Real Role Models Fly Under the Radar Screen

Published Augusts 24, 2012, Pawtucket Times

            As we go through our life stages, we are attracted to ‘role models’ or people we look up to – “mentors” as they are commonly referred to.    Those individuals who possess the right attributes and specific traits we hope to emulate – a persona we admire and respect. 

             For children growing up or those having reached their middle years, they may look up to and view their parents as that “perfect” role model.  Others may see redeeming qualities they try to imitate turning to entertainment celebrities, pro-athletes, successful business entrepreneurs, or religious and ethical figures. I found myself stumped when I was recently asked who my role model was as I responded to a “PowerPlayer” questi+onnaire by  I never looked up to any one individual in the celebrity culture, sports personality, or even a politician.  

 Influential People in My Life

           As I pondered this question, there were a few people that came to mind.

          Of course I thought of my father, Frank Weiss, who had a great impact on my life.  He taught me the importance of using a business network in my profession.  While the Dallas businessman raised money to fund cancer research projects and other worthy causes, as Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer, I try to do the same, such as working to support the City’s Annual Pawtucket Arts Festival. 

          Then there was Fred Levy, a former Army intelligence officer during World War II, who was also a fabric salesman and writer.  When I was a young man, Mr. Levy was my neighbor and a man for whom I had great respect.  He might be a likely candidate for being my role model.  Mr. Levy gave me advice on how to become a better writer during my early professional years.  He juggled his job, writing, and also being a full-time caregiver to his adult daughter, Faye, who was bedridden with multiple sclerosis.  He was an inspiration to me, who read my published articles and encouraged me to continue to writing.  

         More recently in my present work, I thought of my former boss, Planning Director Michael Cassidy.  He was a role model to me – teaching me the value of tenaciousness. He looked at all bureaucratic and political angles to accomplish his planning goals. While it took him 10 years to get the City’s skate board park up and running, it took me seven years to see my project, the SlaterParkDogPark come to fruition.  But it happened. 

            While my father, my neighbor and former boss taught me valuable lessons in life, I realized that the most influential person in my life, was an 82 year old, semi-retired man right here in my Pawtucket community.                

Being an Advocate for the Voiceless

          Like the “energizer bunny” sporting gray whiskers and a plump belly, Pawtucket businessman, Paul Audette has always been an advocate for the “voiceless” in the City of Pawtucket and the surrounding communities. 

         Watching out for the elderly, he became a volunteer ‘ombudsman’ for the Alliance for Better Long-Term Care.  Paul even served as Chairman of the Pawtucket’s  Affirmative Action Committee to ensure that everyone had equal opportunities in municipal government.   He has worked for decades assisting those down-and-out, even providing them financial assistance out of his pocket, to help them navigate the State’s regulatory process.

         Paul has long-ties to many of the City’s nonprofit groups, from the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative, the Pawtucket Armory Association, the Foundry Artists, the Pawtucket Fireworks Committee, Pawtucket Preservation Society, and the Pawtucket Arts Festival, just to name a few groups.  He even has been active bringing his expertise as a property manager and developer to assist the Pawtucket Planning Department streamline the City’s Building permit process.

        Paul co-founded a non-profit group called Helping Hands, and has provided financial assistance to local organizations that help youths at risk, the helpless and homeless.  Since 2006, Helping Hands has given donations to 37 organizations, including, Cross Roads, Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Pawtucket Salvation Army, American Cancer Society.

        Paul did not learn the ropes about business by attending any of the ivy-league schools, but instead learned the tricks of the trade by working.  For over 50 years, his hard work landed him senior-level positions for major corporations including Dunkin Donuts, in addition to serving as ‘Special Assistant’ to the Presidents of Providence Metalizing, working in the Personnel Department, and by managing its properties and taking on special projects as assigned. 

        This local businessman even ran one of the largest catering companies in Rhode Island, catering over 300 weddings and 10,000 functions over the years.  His corporate and nonprofit clients include widely recognized organizations in the OceanState, including Hasbro, Hospital Trust, La SalleAcademy, BayViewAcademy, and Swank. 

           Exemplifying the Rotary International’s motto “Service Above Self,” Paul has been a member of the Pawtucket Rotary Club since 1999, and was recognized and awarded the prestigious Paul Harris Award, the highest civic recognition that the national civic group bestows upon an individual.

