AARP Brings Main Stream America into Social Security Debate

            Published July 27, 2012, Pawtucket Times

            With Congressional and the Presidential elections looming, just a few months away, aging baby boomers and seniors might well consider the recently released Social Security Trustees’ annual report as “a canary in a mine.”  Like a dead canary that warns  miners that a deadly gas is seeping underground, the 242 page report details the fragile health of the nation’s Medicare and Social Security Trust Fund, giving early warning to drastically cut retirement benefits if the President and Congress takes no action. 

             While thousands of media outlets across the nation reported on the impending bankruptcy of these programs, the Social Security Trustees called for immediate  action.  Meanwhile, the upcoming November elections keeps Congressional Democrats and Republications along with the Obama Administration from working to find a viable bipartisan fix.   Fear of turning away older voters has truly derailed needed policy reforms for this year.  

             The Trustee’s reaffirm that the Social Security program can pay full benefits until 2033, however, they warned that probably only three-quarters of promised benefits could be paid out beyond that time.  If this observation is correct it will become more difficult for aging baby boomers to plan their retirement. 

Fixing Social Security Ranked High

            Fixing Social Security is a high priority for the nation’s growing older population and will most likely be a key domestic policy issue to be discussed by Congressional candidates looking for votes to put them into office in Washington, DC next November.  Congressional and Presidential candidates be warned… According to an AARP survey, released in January 2012, of respondents age 50 and over, Social Security and Medicare ranked three out of 13 issues, with job growth and rising health care costs being number one and two respectively. 

            AARP Rhode Island, the OceanState’s largest aging advocacy group, has geared up its “You’ve Earned a Say,” initiative to gather grassroots feedback from “Outside the Beltway” to bring to Congressional lawmakers as they continue their debates as to how to bolster the solvency of the nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs.  AARP hopes that this initiative will create a national conversation to ensure that every worker, who has contributed into Medicare and Social Security, has a direct say in the future reforms of these programs.

             According to AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen S. Connell, AARP’s “You’ve Earned a Say” initiative was created to bring balanced information to people — both the pros and the cons — about the policy options being debated during the upcoming Presidential and Congressional elections for both programs. 

            “You’ve Earned a Say’ is giving the American people a strong and visible voice in the Social Security and Medicare discussion,” says Connell. “We are reaching out to our 130,000 Rhode Island members and nationally to nearly 40 million members.  Television commercials are now playing in Rhode Island, raising the awareness of viewers to AARP’s initiative and its website, www.earnedasay.org.  The website provides both factual and straightforward information as to policies that are being considered and enables a person to share their ideas with Congress and those running against Congressional incumbents, as how to strengthen these programs.

            According to Connell, one million people have participated in the “You’ve Earned a Say” grassroots initiative nationwide that kicked off in early Spring.  Their opinions have been shared online.  Meanwhile, tens of thousands have participated in more than 1,400 community meetings throughout the nation, she said, noting that more than a dozen have been held in the Rhode Island.

No More Political Spins, Jargon

            Americans are just plain tired of the political spins, jargon and rhetoric surrounding fixing the Social Security and Medicare programs, says Connell, even the backroom deals to change these programs in smoke filled rooms.  Over the years policy debates in Washington, DC have focused too much on budgetary line items and numbers and not on the immediate concerns, and real needs, of older Americans, she says.  

          But there is a central theme that comes from AARP’s dialogue with mainstream America.  That is most people feel that Washington is out of touch and not listening “They’re not listening to the concerns of people or talking about the real health and retirement income needs of older Americans. They’re not talking about what’s fair or about the effects of proposed changes on real people, quips Connell.

 A Bleak Retirement…

            Connell says that in Rhode Island 200,202 residents depend on Social Security benefits to help pay the bills every month, and 181,264 count on Medicare to help them afford health care, including guaranteed coverage for doctors, hospitals and prescription drugs.  

            Yes, policy decisions impact people’s lives.  If the President and Congress next year don’t find a bipartisan solution with input from those outside the Washington, D.C., a significantnumber of older Rhode Islanders might just well find their retirement year’s bleak at best.

            AARP’s  “You’ve Earned a Say” grassroots initiative may be just the way to finally educate older American voters, those who might just begin to put intense pressure on both the Democrats and Republicans alike, to make a long-term policy fixes.  Band aide solutions will haunt the upcoming generations who will financially suffer in their twilight years.  Shame on Congress if this occurs.

           Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical care issues.  The article was published in the July 27th issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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Hindu Spiritual Leader Heals with Hugs

         Published July 20, 2012, Pawtucket Times 

         Just shy of an hour’s drive from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, thousands of spiritual seekers and devotee’s of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, simply known to her followers as Amma (or mother in Sanskrit), gathered at the huge conference and trade center at the Best Western Royal Plaza in Marlborough, Massachusetts, just to sit before the Indian Saint to experience her healing embrace, hugs, and to meditate.   

