NJ Human Services Highlights Initiatives Across New Jersey Working to Create More Inclusive and Healthy Communities

$2.7M in Grants Were Awarded to 18 New Jersey Organizations to Help Improve the Health and Wellness of Individuals with Disabilities

September 7, 2021

(TRENTON)The New Jersey Department of Human Services today lauded the progress made by first-time recipients of the department’s Inclusive Healthy Communities Grant Program (IHC). Eighteen organizations across the state were awarded $2.7 million earlier this year to help build more equitable communities and ensure that the voice and needs of individuals with disabilities are included in healthy community planning.

The IHC Grant Program is an initiative spearheaded by the Human Services’ Division of Disability Services and is the first of its kind in the state. The program launched this past January and the first cycle of funding runs through June 30, 2022. This allows grantees nearly 18 months to implement proposed work plans.

“We are proud to further advance inclusion and accessibility for New Jerseyans with disabilities and support communities across New Jersey to bring creative and innovative projects into reality,” Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman said. “These funds are helping New Jersey grow into a stronger, fairer and inclusive place where everyone can thrive.  I look forward to the lasting impact this program will have as the initiatives reach completion.”

“These 18 communities have proposed and are working on a range of solutions to improve access to resources, services, and community spaces that support the health and well-being of all including individuals with disabilities. We know this work will result in improved health outcomes for New Jerseyans with disabilities and hope these initiatives can continue to expand across the state in the future,” said Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira.

Capacity building grants of $100,000 each were granted to 12 organizations to integrate disability inclusion into any existing healthy community planning efforts to identify priorities, build formal, collaborative partnerships and plan strategies that will result in lasting change. Implementation grants of $250,000 each were granted to 6 organizations already working on implementing strategies to address access challenges for this population. 

“We are excited about the work that is underway, and believe that over time, we will see communities engaging their residents with disabilities in all facets of community planning, resulting in an improved quality of life and better health outcomes,” DDS Executive Director Peri L. Nearon said.

The ongoing initiatives of the organizations that received grant funding under the IHC program are listed below:

