WEST ORANGE, NJ – With the aging of the Baby Boom generation, West Orange must assess the increasing needs of its growing senior population. It was with this in mind that the West Orange Township Council approved an agreement with Montclair State University on Tuesday to administer a survey to evaluate the health needs and other services required by township residents of 55 years and older.

The mayor and council voted unanimously to proceed with the research made possible by a $10,000 grant from the Partners in Heath Foundation to the West Orange Health Department.  

Theresa DeNova, health director for the township, told the council that the survey is in good hands with Montclair State University, which has conducted similar surveys in in other New Jersey townships, she said.

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“I am excited about working with Montclair State University on what I hope will be a great survey,” said DeNova.

She said that along with asking participating seniors about new services they would like to see, the survey will also include a “do you know?” section to assess their awareness of current senior discounts offered by local stores, as well as services offered by the township’s library, police, fire department and pool.

Councilwoman Michelle Casalino said that 759 senior residents of Montclair participated in that township’s survey, and West Orange would like to get even more participation.

“We want to have at least 1,000 seniors throughout the township participate in the survey,” she said. “It’s an ambitious goal, but our Health Department is making sure that the job gets done.”

Casalino said that training is the key to getting good participation in the survey.

“It’s all about effective outreach, and how the survey is presented to seniors,” she said. If it’s done well, they will respond.”

During public comment, several township residents said they would like to play an active role in making sure the survey is a success. Resident Mariel Clemensen said she would like to help implement a better “aging-in-place” program in West Orange.

“Good transportation for seniors and making their mobility easier is the number one way to help seniors age in place,” she said. “We need to make this happen.”

Resident Margaret Ames said she is a big advocate for intergenerational programs, which she said help seniors age in place.

“I am excited to hear about this resolution to approve a survey that will help people successfully age in place,” she said.

One such intergenerational program is the Mountaineer Mentoring program at West Orange High School (WOHS), which was discussed by WOHS senior Madeleine Narduzzi.

“Working with seniors to help them improve their computer skills has been eye-opening,” she said. “This program is important because it gives students in the community a chance to interact with seniors in a positive way.”

One senior resident who benefitted from this program was Renee Gardner, who told the Council members how much she appreciated the students mentoring her.

“I want to thank the West Orange High School students who participated in this great program,” said Gardner. “I would like to see it expanded. It helped me so much in how to effectively use my laptop computer.”

On a less positive note when it came to senior issues, resident Julia Jones told the council that both security and maintenance have been on the decline at the John P. Renna Jr. House that provides affordable housing to seniors.

“We now only have a security person in the building from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., which is not enough for a building with seniors in it,” said Jones. “We need our security.”

After hearing Jones’ concerns, Councilman Jerry Guarino, who sits on the Renna House board, said that the Marzulli firm that manages the building will now hear about these concerns and be asked to address them.

The aging of the township’s police vehicles was also addressed by the council, which authorized the purchase of three police-interceptor utility vehicles and eight police-interceptor utility SUV vehicles. The council also authorized the purchase of three Ford pick-up trucks to be used by the township.

“When people ask what their tax dollars are being used for, it is for things like this,” said Council President Joe Krakoviak. “Our township will now have the new police vehicles it needs for years to come.”

The next council meeting will be June 27.