Senior Agenda Coalition of RI honors senior heroes

Published in RINewstoday on May 23, 2022

During Older Americans Month, it was a wonderful time to break bread, catch up with old friends and to recognize outstanding Rhode Island senior advocates. After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 100 people gathered at the Providence Marriott Downtown to attend the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island’s [link to members https://senioragendari.org/coalition ] (SACRI) 6th Annual Awards “Celebrating our Senior Heroes,” to honor eight honorees from the government, private and community agency sectors.

Kicking off the awards luncheon, SACRI’s Executive Director Bernard J. Beaudreau, recognized and thanked a slew of elected leaders and state officials in attendance: Lt. Governor Sabina Matos; Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Democratic candidate for Governor; Director Maria Cimini, Director, Office of Healthy Aging; Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-District 4) who brought Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-District 29); Deputy Senate Majority Leaders James Seveney (D-District 11) and Senators Sandra Cano (D-District 9); Josh Miller (D-District 28); House Deputy Majority Leader Laura Carson (D-District 75); House Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-District 2);Terri Cortvriend (D-District 72); Deborah Ruggiero (D-District 74); and Susan Donovan, (D-District 69). Former Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, now serving as president of the Rhode Island Hospital Association, also attended.

Beaudreau, assisted by Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, called up each honoree to be presented with a citation and inscribed box. This year’s advocate heroes are: Rhode Island Lawmakers, House Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski, and Senators Mary Ellen Goodwin, and former State Senator Harold Metts, Elder Information Specialist Deborah Burton, SCACRI Volunteer and adviser Doris Stearn Donovan, Former SACRI Executive Director William Flynn, Case Manager Extraordinaire Saul Richman, and Community Organizer Marjorie Waters. (see bios below)

“Taking a moment to acknowledge and thank those who have stood out as leaders, people who made the extra effort for the greater good, whether being an elected leader, or work/volunteer for a community agency is an important part of building our members for change,” says Beaudreau. “These honored heroes inspire and motivate us to step up to the plate and get in the [legislative] game. They fuel us all to do our part,” he says.

Praising SACRI’s Senior Heroes

Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, who co-chairs the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC) also saluted SACRI’s honorees. “Thank you to the awardees & the Coalition for your tireless advocacy & service to older adults in our state,” Matos said.

Rhode Island House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi offered his congratulations.

“I applaud all the award-winners, particularly House Majority Leader Blazejewski and Senate Majority Whip Goodwin. They are well-deserving of this honor due to their demanding work and dedication on many senior issues. They were the respective House and Senate sponsors of a bill passed a few years back which established an individual provider model for home care in Rhode Island. This model gives seniors another option to be cared for at home and remain connected to their communities and families. Older residents prefer home care. Not only is it more comfortable for seniors, but it is also more cost-effective,” he said.

According to Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, Sens. Goodwin, Metts and Representative Christopher Blazejewski have been tremendous advocates for Rhode Island’s seniors, and they are incredibly deserving of this recognition.

“Whip Goodwin has long been a champion for seniors and people living with disabilities in our state. Last year, she helped shepherd the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act into law, a critical step in addressing the resident care crisis in Rhode Island by setting new staffing requirements and minimum standards of care.

In 2018, she helped lead a successful effort to expand home-based care for seniors and the disabled. She also worked to improve reimbursement rates for nursing homes, among many other accomplishments,” said Senate President Ruggerio.

“During his decades in the General Assembly, former Senator Metts was a powerful advocate for the Meals on Wheels program, as well as efforts to restore free bus passes for low-income seniors and people living with disabilities. His work has improved the lives of thousands of Rhode Islanders, including many of the most vulnerable members of our communities. I am forever grateful for his service and his friendship,” notes the Senate President.

Two SACRI Board members also gave thumbs-up to the latest group of SACRI heroes, too.

“It was exciting to see such great participation in the luncheon to honor this year’s senior heroes,” says Maureen Maigret, the Senior Agenda’s policy adviser who serves on its Board. “This year’s heroes included both legislative leaders who have been strong advocates for seniors and members of the community who work to bring dignity, respect, and an excellent quality of life for older Rhode Islanders. I salute them,” says Maigret.

According to Maigret, the state’s legislative leaders have also been responsive to senior advocates, supporting the creating the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council promoted by the Senior Agenda Coalition.

“There are a variety of Senior Heroes in our community, and it is important for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI to pause and give recognition to these selfless individuals. These soldiers for service are truly compassionate people who advocate for legislative changes that will improve “living in place” for older adults/families,” says Vin Marzullo, a well-known aging advocate who served as a federal civil rights and national service administrator. They help organize and promote the use of local elder services (nutrition, health care, and recreational), and they help protect and aid seniors who are victims of abuse,” noted the West Warwick resident, one of the newest Senior Agenda Board Members.

Honorees at SACRI’s Recognition

Deborah Burton expressed her gratitude for being given the prestigious SACRI recognition. “As advocates, we lean into our work to make the world a better place for all of us without necessarily being aware of the ripple effect we have on our community,” says Deb Burton, gerontologist and Executive Director of RI Elder Information, a website providing resources to older Rhode Islanders. “I was extremely honored to be recognized by Senior Agenda Coalition as a Senior Hero! The other nominees are wonderful people tirelessly doing amazing advocacy work and I am proud to be counted among them,” she adds.

