A new state-grant-sponsored initiative in Teaneck aims to remedy the health and inclusivity challenges too often experienced by residents aging with disabilities.
The new Community Begins at Home project launching this month is an outgrowth of Age-Friendly Teaneck, a 7-year-old initiative of The Bright Side Family that has engaged municipal, business, civic and faith-based leaders in the mission to make the community more livable for people of all ages.
A non-profit with more than 30 years of experience serving Teaneck, The Bright Side Family will lead the Community Begins at Home effort with support from the Township of Teaneck and another Bergen County nonprofit with expertise in serving the disabilities community.
This initiative is being funded by an Inclusive Healthy Communities Grant from the Division of Disability Services, New Jersey Department of Human Services.
Community Begins at Home will take a multi-pronged approach to addressing in-home and community barriers to independent living in Teaneck.
“More than half of Teaneck residents living with a disability is over the age of 65,” said Elizabeth Davis, executive director of The Bright Side Family. “At the same time, we know that the vast majority of Teaneck homes were built before the advent of accessible design strategies.
“We need a coordinated community strategy to ensure people who have mobility or other challenges can live safely in their homes and remain active participants in the community,” Davis said. “Beyond that, we also need some consciousness-raising. Teaneck is a community that prides itself on inclusivity, but we are not always aware of the factors that lead to some members of the community being excluded from everyday life.”
Initial project steps include recruiting a project advisory board, meeting with stakeholders and gathering more data and input from residents with lived experiences of having a disability and their families about the number and nature of challenges experienced in Teaneck. Staff from Teaneck’s Social Services, Fire, Police and Health departments will collaborate on the design and implementation of the home safety-and-support assessments that will be offered through this initiative, at no cost to Teaneck residents who wish to participate.
“Teaneck was one of the first municipalities in New Jersey to join the global Age-Friendly Communities movement, and we are just as committed to participating in this new statewide Inclusive Healthy Communities initiative,” said Township Manager Dean Kazinci. “The goals of this project reflect the values and ideals of this community.”
The Community Begins at Home project seeks to foster the advocacy and policy changes needed to overcome existing health inequities and inclusivity barriers. It is also intended to serve as a demonstration project, which – if successful – could be replicated in other towns.
“What’s needed in most communities is a concerted effort – embraced by a fully participating municipality – to identify, reach and assist those who are living isolated lives in barrier-filled homes,” said Brian Fitzgibbons, president/CEO of Heightened Independence and Progress (hipcil). “We are happy to be partnering in such an effort.”
Based in Hackensack, hipcil is one of 11 Centers for Independent Living (CILs) in New Jersey, with programming that offers home-modification and other supportive services to more than 1,500 individuals and families in Bergen and Hudson counties.
In addition to these partners, Community Begins at Home will engage a diverse range of service-providers, civic groups and faith-based organizations as project participants, similar to the collaborative approaches The Bright Side Family has employed with its Age-Friendly Teaneck community project and its other housing and supportive service programs. The project will also recruit and train community volunteers who – in a service model similar to Bright Side’s successful Senior Checks program – will help provide direct support, referrals and other needed assistance to program participants.
“This will truly be a community-shaped and community-led project that we believe can lead to sustainable community progress and make Teaneck a more welcoming and inclusive community for people of all ages and abilities,” Davis said.
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.