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Jewish agencies cheer as N.J. After 3 wins back partial funding

After months of wrangling and arguing, New Jersey’s 2011 budget passed the legislature last week with many of Gov. Chris Christie’s cuts intact. To the relief of the Jewish organizations that had lobbied for it, one organization, New Jersey After 3, returned from budgetary no-man’s-land and saw its state allocation partially restored.

New Jersey After 3 received a $3 million allocation, down from $10 million the previous year. Approximately 12,000 students across the state attend New Jersey After 3 after-school programs. Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson administers the program in Cliffside Park and JFS is one of many organizations that went to bat for New Jersey After 3 during the budget debates.

“I was really delighted to see some funding restored and see the commitment on the part of the state to the children and families who really desperately need the programming,” said Lisa Fedder, JFS’s director.

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New Jersey After 3 provides funding and support for after-school programs, like this one in Cliffside Park administered by Jewish Family Service of Bergen County. Courtesy Jewish Family Service

Fedder was unsure about how the $3 million would be divided among the program’s more than 60 partner organizations. In past years, JFS has charged parents only a $200 registration fee, but as fears of funding cuts grew, the organization and the school district began looking into other fee-based funding models.

Fedder expects the 2010-11 program to charge a small registration fee in addition to a monthly charge, although those numbers have not yet been set. Fedder noted that as funding decreased this past year, the program was able to accept fewer children. While some 300 children were in the program during the 2008-09 school year, JFS had to cap enrollment at 235 this past year. Fedder expects a minimum of 100 children for the new school year. The program will also expand from first- to eighth-grade students to include kindergarten and pre-K as well.

Still, funding remains a major concern, especially for families that rely on the program to care for their children after school.

“I’m concerned there may be families who cannot afford even our very low fees,” Fedder said. “I don’t know how that will play out.”

Christie announced a series of budget cuts in February, including a more than $5 million cut to New Jersey After 3, to close a $2 billion budget gap for the 2010 fiscal year. The governor continued to slash spending across the board ahead of the 2011 fiscal year, and New Jersey After 3 expected to see its funding dropped entirely.

More than 300 children attended JFS’s Club Ed after-school program in four elementary schools in Cliffside Park. New Jersey After 3 had slotted $186,000 for JFS during the 2009-10 school year, but that was sliced to $93,000 after Christie’s 2010 budget cuts. JFS had received approximately $300,000 from New Jersey After 3 in 2008-09.

JFS’s director of school-based services, Suad Gachem, testified before the Assembly budget committee in April in support of New Jersey After 3.

“If these programs are to disappear,” she said during her testimony, “30 to 40 percent of the children would be latchkey children, coming home alone at a very young age to an unsupervised home until their parents return from work.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents the Garden State’s 12 federation in Trenton, worked through various networks to persuade Trenton to restore funding to several programs. Toporek did not expect to see the New Jersey After 3 funding in the new budget.

“New Jersey After 3 was a very pleasant surprise,” he said.

Bergen Family Service also runs a New Jersey After 3 program in Englewood, which District 37’s Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle helped create.

“It is an important program first and foremost for our children,” Weinberg said. “Although [the restoration] didn’t begin to fund what it should have funded, at least we got some of the money back.”

Members of the state Senate and Assembly Democratic caucuses put forward the programs they wanted most, and in the end, “a chorus of voices” restored partial funding.

“People are going to have to realize that this budget was really balanced by an increase in property taxes as the result of a loss of state aid to schools and municipalities, and then by the loss of programs that are important to all of us,” Weinberg said. “It’s not magical.”

 
 

Got ____? Aphasia: At a loss for words

Aphasia advocacy

A bill has been introduced into the New Jersey legislature (S1931 and A2811) to establish a New Jersey Aphasia Study Commission in the Department of Health and Senior Services. Sponsors of the bill include state Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Diane Allen and Assembly members Valerie Huttle, Gordon Johnson, Connie Wagner and Joan Voss. The Senate version of the bill (S1931) states that the purpose of the commission is to: “establish a mechanism in order to ascertain the prevalence of aphasia in New Jersey, and the unmet needs of persons with aphasia and those of their families,” to “study model aphasia support programs,” and to “provide recommendations for additional support programs and resources…”

Political advocacy can be complicated and challenging under the best of circumstances. For individuals with aphasia, it can be especially daunting. But the Adler Aphasia Center has mobilized its members’ Advocacy Group, which provides members with opportunities to develop and improve their communication skills, to work on publicity and support of the bill. Over the past few weeks the group, led by Jessica Welsh and volunteer Robin Straus, prepared a form letter that supporters of the bill can send to their state representatives indicating their support.

The Advocacy Group includes Jeffrey Turitz, 53, who on Aug. 14, 2009 was in a motorcycle accident and suffered traumatic brain injury. Before his accident Turitz worked at the Defining Moment Foundation of Englewood, which provides counseling for alcohol and substance abuse. He is a licensed alcohol counselor and was a public speaker. “It’s been a tough year,” said Turitz, who grew up in Englewood. “I had to learn how to walk, talk, and dress myself. I am recovering. I’m a lucky man.”

Although he still struggles to express himself and faces challenges in his recovery from the accident, Turitz offered to speak at the center’s “Meet and Greet” to let members know about the legislation and how they could help it get passed. He rehearsed his plea saying, “I’m with the advocacy group. We are trying to help get people to sign a letter [in support of the bill].”

Vernon Wilson, 51, of Paterson, offered to back him up at the meeting by adding “I’m in favor of the bill. The bill helps a lot of people. You never know. There are a lot of people who you don’t think have [aphasia], but they do have it.”

