“Our Collective Future and The Importance of Hope”
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.”
– Lin Yutang
September has arrived. Traditionally at this time of year, we are sending our kids off to school, anticipating the change of leaf colors, and preparing for "all things fall." Of course, there is nothing traditional about September 2020, and it promises to bring even more challenges to what has already been an exhausting (and dark) year. Even for those of us in the "hope" business, it has been hard to keep hope alive these days…but keep it alive we must.
As Lin Yutang (the late Chinese inventor/philosopher/writer) observes in the second quote above, reality begins with an imagining-and then an action-followed by a new reality. In the absence of real hope, human beings can become desperate, overwhelmed, and fatalistic about current harsh realities. We have seen this perhaps most with respect to the surge of outrage (superimposed on a pandemic template) as yet another Black man dies from the unnecessary force in front of our collective eyes. What is one to do with this despair and rage?
In last month's Social Work Advocates magazine, managing editor Laetitia Clayton talks about "what can we do, and where do we start?" Clayton says, "on a personal level, some will join the protests and marches, and let their voices be heard. For others, it may mean working hard to help elect politicians who hear and understand the American people and will do what needs to be done to unite us and help us heal. Or it may mean standing up for one person or family or telling a friend or neighbor that racist remarks and actions won't be tolerated."
The connection I'm trying to make is this: while faith may rely on more amorphous and existential belief in the things we cannot fully concretize, hope, for most of us, is rooted in some observable sense of a pathway forward. Without that ability- at least to imagine a way forward- hope is snuffed out and despair and resignation set in. Writer and activist Cornel West frames it this way: "The major enemy of Black survival in America has been and is neither oppression nor exploitation but rather the nihilistic threat - that is, loss of hope and absence of meaning. For as long as hope remains and meaning is preserved, the possibility of overcoming oppression stays alive. The self-fulfilling prophecy of the nihilistic threat is that there can be no future without hope, that without meaning, there can be no struggle."
Writer Ashly Larenzana puts it this way: "… so an awful confusion begins to collect, forming a cloud that sits around an absence of hope. Desperate sensations. Can't breathe. Panic. Just trying to catch my breath, but I can't breathe. I hurt so much, and I'm so tired that I don't even want to breathe the breath I'm gasping for. There is no more. This is the most. It's just pain, channeled in one direction, using you as its host."
I can't breathe. How many times do we need to hear this refrain? As we publish, yet another Black man (Jacob Blake) has been shot by police, this time in Wisconsin; shot not once, but seven times in the back in front of his three children. No, I wasn't there. No, I don't know all the facts. And yet, given the context, I know, deep in my bones, that this was wrong and unnecessary.
And yet…I am hopeful. Here in New Jersey, along with the rest of the State, our transmission rate for COVID-19 is down to .78 and moving consistently in the right direction. This is not a coincidence; it is moving downward in direct relation to the seriousness with which the majority of our residents have adhered to masking and social distancing protocols. This has been hard. We miss physical connections with our fellow humans. We miss movies and concerts and sporting events. We saw a road to health and, despite how hard this has been, we decided to walk it.
I am hopeful about our future concerning racism, as well. We've reached, I think, the tipping point in which those of us who are not directly subject to the fallout of racism (white people, like me) have finally drawn a line that we begin to draw in the 1960s. We see this in the bravery of some of our sports teams this week past and we see this in the increasing number of white folks who have taken an active stance against racism. Somerset County government is fully committed to meaningful change with respect to race and privilege issues, and I am filled with hope about what we can achieve and where we can go.
Be part of the change. Keep hope alive. Keep faith in human beings' ability to move towards the light, no matter how dark things may appear in the moment. We in human services know this -in our souls, and it sustains us in the work we do, each and every day.
Rental Assistance for COVID-affected Households
By: Kimberly Cowart, Director, Community Development
Somerset County is using federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding through the C.A.R.E.S. Act to establish the Emergency Rental Relief Program (ERRP) to help households that can demonstrate a COVID-related loss of income. The program can pay up to three months’ rent or $3,000, whichever is less, to offset rent that is owed and will be paid directly to landlords through a partnership with the Somerset County Board of Social Services. The program cannot pay rent for months that have not occurred yet or issue reimbursement payments if a tenant already paid their rent with their own money. Franklin Township has its own CDBG Program and as a result, Franklin Township residents are not eligible for ERRP assistance.
In order to be eligible, an applicant must:
- Be a resident of any Somerset County municipality (except Franklin Township, which includes Somerset, East Millstone and Franklin Park) and have a current lease or rent agreement.
- Have a household income that is less than the following income limits, based on household size including children:
1 Person - $66,900
2 People - $76.500
3 People - $86,100
4 People - $95,600
5 People - $103,200
6 People - $110,900
- Be able to demonstrate that rent payments were current as of March 2020.
- Provide documentation of COVID-related loss of income after March 9, 2020. Examples include:
- Layoff or reduced work hours;
- Unpaid leave to take care of children due to school and daycare closure;
- Self-quarantine for 14 days resulting in a loss of income;
- Other consequence of the virus that led to a reduction of income.
