In June of 2022, Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB) announced a $60,000 grant award from the New Jersey Division of Disability Services to launch the Inclusive Healthy Communities initiative and help create a more inclusive place to live for people with disabilities.
In partnership with the Township of Nutley, Nutley Public Schools, and Nutley Senior Manor, NFSB set out to identify key areas of need for people living with disabilities based on listening sessions and a community needs assessment survey. The listening sessions in particular were emotional at times as they highlighted different types of disabilities that are both visible and invisible and how they affect people’s daily lives.
“When you hear directly from people with disabilities, you begin to take notice in your own everyday life,” said Noelle Walker, who has been elevated to the position of Inclusive Healthy Communities Coordinator at NFSB. “I was walking down Franklin Avenue and was shocked to see a senior riding his scooter in the street. Because of the condition of the sidewalk, he had no other choice. Most people don’t realize how a sidewalk can be dangerous.”
Phase one of the Inclusive Healthy Communities initiative provided a blueprint for building a more inclusive, healthier Nutley Township. We learned that the top three areas of need are housing availability and accessibility, mental health services and peer support, and access to public places. After the report was submitted, NFSB was awarded a two-year implementation grant from the New Jersey Division of Disability Services.
“This will enable us to work with our partners to implement strategies that will benefit people with disabilities in our community,” Noelle said. “I’m designing a multi-tiered training model and curriculum for our mental health clinicians and case management team, who will partner with peer support providers to begin the process of addressing the three key areas of need.”
The training and curriculum will then be expanded to include our Nutley partners in this initiative to create a deeper understanding of how to improve inclusivity and accessibility in our community. More specifically, how can we create an environment in which anyone with a disability can go to a facility and access services without worry or hesitation?
NFSB will also be looking to add new members to the Community Advisory Group, which was formed during phase one of the Inclusive Healthy Communities initiative to shine a light on challenges that might otherwise go unnoticed. Community involvement, especially among people living with disabilities, is essential to success.
“I’ve had the opportunity to speak with so many people in Nutley who have disabilities, which is one of the reasons why I’m so excited about my new role and this initiative,” Noelle said. “This has been such an eye-opening experience for me personally. I’m thrilled to be able to move this initiative forward and find solutions that make our community inclusive and accessible for everyone.”