           Throughout one’s lifetime you might have many role models who inspire, teach and give you a road map to overcoming obstacles in your personal and professional career.  But sometimes the most important ones are those individuals who are not so visible or obvious, like those reported in surveys reported by the nation’s medai – the celebrities, professional athletes, or beloved religious figures, but rather that person in your community, whose mere existence quietly impacts you – as well as a community.

          The most important role model in your life may well be that person flying under the radar screen, seeking to help others – one person at a time – giving of themselves without seeking public notice.   For me, that person, my mentor is  Paul Audette.

           Herb Weiss is a freelance Pawtucket-based writer who covers, aging, health care and medical issues.

GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Shifts Debate on Medicare, Medicaid

August 17, 2012 

            With election day just a little over three month away the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, got temporarily knocked off message with his selection of Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisconsin) as his vice presidential running mate.   Before his pick, Romney went after the sitting Democratic President with charges that he failed to bring the nation out of the greatest economic crisis since the great Depression.  President had not brought employment to the millions of America’s unemployed.

            With Ryan on board the debate now has shifted to how his Budget plan (passed twice in the Republican controlled House) would reconfigure the 77 year old Social Security program along with Medicare and Medicaid.  Democrats expressed glee with Obama’s economic performance now being taken off the front page of nation’s

             Newspapers to focus on Medicare and Medicaid.  GOP strategists are working hard to figure out ways to bring a calm to swing states, like Florida, with a large number of voter baby boomers and senior, who vote.

            Democratic critics are zeroing in on Ryan’s Medicare plan, one that would eliminate the current system where every beneficiary would get the same set of benefits, paid by collected taxes, to one that would give each person a fixed amount of money.

             Ryan’s plan would allow those age 54 or younger who retire to be given the government payment to be used to either purchase insurance from the private sector from an approved list or from a government-run program similar to Medicare. People would pay more out-of-pocket if they wanted to purchase a more comprehensive health plan.  The federal government would regulate the participating private insurance industry, also providing more financial assistance to poor and sick.  The program’s eligibility age would increase from 65 to 67 by 2034.

             Finally, Ryan would put the nation’s Medicaid program, that provides health care to the poor and disabled, on the chopping block.  Under Ryan’s plan, funding would be cut by a third and the remaining federal funds would be funneled to the states as a block grant to be used at the state’s discretion.

 Attack Internet Video Highlights GOP Proposed Medicare Cuts

             The Obama campaign moved swiftly to capitalize on the uproar over Ryan’s controversial budget plan of fixing Medicare and Medicaid.  At the beginning of this week the campaign released a new Internet video accusing GOP’s Romney and Ryan of seeking to destroy the nation’s Medicare and Medicaid programs.

             This recently released campaign video, entitled “What do Floridians think about the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it,” ties Romney firmly to his vice president’s prescription of reforming two of the nation’s domestic policy programs, a plan that has recently become a lightening rod, attracting political controversy.  

            To date over 76,479 viewers have watched the Obama campaign video on YouTube, attack the GOP Presidential contender and his running mate. Throughout the one :minute and 42 second video, five older Floridian residents expressed their concerns about the Romny/Ryan’s politically-charged proposal to make draconian cuts to Medicare.

           “It doesn’t make sense to cut Medicare,” says one older woman, who then says, “If we cut it now, what’s going to happen to our middle class?”  Another woman chimes in, “Medicare is a boom for senior citizens who without that would choose between food and going to a doctor.” 

             Not a bad internet video to put a negative spin on Romney and Ryan in Florida, a key swing state where the Republican candidate will shortly visit and the site for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, on August 27, 2012.   

             Republicans are attempting to soften negative attacks being lobbed at the Romney camp by attacking President Obama on his huge cuts to Medicare, amounting to $716 billion, that included in his enacted 2010 Affordable Care Act.  They allege that the President used the cut funds from Medicare to finance his health care reform package.  Democrats have pointed out the hypocrisy of this political charge by noting that Ryan had included $700 billion in Medicare cuts in his own budget plan, many of which can be found in Obamacare, the President’s landmark legislation reforming the nation’s health care system.  

