us to use these observations to impart greater insight and interventions which in turn will ultimately help our clients grow.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Still a Work in Progress at 30 Years
by Paulann Pierson, MS, Disability Services Coordinator, Somerset County Office on Aging & Disability Services
On July 26th we will observe the 30th anniversary of the original ADA legislation. It’s an opportunity for us as individuals, as a local community and as a nation not only to celebrate, but also to assess our progress in truly implementing this important civil rights and social justice legislation. According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the ADA impacts the lives of more than 50 million people with disabilities nationally and almost 26,000 residents of Somerset County.
As with any major civil rights movement, progress can be slow and uneven. We are being reminded of that reality today by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. The unfolding of the civil rights struggle for racial equality came most dramatically to the general public’s attention in the 1960s, although it was certainly rooted in the actions and hearts of many before that decade. By contrast, the fight to ensure the civil rights of individuals with disabilities has had a far less dramatic history. But the history of both movements has been similar in many ways.
The struggle for disability rights and equality has been and continues to be fought in the legislatures and courts. Legislation is introduced, debated, passed, challenged in the courts, and sometimes revised and/or enhanced (as in the ADA Restoration Act of 2008). But as with the civil rights struggle for racial equality, disabilities legislation without enforcement and without an attitude of commitment to change can be a limited victory.
Yes, we have come a long way based on the letter of the law since 1990. The ADA created a legal framework and legal resources for people with disabilities. For example, Title I prohibits discrimination in employment, Title II prohibits discrimination in services, programs and activities provided by state and local government, and Title III requires new construction to be barrier free and existing buildings to be modified to remove barriers when possible.
Still, for people with disabilities and their families, access to buildings and recreational spaces, transportation, affordable housing, competitive employment, information, disability-related services, and social opportunities can be a daily, hard-fought challenge. In most cases these are challenges that often fall below the radar in a community. Violations of access are often not strenuously enforced, and the legislation itself allows businesses a pass if modifications to improve access would cause [undefined] economic hardship.
Somerset County government is doing its part to embrace the simple truth that “opening doors” for individuals with disabilities is both a fulfilling and a selfish goal. They recognize that the full and equal participation of all our citizens enriches the community. To that end, an ADA planning committee was convened in 2015 to begin the lengthy process of reviewing and updating the County’s Self Evaluation, Transition Report and Accessibility Improvement Plan. The resulting updated plan, which was considered and adopted by the Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2019, has since served as a template for other counties in New Jersey.
There is much discussion of the need for more civility in our country today. What better place to start than in our treatment and attitude toward the most vulnerable of our citizens? Civil rights legislation is one means toward that end, but real progress toward a truly inclusive society will only come when we as individuals, as a local community, and as a nation finally put energy and heart behind such legislation.
CORE ADVISORY GROUP: ENSURING SAFE & INCLUSIVE PLANNING
by Meg Isbitski, LSW, DRCC, Assistant Mental Health Administrator & Access & Functional Needs Coordinator
On June 22nd, about 30 government employees, service providers, and community members gathered to discuss the formation of the Somerset County Core Advisory Group (CAG) via way of virtual Town Hall. The CAG is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initiative that analyzes the needs of vulnerable populations in a community through a lens of emergency response and recovery. The CAG will partner with experts including peers, caregivers, partner agencies, advocates, Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and greater community to ensure that policies and accommodations are inclusive to all populations. The comprehensive approach allows opportunities for solution and connecting to resources to support a safe and diverse community.
Vulnerable populations an umbrella term that covers all residents in specific community who may have an access or functional need in order to have successful daily living. Includes all ranges of disabilities: intellectual, developmental, cognitive, visual, auditory, speech, or mobility. It includes senior citizens and veterans. It includes mental health conditions and substance use disorders, on the more severe side where it is more impactful on your day to day. Includes low income populations who face barriers in accessing services due to cost, or eligibility, and available community resources. This also includes people who do not speak English as a first language, including immigrants.
