By Tom Dwyer
With a budget of ten million dollars, Edward Benoit, the Executive Director of the Hudson County Office on Aging (HCOA), has learned to stretch a buck. With a staff of ten employees, he oversees an agency that is currently assisting over 20,000 Hudson County senior citizens every year. The sobering fact is that Hudson County has the highest percentage of senior poverty in the state of New Jersey. But Ed Benoit, who has been the director of the HCOA for over two years, has big plans for the future. “My agency wants to reach out to as many seniors as possible and help them in every way that we can. We offer a number of community-based services including legal services, protective services, nutrition programs, Meals-on-Wheels, dental programs and housing.” That’s why Benoit and his staff are about to kick off a marketing blitz to reach out to seniors in Hudson County to let them know more about programs available to them. Using flyers, meetings, focus groups, a new website and booklet, Benoit is determined to reach all who need assistance. He is also targeting those who help take care of seniors. “There are many caregivers who are taking care of a family member, friend or neighbor. We want to let them know that there are services available for them as well.”
Catherine Macchi, a consultant on aging, works hand in hand with Benoit. She helps coordinate the annual Senior Resident of Hudson County Awards dinner, local senior art shows and health fairs, and the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. “During every event, in every health fair, with every meeting I attend, I have an opportunity to reach out to our seniors and put a face on our office,” Macchi said. She says there is extraordinary cooperation among the municipalities in Hudson County to serve their senior citizens together. One example of this successful countywide effort is “Classic Moments”, a newsletter she oversees that reaches Spanish and English-reading seniors with the latest news.
The HCOA is a nerve center for the county when it comes to coordinating state and federal money to help the aging – helping to funnel funds to appropriate local programs and town agencies throughout Hudson County. With the aging population in Hudson County growing, Benoit says that housing services for aging and disabilities is probably his number one issue. “We would love to see more money for housing for seniors, but the federal government has not raised the level of funds to create more housing for a decade,” Benoit said. One of the goals of his office in terms of housing is to help seniors stay in their own homes for as long as they can. “The seniors by and large do not want to leave their homes, and even with us paying for home aides it’s much less expensive than a nursing home. There is a movement in both federal and state agencies that deal with the aging to keep seniors in their homes as long as they are comfortable and maintaining a quality of life,” Benoit said.
Two of the most popular programs that the HCOA offers its seniors are the computer course and the horticulture course. “The seniors just love the horticulture program that we run. We have a horticulturist who just retired from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. He goes around to the different senior centers, and on a shoe string of a budget, he teaches the seniors how to create fabulous things,” Benoit said. The computer course is offered at public libraries and at Hudson County Community College. Many seniors are learning to operate a computer for the first time and finding e-mail to be a great way to reach out to friends, children and grandchildren. “Internet access allows seniors to contact friends and family while they are home. If we can get more computers for seniors, they will be able to communicate thru the internet, which will make their life at home, so much more satisfying,” Benoit remarked. A new program that Benoit is going to initiate soon is to educate seniors on how to prevent falls. “Falls are the number one issue we are seeing when it comes to keeping seniors healthy. If we can keep people healthy by teaching them through balance programs and keep them from falling, we will be able to really approve their quality of life,” Benoit said.
Benoit admits he’s always chasing the dollar to keep HCOA funded. But he’s proud of what they’ve accomplished so far and is determined to reach even more of those who need HCOA’s services. “We never sit back and say that’s good enough…our seniors deserve better.”
To find out more about programs available to Hudson County seniors call:
Hudson County Office on Aging—Hotline 201-271-4322