 Romney Distances Himself from Partner’s Medicare Budget Fixes

             Two days ago, Mitt Romney, appearing on “CBS This Morning, Romney moved to separate himself from Ryan’s controversially-charged reforms to completely overhaul  Medicare and Medicaid by saying that “Congressman Ryan has joined my campaign, and his campaign is my campaign now, ” noting that “We’re exactly on the same page.”

             At the Wednesday CBS News interview, when Romney was asked about Ryan’s proposed Medicare cuts, he suggested that the Wisconsin Republican Congressman would support his plan which would not include huge Medicare cuts.  “The president’s cuts of $716 billion to Medicare, those cuts are going to be restored if I become president and Paul Ryan becomes vice president,” pledged the GOP Presidential Candidate, in his first solo interview on “CBS This Morning,” since he selected Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.

             “My commitment is, if I become president, I’m going to restore that $716 billion to the Medicare trust fund so that current seniors can know that trust fund is not being raided and we’re going to make sure – and get Medicare on track to be solvent long-term on a permanent basis,” added Romney.

 Domestic Programs Touching Everyone’s Life

                  “With fewer jobs offering pensions and people struggling to save for retirement, Social Security will be even more important for younger generations,” notes AARP President Rob Romasco, noting that more than one in three working households age 21 to 64 has no individual savings set aside for retirement.  His comment was released last with the polling findings from a 2012 Voter Survey.

             Among the findings, 59 percent of Americans polled fear that the negative effects of the economic downturn on their retirement savings will force them to rely more heavily on Social Security and Medicare — programs they are concerned that elected officials aren’t doing enough to protect. 

           The AARP survey of voters age 50 plus also found that six in ten plan to rely on Social Security and Medicare even more due to the recent economic downturn. The same survey found that the respondents’ top financial worry is prices rising faster than their income, and the overwhelming majority (91 percent) agree that the next President and Congress need to strengthen Social Security so that it is able to provide retirement security for future generations

         “Last year, while politicians in Washington discussed changes like reducing the COLA as part of a backroom budget deal, AARP fought to protect Social Security. One thing we’ve heard consistently from our members and all older Americans is that keeping up with inflation is one of Social Security’s most important features,” he continued.

            “It’s these voices – the voices of Americans who have paid into the program – that politicians should be listening to when they consider its future,” says AARP CEO A. Barry Rand, noting that his aging group has launched “You’ve Earned a Say,” an initiative ( to ensure that voters have factual information about the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid policy debates inside the Washington Beltway, and platform to speak out about how any proposed changes would effect them personally.

            Romney’s selection of Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate has now put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the voter’s radar screen.  

             Now is the time for aging baby boomer and senior voters to send a blunt message to the sitting President, his opponents Romney and Ryan, especially those Congressional candidates that you will meet at public events in the OceanState, or even at your door step when they come to personally ask for your vote. That is, political gridlock is no longer acceptable to you and that the nation’s domestic policy issues must be solved through bipartisan efforts.”

             Meaningful legislative fixes, often derailed by “no-compromise” lawmakers should not longer be sent to Capitol Hill.      

             A Final Note…End the nastiness of this political campaign by educating yourself about the issues.  AARP’s “You’ve Earned a Say” will be in evidence McCoy Stadium Sunday (Aug. 19th) when the PawSox play Buffalo in a 1:05 p.m. game. Following the game, the aging group will have a booth as part of the PawSox Fan Appreciation Day. People attending the event can fill out a “You’ve Earned a Say” questionnaire that measures their opinions and concerns on the future of Medicare and Social Security.

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at

The Best Of…Invest Wisely With Hard-Earned Income

            Published October 8, 2001, Pawtucket Times

             With the news of the latest Federal Reserve rate cuts, stocks soared with investors showing new optimism in the stock market.  The Dow Jones industrial average has spiraled up above 9,000 for the first time since the horrific terrorist attack more than three weeks ago.  With this latest rally on Wall Street, elderly investors might be more easily influenced by scam artists to invest their hard-earned income in buying stocks, bonds, and other securities.

             According to the state’s Securities Division of the Department of Business Regulation (DBR), charged with investigating financial scams, its staff has examined hundreds of complaints filed against stockbrokers and investment advisors.