In order to receive assistance, applicants must complete an application and submit the required documentation. For your convenience, there are 3 different ways to apply. You can:
- Complete and submit the application and required documentation online --> https://www.co.somerset.nj.us/government/human-services/community-development/cdbg-cv-emergency-rental-relief-err-program;
- Print an application from that link and submit printed copy via email to email@example.com;
- Request and submit a paper copy by calling or emailing the Community Development Office at 908-541-5756 or firstname.lastname@example.org respectively.
- For residents without Internet access paper copies can be mailed to: Community Development Office, P.O. Box 3000, Somerville, NJ 08876.
Looking for Housing Resources?
By: Susie Sutter, Assistant Director at Central Jersey Housing Resource Center
Central Jersey Housing Resource Center (CJHRC) has been providing FREE information and resources through our Housing Resource Center to individuals and households in Somerset County for over 30 years. Here are some helpful resources that CJHRC recently created or updated:
- CJHRC’s Available Rental Units is a list of low/moderate income rental properties in Somerset County.Potential tenants are encouraged to apply (even if nothing is currently available) if they are accepting applications or pre-applications. The list is updated on a monthly basis. Click for Rental Unit List
- CJHRC created a Rental Guide which gives more detail on rental properties. Click for Rental Guide.
- Unsure of other Federal and State housing programs? Click for Federal Programs or NJ Programs to understand eligibility requirements.
- CJHRC’s Available Resale/Sale Units is a list of low/moderate income properties in Somerset County. Potential buyers are encouraged to apply (even if nothing is currently available) if they are accepting applications or pre-applications.The list is updated on a monthly basis. Click for Purchase Units
- CJHRC also created a Purchase Guide which gives more detail on the properties. Click for Purchase Guide.
- Once clients attain a homebuyer education certificate, they can often apply for grants.If you need pre-purchase counseling contact CJHRC. For a list of available down payment and closing cost grants that you may be eligible for, click for Grants.
- Low and Moderate income homeowners may be eligible for rehab funds to complete projects such as replacing a water heater, central air, furnace or other approved rehab projects. Click for link to REHAB flyer.
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) where announcements about resources, services and tips are posted regularly.
Recovery is Possible for All!
By: Peter Marro, Peer Recovery Specialist, Richard Hall Community Health and Wellness Center
September is National Recovery Month, a national observance sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The 2020 National Recovery Month theme, Join the Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections reminds everyone in recovery, our families, allies, and those who support us that today we all have victories to celebrate! We also take Recovery Month to educate our community on available treatment that can help people with co-occurring diagnosis overcome their challenges and lead healthy, happy and productive lives. In addition, recovery month is celebrated to reduce the stigma, shame and judgment that often occurs when struggling due to fear and misunderstanding of the dynamics of mental health diagnosis and substance use disorder.
The first step to a person’s recovery is the realization that alcohol/drugs/mental health diagnosis is controlling a person’s life and interfering with their ability to live at their highest potential. With this realization one can become overwhelmed with feelings of fear, confusion, hopelessness, and a sense of profound loss. Since each person is different, their experience with this pivotal moment is unique to them. People struggle with these issues for all types of physical, emotional and spiritual pain. Luckily, there is hope for recovery and with that comes all the benefits and wonderful bounty that is the reward of seeking help and moving forward.
As a person in long-term recovery, I believe sobriety is to be celebrated and cherished. It is not as easy as it would seem. Stopping the abuse of mind-altering substances is only the beginning. To go from addiction to sobriety means leaving a person’s old life behind and embarking on a completely unfamiliar, life altering, new way of thinking and living.
My path of addiction started much the same as most people in recovery. Almost every speaker I have heard starts with the feeling of being less than and a longing to belong. I am no different. Ever since I can remember, I felt like an outsider in my family. Because of this, I came to believe that there was something wrong with me. My family didn’t accept me, so there had to be something wrong with who I was.
At a very young age I was introduced to diet pills, liquor and marijuana. BOOM, my whole world transformed overnight. Instantly, I went from a shy, gangly awkward self-conscious pre-teen to a confident, charismatic, James Bond type…or so I thought.
My whole life changed. Everything revolved around getting and using drugs and alcohol. I dumped my old friends I had known my whole life, for new “friends". At this stage, my usage was still recreational but accelerating with each passing day. By the time I was of legal age to drink, I realized I was a full-blown alcoholic. Using harder drugs, drinking and harder living soon became my way of life. I truly believed that it was normal to drink until I blacked out or staying awake for days on end. I did not know any different. Life was really tough and I survived on primitive behaviors - out of control self-will. I remember thinking about how tough life had become and how every day I was just one misstep away from permanent incarceration or institutionalization. The reason I say ‘permanent’ is because all of those things had happened to me already but only for short periods of time.
