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NJ Catholic Charities Steps Up to Help Vulnerable Seniors in Need

Hope House staff members Werner Tietjen and Steven Sobierajski install safety features and complete house repairs in the homes of senior citizens in Morris County, New Jersey. Hope House is operated by Catholic Charities Diocese of Paterson. (Photo: Courtesy of Hope House)

CLIFTON, NEW JERSEY Marilyn Hogan, a widow and a retiree, can’t always find workers to do house repairs for what she can afford.

She lives at Lake Hiawatha, near Parsippany, in Morris County, New Jersey, and one day, her shower door, made of heavy glass, fell from its hinges.

Unable to put the door back in place, she turned to an organization that she heard about “by word of mouth” — Hope House, operated by Catholic Charities Diocese of Paterson. Hope House recently received a $5,000 grant from Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center to help finance senior services in Morris County.

Hogan gets help from two of these programs: “Fix It” for home repairs, and “Chore” for house cleaning.

The Fix It team not only repaired Hogan’s shower door, but also replaced a laundry-room shelf after it “came crashing down for no reason,” she said.

“Trying to run a house is not easy, I find,” Hogan said. Her husband died a few years ago, and there are always things around the house that need to be fixed, she noted.

The Chore team visits once each month to clean, vacuum, and dust, Hogan said. “I’ve been blessed with that, too,” she added. “There are two of them who come, and they’re wonderful. I give them a little tip.”

Catholic Charities Diocese of Paterson, based in Clifton, began operations in 1938. Today it provides 70 programs in Morris, Sussex, and Passaic Counties.

“We’re one of the most robust Catholic Charities organizations in the entire country,” said Christopher Brancato, the charity’s development director. “We really do it all.”

Catholic Charities Paterson Diocese is similar to its New York counterparts, including Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens. All of them help vulnerable people with food and housing assistance, immigration services, and recovery programs from substance abuse, to name a few programs. Other programs help people with developmental disabilities, seniors, children, and veterans.

Hope House has served Morris County from offices in Dover since 1971, said Karina Calabuig, the facility’s site director. She said the programs help elderly citizens remain in their homes, which bolsters independence and dignity for seniors like Hogan.

“Some people don’t really qualify yet for assisted living,” Calabuig said. “But many just can’t do these tasks. It might be something as simple as changing a lightbulb. But a senior can fall, and that’s the end for them.

“If they break a hip, they’re in the nursing home. That usually means no more independence,” she added.

To that end, the team also installs a lot of safety features such as “grab-bar” railings to help avoid slip-and-fall dangers, Calabuig said.

She added that in the past year, Hope House helped 114 Fix It clients and 37 Chore clients. Of these people, 15 of them, including Hogan, used both services, Calabuig said. Also, like CCBQ, the New Jersey group helps clients through an “integrated” strategy.

For example, as the staff members provide one service, they might learn that a client has another problem, like food insecurity. The staff then refers the person to the charity’s food pantry. Hogan was surprised to learn that Catholic Charities will help anyone regardless of their religious faith. She attends an Episcopalian church.

“We don’t ask,” Brancato said. “We help all who come to our door. I use this line every day of my life — we help based on the need, not the creed.