Re-entry continues, but it isn’t normal.

The Salem County Office for the Disabled Advisory Board meets next Tuesday with a conference call. Ray Leight and I have been talking about how to create a virtual Disability Awareness Day if we can’t all meet in person. I discussed this with the Executive Director of Resources for independent Living and Lisa believes that they can create a video or U Tube presentation for the event. The idea will be on our OFD Advisory Board agenda, but who will be interested enough to try and make it work? The really positive thing about doing a virtual program is that it can be posted and people can see it more than once and can go to specific vendors and services to get the information they need.

We need to get a keynote speaker and decide if we can have the awards ceremony. It would be disappointing if we can’t select and celebrate a person and or an organization that are doing things that improve the lives of people with a disability. I am not sure how well this idea can be presented on a conference call. In person, you can make eye contact and read the body language of the rest of the group.

Even if we can make the case for a virtual program, it is going to be difficult to get things completed because people and organizations are still not functioning as they normally would. Organizations, products and services are just feeling their way as far as how open and available they are. On a personal note, my air conditioner (condenser) died after 28 years of service. The service tech came out and we determined it was time for a new unit. We had a plan, I paid 50% of the cost for the new equipment, but the distribution chain was empty, The equipment is not available due to production and transportation issues related to Covid. The company I am using is trying and they are keeping me informed, but they can’t install what they don’t have.

I will follow up with my fellow board members and see if we can make this happen. Wish us luck.

Re-entry: Looking For My Normal

Well I went to my first in-person meeting last night at the local Moose Lodge. It wasn’t a Moose get together although I used to belong to the Moose and I enjoyed their Wednesday night pizza and inexpensive drinks. This was a Resources for Independent Living Board meeting and it was at the Moose Lodge because it allowed us to more easily social distance. I had my mask and wore it some, but there was a lot of space between us and I felt fairly comfortable.

There is so much that is not allowed to happen with the programs and clients and the state of New Jersey is not convinced that special needs individuals can attend programs at this time or in the near future. It seems to me that special needs citizens are almost always at the end of the line for things that the rest of us just assume we will have, This is another case of privilege that most of us don’t even consider. A friend who serves on the Special Services School Board indicated that when schools start in September, the special needs students will not be starting at that time. She indicated that they might not start until after the first of the new year. I do not like this decision at all.

Most of the students that have been involved in distance learning, and then off for the summer, will return to school with a much larger learning gap than ever before. Imagine what type of gap there will be for students that need accommodations, modifications and support in their daily assignments and tests on an on-going basis. Often, those students have not done well on computer based assignments during a normal school year and many families do not have computers and internet access. Now, the state is thinking about a further delay in their education.

Before Covid19 shut everything down, I was working with Resources for Independent Living clients as a volunteer to mentor and help facilitate their orientation to a competitive job. After this structured experience, which a grant paid their salary, the next step would be to help them get their first real job. This just abruptly ended and we are not sure when we will be allowed to resume. As a advisory board member for the Office for the Disabled in Salem County, we started to plan for Disability Awareness Day scheduled for October. Once again, uncertainty about what will happen.

Ray Leight and I have been talking about a virtual Disability Awareness Day. What would that look like and how can we make that happen. We talked about filming presentations by the vendors and agencies that attend; filming the keynote speaker and trying to plan a program that will add value; and finding a way to continue our awards ceremony to high light individuals and agencies that add value to our special needs citizens. Finally, I have something that I can start working on. If anyone has any ideas, please contact me at fhentz@hotmail.com.

Trying To Get Back To Normal

I have had a difficult time trying to get back to my normal life. Some of it is because so many things have been closed and are still closed, but also I am having a difficult time getting out of my new normal. Since I haven’t been able to keep up with my volunteer activities, I don’t have a schedule or a place to be. I get up when I want, spend a long time easing into my day and then I pick activities that I can do around my house.

I am trying to learn Spanish on Dulingo; I have been redoing all of my flower beds; trying to go through my boxes of pictures to get them organized; working on Ancestry; going through the house time and a gain looking for things that I can get rid of so my sons won’t have to do it after I am gone; cleaning my garage, shop and shed; and have definitely found a lot of time to smell the roses and watch what is happening from different seats all around my house and yard. I find that I get distracted a lot and go from activity to activity. Nothing needs to be done by a specific date so I might start one thing and end up doing two or three things during the day.

I have tried to participate in board meetings with Resources for Independent Living, The Salem County Office for the Disabled Advisory Board and my high school reunion committee. Technology hasn’t worked very well for everyone, people have forgotten to sign on at the right time and when the technology and participation is working, we run into road blocks because the vendors or companies we need to interact with aren’t always available.

My wife and I go to the store one day a week and talk on the phone and text friends and family. We have even done some driveway visits and are planning to attend a social distance get together with friends that have also been staying home. The good news is that the agencies that provide help for our most vulnerable citizens are available and have been reaching out and checking on them. I find myself moving back out into the world and notice that others are doing the same. Hang in there and reach out for help, if you need it. We are going to get through this.