Death was also a possibility. Many people I know had died, from violence, car accidents or overdose. When someone in my circle would pass away, we would all say something, shrug our shoulders and take a drink in their name. You would think that experiencing loss of friends would be enough to stop drinking and doing drugs but I remember thinking, “I am willing to risk all of that to keep living this life." To me, all the negative consequences were a small price to pay to stay high.
Then one day it wasn’t. I knew my luck was running out fast. If I was a cat, I was on my 9th life. I somehow knew I was worth a better life, I wanted more, I deserved more than just survival. I wanted my life to stand for something. I wanted recovery. Due to my drug use, lack of financial stability and my physical appearance, I felt help did not come easily.
I was ready to make a change, but I had no money nor knowledge of recovery programs and services. I had no clue what to do or where to start. All the places I went to for help refused to help me and sent me elsewhere. I felt like I was being passed around with no real guidance or support. I soon realized that I was being judged and look down upon from the very people whose job it was to help me. After approximately four months of looking for help, I was accepted into a recovery house. I started attending 12 - step program meetings and did what I saw other sober individuals doing. The most important thing was not using, no matter what happened. I also started therapy with a counselor to help me work on the issues that were causing the destructive behaviors in the first place.
I have been in long term recovery for 15 years. Recovery for me means total abstinence from alcohol and drugs. Is my life perfect? No. Do I still have problems? Yes. I also now have dignity and freedom from dependence on drugs and alcohol and an appreciation of life and all that it has to offer. I never take my sobriety for granted and do the work needed to stay sober. There is nothing unique or special about me, anyone can achieve sobriety if they really want it and the better life that come with it. Some days are easy and some days hard, I just put one foot in front of the other. That’s what they call living life on life’s terms.
I now work as a Peer Recovery Specialist for the Reach 4 Recovery Program at Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center.
In sobriety, I have been able to turn my past mess into my present message and that message is that sobriety is possible for anyone, no matter how far a person has fallen under the cruel weight of addiction. As a Peer Recovery Specialist for the Reach for Recovery Program, I work with people who have Substance Use Disorders or co-occurring disorders. I know first-hand what our participants are going through, and my experience in addiction and recovery allows me to empathize and assist from a place of lived experience and understanding. The Reach 4 Recovery program offers a recovery plan that is design to meet each participant unique set of circumstances and struggles. Each participant works with a Case Manager and Recovery Specialist. Our goal is to assist participants to reach a state of wellness and recovery to help them lead full and productive lives. Our program helps our participants to incorporate the Eight Dimension of Wellness into their daily lives. The Eight Dimensions of Wellness are physical, social, occupational, financial, environmental, spiritual, intellectual and emotional. We also raise awareness of social and community support resources, to help link our clients to the recovery community which encourages self-sufficiency. We offer many types of groups that helps participant in all aspect of their life. We also provide non-clinical crisis support on-call 24/7.
We help guide the recoveree through the many changes and adjustments of recovery at their own pace and we work with people wherever they are on their recovery path. We provide structure but also adapt to the needs of the participant.
I am very proud to work for the Reach 4 Recovery program and the work that we do. I am in awe when I consider the many practical and effective services, we offer to people seeking help. If a person wants to help themselves, Richard Hall is the place that can assist them in making it happen. We are committed to helping members of our community find their way back to wholeness. Everyone is top-notch and goes above and beyond to support the people we serve.
The triumph of the human spirit and the resilience, will and ability to overcome adversity is what make us all truly amazing. The kindness of the helpers is grace amplified and even the smallest act of caring can change a person life forever. Recovery is possible for all, and when we all work together that’s how and when the miracles of recovery happen.
“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~
How to support your friends in recovery!
In honor of Recovery Month (September)
By Jennifer Sorensen, Municipal Alliance Coordinator
I do a lot of speaking engagements and trainings on recovery and substance use disorder, which means I also get a lot of questions. Don’t get me wrong – as a former teacher, I love questions! I’m an open book with my own journey of 11 years in recovery, and I love when I can use that to help somebody understand this topic.
But I’ve noticed an unfortunate pattern here. I am always asked about the problem (“How do I talk to my loved one about their drug problem? How do I know for sure they have a problem? Where can they go for their drug problem?”), but rarely do people ask about recovery. Treatment and interventions are just the tip of the iceberg, and the journey to recovery is often long and winding. While I appreciate people educating themselves on social problems, I’m a firm believer in also discussing solutions and action.
The following list of ways to support your friends in recovery is based primarily on my own experiences. It is not complete and there may be some things on here that won’t work for everyone, but at the very least, I hope to generate an ongoing discussion about recovery, healing, and support rather than treatment and confrontation.
- We don’t always have to talk about it. Recovery is a long-term process in which it feels like we are constantly talking about our problems. Sometimes we are accepting or reframing our problems. Sometimes we are discovering problems we weren’t aware we even had, and how these new problems are actually the root of our old problems. Sometimes we are talking about our problems with other people’s problems with our problems. Essentially, a lot of our therapy, treatment, meetings, and other supportive environments are dedicated to just that - our problems. Sometimes it’s nice to just not talk about it for a little while. It’s also nice to talk about things other than our problems because it means you see us as more than just our problems. We have hobbies, interests, useless trivia facts, stories, opinions, gossip, jokes, and more exciting that we would love to share with you!
