A survey of Teaneck’s older residents revealed that a sizeable percentage were unaware of key Township services and did not have access to the technology that could help them connect with loved ones and needed services as the pandemic stretches on.
Those were among the noteworthy findings that Age-Friendly Teaneck shared with the Township Council at a Sept. 22 Council meeting in which Project Coordinator E.J. Nicolas also described the ways in which COVID19 has reshaped our organization’s plans and priorities.
“As we all experience increased stress and social isolation, we can perhaps reflect more about our own expectations for the kind of home-and-community life we will want and need in the future,” Nicolas said in her presentation to the Council. “As we move forward, Age-Friendly Teaneck would like to work with Township leaders to use the insights gained during this crisis to develop new plans of action.”
Nicolas outlined a new program in which Age-Friendly Teaneck is partnering with the Teaneck Public Library - with support of the Township administration - to develop and film technology training programs that will air on the Township’s cable-access channels.
All older residents would benefit from more communication and outreach about community resources but many also need someone to help steer them to the services they need, Nicolas said, in urging the Township to fund a full-time municipal social services position.
Teaneck is one of the few communities in the region to provide social-work services to its residents, but the position has been temporarily staffed on a part-time basis in recent years because of an ongoing legal matter. Township Manager Dean Kazinci agreed that the post is a valuable one, and he intends to include funding for a full-time position in the 2021 budget.
Age-Friendly Teaneck also presented the Council with data on the housing affordability challenges many Teaneck residents face, especially older adults looking to downsize.
Council members thanked Age-Friendly Teaneck’ leaders for providing the useful information, and expressed willingness to continue partnering on strategies to ensure older residents remain active and engaged in the community.
A video of the Council meeting is available on the Township website, Age-Friendly Teaneck’s presentation is at the beginning of the agenda.
Here is the text of Age-Friendly Teaneck’s presentation:
Jackie Kates, Project Advisor.
Thank you to the Council for permitting us to report the findings of our recent survey , which we undertook to gauge the impact of the pandemic on the day-to-day challenges facing older Teaneck residents, particularly those who live alone with few transportation options. We have already shared with you the summary of key findings, which is posted on our website.
Isolated older adults are a priority of our initiative. Regrettably, the pandemic forced us to cancel a series of Community Table dinners for more than twenty isolated older residents.
(We thank the Manager and Recreation Superintendent for arranging the use of a senior van and driver.) After the project was cancelled, Age-Friendly Teaneck’s social work intern stayed in contact via telephone with our invitees, several of whom described intensifying struggles.
As the pandemic stretches on, additional outreach efforts would help ensure the safety and wellbeing of Teaneck's vulnerable older adults. However, social services including counseling and resource referral are needed not only in this time of crisis, they are essential services for an older population adjusting to changing health, social, mobility and financial circumstances.
EJ Nicolas, our project coordinator, a licensed social worker, will be leading our future efforts, along with Executive Director Elizabeth Davis, Communications Coordinator Colleen Diskin, and myself. EJ will describe our next steps.
E.J Nicolas, Project Coordinator
Thank you Jackie for that introduction. I really look forward to working with our team, including the Township council, on making our community more age-friendly.
The Teaneck community should be proud of the many collaborations in the early days of the pandemic. Municipal officials, community organizations, and individual volunteers joined forces to provide food, resources, and a range of other assistance to our Teaneck residents in need. On the fly, makeshift solutions were put into action, and many lessons were learned. The struggles that older adults routinely faced were made aware to the public eye. Once-simple acts like grocery shopping and visiting with friends were now fraught with stress and strangeness. There were, and still are, limits on activities. Shrunken social circles. Constant worries over health and finances. As we all experience increased stress and social isolation, we can perhaps reflect more about our own expectations for the kind of home-and-community life we will want and need in the future. As we move forward, Age-Friendly Teaneck would like to work with Township leaders to use the insights gained during this crisis to develop new plans of action.