Salem County NJ Local Resources

I talked to my friend Ray Leight yesterday and he was so happy with the personal contacts that he has received during this medical crisis. His Facebook post stated: “As a person who’s less abled and uses a Mobility device, my hat’s off to Salem County Office of Aging and Disability.  I have been contacted numerous times about any needs and concerns that I had. Good job Human Services of Salem County”.

Ray is very independent and is very capable of taking care of himself, but having the Salem County Office on Aging and Disabilities reach out and check on his status was greatly appreciated.

Below are some additional posts that can help all of us as we shelter in place. Follow the Office on Facebook and play their daily trivia game. Reach out to the Office at 856 339 8682 if you have questions or need additional assistance.

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Social Distancing and Preparedness

By now, we all know how well we did with preparing for this medical crisis. If you were one of the people that rushed to the stores to start buying toilet paper and food because the cupboards and shelves are bare, I wish you all of the good fortune that is available. One of my jobs in Human Resources and also in Operations was to manage safety and disaster recovery initiatives. The first principle of both initiatives was to get everyone involved to look beyond today and anticipate what could go wrong and make plans to either avoid the problems or prepare to get the operations back to a positive state. Combine this with comments from my parents and grandparents about the Great Depression, I have always made sure that I was always preparing to not be surprised by that next emergency.

I would encourage people to start thinking about what you can do at this point and throughout this crisis by thinking about your support network and your finances. Obviously, we all want to stay safe through social distancing and great personal hygiene, but we need to think outside of the box and determine who is available to provide help. Reach out to anyone in your network that can provide help. On-line may be our best option. I would also recommend the following website: www.homecaremag.com.

The other thing that I would suggest is that we all use our various networks to virtually discuss and develop solutions that will help others. The thing that seems to be missing in this crisis is effective communication, Facebook would be my last resort for information, Stay safe and let me know your thoughts.

Aging and Disabled

With all of the recent talk of the coronavirus and the uncertainty of…everything. I decided to change the emphasis of my blog. I am on the board of the Salem County Office on Aging and Disability Services (Advisory Board) and I realize that there can be a lot of similarities between the needs of the senior and disabled populations. As a senior, I notice that I can benefit from many of the same accommodations that are a benefit to our disabled population.. As an example, curb cuts have been very important in improving safe mobility to individuals in a wheelchair, but anyone that has pushed a baby carriage and has packages in their hand, can also recognize the benefit. Kitchen aids that help with opening bottles and jars are great for helping the disabled, but as we get older and our hand strength is reduced, it is a help for seniors as well. The list goes on and on.

The Office on Aging and Disability Services in Salem County serves the senior and disabled populations and I see the value in this approach. Although funding is a factor for this union, I am starting to realize that we need to focus on accommodations that address issues that focus on helping all of us become more able when we experience the need for assistance. I have also been part of the “sandwich generation” and know what it is like to care for children and parents. The more I volunteer with disabled populations, the more I realize that we need to focus on helping all populations in becoming more able and spend less time labeling different populations.

Going forward with my blog, I am going to try to focus on ideas and programs that able people and try not to focus as much on disability. The reality is that all of us throughout our lives have times that we need the help of others. I am going to focus on ideas, programs and local events that focus on making it easier to become able in our journey through life.

Getting Your First Job, Part 2

Getting your first job is not easy without help. If you are still in school, you need to be 14 in order to get working papers and you have to have a job offer before you can get the working papers. There are limitations on the type of job you can get because of health and safety reasons and on the number of hours that you can work. Parents may add some additional restrictions on the job search.

When I worked in a middle school with 7th and 8th grade students, almost every student that got a job knew someone that helped them find that job. There isn’t a formal listing of jobs for middle school and high school students, but schools do support the concept of students working during their senior year if they have completed all of there required classes and the school has a program to allow students to leave school during the day to work, Once again, there is very little in the way of formal listings and either the student, the school or the parents need to search for openings. Students can also try to find and after school or summer job.

I am currently volunteering my time to help special needs students find job opportunities, but the process is pretty much the same for all students that want a job. First time job seekers may have a long term career in mind, but they lack the educational requirements, work experience and probably independent transportation means to be successful in their search. Most have not completed an employment application, have no experience to include, have never had an employment interview, don’t know what minimum wage is currently and many have not learned to use cursive writing to sign the application. Fortunately, the students that I am working with have been through a program to address each of these issues.

The students that I am working with also are in a program that will pay for 100 hours of work and are covered by the agency’s insurance. They will also receive assistance with their orientation and support during their time with the company that allows them to work at their site. I will be contacting different local companies and I have already contacted two large companies that require corporate approval. What I could really use is a network of locals that could give me some leads on possible work / training sites. If you have any leads, e-mail me at fhentz@hotmail.com or call me at 856 287 8422.