by Kathryn Coulibaly

On Jan. 13, 2020, NJREA will celebrate its 100th anniversary advocating for retired, preservice, and currently employed NJEA members—also known as future retirees—as well as the students they serve.

To commemorate this milestone, NJEA is taking a look back at everything NJREA members have accomplished, from political action to community service to philanthropic efforts and scholarship funds to social activities. They are truly NJEA’s daytime face across the state and their contributions to New Jersey’s public school system—which ranks the best in the nation – have continued throughout their years of active employment to their robust involvement in retirement.

NJREA President Judy Perkins reminds us that retired members are the Daytime Face of NJEA, available during the school day to advocate on behalf of all members and the students they serve.

Continued commitment to advocacy

If you have ever attended an NJEA Lobby Day or rally in Trenton, you know that one of the most visible ways NJREA members maintain their involvement is by coming out in force when politicians threaten to dismantle the excellent system of public education members have tirelessly built over decades.

Because the Legislature meets during the day when most NJEA members must be at work, our retired members are the faces legislators most often see crowding the corridors, stopping them for a quick chat outside committee rooms, and sitting in the galleries, ensuring that no move that has an impact on retirees, school employees, or public education goes unnoticed.

NJREA members are also an important part of NJEA’s Get-Out-the-Vote efforts, as well as phoning members to educate them about important issues, meeting with legislators in their district offices, and calling, emailing, and tweeting elected officials. Annually, retirees donate close to $100,000 to the NJEA Political Action Committee (NJEA PAC) and participate in the screening and endorsement process in each legislative election. In short, they are relentless in their advocacy and much of NJEA’s legislative success has been a direct result of their efforts.

This vigilance and commitment to public schools, employees, and students, is one of the hallmarks of NJREA. And legislators have come to recognize—and respect—the dedicated NJREA members who take on the responsibility of political engagement.

ONGOING involvement in NJEA

NRJEA members’ engagement in the current political and educational environment extends to ongoing involvement in NJEA. Thirty-six NJREA retirees serve a two-year term on NJEA committees, such as Certification, Evaluation and Tenure; Health Benefits; Human Rights; Technology; and Working Conditions and participate in discussions with active professional and support staff.

Retirees share their classroom or union experience and get involved in the NJEA Convention, Summer and Winter Leadership conferences, and the Equity Alliance Conference. NJREA representatives submit a short report following each committee meeting and emphasize issues that may affect retirees. 

“I have a waiting list of retirees who would like to serve on an NJEA committee,” says Judy Perkins, NJREA president.  “They want to stay involved with NJEA and have extraordinary talent and experiences to share.”

NJREA also has its own committee structure. With 15 committees, members can participate in areas that build and maintain NJREA’s capacity to support members. Committees include Budget, Government Relations, Health Benefits, and Member Benefits, among others.

Gifting an NJREA membership is a wonderful idea! Local school district associations can do this to honor their retiring staff instead of giving them a plaque or clock. Children, grandchildren, friends can gift a membership for a relative, a colleague, a retired educator—especially for an elderly retiree on a fixed income who doesn’t really need another sweater or flannel shirt.

Community service

Through NJREA and their county retiree education associations, hundreds of NJREA members participate in some form of community service throughout the year. Here are just a few of the charities and organizations they support, financially, through donations, and by volunteering their own time and talents:

    Community Food Bank of South Jersey

    Ronald McDonald House

    Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

    Habitat for Humanity

    Boys and Girls Clubs

    Mentoring children and reading to youngsters in public libraries.

Don’t tell the kids, but the Cat who visits their schools in an NJREA member in disguise.

Shhhhhh! Don’t tell

Have you ever wondered who inhabits the Cat in the Hat costume and delights thousands of New Jersey public school students at Read Across New Jersey events throughout the state? Four NJREA members have taken on the task. They log thousands of miles every spring to help instill a lifelong love of learning—and, possibly, of cats—in students. But keep it a secret. We wouldn’t want to spoil the magic!

Scholarship opportunities for students

NJREA offers four scholarships for upcoming college freshmen: two four-year scholarships, one two-year scholarship and one one-year scholarship. Scholarships are renewable based on the recipient’s cumulative grade point average at the end of each academic year and continued enrollment as a full-time student.

Most county retiree education associations offer scholarships. Since 2017, these associations have disbursed more than $280,000 to 128 deserving students. Scholarship recipients and their families are invited to attend county association meetings to share their post high school plans and to be recognized for not only their academic achievements but also community service. 

