Seniors program, low on funds, in jeopardy
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Seniors program, low on funds, in jeopardy

This state is home to more than 1 million senior citizens, and that number will increase to ‘.5 million by ‘030, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Nursing homes are options for some, but for those who are able and want to remain in their homes, the Jewish federation system has a program called Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities to provide health and social services.

State and federal funding cuts have put NORC funding in danger, however, leaving federations scrambling to make up the difference.

Jewish Family Service of Greater Clifton-Passaic began its Sequoia program in ‘005. (Sequoia stands for "Serving the Elderly with Quality Outcomes In-community and At-home.) It is one of many NORC programs struggling to survive. After government money ran out, it had received private donations with matches from the Jewish Funders Network to keep going. The JFN funding has dried up as well, said Esther East, director of JFS of Greater Clifton-Passaic. For now, the program is sustained by monies donated from the sale of Passaic’s Temple Emanuel and a $’5,000 private gift from a participant.

"That money is going to run out and we really need [the Emanuel money] for other agency efforts," East said.

More than 300 people take advantage of Sequoia, which includes weekly activities at Clifton’s YM-YWHA, nurse and social worker visits, and other on-site health services at three locations in the Clifton-Passaic area.

When the seniors arrive at the Y for the weekly program, they begin with a discussion of current events or Tai Chi. After a hot lunch, the participants have a choice of water aerobics or arts and crafts. The Wednesday program draws about 60 people from the surrounding community and not just Jews.

"It’s not medical daycare," East said. "This is for well seniors who are trying to keep stimulated … [and] age in place acknowledging they may have some limitations."

With a cost of $100,000 a year to operate Sequoia, JFS leaders and Sequoia patrons have pinned their hopes on a fund-raiser next month. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Sept. 14 at the YM-YWHA of Clifton-Passaic but the $’0- a-person admission fee is unlikely to draw in all of the necessary money. Organizers are asking attendees to make donations in order to avoid cuts to the program.

"It’s that program that keeps me and the others vibrant," said Muriel Dushkin of Passaic. "We all feel the same way about it." Dushkin is a member of Sequoia’s advisory board, which helps set the direction of the program.

"We’re all senior citizens so we’re all looking for the same thing which is companionship," Dushkin said. "And we’re all getting it there."

Sequoia’s leaders will meet toward the end of September to decide if they have to cut back on the program.

"I don’t know what we would do if it has to fold," Dushkin said. "There’s nobody else to go to for money.

Earlier this month, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey received notice of a grant of $160,000 for fiscal year ‘008 for its own NORC programming. In previous funding cycles, UJA-NNJ had facilitated nurse visits in River Edge, Paramus, Bergenfield, and New Milford. With its ‘008 allocation, the federation will focus its efforts in Teaneck and Fair Lawn through Jewish Family Service and Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

"This time, rather than have that large an effort, we decided to concentrate our effort into garden apartments and three- and four-story apartment buildings," said Alan Sweifach, UJA-NNJ’s strategic planning & allocations director.

The funds are allocated through Jan. 31, ‘010, at which point UJA-NNJ must use the entire amount. Although the federal budget for ‘009 has not yet been approved, only five NORC earmarks are under consideration, and none are from New Jersey.

"We are just going to begin as soon as possible exploring other funding opportunities, knowing this is time-limited," said Sweifach. "These are demonstration grants and we’re not supposed to expect government money forever and ever."

The New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations has been lobbying the state to create a steady stream of funding for NORCs, despite a state financial crisis.

For more information on Sequoia’s Bergen Philharmonic fund-raiser, visit www.jfsclifton.org or call (973) 777-7638.

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