           Some complaints can be resolved quickly, others are more complicated to tackle and take more time to resolve,states David Briden, DBR’s chief securities examiner.  For instance last April DBR entered a consent order against Alpha Telecom, Inc. and ATC, Inc.

             These two companies promoted the sale of pay telephone investments to Rhode Island residents.  State regulators noted that the  high risks of this investment were not fully disclosed to the 50 Rhode Islanders, some of them elderly, who had invested approximately $960,000.  Under the terms of the order the two companies paid a penalty of $50,000 to the state.  This represented the largest administrative penalty in a pay telephone case nationwide.

           Additionally, Alpha Telecom, Inc. and ATC, Inc. were ordered to offer a full refund to the Rhode Island investors.  DBR went to Superior Court to enforce the terms of the consent order.

          In August 2001 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced that the U.S. District Court of Oregon granted a temporary restraining order and froze the assets of the two companies.  Meanwhile, in that month these companies had filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  At press time, the investors are still waiting for their money to be returned.

           So how can you protect yourself against financial scams?   Don’t get reeled in by a “cold call,” touting an investment that is guaranteed to make you lots of money, warns Briden.  Especially if you have never dealt with the caller, “simply tell them you are not interested and hang up,” he says.

           “Always get written information before making any investment decision,” Briden says.  Even meet with the broker at his or her office so you get to know them and to see the firm, he suggests.

           There’s a problem if the caller can’t produce written material. According to Briden, the old adage there is no free lunch really applies to making investments, too. Don’t be conned into making a quick investment decision when high pressure sales tactics are used, Briden says, adding that any investor should “Beware of any promise made that the investment will result in quick profits or extremely high returns.  Be concerned if your told ‘Act on it now or it will be too late,” he says.

           Meanwhile, a check can be a receipt of your investment. “Never invest cash,” Briden adds, stressing that a person should never send a check to someone at a firm you know nothing about.

            Become an educated investor when considering the investment of your money. “It is important that you understand the costs (commissions, fees and penalties) to the investment,” Briden says.  “Always find out the risk involved in your investment.  Never make an assumption that the investment is federally insured or guaranteed.”

              If you suspect that you have been a victim of investment fraud, contact the State of Rhode island, Department of Business Regulation Securities Division, Suite 232, 233 Richmond Street, Providence, RI 02903, or call (401) 222-3048.

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who writes about aging, health care and medical issues.

The Best Of…Many Opting to Pre-Plan, Pre-Pay for Funerals

            Published on February 1, 2003

             For me, it was stressful attempting to get my elderly father and my mother with dementia to enter into a pre-need agreement funeral arrangement.  After all, my three siblings and I were only trying to give our parents the opportunity to have a say in their minute details of their final arrangements.

            With my confused mother at his side, my father choose their caskets like he was purchasing a new car.  He checked under the lid, throughly examined the lining and the wood.  Ultimately, he would not buy the cheaper model, but he chose a nice one, a little higher on the price list.

            Of course, my father told the funeral director their services would be held at Temple Emanuel  with the family Rabbi presiding.  But what type of music, vocal or instrumental did they want played?  Or did they want a visitation or to name their  pallbearers.  Closed or open casket?  All these decisions might have been made right there on the spot, but in the end my father backed out.

           A little technicality over paper work derailed the process, causing my father to not sign on the dotted line and walking out of the funeral home in a huff.

           My father’s experience was not the norm because most aging baby boomers make it through the most stressful process of pre-planning and pre-paying in advance.

           According to a 1998 AARP survey, two in five people age 50 and older reported that they were contacted about the advance purchase of funerals.

           About one-third of those responding said that they had prepaid, or were in the process of prepaying, for funerals or burials.  Of this group, 86 percent had prepaid for cemetery plots, mausoleums, or niches, 58 percent had paid for other burial goods or services and 40 percent had prepaid for funeral services.

          For those prepaying for funerals, 30 percent had funds in trust and 30 percent had funds in life insurance policies.  Sixty percent held title to a cemetery plot, and 15 percent said they had that money in a life insurance policy.

