RI Minority Elder Task Force Spotlights ‘Everyday Heroes’

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 5, 2017

Last Thursday, the Rhode Island Minority Elder Task Force (RIMETF), a nonprofit group that advocates for cultural competent services for elders from minority groups, recognized “Everyday Heroes” who make a difference in the community while also raising money to provide limited emergency assistance to low-income seniors in crisis situations.

RIMETF fund raising efforts combine with grants to fulfill its mission of financially helping low-income seniors, says Susan Sweet, the nonprofit’s founder and treasurer. RIMETF provides $200 to low income seniors to help pay utility costs, rent, food, medications, clothing, furniture, personal healthcare items and other necessities of life, she says, noting that approximately 80 grants, about half going to minority applicants, are given out annually.

Sweet says, “During the last two decades, RIMETF provided more than $53,000 in grants, successfully raising approximately $7,000 at the November 2 fundraiser. Over 150 supporters in attendance from around the state came to the East Providence Cape Verdean Progressive Center to honor eleven ‘Everyday Heroes’ who made outstanding contributions to many people throughout Rhode Island.”

According to Chairperson Lori Brennan-Almeida, her nonprofit group’s fundraising efforts are fluid, changing every year as needed. “Last year the nonprofit group held a full-day learning conference on Cultural Competence in Healthcare and Social Services for nurses, social workers and Certified Nursing Assistants, attracting over 100 attendees.”

“The idea for recognizing unsung heroes who work with Rhode Island’s minority residents was tossed around for the past couple of years,” says Almeida, noting that some of the honorees of this year’s fundraiser had never been recognized for their outstanding work

Introducing RIMETF’s 2007 “Everyday Heroes”…

Kathy Blunt

After Blunt, at 74 years of age, initially interviewed at Orchard View Manor, she got a letter a week later informing her that she did not get the job. Luckily for the residents, the position became open again and she was hired at the East Providence-based nursing facility in 2010 and quickly became an “indispensable gift to residents and a team builder between departments,” say facility staff.

Joseph Caffey, Sr.

The late Joseph Caffey, Sr., a visionary for high standards of service in affordable housing during his 24 years as the President and CEO of Omni Development and a leader in the Rhode Island’s affordable housing sector, were key to his recognition by RIMETF. Caffey’s vision led him to partner with the Providence Center to bring a mental health satellite office to the Olneyville-based Valley Apartments to assist the mental health needs of the tenants. He also hired employees with social work degrees to provide clinical services to tenants.

Trudence “Trudy” Conroy

Staff at the Newport County Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) consider Trudy to be a model volunteer who brings her knowledge, warm wit and compassion into counseling and advice to assist Medicare eligible seniors choose a Medicare insurance plan that fits their specific health needs. Trudy has amassed almost 700 hours as a SHIP volunteer over the past two years.

Carol Corey

For over 20 years, Corey, 75, of West Warwick, has visited the sick and lonely residing in local nursing facilities and hospitals. She shops for these individuals, bringing them needed toiletries, special treats, flowers, and even small articles of clothing, all paid on her own. She is known for being “low key” and never forgetting birthdays or special occasions, and celebrating holidays with people who have no friends or family.

Garo Emdjian

In 1980 Emdjian, now 76, emigrated from Armenia to the U.S. and he has never looked back. Emdjian’s life mission now is to give back to his adopted country, for over 25 years giving countless volunteer hours to local nonprofit agencies that have included Rhode Island Meals-on-Wheels, Fox Point Senior Center, Federal Hill House, Hamilton House, the Blood Bank and Fox Point Manor. Despite the many honors he has received over the years, Emdjian will tell you he does not volunteer for the recognition but for the true love and commitment to be of service to others.

Cynthia Hiatt, Esq.

Just six months after Hiatt retired from a 37 year career serving as Chief Legal Counsel for the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, she came back to fight discrimination and racism again by serving as one of the seven governor-appointed commissioners of the Commission. As a volunteer Hiatt meets monthly to rule on cases and presides over hearings and investigative conferences, continuing to fight to enforce antidiscrimination laws and to end discrimination against older Rhode Islanders, the disabled and people of color.

Adrienne Marchetti

Those who know Marchetti as Director of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, use descriptive words such as: competent, respectful, creative, talented, selfless, as well as generous, and always welcoming to those she serves. Adrienne works 7 days a week from early morning until evening cooking and serving food to some of the poorest residents and homeless individuals in Pawtucket. Even in winter, after a very long day serving those who come to her soup kitchen, she prepares a satisfying supper and what is left over, she delivers to the night shelter at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to feed their 15 homeless residents.