- Acknowledge that recovery takes multiple forms. It’s great that your other friend was able to quit everything all at once and get their life in order in one week, or your sibling really benefits from 12-step fellowships. However, recovery looks different for everyone. This is not to discount any of those things – after all, any stretch of recovery is worth celebrating, no matter how they got there. But we all work differently, and recovery is not one-size-fits-all. We just want to feel accepted and acknowledged for all the hard work we’re putting in and it means the world to us when the people around us notice.
- We still want to have fun. Boredom is prominent in early recovery, because the one thing that occupied nearly all of our time and energy is now off-limits. This also usually means that our social life is usually just as quiet. We have all this free, unstructured time all of the sudden – and instead of using it to relax, we start panicking about what the hell we’re supposed to do with all of it. This is where you come in! Invite us to things that don’t revolve around using (trust me, these things exist). Even during the pandemic, there are still things we can do to fight off that boredom. Invite us to go on a hike, or order out from a new restaurant, or watch movies, or try new hobbies. Most of our culture’s social activities involve alcohol, so you’ll have to do some researching, but you’ll come up with something! When we give up our vices, we assume that this also means giving up friendships – prove us wrong. Show us that we’re still welcome.
- Do not make light of our recovery. I know recovery is not the most comfortable of topics, but this is an awkward topic that cannot be assuaged with jokes and laughter. Most of the people I know in recovery are big fans of self-deprecating humor (myself included) because it’s how we take ownership of our story. It’s not always an invitation for you to make light of it as well. Some people in recovery might not mind this (and if you’re not sure, just ask). But I want to caution you to be delicate here. This is a life-or-death fight for us, and we need to know you’re taking it seriously.
- Be there consistently – not just when we appear to be struggling. I’ve noticed that when I appear to be doing well, people leave me alone and assume my recovery is solid. Which, thankfully, it has been. But as soon as it’s apparent that I might be having a hard time, people I hadn’t heard from in years come out of the woodwork to wish me well. I’m incredibly grateful for their positive words, but I need social support throughout my life, not just when I’m in crisis mode. When we only hear from you when things are bad, it can seem like you want a front-row seat to our turmoil, or you just want to swoop in and save the day. Am I projecting here? Probably. The point is - we want you in our lives for the good and the bad. And recovery’s not all that bad.
Where Were You on September 11, 2001?
By: Johanna Moore, Human Services Planning Administrator
The second Friday of this month is the anniversary of a day that most Americans thought they would never forget.
Do you remember what you were doing on September 11th? I do. I distinctly remember starting the day looking out the windows of my apartment in Battery Park City, just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. I remarked to my husband how it was such a beautiful, sunny day. There was not a single cloud in the sky. And the color of the sky was that rich sky blue, the kind you find in the Crayola box. Then, I headed off to work for the brokerage firm Salomon Smith Barney and my husband worked five blocks north of the World Trade Center.
By 8:45 am, I was wrapping a training session for our broker trainees in the conference room when one of my colleagues ran in to tell me that a small plane hit one of the towers. A small plane? How could that be? The sky was so clear! We all ran to our desks. Live news feeds were on every desktop in the financial world so it was very easy for all us of to be glued to the screens. It was exactly 8:52 am. All we could do was watch and wait. Getting and waiting for news reports was different 19 years ago. There was no social media and no smartphone. All we had were the traditional news outlets and CNN. Not being able to make sense of what was going, we were mesmerized by the smoke billowing out of building desperate to hear any updates from news reports, when suddenly, right in front of our eyes, we watched an airplane crash into the second tower. This video captures the confusion, shock, and terror. It truly was so surreal.
Caution: The following video has real life images of the events on 9/11 and the terror felt on that day was real. You may find this video upsetting to watch so please use your discretion.
Now, almost twenty years later, the first thing that comes to mind when I am asked about 9/11 is not the fact that my husband and were displaced for months from our apartment just blocks away from the Twin Towers. It was not the debris that had crashed through our windows and buried the apartment in soot so that nothing could be salvaged. Sadly, it is not even about the friends and colleagues we had lost as my first impression. The first thought that comes to me is the picture of the clear blue sky. I just remember feeling calm, peaceful and tranquil when I looked up at the sky at the start of my day. For years I have felt shame for not thinking first of the heroic first responders and those who lost their lives on that fateful day. But, I think I finally understand that amidst all the chaos and trauma, it is my coping mechanism that causes me to hang on to the vision of beauty and peacefulness as a message that there are good and beautiful things in life to help my healing.
2020 has indeed been a year where we had to let go of what we know as “normal” and have been barraged by tragedy, violence and hatred. With the anniversary of 9/11, I can only hope that the world and our nation can remember our resilience and how a nation can heal. There has been too much pain and suffering due to things we cannot control and also things we have the power to change. I hope you will join me in honoring and commemorating the lives lost in the attack on the anniversary and not on the negative rhetoric that has caused the acts of hatred.