         Ted Wynne, funeral director of Pawtucket-based Manning-Heffern Funeral Home, sees a transient society where children are living in different states, fueling the demand for pre-planning and prepayment.  “Seniors want to take the pressure off their children who live thousands of miles away from making the burial arrangement,” Wynne says.  “Thus, they pay up front or set aside money for future funeral and burial payments.”

        Bradford Bellows, funeral director of D.W. Bellows & Sons, Pawtucket and Bellows-Falso Funeral Chapel in Lincoln, says the seniors in nursing  homes are also good candidates for prepaying a funeral.

        “The family watches their parents’ funds dwindle to a point where they are forced to go on Medicaid.”  Prior to being eligible for Medicaid, the senior or their children should prepay the funeral costs.  Assets given the funeral home are allowed under Medicaid eligibility guidelines prior to going on Medicaid.

           “Consumers must understand that pre-arranging a funeral is not the same as pre-paying one,” Bellows adds.

            By pre-paying a funeral you are actually paying  for a funeral at today’s prices, not tomorrow’s, Bellow says.  “If the funeral occurs in the future, the funds will earn interest which will be used to pay for the cost of the funeral at the time of the death.”

           Bellows offers these tips when pre-paying your funeral.

           1.  Make sure that your social security number is indicated on your savings account or insurance policy where the monies are placed to prepay your funeral.  If the funeral home ever goes out of business or goes bankrupt, the funds are still yours and are safe, and can be easily be transferred to another funeral home.

          2.  When you enroll in the Medicaid program, all the funds in your prepayment account must be used.  Any excess funds will be returned by the  funeral home to the State of Rhode Island, to defray health costs incurred by the state of Rhode Island’s Medicaid program.

         3.  Once the funeral home opens the account or insurance policy, don’t forget to get a copy of the Irrevocable Funeral Trust Agreement, showing the bank or credit union account or the original insurance policy that was issued.  This will give you proof that your advance payment has been set up for your funeral needs.

          Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers, aging, health care and medical issues.

The Best Of…Former Sen. Moss’ Advocacy Commitment Will Be Missed

           Published on February 3, 2003

            Last Wednesday evening, former U.S. Sen. Frank Moss of Utah died.

            After he received his law degree in 1937 from Washington, DC-based George Washington University, Moss briefly worked on the legal staff of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

           Throughout his legal career, he would sharpen his legal skills by working in a variety of settings.  Initially, clerking at the Utah Supreme Court, he would ultimately win an election putting him on the bench of the Salt Lake City Municipal Court in 1940.

         During the World War II, he would serve on the Judge Advocate General’s staff of the U.S. Armory Corps in England.  After the war, Moss would be elected in 1950, reelected in 1954, to serve as Salt Lake County attorney.

         Two years after his unsuccessful bid for Utah Governor, in 1956, Moss would run for Senate and win, by less than 40 percent of the vote.

         Obituaries in newspapers stated that the liberal three-term Senate Democrat was best known for his environmental work that included the establishment of national parks and recreational areas in Utah.  Moss was also recognized for drafting a series of bill protecting consumers, ranging from mandating labeling on cigarette packages about the health hazards of smoking, banning cigarette advertising on radio and television, to developing minimum safety requirements for automobiles.

           But for me and many of my colleagues in the field of aging, we will always remember Moss as being a true advocate for the nation’s elderly.

           Moss worked closely with President Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who would later become President, Hubert Humphrey and Claude Pepper getting Medicare and Medicaid enacted into law.

          Moreover, Moss will always be remembered for being the driving force behind the establishment of the Senate Special Committee on Aging in 1961.

          He also played a major role in establishing the House Committee on Aging with the late Rep. Claude Pepper.  The two special committees would later put the spotlight on aging policy issues, generating both the public and political will to bring about the needed policy changes.

          Throughout his Senate Career, in addition to authoring legislation that would require federal minimum standards for nursing homes and helping to create  the Medicare and Medicaid home health care benefits. Moss held the first hearing on hospice care and introduced legislation authorizing payment for hospice care.

           More than 40 years ago, the Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Moss, began to hold a series of hearing s on nursing homes.  It became extremely clear to his committee through its hearings, generating 1,300 pages of testimony, that both nursing home standards and enforcement by state regulatory agencies varied drastically.  Moss noted that these hearings helped to shape the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and that they also lead to series of reforms in 1967.