          Throughout the free public morning and evening programs held on July 14th, followed by a three-day retreat (costing $360 for adults that included room and board; less for children), organizers estimated that there would be over 10,000 hugs given to those attending this year’s New England gathering for her blessing.  The New England program was the last stop of her North American Tour, an annual tour that began in 1987.

 Sitting Before Amma

          Issac Amponsah, proprietor of Ama’s Variety on Main Street, attends Catholic services, mediates twice a day chanting his Transcendental Meditation (TM) mantra and along with following the teachings of Amma.

         Last year Amponsah’s car broke down on his way the see Amma.  Now, waits for hours in the 47,500 square foot conference and trade center with his brother, Paul, to see Amma and get her blessings.  The Pawtucket businessman, casually dressed wearing sandals, knelt before Amna, surrounding by swamis in orange robes, devotee volunteers and spiritual seekers, getting his brief embrace, lasting for less than a minute.  Amma slowly rocked the Woodlawn resident as she chanted a mantra in his ear. When finished he left carrying a spiritually-charged Hersey Kiss and a few flower petals.

        Over thirty four years ago, Amponsah says curiosity and a thirst for knowledge led him to Transcendental Meditation (TM), when he learned the art of meditation. In 1992, a fellow TM practitioner brought him to meet Amma in New York and where he got his first hug and listened to her Vedic philosophies.  Over the years he still travels to see her when she comes through New England.

        “Knowledge, inspiration and love are the things I take away from seeing Amma,” states Amponsah.  He believes that she is the true expression of Devine love, just like Jesus Christ, too.      

        “It was like soul connecting to soul,” noted Amponsah, trying to explain his brief spiritual encounter with Amma.  “She just radiates love.”

        Like Amponsah, other aging Rhode Island baby boomers came across the Massachusetts’s border to get Amma’s blessing, too.

        For the last couple of years, Elizabeth Johanson, 50, a Pawtucket resident and a practicing Catholic has also come for Amma’s hugs and blessings.  She considers this Hindu Saint to be the incarnation of the divine Mother.

       According to Johanson, “Amma’s the real deal,” who financially supports programs to promote nonviolence and social justice, and feeding and housing the poor.

       Johanson, wearing a white t-shirt sporting the word, “love” wears an Our Lady of Guadalupe medallion, strongly believes that her yearly encounters with Amma and studying her teachings only strengthens her traditional beliefs in Catholicism.

       “I try to take Amma’s love and unconditional compassion out into Pawtucket and Central Falls each day, notes the mental health worker. “As I become more spiritually nourished I am able to become more patient and tolerate in my every day world, she says.

        Fifty-seven year old Tommy Emmet, who grew up practicing the doctrine of the Church of England, now is spiritually eclectic.  Practicing Hindu and Buddhism, and an avid reader of tomes on the world’s religions he sees the thread of truth in all religious practices.

        Wearing blue jeans and a colorful Hawaiian shirt, the aging baby boomer proudly wears an Obama ’08 button, sporting a necklace showing his religious beliefs.  Dangling charms were of images of Hindu deities, others of Native American symbols, and one of  Amma.

         In 2007, his wife, Karen Lee, the owner of the Pawtucket-based Breathing Time Yoga Studio, introduced him to Amma. Emmet, an usher at National Amusement Theater at Providence mall, has continued to come each year for her healing hugs and blessings.

         Emmet claims that sitting before this Hindu Spiritual teacher enables him to more easily connect to his divine, higher power and allows him to be more loving with himself and others.  “Thinking about Amma just helps me get through the day,” he says.

.The Making of Spiritual Teacher

         Amma grew up in poverty in 1953 in a remote coastal village in Kerala, South India, her family trade — fishing.  As a young girl she spent many hours in deep mediation on the seashore where she began to compose devotional songs, many of these compositions revealed depth and wisdom.

         With an ailing mother, Amma left school to help with household tasks, taking care of her seven siblings. As she went door-to-door gathering food scraps from neighbors for her family’s cows, she saw intense poverty and suffering in her community.  She brought people food and clothing from her own home, to the dismay of her family.      

        With this begun the spontaneously hugging of people to comfort them, who responded by calling her Amma (Mother).  She found her path of serving others…

 Amma Recognized Around the Globe for her Charity Work

        In 1997, Amma toured the world, including the United States.  With her home ashram in Kerala, South India, her ashrams, teaching her philosophy that all religions are one, are now scattered around the world.  Her devotees say that Amma has never asked anyone to change their religion, only that they go deeper into their values or faith, and live by those essential principles. 