Christine Reitman

For 26 years, Reitman, a Resident Service Coordinator at Property Advisory Group, has always advocated for her residents, always going above and beyond her normal duties. Recognizing the low income of her residents along with their social and health issues, she organized Saturday coffee hours, passing out needed everyday items to attendees, personally purchased from a local dollar store. The regular gatherings provide residents with a social network and informal forum to talk about personal issues.

Irene Sadlik

Coming to the United States from the Czech Republic nearly 30 years ago, Sadlik, with no formal training in health care, found her life’s passion working for the housekeeping department in a nursing facility. The former seamstress had an exceptional rapport with the residents, quickly responding to their needs and becoming their tireless advocate. Ultimately, to further her goal of working with older Rhode Islander’s she left her job at the nursing facility and opened up her own non-skilled home care agency. She has since taken a cancer patient into her home to try to give her a chance to enjoy her final days.

Mary Kay Uchmanowicz

Uchmanowicz, a Board Certified Audiologist who founded the Smithfield-based Twin Rivers Hearing Health in Smithfield in 2001, uses her empathy and specialized training to treat hearing problems of her older patients. Over the years, she has collected discarded hearing aids and brought them to the Philippines, spending weeks screening and fitting underprivileged children and adults with these donated hearing aids. “It is a privilege to help others,” says the audiologist who volunteers her time providing ear checks, audiometric testing, cleaning hearing aids, and answering questions at North Providence Senior Center and the Villa at St Antoine.

Henrietta “Henrie” Tonia White-Holder

White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, is committed to bringing clean water and sanitation to her native Liberia. Through the nonprofit organization, she opened the new RUKIYA (uplifting) Center on the south side of Providence, which focuses on programs for African immigrants, elders and youth, literacy and workforce issues. Henrie served on the United Way’s Executive Director Leadership Circle, received the Providence Newspaper Guild Public Service Award, the Extraordinary Woman Award for Education, and was conferred the RI Liberian Humanitarian Award.

For more details regarding the work of the RI Minority Elder Task Force or to make a donation, write RIMETF, 5 Leahy Street, Rumford, RI 02916 or call Lori Brennan Almeida, Chairperson, at 401-497-1287.

Rhode Islanders Give Tips to Graduates

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 14, 2017

During the month of May, commencement speakers will be addressing the graduating Class of 2017 at Colleges, Universities and higher learning institutions in Rhode Island and throughout the nation. Robed graduating seniors will listen attentively to these 10 minute speeches usually given by very well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities and business CEOs who offer tips on how the graduate can live a successful and fulfilling life. The graduate can only hope that this advice that might just propel them into a more rewarding personal and professional life.

Traditionally this notable, successful, and stimulating figure, is oftentimes well-known in the community. Larger institutions may choose speakers of national or international renown, but sometimes this recognition comes at a great cost, commanding high speaking fees. Locally, Brown University, unique among Ivy League institutions, features graduating seniors, rather than outside dignitaries, as their commencement speakers.

So, I suggest to Presidents of Colleges and Universities, with your tight operating budgets, you can save a little money by not bringing in high-paid commencement speakers with another alternative. As can be seen below, there are many potential candidates in Rhode Island communities that fly below the selection committee’s radar screen and can give college graduates very sound strategies for success gleaned from their everyday life experiences. The messages gleaned from average every day Rhode Islanders will most surely give a road maps on how the graduating senior can reach their potential in a very challenging world.

Eric J. Auger, 48, Pawtucket, Co-Founder/Creative Director for TEN21 Productions. “Having been an active artist and exhibiting my work since the age of 4, I can look back at 44 years of trials and errors that have influenced me to become the artist that I am today. My advice to anyone starting out is to follow your intuition and embrace all the success and failures that it may bring you. Living through and learning from these experiences is what opens your eyes to your true potential.”

Michael Bilow, Providence, Writer at Motif Magazine, “Only you are the ultimate judge of what you want. Take advice from people who want to help you, but don’t worry about pleasing them. Money is important to have enough to be independent, but not as an end in itself. Never take a job or a romantic partner just because others expect it of you. Be nice, but not too nice. Don’t lie to yourself. Worry less. You have a right to be happy.”

Natelie Carter, 73, Cumberland, Director of Operations for Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.
“One of the oldest pieces of wisdom ever dispensed is one that has guided my life “Know Thyself.” It still directs my life that has been filled with remarkable events and few regrets. However, there is the wisdom of Edna St. Vincent Millay to learn from “I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”

Greg Gerritt, 63, Providence, Head of Research for ProsperityForRI.com. “Climate Change is the existential crisis of our time. Be ready to resist the oligarchy when they seek to prevent protest and work to protect their fortunes. Be ready to resist the oligarchy when they crank up the false news and the war machine. If you shut down the war machine and truly stop climate change your lives will be better. If you do not, get ready for a hot and violent planet and community.”