         Ultimately, a series of 30 hearings held between 1969 and 1976 eventually lead to the publication of a 12-volume report, entitled “Nursing Home Care in the United States: Failure in Public Policy.”

        In 1977, Moss, with coauthor Val Halmandaris (who at the time was responsible for research of the Subcommittee of Long-Term Care, but now serves as executive director of the National Association of Home Care) wrote “Too Old, Too Sick, Too Bad: Nursing Homes in America,” detailing the plight of America’s elderly.

       More than 10 years later, in a 1998 speech to the National Council on Aging, Moss expressed his concerns that American’s elderly were losing ground from all the gains they had achieved in the late 1960s and 1970s.  Congress has yet to enact a pharmaceutical drug program to put the brakes on spiraling drug costs.  Elder abuse is still running rampant throughout the nation.  Medicare expenditures are being slashed to nursing homes, home and hospice care.

        It is now time for Congress to get serious about tackling the multitude of problems thrust upon the nation by an aging society.  Moss’ advocacy comment to the nation’s elderly will be sorely missed, and his shoes will be hard to fill.

        Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who writes about aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at

The Best of…Call the Samaritans for a Shoulder to Lean On

            Published on December 24, 2001, Pawtucket Times

             Chestnuts roasting on the fire.  Green wreaths with red ribbons. Soothing Christmas music coming from speakers in shopping malls.  Houses decorated with long strands of brightly colored lights.  Decorated evergreen trees.

            Got the Christmas spirit?  Many do, but many don’t, especially if they are seniors.

           With Christmas tomorrow, not everyone is feeling the holiday spirit.  The  holidays may be a very difficult time for seniors, particularly the elderly who have lost spouses and friends, have painful chronic illnesses or feel isolated or powerless, says Cynthia Barry, M.S.W, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island.  At this time “some may feel depressed and even suicidal.”

            Even drinking during the holidays can put seniors at a higher risk of experiencing depression and thinking about suicide, Barry adds.

            Even drinking during the holidays can put seniors at a higher risk of experiencing depression and thinking about suicide, Barry adds.

            But the stigma of mental illness will keep older persons from seeking out needed treatment for their depression or suicidal thoughts, Barry says.  Those who feel that they have a problem with depression should visit their local mental health care, neighborhood health canter, the family physician or even private practitioners re commended by their health plan, she says.

            Carolyn Pellegrino, deputy director of Self Help, Inc., a nonprofit community action agency in the East Bay that provides senior case management to all upper East Bay communities and both Pawtucket and Central Falls, , notes that 60 percent of her older clients usually involve  persons who just worry to those experiencing severe clinical depression.

           “There’s a lot of depression out there,” Pellegrino says, adding that today’s seniors, who grew up in a different era, were told not to dal with their feelings of depression, “just get on with your life.”

          Although depression, like heart diseased, is an illness, seniors will get treated for their heart disease, but not their depression, Pellegrino says.  Oftentimes, a combination of medication and therapy can do wonders about a person’s depression, she states.

          A newly released Public Service Announcement (PSA) tells seniors to seek out another resource to fight the holiday blues.  Last week, WHJJ and B101 played a PSA featuring well-know songwriter Bill Withers who, after singing a few lines of his popular song, “Lean on Me,” urges his radio listeners “feeling low with nowhere to turn to contact The Samaritans.”

        Directed to the lonely, the depressed and suicidal, the PSA is intended to raise the awareness of the existence of The Samaritans of Rhode Island, a nonprofit program dedicated to reducing the  occurrence of suicide by reaching out to the despairing and lonely.

          Denise Panichas, serving as The Samaritans’ interim executive director states the communication-based program, established in Providence in 1979, teaches volunteers to effectively listen to people who are in crisis.  Conversations are free, confidential, most important anonymous.

         A rigorous training program teachers volunteers to feel and think without expressing personal judgements or opinions, Panichas says, noting that the listening technique, called “befriending,” calls for 90 percent listening and 10 percent talking.

          Last year, more than 20,o00 Rhode Islanders called The Samaritans, Panichas said.  The Samaritans, Panichas said.  “It doesn’t matter what the problem is, be it depression, suicidal thoughts, seeking resources for mental health services in the community or being  lonely and just needing to talk,” she said.