        One year later, one of her initiatives, “Embracing the World Program” (ETW), has funded humanitarian efforts throughout in India.  This program has provided more than $50 million in totally free medical care, built an 800-bed hospital, a medical school and health clinics.  Meanwhile, it has provided more than 40,000 homes for the homeless throughout India and given financial aid for 100,000 people unable to care for themselves.  ETW projects also fund vocational-training, literacy-training, open and operate orphanages, hospices, nursing homes, scholarship programs, and even the planting trees.

        Amma has received international praise.  She has delivered addresses at the United Nations several times and has spoken twice at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.  She has also received the Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence in Geneva and the James Park Morton Interfaith Award in New York. Two years ago, the Hindu spiritual leader was presented an honorary doctorate in humane letters at the University at Buffalo North Campus.

       Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health and medical issues.  This article was published in the July 20, 2012 issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best of…AARP Report Sheds Light on the Needs of Older Disabled Persons

           Published May 26, 2012, Pawtucket Times   

           AARP, a Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group, generates a new report to provide direction to the nation’s policy makers as to how to keep America’s age 50 and over disabled population independent and in  control of their daily lives. 

           According to the latest AARP study, lack of affordable services, a fragmented delivery system and the caregiver’s limited knowledge of the delivery system, are barriers that keep age 50 and over Americans with disabilities from living active and independent lives. 

           The AARP report, “Beyond 50 2003: A Report to the Nation on Independent Living and Disability,” incorporates data obtained from the first ever national survey of Americans age 50+ with disabilities, documenting the gap between what they say, need, and what is available to them. 

           “Long-term independence for persons with disabilities is an increasingly achievable social goal, AARP Policy and Strategy Director John Rother says in a written statement released with this report.  “But it will require time and the collective creativity of the public and private sectors,” he added. 

           “Meanwhile, even minor changes can lead – at least in the short-term – to important life-style improvements for those with disabilities today,“ Rother said.  On the other hand, long-term improvements will require fundamental policy changes.

           “As the influx of Boomers enters their 50’s and 60’s, they will bring their attitudes of competitive consumerism to health care delivery, and will demand greater choice and control of available services,” explained Rother.   “The good news is that there is time to prepare for those demands, he said.  “Along with improvements in medicine and health, we are seeing some declines in disability.  New technologies are also extending Americans’ years of independence.”

           According to the AARP report, 46 percent of the over 50 respondents with disabilities (including nearly 60 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64) believe that having more control over decisions about services and the help they need would bring a major improvement in the quality of their lives.   However, they report that their greatest fear is loss of independence and mobility.

           The AARP report, the third in a series of comprehensive studies on the status of Americans over age 50, found that 51percent of older persons with disabilities are managing independently; 49 percent are not receiving any regular help with daily activities, such as cooking, bathing and shopping.  More than half of those with disabilities (53 percent) tell researchers that they were unable to do something they needed or wanted to do in the past month – quite often basic tasks such as household chores or exercise.

           Most (88 percent) of the assistance the older disabled persons reported receiving is volunteer assistance from family or other informal caregivers.  Sixty one percent strongly prefer this type of assistance with everyday tasks, while only one out of three uses any community-based service. 

            The AARP report found that independence, for older disabled persons, can be easily enhanced by using assistive equipment (such as walkers and wheelchairs) and new technologies that are now more widely available.  However, caregiver assistance with daily activities will take more time and resources.   The researchers estimate that as many as three million persons over age 50 with disabilities (almost 25 percent) need more assistance than they receive now with daily activities. 

           Furthermore, the report said that persons 50 and older with disabilities place inadequate health insurance on the top of their list of issues that are not being adequately addressed. Specifically, Medicare coverage still does not pay for prescription drugs and assistive equipment is not covered by some health insurance.

           Adds Rhode Island AARP Director Kathleen Connell, many of the issues addressed in the newly released AARP report are not just about today’s persons with disabilities, but about all of us, who if we live long lives (and longevity is increasing) are likely to face disability.

           “This is about long-term independence and not long term care, which refers not just to what we need during the most vulnerable and frailest stages of our disability, as ‘long term care’ suggests, but to what we want during what, in most cases, is a longer, more functional stage of disability,” Connell tells All About Seniors.

           While minor fixes would make a difference, other improvements will require longer-term fundamental changes and more public dollars.  Based on the “Beyond 50” findings, AARP has outlined a number of policy changes for making critical long-term improvements:

  • Older persons with disabilities must be insured against the high costs of accessing long-term supportive services.  Ways must be found to share the risk of these unpredictable costs more widely among public and private sources. 
  • Public funding for long-term supportive services needs to be reoriented toward more options for home and community-based care. The nation also must provide more options for “consumer-direction” in publicly funded programs.
  •  Communities need to be made more physically accessible for more people with disabilities.
  •  Information and services need to be more navigable for those who are trying to learn more about available long-term services and whether or not they are eligible.
  •  America’s health care system must adjust its focus to enhance functioning and health-related quality of life, not just provide acute and curative care.

