SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Some 65 seniors from across racial, gender, and socio-economic status came together Sunday afternoon to let the leaders of South Orange and Maplewood know what they love — and don’t — about their towns.

The forum, sponsored by SOMA Two Towns For All Ages, was held Oct. 27 to garner feedback from the seniors on a multitude of topics. Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca told the crowd, “We need your input, it’s very important.” He said he wants seniors to be able to stay in the towns they love. “Think hard today, think broad today, and come up with really good ideas we can put into practice.” Maplewood Township Committee Member Dean Dafis and South Orange Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton were also in attendance. 

The process of getting seniors’ feedback is important, said Harold Colton-Max, discussion facilitator concerning the topic of housing. It’s a topic he is well versed in as the CEO of Jewish Community Housing Corporation in West Orange. He has also lived in South Orange for 16 years. Making sure the towns meet the needs of the older residents into the future is vital, and “we have to make sure this process is guided by the seniors of South Orange and Maplewood. They built these towns up and we want them to continue to stay as long as they want to stay.”

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At the health and wellness discussion, Shirley Gordon talked about accessibility in downtown South Orange, where she lives and shops. Some businesses, like Ashley Supermarket, are easier to walk into because there are no stairs, she noted. Others have stairs, and “most of the places, they just need a railing” to be more senior-friendly, she said. Someone else at the table noted that when businesses have heavy doors with no automatic open button, “a senior is at the mercy of a good Samaritan.”

Judith Kramer has lived in Maplewood since 1977; she attended the event because she had “some burning concerns,” she said. She came to be heard about topics as varied as the arts programs, which she feels are underfunded, and the Maplewood sidewalks, which she says are largely in bad shape across town. The town doesn’t enforce shoveling regulations and therefore walking down the street can be “very risky for seniors in winter.”

Cathy Rowe is the Age Friendly Coordinator for SOMA Two Towns for All Ages. She invites all residents over 50 to take the  SOMA Senior Survey and “help us plan for the next phase of our age-friendly efforts.”