Teaneck’s wonderful recreation programs for older adults are a vital asset, and the Township deserves much credit for funding diverse programs that others may lack. Many of those programs are at capacity, however, and it is our hope, that we can work with the Township to create more social engagement opportunities at the new community resource center located inside the affordable senior housing building planned for Teaneck Road. Holy Name Medical Center and Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey will provide services and programs at the site, and we think there’s an opportunity to collaborate with the Township and other community organizations on additional programs for older adults.
Our survey examined older residents’ access and ability to use digital technology and found that roughly one-quarter of respondents did not have a smart phone, and the same proportion did not have a computer. Two-thirds did not have access to video-chat services, and nearly 1 in 5 do not have Internet service at home.
For the increasing number of older adults who live alone, who no longer drive, or who have mobility limitations, technology can become a lifeline to help them access needed resources and avoid social isolation and its associated health woes. But that’s true only if they have the means to afford it and the knowledge of to how to make the best use of it.
Age-Friendly Teaneck, with the support of the Township Manager and in partnership with the Teaneck Public Library, is embarking on a program to create technology training to air on the Township’s Cablevision and Fios public-access channels. We also hope to expand this new program to include one-on-one digital training in a socially distanced format. We are eager to work with Township leaders and any other organizations in devising ways to use technology to create new social engagement opportunities and intergenerational programs.
We also learned from our survey that nearly three-quarters of respondents were not aware of the Township social worker position, and a third had not heard of the Teaneck Fire Department’s Morning Check-up Program, two Township services we think more older adults could be benefiting from. Oftentimes, older adults go without the services and assistance they need largely because they don’t know such help exists. To remedy this, we have created an older-adult resource guide and print and electronic newsletters to educate about crucial services. But older adults need more than just information. They need navigators – people who can help assess their needs and arrange assistance.
The Township, to its great credit, is one of the few communities in the area to recognize the value of having a social worker on staff. It’s unfortunate, however, that the social work position has been temporarily staffed on only a part-time basis, and we would urge you to try to find a way to return this to a full-time staffed position as soon as possible. In the chaotic, early days of the pandemic, Teaneck’s municipal staff could have benefitted from having a social worker on duty for more hours as they fielded calls from residents that were not health emergencies but nonetheless needed required attention and action.
A social worker could help the Township administration in developing strategies for better serving, housing, and engaging their growing populations of older adults. Age-Friendly Teaneck has set aside money in its budget for a Township social worker to receive training in age-friendly concepts, a perspective that’s greatly needed in our changing society.
I would like to close my presentation by asking you to closely review the housing information graphic we included with our survey materials titled A Look at Teaneck’s Older Adults and Their Housing Challenges. We believe strongly that Teaneck needs a plan for promoting more diversity in its housing stock and for increasing public awareness of housing alternatives. According to census estimates, more than 2,900 Teaneck residents over 60 live alone, the majority of them in single-family homes. As their mobility declines with age, we’re going to need more creative solutions for preventing social isolation and offering supportive services to this population. The Township’s housing stock was built largely to meet the needs of families raising young children, and as such, it lacks enough affordable alternatives for low- and moderate-income adults, particularly retirees looking to downsize. We would like to offer our assistance in working with the Township to promote more housing diversity and also to educate the populace about creative solutions such as home-sharing and accessory dwelling units.
Our fundamental goal is to make this a community that is as great a place to grow old as it is to grow up. But too often, we hear sentiments like this one expressed on one of our surveys. It reads: “Teaneck is my home. I want to stay in Teaneck when I retire, but the fact is, I won't be able to afford it.”
Thank you for your time, and we are happy to answer any questions you might have about our survey findings and our programming plans. And as mentioned earlier, these materials can be found on our website at www.agefriendlyteaneck.org.
Who We Are
Age-Friendly Teaneck formed in 2016 with this mission in mind: A great place to grow up should be a great place to grow old.