For more visuals and learning, please visit:
Breakfast of Champions
Submitted by: Gayle Kaufman, Acting Program Coordinator, Juvenile Institutional Services
In 1951, the Cereal Institute (I’ve never heard of it either) declared the month of September “Better Breakfast Month.” To properly honor the 59th anniversary of this milestone in meal preparedness, this month’s article focuses on the impact of proper nutrition on the juvenile justice system.
It’s no secret that the United States has consistently high rates of chronic diseases that could be tempered or even controlled by proper diet (diabetes, hypertension, etc), and research shows that nearly one-third of children are overweight or obese. The risks are even greater for youth in institutional settings, where feeding multitudes of people on a limited budget often means lower quality food options. Much focus has been placed on not only improving the quality of food in juvenile detention facilities, but in giving youth the skills they need to understand nutrition and make healthier choices.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation website notes that they “support juvenile justice centers in their efforts to help youth live healthier and to strengthen their transition back into their homes and communities. Our work is particularly important in these settings because good nutrition and physical activity can reduce violence and anti-social behavior, can be associated with fewer disciplinary problems, and can ameliorate anxiety and depression induced by adverse early-life experiences.” This 5-minute video highlights the importance of helping incarcerated youth in developing healthy eating habits that they can take home with them.
We Need Your Help In a Big Way!
Can you set aside less than ten minutes to take this questionnaire about the County's community outreach and communications to residents like you?
In about the services, experiences, and amenities the County offers. The project team is hoping to get as much feedback as possible and asks that the following be forwarded to anyone residing in Somerset County.
We have a lot of ideas about how to communicate to you.
But we know that it is what YOU think that matters. What you need. Your ideas should dictate the strategies to increase public awareness and engagement. You have until September 30 and it is available in five languages, including English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Gujarati, and Hindi.
The more people taking this survey, the better. Pass it on to your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family (as long as they reside in Somerset County).
Your survey responses are anonymous, but you may enter your name and contact information after the survey for a chance to win one of three $100 gift cards.
This survey should take you approximately 10 minutes to complete --> TAKE SURVEY
Submitted by: Andrew Rees, Somerset County Office on Aging
Identity theft is the premeditated use of someone else’s personal information to gain a financial advantage or to obtain credit or other benefits in the other person’s name. This is done in most cases at the other person’s disadvantage or loss. The intended victim suffers adverse consequences especially when they are held responsible for the deliberate actions of the perpetrator. Identity theft is defined as the theft of personally identifiable information such as name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license or identification card number, bank account number, credit card numbers, PINS, finger prints, electronic signature or passwords to commit fraud or other crimes. This is done without the individuals’ permission.
Determining the link between data breaches and identity theft can be difficult because in many cases identity theft victims do not know how their personal information was obtained and is not always able to be detected by the identity theft victims. According to a report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identity fraud is often the consequence of identity theft as someone can inadvertently misappropriate personal information as in a data breach.
Identity theft is becoming more and more common and unfortunately easier to achieve. An article entitled, “Cyber Crime Made Easy” explained that hackers are using technology and computer software to steal personal information and documents. Zeus, a software system so user friendly that even an inexperienced hacker can operate it, has been used to obtain everything from individuals ATM pins to Homeland Security documents.
The most common type of identity theft is financial identity theft where someone wants to gain economic benefits in someone else’s name. This includes getting loans, credits, goods and services claiming to be someone else.
Tax identity theft is one of the main categories of identity theft. The perpetrator uses a person’s name, address and social security number to file a tax return with false information and have the resulting refund direct deposited into a bank account controlled by the thief. The thief in many cases can also try to get a job and the employer will report the real income of the tax payer resulting in the tax payer getting in trouble with the IRS. The 14039 form to the IRS is a form that will help one fight against tax theft. This form will put the IRS on alert and someone who believes they are a victim of tax theft will be given an identity protection personal identification number which is the IP pin which is a six-digit code used in place of the social security number for filing tax returns.
Identity theft is becoming increasingly common therefore it is important to watch out for 11 warning signs that your personal information may have been compromised:
- Credit or debit card charges for goods and services you are not aware of including unauthorized withdrawals from your account
- Receiving calls from credit or debit card fraud control departments warning of suspicious activity on your account
- Receiving credit cards you did not apply for
- Receiving information that a credit scoring investigation was done without your knowledge
- Checks bouncing for lack of enough in your account to cover the amount, which may be due to unauthorized withdrawals from your account
- Identity theft criminals may commit crimes with your personal information and you may not realize this until the police arrive at your door to arrest you for a crime you did not commit
- Sudden changes to your credit scores
- Service bills such as gas, water and electric not arriving in time. This can be an indication your mail was stolen or redirected
- Not being approved for loans because your credit report indicates you are not credit worthy
- Receiving notification from your post office alerting you your mail is being forwarded to an unknown address
- Your yearly tax return indicates you have earned more than you actually have.