Senator Goodwin stated that she “felt humbled to be included among such a distinguished group of honorees, especially my friend Harold Metts. This award is incredibly special to me, and to receive it from an organization as vital and esteemed as the SACRI is extremely meaningful,” she said, noting that this organization has been an incredible ally in my work and the work of my colleagues, and I know it will continue to be in the future.”

SACRI is an independent and diverse coalition of agency and individual members.  Its mission is to mobilize people to achieve power in order to implement an agenda that improves the quality of life of Rhode Island seniors.  For details about this group, go to https://senioragendari.org/

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Bios of Honorees:

House Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-District 2) — For over 12 years, Rep. Blazejewski has championed environmental protection, education, civil rights, senior services, health care, and economic opportunity for working families. Among the senior issues he has advocated for over the years, Blazejewski worked tirelessly to pass legislation creating an Independent Provider (IP) program for home care in Rhode Island. That innovative program is helping expand the home care workforce. He also helped win its continued funding. Responding the COVID’s impact on nursing home residents, he helped pass legislation raising quality standards for nursing homes. He again worked with the Senior Agenda Coalition to help pass the Nursing Home Safe Staffing and Quality Care Act.

Deborah Burton — As Executive Director of RI Elder Info and creator of rielderinfo.com, Burton maintains the most comprehensive, expert-curated, multilingual resources for Seniors, Caregivers and Professionals in Rhode Island. She is the creator and host of Friday Friends-a weekly livestream and podcast and serves as Master of Ceremonies for RI Elder Info’s Virtual Senior Resource Fairs, annual Calling All Veterans Day and annual Calling All Women Warriors.

For over 30 years, Burton has been a strong advocate for aging independently, in the community of our choosing, surrounded by those that we care for and who care for us. She has provided outreach and education to the community on how to achieve these goals.Doris Stearn Donovan

Doris Stearn Donovan — The deputy director of the Rhode Island Foundation has become a powerful advocate for older seniors. During SACRI’s 2020 Strategic Plan sessions, Donovan urged that in the years ahead the organization work harder to combat ageism, especially discrimination toward people over age 75. Donovan has an impressive career. She was valedictorian of her class at Bown; an expert in educational-program evaluation. She has served also served on many boards including Children’s Friend and the George Wiley Center.

William F. Flynn – Under his leadership, hundreds of older Rhode Islanders have engaged in successful citizen action to win public policy changes over the years. Flynn served as served as SACRI’s Executive Director from 2008 to early 2022. Prior to joining the Coalition, he held leadership positions at the RI Community Food Bank, George Wiley Center, and Urban League of Rhode Island. During Flynn’s tenure at SACRI, the organization achieved important wins. These included: Permanent state funding for the No-Fare Bus Pass Program for seniors and persons with disabilities; Increasing annual funding for Meals on Wheels and Senior Centers; Higher pay for home health care workers; Raising the Bar legislation for increased staffing and pay increases for direct care providers in nursing homes; and, Increasing eligibility for moderate income seniors for home care cost-share options.

Senator Maryellen Goodwin — With over 36 years in the Senate under her belt, the  Rhode Island Senate Majority Whip, the third-ranking member of the Senate Leadership, has been a fierce advocate and effective advocate for seniors in the Senate. Last legislative session, the Senator helped to enact the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act into law, setting new staffing requirements and minimum standards of care.

In 2018, she also pushed to expand home-based care for seniors and the disabled along with working to  improve reimbursement rates for nursing homes.

Senator Harold Metts – After serving as State Representative from 1984 to 1998, Metts would later win a seat in the upper Chamber in 2004, serving until 2020. Metts. Served as President, vice president and twice Secretary of The Rhode Island Black Caucus of State Legislators; and former Secretary/chaplain of The Rhode Island Caucus of Black and Latino State Legislators. During his 30 years in the General Assembly, the Senator was an advocate for the Meals on Wheels program, and for touring free bus passes for low-income seniors and people living with disabilities.

Saul Richman – For several years Richman has worked a case manager for Protective Services for Tri-County Community Action Agency. He also assists seniors to learn more about Medicare benefit. When the state of Rhode Island gets a report that an older adult needs assistance, Richman makes a home visit, gathers information, and works to provide them with appropriate public services. His tireless efforts have helped to resolve issues of countless senior clients. Oftentimes he goes beyond his duties to ensure the safety and security that his clients require, working well beyond his workday scheduled.

Marjorie Waters – Serves as a Community Organizer for the Rhode Island Organizing Project (RIOP), a leadership role that she has held over the past eight years. As to her organizing strategy, Waters listens to what older adults are saying. Her rule is “don’t think you know what you’re going to hear..”  She listens, and then she acts. Before RIOP, Marjorie directed the Westminster Senior Center in Providence after an earlier career in information technology. Waters was a leader in both the Home Care Independence Provider Program and the Raise the Bar coalitions, both of which passed the legislature and have a profound impact of the daily and quality of living situations for those who need homecare and nursing home care.

About the Senior Agenda Coalition:

https://senioragendari.org

The Senior Agenda Coalition is an independent and diverse coalition of agency and individual members. Our mission is to mobilize people to achieve power in order to implement an agenda that improves the quality of life of older Rhode Islanders. We accomplish this through community organizingpublic education and legislative advocacy.

To read all articles by Herb Weiss, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/herb-weiss/

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