Turitz thanked Wilson. “That’s where my friends come in with my aphasia. They know what I want to say,” he said. “If I have to speak in front of people I get nervous. You know what I want to say.”

Avi Golden, 36, of Queens, has a Facebook page that he uses to connect with family and friends. He suggested that they use e-mail and the Internet to distribute the advocacy letter.

Other center members working on advocacy for the bill include Bob Mayer, 51, of Rivervale, George Freeman, 61, of Hackensack, and Ken Albrecht, 52, a former town councilman in Hackensack.

The text of the Advocacy Group’s letter of support can be found at http://www.adleraphasiacenter.org. Click on “Support Aphasia Legislation in NJ.”

 
 

UJA-NNJ’s Super Sunday raises funds for charities

The phone room was buzzing with exuberance as a 300-plus army of volunteers punched their telephone keypads and sounded the call for donations in UJA Federation of North Jersey’s annual Super Sunday fund-raiser.

“It was a fantastic day, with a lot of energy,” said Howard Chernin, event co-chair. “We accomplished a lot of good things for the Jewish community.”

The amount raised was still being tallied on Wednesday, but it was expected to exceed the $1 million goal, said Howard Charish, federation executive vice president.

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Shalyn Gallatin of Wyckoff calls the old fashioned way, while Dan Shlufman of Tenafly texts an appeal. Photos by Charles Zusman

Participation spanned the generations. George Hantgan, 94, took part in his 60th Sunday fund-raiser and was honored with a plaque for his years of service. (See related story.

Taking part as a family and at the other end of the age spectrum, were the Goodman sisters of Paramus, Rivke and Miri, 10, Laili, 7, and Sari 4. The girls gave contributions themselves, saved from their allowances, then served as assistants on the phone floor, collecting pledge cards from the callers. They were accompanied by their father, David Goodman.

“We like to treat other people the way we like to be treated,” explained Miri.

What do you call what you’re doing, the girls were asked. Rivke thought a minute: “A mitzvah,” she said.

A group from the Bergen County High School of Jewish studies was part of the youth contingent. “I believe it’s important for the Jewish community of New Jersey, and it’s a good cause,” said Zach Lang, 16. Israel Scouts from Fair Lawn and Tenafly also manned the phones.

A contingent from Hillel at William Paterson University was there: Adam Kleinman, Meliss Brown, Allison Warburg, Solomon Pinskur, and Marissa Zubalsky.

New this year was collecting for a special fund for assistance to victims of the recent devastating forest fire in Israel. Contributions to that fund were expected to be in the “tens of thousands,” said Charish, as pledges still were coming in by mail.

Three settlements are in line for long-term aid — Yemin Orde, Ein Hod, and Kibbutz Beit Oren — said Stuart Levy, community shaliach at the UJA-NNJ

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The Goodman sisters of Paramus brought donations saved from their allowances. From left they are Rivke and Miri, 10, Laili, 7, and Sari, 4.

Sharyn Gallatin of Wyckoff recalled working the phones last year and said that “people seem more willing to give this year. It’s very gratifying.” One woman tripled her gift, Gallatin said.

Sitting next to her, Dan Shlufman of Tenafly gave a nod to technology and pressed his Blackberry into service. He texted an appeal to someone and got a hefty pledge back in return.

He said while rejections get him down, a positive response gives him a second wind and he keeps on calling.

The fund-raiser was a two-way affair. In his instructions to the callers, co-chair Chernin said if those called said they couldn’t give because of their own problems, the callers should ask if perhaps those on the other end of the line needed help themselves. Representatives of Jewish Family Services were on hand for referrals.

Money was not the only way to give, and Perry Bindelglass of Franklin Lakes donated blood to North Jersey Community Blood Services in their van parked in the UJA-NNJ parking lot.

“I try to give as often as I can, and there is no better time than the present,” said Bindelglass, who was also volunteering his time on the phones.

While party politics may be the norm in Washington, the tone in Paramus was bipartisan, with politicians from both major parties taking a turn at the phones.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican, gave a brief address and then was eager to get down to business. “Thanks for inviting me and give me a phone,” she said.

In remarks to this reporter, she said that the poor state of the economy makes it ever more important for organizations like UJA-NNJ to continue charitable work, “filling the gap that government can no longer fill.”

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37) sounded the same theme, saying cuts in government budgets and social services make charitable work vital. She cited new statistics reporting a rise in child poverty in Bergen County from 5.5 percent to 7 percent.

“If we don’t have organizations like the UJA, it’s going to be much worse,” she said.

Weinberg was joined by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Dist. 37). Charity is the “ultimate gift,” he said. “The Bible, the Koran, and the Torah all talk about helping those less fortunate,” he added.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to ask people to give to a greater cause,” said Freeholder-Elect John Felice, a River Edge resident. “We’re all brothers and sisters. We have much more in common than we have differences.”

Other political leaders attending included new County Executive Kathleen Donovan, State Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Dist. 38), Hawthorne Mayor Richard Goldberg, Closter Mayor Sophie Heymann, and Bergen County Freeholder John Driscoll. State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Dist. 32) was represented by Linda Quentzel.

Charities served by the federation break down to 62 percent for domestic recipients and 38 percent for Israel and other overseas recipients, according to UJA-NNJ. Domestically, the beneficiaries include those made needy by the economic downturn, senior services, Jewish education, and Jewish life on campus. Overseas, the money goes to aiding vulnerable Jewish populations around the world, residents of the former Soviet Union, the absorption of refugees in Israel, and Nahariya, the UJA-NNJ’s partner city in Israel.

 
 
 
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