Maureen O’Gorman, Warwick, Adult Correctional Institute GED Teacher. “Meredith Grey, fictional philosophizing doctor said: “The story of our evolution is the story of what we leave behind.” Human tails no longer exist and the appendix isn’t functional. Every choice we make comes at the cost of choices we didn’t make. Reinventing ourselves can’t happen without discarding something behind as we move forward. Honor the past, but do not live in it.”

Nora Hall, 72, North Kingston, freelance writer. “Empathy may be the most important life skill you can develop. It enables you to “put yourself in another’s shoes” and makes you a great leader.”

Everett Hoag, 63, North Providence, President of Fountain Street Creative. “Advice to new artists – Believe in yourself and your work. Explore as many forms as you can. Discover art comes from inside and as long as you have the skills, true art will emerge. Keep creating and create what is true to you, never stop or be discouraged by what others say… Designers — we make the world more beautiful. More functional. Safer. More special. The more of ‘you’ that goes into your work, the more original it becomes; there’s something magical about that.”

John Kevorkian, 63, East Greenwich, Management Psychologist/Business Coach. “Over the years, I’ve noticed that so much of success comes from simply showing up. Be aware, get involved, get engaged with what is important to you. Be there and be! Be truly interested in understanding the other’s viewpoint and situation. Ask questions and listen to learn what you don’t know and then you will be well prepared to confidently voice opinions and be helpful. Be a catalyst. It is easier to make things happen if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Larry Monastesse, 65, Pawtucket, Director of Administration, Coastline Employee Assistant Program (EAP). “Passion and Education is the Key. Mistakes happen- learn from them but do not quit. Keep your goals front and center. Have the courage to follow you heart, it is the true measure of your success. Time is limited, share with family and friends. They will be with you on your lifelong journey. Make time for yourself and give back to society in some form that you are comfortable with and enjoy. Do dream and enjoy the ride.”

Steven R. Porter, 52, Glocester, A college diploma is treated like the end of an educational learning journey, but truthfully, it’s just the start. Those who will be the most successful in life never stop reading, studying or acquiring new skills. The world is a rapidly changing place, and higher education does a good job of preparing you for what the world was like, not what the world is going to be. Stay positive and aggressive.

Debra Rossetti, over 50, Central Falls, Staff Developer/Literacy, New York City Department of Education. “You can and will make a difference in our society and world, This day is a special and important milestone in your life. You have accomplished much to be standing where you are now, but your journey has just begun. You have much more to do and challenges to bear in your years ahead. Transform yourself in to the person you aspire to be, be ready for change, think forward and move forward. Continue to educate yourself. Life is a journey with lessons to learn at every corner. Take advantage of opportunities to grow your mind and pursue your dreams. Believe in yourself, believe in others, always be humble and kind.”

Randy Sacilotto, 55, Cumberland, Navigant Credit Unions, Vice President, Community Development. “My mom told me to remember to love people and use things, never the other way around. This may seem pretty simple and logical. Yet there are times we may want to do the reverse. Remember that it is by genuine caring interaction with another human soul that we learn and laugh and grow. And nothing you will own will ever visit you when you’re sick, hold you when you’re sad, or celebrate your accomplishments.”

Susan Sweet, 75, Rumford, former state employee. “Make your own trail and avoid the well-worn path. Find interests and passions and live them. Create purpose in your life. Do something good, something useful in your life. Contribute to the happiness and well-being of other beings. Let Death be your advisor.”

Patricia Zacks, 63, Pawtucket, Owner of Camera Werks: Never be afraid of trying new things. Hardships and setbacks are part of life, but it is how we deal with them that can make all the difference. Obstacles may be opportunities in disguise, and change oftentimes leads to new roads, exciting journeys and a time of self discovery. Follow your bliss.

DEA’s Grimaldi Hangs Up His Spurs

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 25, 2015

With 40 years in state government under his belt, including 29 years at Elderly Affairs, Larry Grimaldi begins to move into his next stage of life, publicly announcing his retirement earlier this week. The retirement date, Feb. 6, is set in stone, his papers to personnel filed.

Sixty-five year old Grimaldi, who currently serves as Chief, Program Development at the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), looks forward to his retirement next month, but with “mixed emotions.” While the North Providence resident is satisfied with his professional accomplishments over his career, in retirement “there is an anticipation of the unknown.” It’s not an uncommon experience for those planning to “hang up their spurs” after successful careers, he says.

