MONTVILLE, NJ - “I love this job! I can’t say it enough,” said Nancy Mertz about her position as Montville Township Director of Social Services. “I’m happy to go to work every day,” she said, and her work and love for her job are being recognized on March 7 by the Montville Township Chamber of Commerce when Mertz will receive the 2014 Public Service award.
Mertz is a lifelong resident of Montville, who has strong ties to the community. Her father, Joe Oddo was a local contractor and worked as Montville Township’s building inspector in the 70s, and her mother Angela Oddo was a biology teacher at Montville Township High School (MTHS.) In Mertz’s office, there is a picture hanging on the wall of her grandmother, Celeste Bagnole, who was president of the Montville Senior Citizen Club in the 1980s. Her mom currently serves on their board.
Mertz went to school at St. Pius X and to Valley View “when it was brand new” and to Central School, which is now Lazar. She then attended MTHS, and after graduating, she went to Seton Hall University, where she got her degree in political science and math. She then worked in Trenton in the state assembly and governor’s offices. She worked as Assembly Majority Office Legislative aide, Legislative aide to Assembly Speaker, and special assistant to the Governor.
Mertz explained, “I have done extensive volunteer work throughout my life.” She has volunteered on the Home and School Association at Cedar Hill, on the Parent Teacher Council at Lazar and MTHS, on the Presidents’ Council, on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, on the Montville Township Drug Awareness Council and Project Graduation, just to name a few. “I always have been in public service but not in social services until recently,” Mertz said. She began her work for Montville as social services director over four years ago.
For a while, she owned her own business teaching music to preschoolers at M & M Music for Kindermusik and Gymboree. “I have come full circle, from little ones to seniors,” she said, adding that she finds “serving the seniors much more rewarding.”
Mertz continued, “There is something about this senior generation. They always have been hard working and have seen so much, but they still have a beautiful innocent quality about them.” She commended the seniors on their staunch patriotism and devotion to family. She said that at the beginning of Senior Club meetings, they faithfully begin with the pledge of allegiance and a patriotic song. Mertz wonders if the next generation of seniors will have this type of patriotism.
Her parents moved to Montville in 1964 when there still was a lot of farm land. Mertz has fond memories of growing up in town. “Montville had a very small town feel, and I always felt safe,” she said. She remembers the good times of sleigh riding at Camp Dawson and fishing in Masar Pond. She also remembers when a big weeping willow tree fell down in her parent’s yard on Hook Mountain Road. “That tree became our fort, our hiding spot, where our imaginations ran wild,” she said. She remembers playing there for hours and is saddened that children of today do not have the same freedom to play outside unsupervised on a fallen tree on their front lawn.
Mertz has two siblings. Her sister Liz Kane is a dean at St. Peter’s University and a resident of Montville, and her brother Joe is a general contractor in Hackettstown.
In 1989, Mertz met her husband Chris through a mutual friend. They were “fixed up” 26 years ago, and they now have been married for 23 years. “You can say it was a good fix up,” she laughed. Chris was from Watchung and went to Stevens Institute of Technology. He now works in Manhattan as a commercial construction executive. They have two children Amanda and Michael. Amanda is a PharmD candidate at the University of Connecticut’s School of Pharmacy, and Michael is a freshman at Bloomsburg University in PA. Both children went to Cedar Hill School, Lazar and MTHS.
“Nancy is one of the most generous and compassionate people I know. Her commitment to her seniors goes beyond the workplace, and she is always helping anyone in need. We are so proud of what she does and who she is,” Nancy's husband remarked.
Mertz explained that many communities do not have a social services department, and she is very proud of Montville Township for having one that serves so many residents, especially seniors. She is committed to the public that “they are cared for and accounted for.” She said that seniors are living longer and are on fixed incomes. Her department makes sure that they are not forgotten. She said her biggest fear for seniors is isolation. The township has provided an “amazing facility where there is always something to do.” Activities include: Tai Chi, exercise classes, pinnacle, drawing, bingo, knitting, canasta, line dancing, yoga, watercolor, mahjongg and movies, to name a few.
Mertz spoke about the importance of socialization. She plans events that include an activity with coffee and cake following so that people can gather, talk, and socialize. She also plans day trips and longer trips to places like Wildwood at an affordable cost. These trips may be the only ones seniors can take with people who know them and care about them. Mertz said, “I am vested in my members. These are my friends.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Montville hosts the Morris County Nutrition Program Midday Friendship Luncheon, and afterwards Meals on Wheels distributes food. Nettie Whritenour, nutrition site manager at the Senior House for Morris County, describes Nancy as “compassionate and a strong advocate for seniors. She always tries to make things fun.”
Another one of Mertz’s responsibilities is the Youth Center across from Lazar Middle School. She said that there can be up to 70 teenagers at the center involved in activities such as playing pool and basketball. The center is open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Youth Center is run by Youth Services Coordinator Chris Ziolkowski. Ziolkowski is is a physical education teacher in the Paterson School District and oversees operations of the Youth Center and the MTHS Responsible Educated Adolescents Can Help (REACH) program.
As for the future of the programs, Mertz said that they evolve according to the needs and changes in the environment. She said that the number of senior citizens attending township programs rose 20 percent since she became director.
Evelyn Best and Julia Ripp, Montville residents and members of the Senior Citizen Club, said that their out of town friends are jealous of what Montville has to offer seniors. “We get the best out of everything in Montville.” They said that they come all the time and enjoy playing cards and bingo. They also said that they love the Senior House, but it also can be described as a community center because a lot of community events take place here. The Senior Citizen Club meets on the first and third Fridays of the month at 1 p.m. in the Senior House at 356 Route 202, next to the Public Safety Building.
The programs at the Senior House are not limited to only township residents. If it is a county program, like the nutrition program, anyone from the county can attend, and for some other programs such as line dancing and watercolor, there is a small nonresident fee that goes to the instructor. Trips are offered to Montville residents first, but if there is room, all are welcome.
After Super Storm Sandy, there became a need for developing a permanent shelter for the community. In the past, the township would look to the schools and fire departments for help, but now the Senior House has a backup generator that can be used for emergencies. Next summer there will be an expansion of the Senior House that will include showers and extra storage space to be used by the Office of Emergency Management.
Mertz is in the process of putting together a “Buddy System,” whereby seniors who live alone will have a buddy who will check on him/her every day. This will help with loneliness, illness and isolation. She encourages all seniors to get a cell phone and Life Alert. Mertz also is known for making time for home visits. She will take time from her busy day to have a chat and a cup of tea with seniors and families that need her.
A big part of Mertz’s job is referring people to the proper resources. She helps residents get into long term care, helps them understand their bills, the process of low income housing, etc. Because it is difficult for seniors to navigate through paperwork, she is there to answer their questions and get them to the correct resources.
Mertz also organizes educational programs for seniors. For example, there are programs on fraud, scams, medical supplements, investments, etc. Once a year in the fall, the Chamber of Commerce and Casha and Casha, a Montville based law firm, host an all-day seminar, including lunch, on such topics as safety and mental health for the elderly. These seminars reinforce the programs that social services provide all year.
Mertz loves to read and to be with her family. The latest book she read was Life-Animated by Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist and best-selling author. It is a book about his child with autism. She loves to be at the beach with her family and enjoys Napa Valley in California.
One thing most people do not know about her is that she is basically shy. On the outside, she appears outgoing, but she said that inside she is very shy.
She encourages people to use the Senior House. She says, “Come out and try it.” As for the rest of the community, she says, “Be kind and patient with our senior population.” Mertz said, “This place is just really great. I can’t wait to join up myself.”