According to data from FEMA and the US Census from (2016, latest data), the American Community Survey reports that 26,329 residents in Somerset County have a disability. This means 8% of the County population have a visual, auditory, cognitive, and/or mobility disability. This does not account even for the other groups I mentioned before, including those with an intellectual disability, a more severe mental health or substance use disorder, low income residents, or immigrant residents, including those who may not speak English as a first language, or at all. Approximately % of Somerset County is over the age of and % are veterans of all ages.
The CAG will exist to allow consumers, caregivers and family members, providers, and interested community members the opportunity to advocate for emergency management procedures to be inclusive, fair, and realistic. Every single group and person experiences daily life differently, so ensuring a diverse team will provide necessary input on the specific needs of many different population during times of disaster and recovery.
CAG will have two-part purpose:
To be a representative planning body to ensure that shelter, transportation, communication and any other topic are realized for those with access and functional needs through an emergency management lens.
To serve as a community resource for those who do come into procedural issues and would like a collaborative approach and recommendation.
Although this group has been planned for some time, there could not be a more important time to analyze the needs of communication, access, eligibility, and advocacy as it relates to the vulnerable populations in our community.
If you were unable to attend the event but would like to learn more about the CAG, please contact Meg Isbitski, AFN Coordinator for info on upcoming events or to provide feedback on a need you see within the greater Somerset County community. firstname.lastname@example.org 908-704-6302
The Core Advisory Group is a partnership between the Somerset County Department of Human Services and Office of Emergency Management to ensure safe and inclusive community planning.
YOU shape Somerset County’s future for years to come.
Once every ten years, the United States Census takes a count of every person in the United States. The taking of the census is mandated by the United States Constitution and has occurred every 10 years since 1790.
But the census is so much more than just a count. Census information is used to determine Somerset County's fair share of billions of dollars in federal funds for public education, affordable housing, infrastructure, and more — as well as the number of seats we have in Congress. Did you know that New Jersey has lost seats in Congress in the past three Census counts? Don't make this a fourth. It leads to redistricting and losing another voice for New Jerseyans in Congress.
Because so much is at stake, it's critical that all County residents stand up and be counted in the 2020 Census. It doesn't matter if you are a Citizen, have a visa, or none at all. It is all about how many people need services in our County and your household's count tells Congress how much the County needs.
We need every Somerset County resident to get involved to ensure that their community is counted now! It doesn't matter if you are a college student, an infant, a grandparent, living in a group home, a grandparent with a grandchild living in your home, each person is to be counted wherever that person was living on April 1, 2020.
For more information including Census 2020 promotional items, contact Kenneth Wedeen, Somerset County Complete Count Committee, at email@example.com or (908) 541-5773.
A CALL TO ACTION:
Curious to see how your town stacks up? Look at the most recent statistics. Think about how you can help drive the response rate up. Work with local partners to include Census 2020 blurbs to send Respond Now messaging, post on your social media sites, and customized articles for community-based organizations to be included in mass emails and newsletters.
GUESSING CONTEST: CAN YOU CORRECTLY NAME WHO THESE TWO ARE?
This month, we have a special treat. Take a look at the lovely picture above. We have two people who are currently at the County, and knew each other many years ago, that are prominently featured in this photo. All residents of or work in Somerset County are invited to participate (excluding Mike Frost and the certain people who know the answers and you know who you are...sorry)! The first person to correctly guess who these two people are (note: only the two people in the front, not the fuzzy out of focus people in the background) wins the prize below!
Please click to SUBMIT to enter your 1) email, 2) name, 3) municipality of work or residence and 4) your guesses at this Survey Planet link. This will allow it to be time stamped to confirm the winning submission. Contest ends when the first qualifying person submits the right answers. When the site doesn't allow your submission, that means someone guessed the right answers. Questions? Email Johanna Moore.
Prize: With this pandemic, we can't travel like before. Taking a cruise is not really on the top of the list of planned things to do in the near future, BUT, for all those who have gone on cruises, you can appreciate the fun treat of the towel animals on your bed. Now, you too can wow your family and friends with your very own Carnival Cruise Towel Creations book (the red book below) as the winning prize! Ready to play? Good luck!