Residents feel right at home in new apartment complex

Kershaw Commons has 30 apartments for people who are living with MS

Staff Writer

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — Marissa Manfredi, 28, who recently moved into Kershaw Commons, can’t say enough about having an apartment that allows her personal freedom she has not enjoyed for several years.

Kershaw Commons, off Gully Road in Freehold Township, is the East Coast’s first affordable housing, accessible supportive facility for people who have multiple sclerosis (MS) and are in need of support services .

The building is named for the late Raymond Kershaw of Freehold Township. Kershaw served on the Township Committee and dedicated a significant amount of time to community service, specifically at events to assist people who have MS.

Manfredi was diagnosed with MS five years ago. She has dealt with physical symptoms such as vertigo and blurred vision which forced her to leave school and quit her job.

The young woman was living with her parents in Monroe Township and then moved on her own to an apartment in North Brunswick. She attended school and worked. After falling down stairs at her apartment complex about 18 months ago, Manfredi was admitted to a nursing home for physical therapy. Going back to school and work was no longer an option.

After receiving physical therapy and support services at the nursing home, she was ready to be discharged, but she had nowhere to go. She ended up spending 14 months in the nursing home. Manfredi’s family had relocated and she did not want to leave the area where all of her doctors and physical therapy were available.

Her dilemma was resolved when a social worker at the nursing home told her about Kershaw Commons.

A grand-opening ceremony was held on Oct. 27 at the $11.3 million building, which features 30 apartments. The facility was designed and developed in partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s New Jersey Metro Chapter and Regan Development Corp., with the consultation from Freehold Township and the medical expertise of CentraState Medical Center, Freehold Township.

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the Housing Mortgage and Finance Agency (HMFA) and the Department of Health and Senior Services joined with the private sector to help this population in need, according to information provided at the ceremony.

Freehold Township Mayor David Salkin said the township was pleased to be selected as the location for the complex.

“This is one of two such facilities in the entire country, and the only one east of the Mississippi,” Salkin said. “As usual, Freehold Township leads the way.”

In regard to Kershaw, Salkin said, “although Ray was not personally affected by MS, he saw the cause as something worthy of his time and he devoted many years of service to it. And there is a real need for this type of facility. It was filled to capacity before its grand opening.”

The mayor said people with various stages of MS who live in a community atmosphere can offer one another support and help.

Ken Regan of Regan Development, New York, visited a similar facility in Minnesota with the contractor for the project, Angelo Del Russo, the CEO of Del-Sano Contracting Corp., Union, to ask residents how it was meeting their needs and if there was anything they could do to make things any better for the building they were planning to construct in Freehold Township.

“We came back with a $200,000 wish list,” Regan said.

Regan, who has MS, said one reason he was so passionate about the project was because he wanted people who have MS and were living in a nursing home to be able to live on their own if they were able to do so.

He and Del Russo came back from Minnesota with ideas such as installing wood and tile floors rather than carpeting to allow for better mobility, automatic door openers that operate at three speeds, a kitchen window placed where an individual in a wheelchair can reach it, lower counter tops, lower stoves, pull-out drawers, sliding windows, and a garden that is accessible to an individual in a wheelchair.

Regan said New Jersey is forward thinking, and officials saw the need for the facility and helped to make it a reality. He said he is hoping Kershaw Commons will serve as a model for this type of complex.

Michael Elkow, regional executive vice president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, described Kershaw as a “guardian angel to those living with MS.”

“He was instrumental in the development of the MS Center and the MS Wellness Center at CentraState Medical Center,” Elkow said. “Prior to his passing [in June 2009], Ray paved the way for this wonderful housing complex.”

Jim Roberts, New Jersey Metro Chapter president, said, “The opening of Kershaw Commons celebrates the completion of a housing development that is the first of its kind in our state and on the East Coast, and represents a dream come true for many people. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful collaborative effort that brings much-needed affordable housing to those living with disabilities in New Jersey. This is only the beginning as we hope to be able to offer more opportunities for similar housing around the state.”

Roberts noted the collaboration the chapter has had with CentraState Medical Center and thanked Chief Operating Officer Dan Messina for that cooperative effort.

The national society will provide opportunities at Kershaw Commons, including recreational and social programs, self-help groups, lectures and employment programs. Visiting nurses will be available to assist residents on an as-needed basis.

Manfredi said she was thrilled to be selected to receive an apartment. She arrived in September and said she is extremely happy in her new home. The shower is equipped with rails and a foldout chair so she can bathe independently, and depending on how she is feeling that day, make use of whatever amenities she needs.

“I went from a wheelchair to a walker and then a cane,” she said. “I haven’t used them in a year, but my closet here stores everything in case there are days when I need them. It’s the little things you take for granted that really mean so much now. There are even two peep holes on the door, one for those standing and one for those in a chair. They thought of every little thing here, some I never even thought of. ”

Lynne Ackerman, 50, and Rosemary Sperrazza, 47, said they are happy in their new home.

“I love it here,” Ackerman said, adding that she had been in and out of nursing homes and was living at home with her mother.

She could not fit her electric wheelchair inside the home, just a manual wheelchair, and that limitation made things more difficult for her.

Ackerman said her new apartment affords her a level of freedom and mobility she has not had for some time.

Sperrazza lives at Kershaw Commons with her two children, ages 11 and 12, and said she will never move from her new apartment.

“I love it so much,” she said. “It’s the best place ever made for someone like me. We have freedom here. It’s perfect. I am blessed.”