MONTCLAIR, NJ - Nearly 100 Montclair senior citizens filled the chairs at Union Congregational Church located at 176 Cooper Avenue on Thursday. 

A newly formed organization called Aging in Montclair (AIM) hosted the gathering to discuss progress since the last meeting during the summer. AIM is a member-based organization focused on senior issues, advocacy and activism.

During the last meeting, AIM members decided that they would visit other senior centers in New Jersey communities to decide on the best fit for Montclair to service over 7000 seniors.

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The AIM panelists informed the crowd that they had since been to visit several senior centers in the area and looked at a number of models in other communities to compile their report.

The group decided that Livingston, East Orange and Princeton were the three communities that had senior centers and services that Montclair wanted to emulate. The primary difference cited from the AIM panel, was that in some communities the senior center and services were funded entirely by the township.

In Montclair's case, the AIM group had decided that the best fit for Montclair is a shared funding structure where a portion of the costs would be paid by private funds.

During the meeting, they also highlighted several operational adjustments that needed to be made to Montclair's senior services, which include creating a central database that identifies all of the seniors living in Montclair.

The AIM panelists expressed that the goal of having a senior center is to create a centralized location for information and services to be disseminated to the seniors. Currently, AIM members expressed that this is non-existent and disorganized in Montclair.

Some highlights from other communities that the committee wanted in Montclair are as follows:

  • Create a listing of senior services, a directory given to all seniors in Montclair
  • Programs for seniors
  • Reverse 911, automatic calls for seniors
  • Visitors for homebound seniors
  • Transportation (to shopping, other destinations)
  • Hosting trips for seniors

Most of all, AIM members say that a dedicated facility tops the list. Funding, however, was the challenge cited, since in some communities the township solely funds their senior center. The AIM committee expressed that they are leaning more toward a dedicated senior center similar to the one in Princeton, which is a run by a public-private partnership.

One of the AIM members said of the Princeton model, "They took the gymnasium of a former school, which is connected to Town Hall, and gave it to the seniors. It is called the Princeton Senior Care Resource Center."

She continued saying that the town gave the seniors the building, takes care of the building, pays the utilities for the building and pays 20% of the operating costs. There are counselors, offices, classrooms, storage, a wide range of programs. The center is run by the seniors, not the town. "We think that will work well for Montclair," she added. "We have the resources in town to do the fundraising."

Katie York, PhD, Project Director of Lifelong Montclair, was in attendance to inform AIM members that her organization is there to offer resources to Montclair seniors and has done much of the legwork on moving many of their requests forward. 

She addressed the crowd saying, "We are hosting walking audits." York says that she's looking for people to join her on walking audits to help improve the walkability of Montclair. She added that her organization has created a directory of seniors services and has been helping to improve the Edgemont Park field house for seniors. "You can look it up online or get a copy from the Health Department," York said of the directory. 

Although programs exist in Montclair, AIM members expressed that they are not always aware of the information and that a centralized location could help streamline those resources to ensure that they get into the hands of the seniors. 

The Montclair Health Department and the Partners for Health Foundation had launched an "Aging in Place” program earlier this year. The program was designed to address senior citizen concerns such as public transportation, pedestrian safety, parking, housing and activities for seniors.

York spoke of some of the services that Lifelong Montclair offers including the Snow Buddies Program that was organized by Boy Scout Troop 8 last winter. In this program, volunteers work in pairs and are assigned to a senior residence to remove snow from the problem areas within 48 hours of a snowfall of two inches or more. The “buddies” will meet before the season begins to agree on expectations and identify problem areas such as sidewalk, driveway apron and path to the trash area. 

For more information, or to register your organization to participate in the Snow Buddies program, please contact the Montclair Health Department at 973-509-4970. Be prepared to leave the name of your organization, the name of the designated volunteer leader, and contact information. 

York also has created the Lifelong Montclair Guide to Public Transportation developed by the New Jersey Travel Independence Program at the Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. The guide helps Montclair's senior citizens understand available transportation resources available to them.

For more information, contact Katie York at 973-509-4967  or MontclairAIP@gmail.com.

This winter Aging in Montclair (AIM) volunteers have agreed to assist SCAC and the Health Department in identifying senior citizens who need the Snow Buddies program and matching them with community volunteers near their residence. If you are a senior citizen living in Montclair or a resident who is unable to shovel your own property, please contact AIM at aginginmontclairAIM@gmail.com. Or call the Montclair Health Department at 973-509-4970 and specify that you are in need of the Snow Buddies program services.

Lastly, York spoke of the Lifelong Montclair Directory of Senior Services in Montclair, stating that hard copies of the directory are be available at locations throughout town, including the Montclair Health Department, located on the third floor of the Montclair Municipal Building at 205 Claremont Avenue or download the Directory of Senior Services in Montclair here.

Ann Lippel, Chair of the Montclair Senior Citizen Advisory Committee (SCAC), was also in attendance to address the group. She said that her goal is to develop strategies to support aging in place initiatives. SCAC is a formal township committee that Lippel says has been around for 30 years. Their function is to research and recommend policy to the Township Council on behalf of Montclair's seniors.

She said, "We're all vital, we're intelligent, we need each other, but we also need services from our town and from our community. We're going to need aging in place successfully. It doesn't work without those support networks."

"There were things that you learned that you know nothing about. Why? Because there is no central place for you to find out about it. We have been trying to get a central, dedicated senior center since 2009," Lippel interactively spoke with the group. She added that now her patience is wearing thin and many in the room nodded in agreement.

"We want a dedicated senior center with programs by seniors, for seniors with the support of the township through a public-private partnership."

Lippel then spoke of the 2013 senior survey that was issued and cited the results.

"The major concerns of the seniors in Montclair are (1) taxes, (2) transportation, (3) housing, (4) communication. You've heard some of those issues here." 

She stated that the township listened to the recommendations and has begun to try to address the concerns of the seniors. She added, "Katie York is here because..." of the response to senior concerns in the survey. She continued, "The township put money into the Edgemont Park house in order to sell that as a possible senior center." She also spoke of the other areas in various sections of town that also host senior services and programs, including the Wally Choice Center, the Montclair Library and YMCA. "...but, do they communicate, no?"

The three organizations, AIM, Lifelong Montclair and SCAC, have now come together under their shared objectives which are to improve the lives of Montclair's seniors, Make Montclair a great place to grow older and the keep Montclair seniors/stakeholders informed and connected.

The seniors joined Lippel in saying that communication remains a challenge despite the services offered.

Lippel continued, "People still do not know what's going on. We have tried email, phone calls and we are thoroughly convinced that we need a centrally located, dedicated one-stop shop."

AIM will be hosting their first fundraiser on October 20 to begin raising money for the Senior Center. The AIM Folk Fest Luncheon Fundraiser will take place on Tuesday, October 20 from 12 noon - 3 pm at St Luke's Episcopal Church in the Assembly Hall located at 73 South Fullerton Ave. in Montclair. The facility is not wheelchair accessible. Food and Entertainment will be provided. Minimum donation: $15.00

For more information on AIM, visit https://www.facebook.com/AginginMontclair or email aginginmontclairaim@gmail.com