CEDAR GROVE, NJ — In celebration of National Older Americans Month, West Orange residents Ruth Bernstein and Nancy Trewhella were among those to receive the “Essex County Legends Awards the Annual Essex County Older Americans Heritage Month Celebration on Wednesday in the Essex County Robert O’Toole Building at Essex County Cedar Grove Park.
During the ceremony, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and the Essex County Division of Senior Services presented Essex County Legends Awards to Bernstein, Trewhella and two other residents from Irvington and Newark.
According to DiVincenzo, Older Americans Month is an opportunity for to recognize the tremendous contributions that senior citizens have made to shape and mold the community as well as bring attention to the contributions they continue to make on a daily basis to improve the quality of life in the area.
“Active in all aspects of life, our senior population is proving that you don’t slow down after you reach a certain age,” said DiVincenzo. “Our honorees have exhibited a tremendous amount of responsibility by advocating for and providing assistance that is helping their fellow seniors to remain active and continue living in our community.”
Bernstein, an Essex County resident for 90 of her 100 years, was nominated for this award by the JCC MetroWest. She worked as a dental assistant before marrying her husband and raising their children. While her children attended school in West Orange, Bernstein returned to the workforce as a legal secretary for attorneys in Newark, West Orange and Livingston.
For the last 13 years, she has been a volunteer with the Essex County Kosher Nutrition Program, where she works the check-in table two times a week. She continues to live independently and has been active with the JCC Margulies Senior Center, where she has held leadership roles on its Executive Board.
“Thank you so much for this very nice honor,” she said.
Trewhella has been a volunteer since 2015 with RSVP, which connects residents ages 55 years and older with volunteer opportunities. She has helped more than 175 seniors navigate the Medicare System as a counselor with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) and has mentored new SHIP counselors.
She also volunteers with “A Lot to Grow,” a community garden that grows food for local pantries, soup kitchens and senior residences; with Literacy Volunteers of American as an English as a Second Language teacher; and as a counselor to assist seniors who are applying for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) at locations in Newark, Nutley and Montclair.
She was nominated by RSVP of Essex and Hudson Counties, which is sponsored by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest.
“I never really wanted to retire, and it took me some time to find my new passions,” she said. “I started with being a literacy volunteer and then tried different things because this is my time to give back.”
In honoring these women, Essex County Director of Citizen Services Anibal Ramos said that older Americans helped “shape our country, state and county, and they have so much more to give.”
“Americans are living longer, healthier lives and continue to make positive contributions in all aspects of life,” said Ramos. “We can all learn from them. Today’s celebration is our opportunity to thank Older Americans for all they have done and to encourage them to stay involved in our communities.”
The Essex County Older Americans Heritage Month Celebration is part of a yearlong series of programs initiated by County Executive DiVincenzo to recognize and celebrate the diversity of Essex County. Other cultural celebrations celebrate African American Heritage, Irish Heritage, Italian Heritage, Jewish Heritage, Latino Heritage, Portuguese Heritage and Women’s History.
“A growing percentage of Essex County’s population is over 65, and our challenge is providing the appropriate level of care for our aging grandparents, parents and loved ones,” said Essex County Division of Senior Services Director Jaklyn DeVore. “All of our Older American honorees are active in their communities and have taken responsibility for assisting other seniors. They serve as role models for our youth.”
The Essex County Division of Senior Services offers a wide range of services to eligible Essex County senior citizens. The Division offers adult protective services, provides basic transportation services, administers adult day care centers, offers counseling services, provides home delivered meals and offers visiting nurse services. For more information, contact the Division of Senior Services at 973-395-8375.