  • Statewide, The College of New Jersey – Sustainable Jersey is increasing community engagement among people with disabilities by developing a guidance document which is providing municipal governments with improved strategies for communication and engagement of residents with disabilities in decision making and community planning efforts. This is empowering people with disabilities to engage in quality-of-life decision-making within their own communities. This guidance is being incorporated into existing Sustainable Jersey actions with public engagement, education and outreach components.
  • Statewide, the Family Resource Network, Inc. through its Get FIT Coalition and Center on Nutrition and Disability, is transforming existing services and programs to incorporate inclusive health behaviors and practices. As part of this project they are providing education to caregivers and providers, developing accessible community gardens, and tailoring nutrition education practices, virtual physical fitness programming and the assessment tool (Get FIT Scorecard) to better meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. They are also partnering with people with disabilities to evaluate the inclusiveness of community environments for activities of daily living.
  • Statewide, the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is working to improve access and prevention of oral health care among children and adults with special health care needs. Their efforts are focusing on the development of a dental directory for people with disabilities, input on the design of a statewide oral health action plan, enhanced provider and community education, and policy and education to increase dental workforce training and access to oral health care for people with disabilities.
  • Statewide, the Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey is working with partners and self-advocates in developing a set of criteria and rating system that can assist people with disabilities and communities to better evaluate a community’s benefits and growth areas around inclusivity. They are shifting the focus from defining inclusion as making accommodations to inspiring municipalities to change the way they think of inclusion and integration by empowering them to increase the capacity of people with disabilities.   
  • In Atlantic County, Allies in Caring, Inc. is developing a collaborative network and a campaign with the goal to raise awareness and expand access to mental health care for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (D&HOH) individuals as well as increasing knowledge of the experiences and needs of D&HOH that will support their safety and social connectedness in their community.
  • In Burlington County, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Inc. is building a mobile, online map and information hub to share information about accessible natural locations and is allowing visitors to share their experiences about these places in order to keep the information current and responsive to people’s needs. The information hub is in turn informing actions of land managers, government agencies, nonprofits and activists about improving the accessibility of these places.
  • In Clifton, City Green, Inc. is partnering with the Clifton Municipality to implement accessibility plans at the Farm Eco-Center. They are also improving accessibility through the Dig In! community garden network through training and technical assistance as well as resources and construction assistance at five key community gardens that are serving differently-abled residents.
  • In Evesham, the Township of Evesham is building upon recent efforts that increase engagement among individuals and organizations on issues facing individuals with disabilities and is working on a comprehensive assessment highlighting issues and areas most important to the disability community with the intent to generate an Inclusion Component of the Township’s Master Plan, and will test pilot initiatives to accelerate Evesham’s evolution into an inclusive healthy community.
  • In Hanover, the Township of Hanover is creating a mobility plan to improve and provide transportation options to residents with special mobility needs.  The plan is expanding existing “Dial-a-Ride” services and generating an inventory of crosswalks and sidewalks to enhance Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
  • In Hudson County, the Department of Health and Human Services is working directly with disability-related service providers in developing a comprehensive strategic plan to identify issues impacting their residents with disabilities and areas for improvement in order to build a more inclusive and healthy Hudson County.
  • In Middlesex County, the Children’s Specialized Hospital is addressing the disconnect between existing safety education programs and the safety needs of people with disabilities, their families, and caregivers by developing and providing access to diverse multi-format safety materials, public service announcements, guidance for municipalities for policy change, as well as access to safety education including virtual and alternative safety education specifically focused on fire safety and interactions between people with disabilities, law enforcement or other emergency service providers. 
  • In Newark, the Rutgers University Abbott Leadership Institute through its Newark Redefining Access Collaborative (NRAC), is improving the health, well-being, and post-secondary transition of youth with disabilities in Newark by enhancing precollege and career pathways programs and ensuring these resources are inclusive, accessible, and engaging for all youth within the community.
  • In Ocean County, the Health Department is improving community participation and inclusion of individuals with disabilities by constructing and utilizing inclusive community vegetable gardens at the Toms River Field of Dreams and several local group homes to enhance group nutrition, fitness education and physical activity programming, and chronic disease screening services, counseling and referrals.
  • In Salem County, Woods Services, Inc. is increasing access to primary care for people with intellectual disabilities who experience disparities in access to care and health outcomes by creating a health care model that can be replicated throughout New Jersey that addresses the different mobility, communication and sensory needs of individuals so providers can improve their knowledge and expertise in providing care to people with disabilities with complex communication and behavior needs.
  • In Somerset, the Jewish Community Center (Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center of Somerset) is creating an outdoor experiential classroom and sensory garden to address physical and mental health concerns, the lack of access to inclusive space, and the lack of leadership opportunities for people with disabilities. They are enabling people with disabilities to solve problems in the community and are providing opportunities for people with disabilities to become experts in gardening to address food insecurity and environmental education.
  • In the South Jersey Region, the Rowan University Foundation is working to increase awareness of and address barriers to access physical, sexual, and reproductive healthcare for women with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
  • In South Orange, the New Jersey Association of Community Providers is working with JESPY House and a larger coalition of partnering organizations, community members, and local government representatives to assess and identify focus areas for inclusion and to develop a community operational plan that aims to be used as a model for other communities in promoting and incorporating methods of inclusion for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • In Trenton, the Trenton Health Team is convening the Trenton Disabilities Inclusion Work Group to eliminate multiple intersecting barriers for people with disabilities to fully participate in the Trenton community. The Work Group is engaging people with disabilities, their caregivers and families, organizations active in disabilities issues, organizations that serve people with disabilities, and decision makers at the local, county and state level to collaboratively address barriers such as income disparity, technology access, language access, discrimination, and other challenges to participation.

Through the IHC Program, non-profits, and local county or municipal government agencies applied for support to ensure that the voice and needs of people with disabilities are included in healthy community planning.

The grant program aims to promote change at the local level by addressing pre-existing physical, environmental, social and economic challenges that prevent people with disabilities from having full access to the conditions that support health and wellness. The overarching goal is to advance tangible and sustainable transformation of practices, systems, and environmental conditions to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in healthy community initiatives.

Those interested in viewing an Interactive Grantee Locator Map of the 18 New Jersey organizations, including links to summary to paragraphs for each grantee, can visit here.