New Jersey Connect, Inc. (NJC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded in 1994 by Elisa Sananman. She was inspired to create this organization after visiting a local nursing home. There she met a young man with a spinal cord injury who used a motorized wheelchair for mobility. After doing some research, she discovered that he and other young adults with physical disabilities were forced to live in long-term care facilities or in inaccessible homes with aging parents due to the lack of available wheelchair accessible, affordable apartments.
The young man asked, “How will I ever get out of here?” He dreamed of living independently in his own apartment, getting a job, and having an active life like others his age. To Elisa, the mission was clear. With the help of her father, Samuel D. Freeman, they formed New Jersey Connect, Inc. Within two years, NJC secured a partnership with the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. When the Township of Springfield leased a parcel of land to the newly formed organization, NJC’s first affordable, barrier-free housing project moved closer to becoming a reality. The project became part of the Township’s Mt. Laurel Housing commitment.
The next step was to secure the funding needed to complete the project. Funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 811 Program, the County of Union HOME Program, and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs completed the funding package needed to build a 14-unit apartment building. Construction of the building was completed in 2001, and it was named Freeman Apartments by the trustees to honor Elisa’s father, who died in 1996.
Adding More Barrier-Free, Affordable Housing
In 2009, leveraging its resources and continuing its strategy of partnering, NJC collaborated with the Domus Corporation, to renovate a vacant convent in Linden. The Apartments at Saint Elizabeth’s, completed in 2011, added 11 more units of barrier-free, affordable housing to the community.
Both buildings are attractive and designed to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities. Each feature lobbies with commissioned art work. Freeman Apartments was recognized by the NJ Planners Association for excellence in design. HUD also showcased Freeman Apartments as one of its top five housing projects in the nation in 2003. Both of these projects are funded by the Federal Section 811 program, which subsidizes the rent of its residents, limiting it to 30 percent of annual income.
In response to significant reductions in Federal funding for special needs housing, NJC chose to address the housing needs of people with physical disabilities in a different way. In November 2014, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Plainfield & Middlesex County and New Jersey Connect committed to collaborating on a project in Plainfield, NJ. NJC pledged to raise $50,000 to subsidize the construction of an owner occupied barrier-free home, giving preference to a veteran with a disability.
With its small grassroots Board of Trustees, NJC has developed 25 units of barrier-free, affordable rental housing, leveraging scarce resources, with a focus on good design and responsible management. New Jersey Connect’s success rests on its ability to build strong partnerships and collaborative relationships to maximize outcomes. NJC continues to expand its efforts to provide affordable, barrier-free homes to the community.
New Jersey Connect is committed to the principle that everyone should enjoy the simple comfort and dignity that comes from having a place to call home, including individuals with disabilities.
Charles Newman, a NJC Trustee from 1994, assumed the Presidency in 1996 until his death on May 13, 2020. As the Director of the Union County Office for the Disabled and as a man who himself lived with quadriplegia, Charlie brought unique insights, passion and vision to the organization. With perseverance and resolve, he along with Elisa, held fast to the vision of independent housing for people with disabilities. He is sorely missed, but his memory and achievements are inspirational and will guide our path forward.