One can diminish the risk of identity theft when keeping in mind to not identify oneself unnecessarily. When you receive a call from a government agency or financial institutions they should not demand excessive amounts of personal information or credentials for identification. These organizations have already obtained the above information and have it stored in their files so they should not ask for the information over the phone.
If you feel as you have been a victim of identity theft notify your local police department, credit card companies and banks right away. Identity theft can happen to anyone. For more information on preventing identity theft visit the Somerset County Prosecutors Office website at: www.scpo.net or by calling (908) 231-7100.
Food Access in Somerset County: How to ensure your family’s security during and beyond COVID-19
Submitted by: Meg Ibitski, Assistant Mental Health Administrator
As we all know, COVID-19 has had devastating effects on New Jersey’s hospitals and healthcare systems, businesses and employment, and housing and rental markets in inexplicable ways. One concern that has rocked our community severely is food access and supply, and the perceived lack of resources going forward. This unknown has caused many to fear, hoard, and ration, one example being the spontaneous demand of stocking up on toilet paper. Looking back this is quite a joke for many, as their resources were never truly threatened. Many got caught up in the hysteria of unknown and were relieved upon realizing they were safe and sustained.
This is not the same experience for many in community who have been met with new and worse threats of food insecurity. Since the advent of COVID-19, 39 million Americans are now considered “food insecure” defined by a lack of access to food that is sustainable, sufficient, affordable, and nutritious. Many Americans need to rely on outside programs and services in order to have their family’s food needs met. This can be a daunting system to navigate for those who are experiencing this need for the first time. Thankfully, our food network is strong and diverse, stepping up to drastically increase food supplied and families served. Please see below for information on local Somerset County resources and how to access them:
Food banks can assist in providing nutritious nonperishable and fresh food, as well as toiletries within your local community. The below list is open to all Somerset County residents. Please call ahead before arriving to confirm days and times of food distribution, and learn of any specific proof of residency or ID requirements.
Feeding Hands, Inc.: Somerville: 908-397-6452
Feeding Hands, Inc.: Manville: 908-575-0173 Ext 2
Food Bank Network of Somerset County: Bound Brook 732-560-1813
Franklin Food Bank - Neighbors Helping Neighbors Only for Franklin Township residents, 732-246-0009
Salvation Army, Bound Brook 732-748-1146
SHIP, Inc. Food Bank (Samaritan Homeless Interim Program): Somerville 908-393-9545
YMCA Little Free Food Pantry: Somerville, NJ
Zarephath Christian Church Food Bank - My Neighbor’s Pantry: Somerset 732-560-4001
Supplemental Nutrition SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
New Jersey’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, NJ SNAP, provides food assistance to families with low incomes to help them buy groceries through a benefits card accepted in most food retail stores and some farmers markets. Eligibility is set by several factors such as income and family composition, for example a gross monthly income of $3,970 for a family of 4). Families are now able to utilize their benefits to shop online at Amazon, Walmart, Whole Foods, and Fresh Grocers.
To apply: Online: https://www.njhelps.org/NJHelpsHomePage
In person (by appointment only), through mail, or telephone:
Free and Reduced Lunch Program:
The National School Lunch Program provides access to school lunches to children of families who are food insecure. Students are eligible for free school meals if they come from a household that earns less than 130% of the federal poverty line (an annual income of less than $33,475 for a family of four). Registration is completed through each respective school district and may be managed through online portal. Contact your child(ren)’s school district for more information on how to apply.
Somerset County Office on Aging & Disability Services
The OOADS provides access to food and supportive services for seniors age 60 and older, and adults 22 and older with a disability. The office can help connect to “Grab & Go” Meals Program is available for all seniors who are registered at any of the six County Senior Wellness Centers, as well as run the Meals on Wheels Program for Somerset County. The office is currently closed to walk-ins, but the staff is available to answer calls and assist with curbside service. A client’s need for curbside service will be determined over the phone by staff. For those who are seeking assistance, call 908-704-6346 or toll-free at 1-888-747-1122. Clients are asked to leave a brief message with their name and phone number, and calls will be returned as soon as possible.
Somerset County strives to provide services to all, regardless of family composition or income. Access to food is a human right. For further information on resources and for assistance navigating referrals please contact:
New Jersey Cannot Afford to be Undercounted
by Human Services Editorial Board
| Hey, Somerset County. The next four weeks will define the next 10 years.
The 2020 Census ends on September 30, which gives us little time left to be counted. And right now, in some parts of the county, close to half of the residents are being left out. The Census count does not care about a person's immigration status. It is only concerned with the number of people the cities, towns, counties and states need to support. If there are people living in Somerset County aren’t counted, it will cost our communities the opportunity to be considered for our correct portion of the hundreds of billions of dollars in funding. As we recover from COVID-19, we will need all the aid we can get.
Let’s break the numbers down.