Once retired, “I will take a little time to breathe and look around for things I just might want to do,” says Grimaldi, noting that first on his short list is to drive across the country in April with his wife, Katherine, in a small SUV. Not a bad decision with lower gas prices.

Grimaldi has no regrets as to how his career at DEA panned out. “It was marvelous,” he tells this columnist.

Throughout the Years

After graduating from the University of Rhode Island in 1970 with a Bachelors degree in Journalism, Grimaldi worked for Providence-based companies Davol Rubber Company as a Quality Control Inspector and, three years later as a technical writer at BIF Industries. But he would leave the private sector to work as a Revenue Officer for the state’s Division of Taxation from 1975 to 1986.

A job advertisement for the position of Communications Coordinator at the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs (now a Division within the Department of Human Services) would catch Grimaldi’s attention. He jumped at the chance to apply. “It would really allow me the opportunity to put my college education and communication skills to good use,” he remembers.

Grimaldi learned a lot about the state’s aging network, honing his communication skills and building relationships. The late William Speck took him under his wing, teaching him the art of disseminating information to seniors and their caregivers, elected officials, and to the aging network, too.

According to Grimaldi, the statewide DEA information and public outreach campaign for the roll-out of the Medicare Part D program in 2006 received an Innovations in Health Care Award from RI Quality Partners (the federally designated Medicare Quality Improvement Organization for Rhode Island).

Putting his writing skills to good use, for over 27 years Grimaldi penned over 600 “Rhode Island Senior Beat” columns that appeared in many of the state’s daily and weekly newspapers. Since last year, the prolific writer produced over 60 weekly columns, “Taking Charge,” that appeared in the Providence Journal.

Grimaldi is also responsible for producing the nationally acclaimed ‘Senior Journal’ on the state’s public access cable. Since he took the helm as DEA’s information officer, more than 620 programs have been broadcast. Over 75 older volunteers have “lent their ideas, time, talent, and unique perspective” to this effort, he says, noting that this November the show celebrated 25 years on the air.

In 2012, DEA’s cable show received the “Volunteers Matter Award” from the Washington-based National Association of State Units on Aging and Disabilities, says Grimaldi, noting that it was one of three programs recognized at that conference that year.

During his DEA career, Grimaldi was responsible for providing an estimated 300 monthly trainings to the state’s Information and Referral Specialists and professionals in the aging network. He brought DEA’s greetings and information to United Way and the POINT (Aging and Disability Resource Center for Rhode Island) events and to local health fairs and expos.
As his final retirement day approaches on February 6, 2015, Grimaldi says that he will miss his DEA relationships and those in the aging network that have developed over the years. “They are exceptionally dedicated people,” he says, noting that they now have to do more work with less resources.

Colleagues Say Their Goodbys

Grimaldi “has been the face of DEA for decades,” says DEA Director Charles Fogarty. “He is a warm, caring, and energetic man who has a real passion for helping older Rhode Islanders live full and productive lives. To thousands of seniors over the years he became a trusted friend on matters they cared about most. He really represents the best in public service in Rhode Island,” notes the newly appointed DEA Director.

Former DEA Director Corinne Calise Russo, who now serves as Deputy Director of the state’s Department of Human Services, describes Grimaldi as the “consummate professional.” He is a “great trainer with exceptionally strong people skills,” says the Warwick resident who was former director at the North Providence-based Salvatore Mancini Senior Center.

According to Russo, Grimaldi was key to getting DEA’s widely used pocket manual out to the public on a timely manner each year. “He was actually like a one person production line for this manual, compiling information, ensuring accuracy, and designing it, even negotiating with the printer for a good price and product. It is a “wonderful resource for families, physician offices, community partners and elected officials”, she says.

Susan Sweet, a passionate advocate for older Rhode islanders, says that Grimaldi “fulfilled his responsibilities admirably because he took those responsibilities seriously. He has been the information guru at DEA. Nothing could be more important”

His columns provided accurate information and guidance to older persons, people with disabilities, their families and the general public, Sweet says, giving “trustworthy and helpful tips and thoughtful advice with a cheerful lilt and a timely presence.”

Paula Parker, LCSW, Assistant Director at DEA, agrees with Sweet’s assessment of Grimaldi’s writing skills. “I have been awed by his commitment to accurate, current and effective communication about aging issues for both the public community and for his colleagues at DEA and other state agencies”, she says. “I think that Larry’s most impressive skill is his ability to re-frame complex issues (such as Medicare Part D, Social Security retirement benefits, and other governmental programs) in language that is clear, concise and understandable to most people”, adds Parker.

Grimaldi certainly earned his spurs serving under eight DEA Directors. He has earned the right to hang them up.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.