Continuing education and assistance for members

NJREA offers spring and fall luncheons for members where they hear from NJEA staff about issues that affect their lives. In addition, the NJREA Convention, held the day before the NJEA Convention every November in Atlantic City, provides members with additional up-to-date resources, support and an opportunity to participate in their association.

County retiree associations also offer a variety of speakers on topics relevant to NJREA members. These periodic luncheons provide general overviews on important issues for members, but also cover topics such as Social Security, Medicare, cyber security, estate planning, laws on elder care, how to stay healthy in retirement, and much more.

Social activities and travel

One of the best reasons to join NJREA is to maintain and create new friendships. Through social activities organized by county retiree associations, members have seen:

    Broadway shows

    Atlantic City shows

    The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

    Longwood Gardens

    Grounds for Sculpture

    Hunterdon Playhouse

    Maryland’s Eastern Shore

    Las Vegas

    Lancaster, Pa.

    The New York Botanical Gardens

    An Underground Railroad tour in South Jersey

  Boston, Mass., Branson. Mo., and many other destinations

Internationally, some groups have toured Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, the Canadian Rockies, Budapest and Prague.

Join the celebration!

NJREA is a vital, vibrant, active, and essential organization, thanks to the members who demonstrate those qualities every day. After 100 years of service to New Jersey’s public school employees, students, and our state, it’s time to say thank you and celebrate their achievements.

On May 3, 2020 nearly 600 people will join NJREA’s 100th Anniversary Celebration at the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge. There will be food, live entertainment, and NJREA will honor nearly 80 members who are 100 years old or older. For more information, go to njea.org/njrea.

The benefits of membership

When you join NJREA, you belong to one of the largest retired public school employee organizations in the nation as well as maintaining your membership with NJEA, NEA, NEA-Retired, and your CREA, which can be in the county in which you worked or in which you reside, or you can pay to join both.

In addition, you will receive the NJREA Newsletter, an award-winning quarterly publication with information that keeps you informed about your pension, medical benefits, and more. You will also receive the NJEA Review, which has a section on retiree issues every month, as well as NEA Today, Retired Edition.

Most importantly, you will receive assistance from NJEA professional staff on pension and medical benefits questions, in addition to assistance on all retirement concerns. This service is only available to dues-paying NJREA members.

Members also receive:

    Personal Legal Services – free consultation and 30 percent discount on services.

    Buyer’s Edge, Inc. – guaranteed best prices negotiated on your behalf on major purchases.

    NEA Members Insurance Trust – term life insurance.

    Association sponsored auto and home insurance.

    NJEA Member Discount Program.

    Access Discounts – more than 315, 000 discounts and counting.

    Lowest prices on eyewear.

    NJEA travel discounts.

    NEA financial programs.

NJREA Member Benefits also apply to the immediate family of an NJREA member, which means that you get even more value from your membership.

Resources at your fingertips!

NJREA’s webpage, njea.org/njrea, provides a wealth of valuable information for retired public school employees, from information about Medicare to tips on benefits coverage while traveling to assistance for surviving spouces. One of the most frequently asked questions concerns the rules governing retired public school employees who would like to work or volunteer in New Jersey’s public schools. The information on working after retirement while collecting a pension provides many answers on post-retirement employment.

NJREA has compiled all the information you will need to make the right decisions to protect yourself and your pension during what will hopefully be a long and happy retirement.

Who is NJREA?

    NJREA represents all retired school employees who worked in a New Jersey public school, as well as some who worked in universities and community colleges.

    NJREA has a membership of more than 30,000 retired public school employees, with more joining every year.

    NJREA is composed of 21 county organizations that meet two to four times annually and host speakers who provide up-to-date information on important retiree issues.

    NJREA members advocate for pension, medical and legislative issues that affect retired school employees, as well as current educational issues.

    NJREA has trained legislative action teams who regularly contact—in person and in writing—state and congressional legislators to communicate issues of importance to members.

    NJREA publishes a quarterly newsletter filled with pertinent information on national, state, and county-related topics.

    NJREA sponsors an annual convention in Atlantic City and participates in both the NJEA Convention and NEA Representative Assembly.

    NJEA.org/njrea allows retirees to access timely information on education and benefits issues.

Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of the NJEA Review and provides content and support to njea.org. She can be reached at kcoulibaly@njea.org.

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