Office of Aging & Disabilities News

The Salem County Disabilities Advisory Board met last night for our final meeting of the year. We discussed our recent Disability Awareness Day and believe that it was an excellent event and have already started plans for next year’s event which also will be in October. Our vendor displays were actively visited, and if possible, we would like to add to this so that we can provide even better ideas of resources and services. The “Scoot” program helped provide transportation to our event and is planning a number of scheduled trips throughout November. The focus of our advisory board between now and next year’s event will be on identifying individuals that have a positive impact on the lives of persons with special needs within Salem County. Specifically, we are looking for candidates in the following areas:

Citizenship: individuals whose leadership and dedication have greatly improved the services available to Salem County residents with special needs. This award can also high-light the success of individuals with special needs that have overcome obstacles to achieve their individual goals in terms of their education, career and support of others with special needs.

Agency Excellence: is an award to an agency or facility whose primary function is serving persons with special needs and has shown extreme leadership in the development of programs and services.

Community Service: is an award given to a business or corporation located in Salem County whose initiative and enterprise have contributed significantly to a better life for citizens with special needs. We really want to high-light the employment efforts that these businesses or corporations have made.

A topic of discussion at our meeting was the limited success of special needs citizens in securing gainful employment. Our economy is experiencing the lowest unemployment in the last 50 years, and reports from organizations like Bloomberg and the Federal Government indicate that we are basically at maximum employment, but we need to get creative to train and develop individuals to fill trade positions. The focus is not currently focused on the special needs population.

The Office of Aging and Disabilities can provide individual assistance to provide advice and counseling, but this issue is really a policy issue at a much higher level. The Department of Education has pushed STEM programs and preparation for college and university programs. Vocations programs (formerly referred to as shops and home economics) have been basically eliminated from our public schools and county vocational technical schools have started to push high level STEM programs that have actually reduced the number of vocational programs that special needs students used to be accepted into.

Students with IEP’s (Individual Education Plans) should be included in their IEP meetings by the age of 14 and specific transition to careers discussions should produce a realistic career plan. However, most of these plans are based on a plan to prepare students to attend colleges and universities. The Division Of Vocational Rehabilitation is not actively recruited to attend these meetings and provide expert input to improve the development of reasonable career plans. Our discussion came to the conclusion that parents may not be aware that Vocational Rehabilitation can be included and we should try to focus on getting this message out.

As a group, we have seen and heard of the students that didn’t have a reasonable career plan created while they were in our schools with an IEP and have “aged out” in services from our public schools. They have completed their education and have not developed a reasonable career plan and there isn’t a productive process to improve their ability to find gainful employment. We are trying to have a conversation to add value to this issue, but we could clearly benefit from input from as many sources as possible.

Disability Awareness Day: Create a “Go Bag”

Emergency “Go Bags” were discussed and demonstrated by Frank Callahan of the Salem County Department of Health and Human Services Public Preparedness Division.  Recent natural catastrophes are a reminder that a disaster can strike at any time. Although the type or locations of disasters are different, there’s one tip that every person should take from Frank Callahan’s presentation: pack a “go bag.”

Once you create your go bag, store it in a location at eye level that you can grab it on your way out the door. Make sure that every member of your household has a go bag and keep them stored in the same location. Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Specifics for your bag are as follows:


  • A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won’t spoil.
  • One change of clothing and footwear per person, and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.
  • A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications.
  • Emergency tools including a battery powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries.
  • An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash or traveler’s checks.
  • Sanitation supplies.
  • Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.
  • An extra pair of glasses.
  • Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Keep a smaller kit in the trunk of your car.
  • Remember that if you anticipate staying in an evacuation shelter that there may not be a cot for you. Bring bedding material and something to sleep on.

Disability Awareness Day: October 10, 2019

I have been appointed to the Salem County Freeholders Advisory Board for almost 20 years and my involvement with the Office on Aging and Disabilities is best characterized by my participation in our annual Disability Awareness Day. This was our 15th Disability Awareness Day and they seem to get better and better each year. The hard work by staff of the Office on Aging and Disabilities and its Advisory Board really has nurtured a great event.

About five years ago I suggested that we model an award that Wilmington Delaware’s Access Wilmington has to celebrate the contributions that citizens, agencies and businesses have made to improve the lives of our disabled population. As a long term member of that board, these awards highlighted great works that benefited the disabled population, but had the effect of improving the lives of all citizens in general. Patty Bomba typifies the values of this award as this year’s award recipient and will continue to add value to our county. If you know of individuals that should be considered for this award, contact me or call the office at 856-339-8622. Also, the office staff wants our residents to contact the office to answer your specific questions based on individual needs.

As I was walking around the vendor tables, I had a chance to talk Teri Figarola and Mary Fowle (in the picture above) and they made sure that I was aware of how they were able to attend: they called the Office on Aging and Disabilities at at 856-339-8622 and were able to obtain transportation.

There a lot of informational tables to get hand-outs about different organizations and services. This was also a great opportunity to ask specific questions and get answers that meet your individual needs. I have posted pictures of a sample of these vendors below.

More pictures are available on my Facebook page (Frank Hentz). My next post will be about Emergency “Go Bags” that was discussed and demonstrated by Frank Callahan of the Salem County Department of Health and Human Services Public Preparedness Division. The final post will focus on the keynote speaker James Beardsley, blogger, advocate for persons with different abilities and hand cycle racer.

Salem County’s 15th Annual Disability Awareness Day.