Right now, New Jersey has a census response rate of just about 66.7%, “The risk of failing to count these areas is dire for New Jersey,” said Peter Chen, policy counsel for Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), which is coordinating the census efforts of a number of groups and nonprofits in New Jersey. “Much of New Jersey’s remaining Census count is households in low-response areas, and an undercount could be disastrous for funding for antipoverty programs, school and education funding and political representation at the state and federal levels." New Jersey needs its fair share of the $1.5 trillion in federal funding distributed according to the census count every year.
Not only that, but we could also lose another representative in Congress, weakening our voice in government at a moment when we need it most. And now, we only have four weeks left to get our numbers up.
This is a critical time in our history, but a few minutes time to complete the census will shape the direction we take. The funding we need for our schools, for our affordable housing, for our health system and emergency services, senior centers, and so much more all depend on the census. In fact, when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, do not be surprised if the census data is used to determine how those vaccines are distributed to communities across the country.
We cannot afford an undercount.
Every single New Jersey resident counts, regardless of age or immigration status, and we need every single one counted to make sure we get the resources and representation we deserve.
Meet Colleen Kempe, Census 2020 Enumerator, from Raritan Borough. We asked Colleen to address the top three questions Somerset County residents ask her.
1) What is the big deal about Census 2020?
2) I don't have a lot of time. Will this take long?
3) Hmmm... you are asking me about my race and ethnicity. Do I really have to answer that?
Thanks, Colleen, for pounding the pavement on the hot summer days with your mask, Census 2020 badge and bag!
The 2020 Census is only 10 questions and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Fill out the 2020 Census now at my2020census.gov or call any of the phone numbers below to complete the questionnaire over the phone with a Census Bureau representative. You can fill it out online or over the phone in 13 languages — all you need is your address.
Time is running out fast. Make sure that you are not counted out.
To fill out your Census by phone toll-free phone numbers:
Chinese (Mandarin): 844-391-2020
Chinese (Cantonese): 844-398-2020
Haitian Creole: 844-477-2020
English (Puerto Rico residents): 844-418-2020
Spanish (Puerto Rico residents): 844-426-2020
Telephone Display Device (TDD): 844-467-2020
Grit: Passion, Perseverance and COVID-19
by Johanna Moore, Human Services Planning Administrator
Completely unlike any Back-to-Schools we can recall, Somerset County students and parents are not as active schlepping back and forth from the mall searching for the perfect first day of school outfits, stocking up on school supplies or in search of a new backpack . These are the rituals marking the end of summer and time to mentally shift gears from relaxed, lazy days of summer to following schedules.
These are the earmarked rituals of something new. The cues to a a fresh start, perhaps one that would allow us to move forward? As of this writing, all Somerset County school districts have adjusted to be remote only for the beginning of the school year My daughter, Maddy, for instance, will begin her freshman year of high school the same way she ended middle school, in her bedroom, on a laptop. This year, she did not ask for any new outfits or school supplies as she stated no one would notice even if she did. Will she also miss out on the drama of being a high school freshman? Sigh.
Today, we are in a different place. We are living in a world that is unstable and unpredictable. Routines and a sense of normalcy have been tossed out the window, unclear as to what degree they will return and when. During challenging times where resilience is critical to a student's success, we as parents must partner with teachers to empower and support students to persist, continue socializing, and to help them thrive. This pandemic is teaching us (regardless of age and who you are) the importance of resilience during adversity and uncertainty. Some would say, this is the time where we are building "character." Others may liken what we are developing during this unprecedented time to what New Jersey native, researcher, University of Pennsylvania professor and #1 New York Times bestselling author Angela Duckworth calls having "grit." Part of grit, as defined by Duckworth, is the ability to navigate stormy waters and to look for things to learn and grow from. Grit is something that is both inherent and also developed. Like nature and nurture. And grit is something to be developed regardless of age.
Cultivating Resilience and Perseverance. Not sure how grit works? Here is one example of how a teacher in rural New Hampshire in 2014 adjusted her curriculum to incorporate Duckworth's ideas on grit. Watch how these fifth graders learned about dealing with frustration and distractions along their journey towards long-term goals and perseverance.
When you're discouraged or there's a bunch of things that are going on, it's hard to focus and say to yourself, "Well, I know it's a hard time right now, but I'll get through it." And not a lot of people can do that, and it's a really good thing to know how to do, because there's so many things people give up on that are just so easy.
Family and Community Health Sciences
Facebook Live Events
September is Family Meals Month and the RCE Family and Community Health Sciences staff will be highlighting family meals through our monthly newsletter and weekly Facebook Live Videos every Tuesday at 12 and Friday at 11 at https://go.rutgers.edu/wwa04es8.
September 10 –“Freezing the Harvest and Other Foods” from 6-7 pm webinar presented by Daryl Minch. Attendees will learn the best practices to preserve produce from your garden or the local farm market to enjoy this winter. You’ll learn how to blanch vegetables, keep the color in fruit and reduce the risk of freezer burn. You’ll also learn tips for freezing meals and other foods. Registration is available at https://go.rutgers.edu/hpdtd7de.
