NJ Human Services Awards Volunteers for Efforts to Prevent Osteoporosis 

NJ Human Services Awards Volunteers for Efforts to Prevent Osteoporosis 

Murphy Administration Commemorates 25th Anniversary of Project Healthy Bones Program 


May 13, 2021 


(TRENTON) – In commemoration of Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month and the 25th anniversary of a volunteer program to help older adults keep their bones strong, New Jersey Human Services today announced the recipients of the 2021 Osteoporosis Prevention Awards.

High school students, peer leaders, faith-based caregivers and a recently deceased long-time volunteer are among those awarded for their efforts, which were even more important during a pandemic that kept so many older adults inside and threatened to prevent the exercise necessary to maintain healthy bones.

All of the awardees were participants in New Jersey’s Project Healthy Bones (PHB), a volunteer-led wellness program designed to prevent osteoporosis-related health issues through weekly exercise and education classes for seniors.

“Osteoporosis is largely preventable, and we appreciate all of the volunteers who took time during this particularly challenging year to help promote the healthy behaviors that can help people maintain their health and independence,” Human Services Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman said. “We know that through a balanced diet, proper nutrition and exercise, older adults can maintain more independence with less threat of injury.”

Many of the classes and educational presentations have been made virtually during the pandemic to ensure participation could continue.

Governor Phil Murphy has declared May to be Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, in conjunction with National Osteoporosis Awareness Month.

Known as the “silent disease,” osteoporosis is a serious condition in which bones become thin, brittle and easily broken. It results in half of all women and 20 percent of all men having an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime.

Healthy behaviors include eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, weight-bearing exercise, no smoking or excessive alcohol, and bone density testing and medications when appropriate.

“Many people are not aware they have osteoporosis until they fall and break a bone,” Division of Aging Services Director Louise Rush said. “Osteoporosis can have devastating effects, impairing an individual’s ability to walk unassisted and often resulting in prolonged or permanent disability, institutionalization or death.”

More than 2,500 people participate in PHB, a partnership with Human Services and the New Jersey Interagency Council on Osteoporosis (ICO). PHB has 250 peer leaders and conducts more than 150 classes.

In addition to PHB, New Jersey’s strategy for preventing and reducing falls includes three nationally recognized programs supported through Older Americans Act funding: The Otago Exercise Program, Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance, and A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns About Falls.

The following people and agencies were awarded:

Community Advocate Awards were presented to the following individuals: 

  • Vernie Ellis, posthumously, former PHB Peer Leader, St. Barnabas Health System. Ms. Ellis died October 1, 2020, just short of her 92nd birthday.  While involved with Project Healthy Bones, Vernie embodied the best of the program and its leaders. A long-time program volunteer, she worked to bring a class to one of the inner cities in Essex County, eventually finding an agency in Newark to sponsor the program.  The efforts proved helpful in working with residents in other community health programs.
  • Michael Leff, Millburn High School Student and Founder of TheBridgeToNow.comm. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020 and safety precautions forced the closing of senior centers, libraries and other sites that traditionally host Project Healthy Bones classes, leaders looked for alternate online delivery platforms, specifically Zoom.  A senior in Millburn High School, Michael launched a program, The Bridge to Now, to teach older adults how to use Zoom and Facebook, protect their identity and order food online.  The Millburn Project Healthy Bones class turned to him for assistance and their class has been offered via Zoom successfully ever since.
  • Pat Briant, Dottie Hadijpetrosos, Delia Vince Cruz and Kathy Casey, Randolph Township PHB Leaders; and Joan DeYoung, Rose Marie Lange, Mikki Nugaris, Lucy Dodge, Lynn Huron and Bill Craig, Jefferson Township Tuesday and Thursday Classes PHB Leaders. The alternative to Zoom classes was either to stop all programming or find a safe way to continue meeting in person.  Three Morris County classes chose the letter, successfully moving their classes outdoors.  The Randolph class moved to an outdoor pavilion and the Jefferson classes were held in the senior center parking lot. Classes ran weekly from May to November 2020, and will resume this May.
  • Lori Stevens, Parker Health Group, PHB Peer Leader. Lori trained as a Project Healthy Bones Peer Leader about four years ago to support Parker Health Group’s community-based programs in Franklin Senior Center in Somerset County. Lori has led a group of 20-25 participants on a weekly basis and has engaged her participants in the education curriculum portion of the program by having them collect and bring information and resources to share with their classmates.

Professional Awards were presented to the following agencies and individuals:

  • Parker Health Group and Lori Morell. Ten years ago the Parker Health Group gave Project Healthy Bones a grant to introduce the program to their assisted living facility, Stonegate, in Piscataway.  That grant led to a research publication and a close bond between Parker and its Director of Health and Wellness, Lori Morell, and the statewide PHB network.  Since then, Parker has included PHB at all its facilities and brought PHB to nearby retirement communities through its Parker at Home program. Addressing some of the barriers posed by COVID-19, Parker was the first center to implement a virtual program that now serves 60 participants.  In 2021, Parker reinstated its PHB program for Franklin Township (Somerset) and organized a new class for beginners.
  • Interfaith Caregivers of Greater Mercer County and Evita Girón, her Coordinators and Peer Leaders. When COVID-19 forced statewide shutdowns in March 2020, Interfaith Caregivers was offering seven Project Healthy Bones classes in five locations. Some classes were bilingual, presented in Spanish and English.  Some were held in low-income senior housing buildings and others in suburban libraries.  Lead coordinator Evita Girón and her other coordinators and peer leaders created a plan focusing on their participants and technology. First, they made wellness calls to reassure every participant, encouraging them and offering support.  Next, they created a Zoom account and provided technical training for peer leaders to build skills and confidence for offering virtual classes. In mid-June 2020, Interfaith held its first Monday class. In September, it began offering a Thursday class.

For more information on the ICO, Project Healthy Bones, or other falls prevention programs, call 609-438-4798 go on-line to www.aging.nj.gov.

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