What a wonderful day to celebrate the selection of Patty Bomba as the Crusader Award winner for 2019. Patty Bomba, of Carneys Point, has touched many lives through her advocacy for individuals with disabilities. She spearheaded the creation of A Place for Sami (an accessible playground built by the community that benefits anyone with mobility issues) including her granddaughter, Sami. Patty currently serves on the board of Resources for Independent Living, is a past chairperson of the Salem County Disabilities Advisory Board and she is active in fundraising for the ARC Walk, Special Olympics, Resources for Independent Living and Darryl’s Wheels.

Patty Bomba with her Crusader Award and her State of New Jersey Resolution

Patty with Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro

Patty receiving her Crusader Award from Salem County Freeholders Ben Laury, Lee Ware and Charles Hassler.

If you want to see more pictures of Patty’s day look at my Facebook post. Tomorrow: pictures of participants, vendors and our citizens

New School Year: Is Your Child’s IEP Working?

The new school year has started and we are about half way through the first marking period. If your school has on-line grades, you should be checking your child’s assignments, quiz and test grades. The teachers usually have an on-line web site that lists upcoming assignments and information that will allow you to contact your child’s teachers. Keeping current with homework assignments and checking the on-line grades and completed assignments will give you a good idea on how things are going. You should have a copy of your child’s IEP and you should be having a conversation with your child about how the teachers are implementing the accommodations listed in the IEP.

While I believe everything that I said above is a great strategy, keeping track of everything and trying to get information from our children can be difficult and quite time consuming. If you are not comfortable with technology, then everything gets even more difficult. So, what should you do?

The more a parent understands what the teachers are trying to accomplish, what accommodations were written in the IEP, and how successful your child is and what problems your child is experiencing, the better the outcomes will be achieved. However, if your child is getting A’s in their classes, but the scope and pace of the classes does not match the regular education curriculum and state tests indicate that your child is not proficient in the areas tested, I think that a parent needs to ask “what is the impact on my child in terms of career planning?” This is really important as children get into middle school and start planning for and applying for high school programs.

As your school transitions 8th grade IEP’s into a high school IEP, there should be career planning discussions. I strongly believe that parents should start talking to their children about career plans by the time they are in fifth grade. Students are now applying for specific high school programs during 8th grade and the programs they are applying for often use grades, test scores and attendance results from seventh grade. Therefore, it works best when there is an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in career exploration. Children will change their mind as they get more information and process what is involved in preparing for various careers. If the schools aren’t doing this, it is really important that parents make the time to do this. In addition, if parents are honest about their child’s skills and interests, they have the most knowledge about their children.

The programs I am talking about may be STEM programs, performance arts programs, vocational programs and etc. (you need to talk to your child’s guidance counselor about what is available and the requirements for admission. The key element to keep in mind is that not everyone gets in and most programs use a rubric that depends heavily on academic proficiency and state test results. Parents need to make an honest assessment of their child’s strengths and weaknesses. I have mentioned in a previous blog that I have more than 25 years in corporate america and most of it in Human Resources. In that time I interviewed thousands of applicants and counseled employees about their career plans. The applicants that were hired, and the employees that were promoted in their careers, demonstrated a clearly communicated career plan and backed this up with related skills and appropriate experience. Those that didn’t weren’t hired.

Career choices begin much earlier than just ten years ago. As a middle school counselor in Gloucester County, NJ, I watched the county vocational school evolve into a program that used an high school curriculum to assist students in improving their chances of entering a career in the medical, engineering, business and computer fields. These became the featured programs that attracted the top students from all of the eight grade programs in the county and the number of vocational training slots were decreased. The number of spots for students with IEP’s also disappeared.

The high schools in our county responded by developing STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math)  programs to retain their top students. The goal of most public high schools is to provide academic programs to prepare students for college, Most of the shops and home economic programs have been eliminated. The picture I am painting is one that does very little to assist students with IEP’s develop a viable career unless they fit into the all students should go to college mold.

Students in Gloucester County, NJ are applying for these top programs during 8th grade for programs that will start in high school. Since their attendance, grades, type and level of classes and state test scores from 7th grade (along with 1st marking period 8th grade results and possibly 6th grade results) are used as selection criteria, the need for early career planning is clearly necessary. What is the plan for students that are not competitive in this process? When should career planning start for those students? What is the role of the IEP in career planning?

The above comments and assertions require a great deal of additional information and planning. Please, start to think about career planning with your children and include them in the discussion as early as you believe that they can participate.

Career Transition Programs

If you have a child that is 14 and older and has an IEP, have they been included in the actual IEP meeting? Has your school’s IEP team taken the time to explore career ideas with your child and developed preliminary career plans? Are there specific vocational programs available for your child to apply for and are you aware of the application process and time frames? Has the New Jersey Department of Vocational Rehabilitation been involved in your child’s career transition program?

I asked a lot of questions, but if someone is not asking these questions and you and your child are not involved in a career transition process, what are the chances that your child will develop a career plan that will lead to active employment? Resources for Independent Living (RIL) offer a Self-Advocacy Program to any interested schools in Burlington and Salem Counties. It is designed to prepare students and young adults with disabilities aged 14-21 for their transition from the school setting to adult life. Through activities and discussions focused on self-awareness, self-advocacy, knowledge of disabilities, leadership development, employment skills, goal setting, and future planning, RIL’s ( transition specialist can assist in developing students that are more cognizant of their responsibilities in their transition process.

This free service is available to groups of students or individuals in your school, but your school needs to approve this program. Ask your school if they have a program like this. Specifically, a Youth Transition Specialist, comes to the school to run these activities during a class period or in about 45-60 minute sessions. The program can function on an ongoing basis or in a delineated six week module.