Just over two years ago, a pair of grants — from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation — allowed JESPY House in South Orange to launch initiatives to help its clients, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), age in place.
The programs, which include specialized staff training, acknowledge that I/DD clients are living longer, can participate in their own care, and can continue to lead productive and fulfilling lives. There are such clients who have been with JESPY for decades and benefit, as they age, with increased aid as their day-to-day challenges mount.
“These are people who can’t live in a nursing home,” said JESPY executive director Audrey Winkler. “These are people who are still active and lead productive lives. Many still work in the community, shop for themselves, and enjoy activities and trips.” In general, she said, “staffs at nursing homes aren’t trained to work with clients like that.”
Though JESPY, now in its 41st year, has several group homes and residences in the South Orange area for its approximately 200 clients, administrators saw that a new type of residential home was needed for its Aging in Place program. The initiative aims to decrease clients’ feelings of isolation by providing a community setting with assistance for physical limitations related to daily life.
The Michael Och House, a 4,242-square-foot home in an area of South Orange with nearby parks, is now that residence; it was officially dedicated on Oct. 6.
Funding for the facility was provided by the Och family in honor of Michael Och’s 20-plus years of JESPY board leadership and service. “The Och family couldn’t be prouder of what JESPY is doing to ensure that older people with I/DD can remain in the community they have called home for years,” said Daniel S. Och, speaking on behalf of his father and the family. “Our family is very excited that JESPY has named the house for our father, Dr. Michael Och, who has long been dedicated to serving the needs of others and cares deeply about JESPY’s clients.”
Soon after the two grants helped start the Aging in Place program, Meryl
Ehrenkranz, a senior vice president at the realty firm Newmark Associates, which has several offices in the Greater MetroWest area, was soliciting a contribution from her friend, Michael Och, to the Livingston Symphony Orchestra. Since both are members of the JESPY board of directors, their talk turned to how the developing Aging in Place program needed a new group home to serve aging I/DD clients.
“As a realtor,” said Ehrenkranz, “I suggested to Michael, who had honored his deceased wife, Golda, with the naming of Golda Och Academy” — the Jewish day school in West Orange — “to put his name on something and help JESPY by buying a house and having it remodeled to serve Aging in Place clients. He and his son, Daniel, agreed.”
Michael Och, 88, of Maplewood, a retired radiologist, told NJJN that three offers were made on three different homes before the Och family acquired the desired South Orange residence for $903,000, according to the public record. Over the past several months, the single-family dwelling was remodeled into The Michael Och House: A Center for Aging at JESPY. The first clients moved in mid-September.
“This was the best of the houses we looked at,” he said, “and they have turned it into a residence that will be of great benefit to our clients.”
Nine clients and additional staff members occupy the residence, which is staffed on a 24-hour basis. The facility features a private room and bathroom for each resident; a three-floor elevator; wide hallways; on-site nursing, fitness, and recreation rooms; van service; and medical monitoring. There is a mezuzah on every doorjamb.
“We’re just getting started with some of our group programs,” said Winkler, as she showed dignitaries, client families, and visitors around the house. Plans include music programs, discussions, and speakers. Many of the clients, she said, “like to walk in the neighborhood. We have taken trips to the beach and really can go anywhere the clients want in our van.”
The JESPY clients NJJN talked to said they are quite comfortable living in the new facility and are pleased with the available services. They are identified by first name only to protect their privacy.
“Before, I lived in an apartment with people who were younger than me,” said Ellen W., who has been a JESPY client for 39 of her 59 years. “Here, I have a lot of friends who are more my age, and we get together a lot. I also really enjoy having my own room.”
Tara Roberts, who serves as JESPY’s community relations and new business initiatives supervisor, worked with Ellen for 25 years and taught her new ways to cook. She stopped by to see her former client on a recent Sunday.
“We made turkey tacos, baked chicken, and pizza,” said Ellen, who enjoys watching “CSI: Miami” and “Law and Order” on TV and is looking forward to the 2020 Olympics gymnastics competition.
One of the more physically active residents of the Och House is Nancy J., who has cerebral palsy and has been a JESPY client since 1992.
“This is what I’ve always lived with, so I don’t know anything different,” she said. “I work with what I have. I really enjoy working on the elliptical machine in the basement, and it really helps to have an elevator. I also like to swim a lot and have competed in the Special Olympics. I also participate in the knitting group, make afghans, and have even sold a few.”
Richard K., a Mets fan and JESPY client for 13 years, enjoyed discussing the team’s recently concluded season and agreed with the team’s decision to let manager Mickey Callaway go. The Mets “didn’t perform as well as they were supposed to, so you have to make a change,” he said.
Winkler said she feels the Och House has JESPY on the cutting edge with the concept of clients aging in place. “I really don’t know if there is another facility like this anywhere around,” she said. “We need to take care of our people first” — there is a waiting list of 10 clients for the Och House — “but we would really like to expand our program in the future. We enjoy seeing our people, as they age, still lead productive lives.”