4-H Youth Development
4-H From Home
4-H From home offers virtual programs for all youth regardless of whether you are a 4-H member or not. To see the list of current offerings please go to: http://nj4h.rutgers.edu/4h-from-home/.
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Rutgers Master Gardener’s “Garden Helpline”
The Garden Helpline continues to offer diagnostic services to all residents of Somerset County remotely via email, accepting photos and descriptions of home, lawn, and garden issues rather than in-person delivery of plant, insect,or soil samples. Residents are requested to send photos of the problem,attached to an email along with pertinent information on the current and recent past conditions,sent to email@example.com.Please limit photo file size to 2MB.
RCE faculty and staff continue to work remotely and at the office to provide programming and information. Visit the RCE website, somerset.njaes.rutgers.edu and social media sites. All in-person RCE programming is suspended due to COVID-19 through the end of 2020.
Kristy Soriano, Community Planning Specialist from the Office of Youth Services is sharing a wealth of resources for parents and guardians. Whether you are looking for emotional wellness skills, information on free developmental screening, apps for students with special needs, free resources for home-schooling, or delicious activities like cooking and nutrition classes, these links build your back-to-school arsenal.
2020 Disability Advocates Awards
Deadline for Nominations Is October 2
Submitted by: Amy Cameron , Office of Aging and Disability
Somerset County Freeholder Shanel Y. Robinson invites residents to nominate an individual, organization or business in Somerset County whose efforts in the area of advocacy, service and inclusion on behalf of persons with disabilities is exemplary.
The Somerset County Office on Aging and Disability Services is seeking nominations for its 2020 Disability Advocates Awards. This program acknowledges those in our community who promote independence and empower adults and children with disabilities to freely exercise their life choices and fully participate in community life. The deadline for nominations is Friday, Oct. 2.
Go here for the nomination form or call 908-704-6346, if you have a hearing disability dial 711 Telecommunications Relay Services. Nominations should be as specific as possible and should include the name and contact information for both nominator and nominee. Previous winners and county employees are not eligible.
Nominations can be submitted to Amy Cameron and mailed to the Somerset County Office on Aging and Disability Services, P.O. Box 3000, Somerville, NJ 08876; Attention: Amy Cameron. Nominations may also be submitted via fax at 908-595-0194, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Recovery in the time of COVID-19
Hello, my name is Ken Musgrove and I am the Director of Recovery Support for Community in Crisis (CiC) in Bernardsville, New Jersey. I am also a person in long-term recovery from addiction and mental health conditions. These were the conditions that I used to hide behind and it became a masked personality, but ever since recovery, I have been able to embrace and advocate for others.
As the Director of Recovery Support, I was challenged with taking all our recovery support programs and make them virtual so we could help others remain connected to community. Although we have been physically distant, we have maintained social connection at CIC through virtual mutual support groups as well as sober socialization activities including art and online music events.
The month of September is an incredible time for those of us in the recovery community to celebrate our adaptability, our resiliency, and our message of hope. Recovery is not only possible under any conditions but there are many of us in the community successfully meeting those challenges daily. This Recovery month I will adapt to changing conditions. My organization and many others around Somerset County will offer a multitude of opportunities to celebrate recovery. We will proudly say that COVID-19 can not keep us down and our circumstances will not define us, nor stop us. Our message holds true during this time as any other. Recovery is self-defined, it is probable and though we must wear physical masks, we do not have to hide ourselves behind any other masks.
For more information on Community in Crisis visit: www.communityincrisis.org.
Suicide Prevention Month
September is National Suicide Awareness Month. Also known as Suicide Prevention Month, the month brings awareness to a topic not often talked about.
Everyone is affected by suicide, not just the victim. Suicide impacts family and friends long after the loss of a loved one. On average, one person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes. Two-thirds of the people who commit suicide suffer from depression.
“We use this month to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services. It is also important to ensure that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention. NAMI is here to help.”
– National Alliance on Mental Illness Website
One way to help prevent suicide is to increase access to treatment for depression. However, identifying depression can be difficult. Not all people who suffer from depression show signs. The first step in identifying someone who is suffering from depression and contemplating suicide is to see how serious the issue is. Talking to the person involved and asking about their thoughts will decrease the trigger of suicidal action. Suggesting a counselor or treatment for depression might also help. Often, people who are depressed need a caring friend. A common fallacy is that people who talk about suicide never act on it. If a friend or loved one is talking about suicide, it’s time to get help for that person.
The mental health of yourself or a loved one can never be taken too seriously. Whether the weight of a long-term struggle or a crisis weighs you down, allow friends, family or a profession to lighten the burden by finding support. There is no shame in seeking help.
HOW TO OBSERVE
Learning about suicide prevention during the month of September is a great way to educate yourself and others. If you or someone you know needs emergency assistance, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Find more help at www.nami.org/Find-Support.
Use #NationalSuicidePrevention in social media correspondence.
“Regarding the question of suicide, keep it a question. It’s not really an answer.” – Peter McWilliams