          Panichas notes that The Samaritans also offers other needed resources to caregivers and older Rhode Islanders. “We do community education programs and also have our peer-to-peer Safe Place Support Group for those left behind by suicide.

          For seniors who are looking for something to do with their time, the art of “befriending” is something that anybody can do.  Becoming a compassionate listener to someone in need.

         Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues.  He can be reached at

The Best Of…Day Services Help Seniors Stay at Home

           Published on May, 7, 2001, Pawtucket Times

            Like apples and oranges, senior centers and adult day care are quite different.  But when viewed as complementary community-based services, each can be instrumental in keeping elderly Rhode Islanders independent and at home.

           While senior centers serve the independent older population, programs and services provided by adult day care centers are specifically designed for functionally or cognitively impaired adults.

          Senior centers can serve as “brokers” between the elderly and the surrounding community, creating access to a wide variety of programs and services, states Rick Ryan, former chair of the Washington, DC-based National Institute for Senior Centers and director of senior services for South Kingstown.

        According to Ryan, some people today still believe the myth that senior centers are drop-in centers or “play pens for the frail aged where persons are spoon-fed programs and services.”  Not true, he says.

        “Indeed we have come a long way,” Ryan noted, stating that “senior centers are not developed through a cookie cutting process.”  Programs across the nation are as varied and diverse as the older population that they serve.  In fact, he says, senior centers evolved in response to their surrounding communities and reflect the interest and values of those older adults who not only participate in their programs, but also help shape them.

        For those participating, Ryan stated hat senior centers offer a menu of activities, with older participants being allowed to develop and design their own programs. Activities can range from computer labs offering Internet access, yoga, line dancing, aerobics, playing cards, art classes or even shooting pool.

         Since the early 1970s, adult day care centers have existed. According to the National Association of Adult Day Services in Washington, DC., here are more than 3,000 adult day care centers currently operating nationally.

         “There are 16 state-certified adult day care centers in Rhode Island,” noted Ryan, who also is a member of the Rhode Island Adult Day Services Association, a group representing programs in all of the state’s 39 cities and towns.

         Ryan stated that adult day centers provide a comprehensive planned program of health, social and support services in a protective setting during daytime hours.  “Activities include mental processing programs such as current affairs and word association games to stimulate thinking more physical activities like volleyball, dancing and range of motion exercises.”

         Services at adult day centers are specifically designed to meet the individual needs of the elderly and strongly focus on ways to help relieve the stress of the caregivers.  Such programs are critical in assisting caregivers to maintain their loved ones at home in the community.

       Adds Sharon Rice, director of the Comprehensive Day Care Center, a program of the Jewish Seniors Agency, “One of the most important factors of a day care program is that adult children taking care of elderly frail parents don’t have to worry about how they can take care of their parents, work a full-time demanding job while caring for their children.”  She noted that most adult children prefer to have their parents “age in place” at home rather than have to institutionalize them in a nursing home.

   According to Rice, today’s day care centers in Rhode Island have undergone vigorous licensing procedures through the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs to ensure quality.

          Ensuring quality through licensure can increase the adult children’s willingness to place his or her parents in an adult day care program, she said.

         Currently, Rice states there are 30 frail elderly persons enrolled in her day care program, attending each day.  Although located in Wayland Square on Providence’s East Side, Jewish Seniors Agency program, established in 1974, also serves East Providence and nearby Pawtucket.

         Keeping a person at home is not always the best option. Rice says, because the older person becomes isolated. “Day care can promote friendship, social interaction and therapeutic activities,” she added.

        “Person with Alzheimer or related-dementia, Parkinson’s disease or  who have suffered strokes receive supportive services at the day care center from a registered nurse, a professional social worker, and a certified nursing assistant,” Rice added, noting that participants also are served kosher meals.

      When adult children are faced with care giving responsibilities for their loved ones they do have a choice – to keep the person at home and not in a nursing home, Rice quipped.  “Adult children should feel comfortable in knowing that they can keep a frail elderly family member at home and in the surrounding community.

         Herb Weiss is a freelance Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.   He can be reached at