             The “Beyond 50” report found that people with disabilities 50 and older give their community poor grades (between C+ and B- in their efforts of making it possible for them to live independently. In many communities, the researchers say, that public transportation is oftentimes rated poorly.

          The researchers say that the troubling findings reveal that the nation is ill-prepared to meet the calls of age 50 and over persons with disabilities for more control and independence in the lives.    

           AARP’s report is a wake up call for state and national policy makers who will be charged with making sound policy decisions for a grayingAmericawith disabilities.  If policy makers heed the recommendations of AARP’s report, systemic changes may well give dignity to millions of older persons with disabilities who only want to remain independent and control of their daily lives.  Just like the rest of us.

           Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  The article was published in May 2003 in the Pawtucket Times.  His articles also appear in state and national publications. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best of…Research Confronts Nursing Homes’ Pain-Management Problems

           Published December 10, 2001, Pawtucket Times

         Nobody says that old age is easy, especially for those who ultimately end up being admitted into a nursing  facility.  And for those residing in facilities, there is a very high probability of being in pain, Brown University researchers say.  One of the first nationwide research studies reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association last April that pain is “prevalent, persistent and poorly treated in nursing facilities.”    

         According to the JAMA study, nursing facilities across the country provided “woe-fully inadequate pain management” with a large majority of the residents ultimately experiencing excruciating severe pain just months after admission.  Furthermore, the researchers acknowledged that the study results may even “underestimate the actual pain burden.

        The study noted that for those able to report on their pain, the rate of persistent pain in Rhode Island facilities was 46.4 percent. Nationally, the rate is 46.7 percent.  For those in pain, persistent pain left untreated experience impaired mobility, depression, and a reduced quality of life, the researchers say. 
 
        The Rhode Island Quality Partners, Inc., Brown University Researchers and 18 Rhode  Island nursing facilities came together last year to confront this issue by improving  how nursing facility residents are assessed for pain and how pain is managed.   At a press conference held last month, it was reported that all facilities participating had put into place pain policies and procedures, which included both the use of medication management and non-drug interventions like massage, music and aroma therapies and heating packs.

        During the 15 month study, the participating nursing facilities attended two-hour educational seminars each month.   The seminars were conducted by the project partners and, with the assistance of nurse facilitators, each facility began to develop pain policies and procedures, and worked with the project partners to implement the treatment protocols.

       Preliminary findings show a nearly 10-fold increase in the rate of comprehensive assessment of pain among the 18 nursing facilities, as well as a five-fold increase in the use of pain intensity scales to monitor the resident’s pain.  Translation.  Nursing facility residents benefited from the facility’s efforts to confront this care issue.

       “Some Rhode Island facilities watch previously inactive residents begin to participate in a variety of activities.  Others found that residents could cut back on some of their medications once their pain was well controlled,” stated Dr. David R. Gifford, principal clinical coordinator with Rhode Island Quality Partners.

       “Nursing facilities were able to get together, share and work closely with each other to try to improve pain management, despite the staffing shortages, inadequate Medicaid reimbursement despite all the other regulations they are trying to comply,” Gifford told All About Seniors.  “The participating facilities deserve credit for putting the time and resources into the project to improve an area of care that every one is concerned about, that is inadequate pain management.”

       “Both scientific and professional literature clearly tell us that pain management has been an area that can be controlled but it has not been,” states Wayne Farrington, Chief, Facilities Regulation, at the State’s Health Department.  “Sadly nursing facility residents have been living with unnecessary pain and implementing the best practices that were determined by this research project will greatly enhance the quality of life in 103 Rhode Island facilities.” 

        Hopefully, the states nursing home industry will disseminate the methods and practices identified as being successful by this research project to every facility in the state.  At least in Rhode Island, nursing facility residents should not be suffering from unnecessary pain.

        Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  This article appeared in December 10, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best of…Program Shows It’s Never Too Late to Become Artistic

            Published November 12, 2001, Pawtucket Times

 

           The painting of large colorful murals not only brightened up the lobby area, the main hall, and the lunchroom’s blank white walls but sparked the interest for art among seniors at Providence’s Westminster Senior Center.    

            Last week, the budding artists along with their admirers gathered in the Center’s 1,000 square foot basement to show off their artistic works (created with charcoal, pastels, colored pencils and acrylic paints), all produced during 20 art classes held over a 10 month period..  

           Providence  resident Natalie Austin, 69, a former legal secretary who now works part-time at the Westminister Senior Center as a receptionist, had little exposure to the arts.  Courses taken in elementary and high school, an art history course at Brown University, along with some attempts to paint her summer home in Maine,  summed up Natalie’s life experience in the arts in one sentence.

           Austin, a graduate of Brown University who rallied the seniors at the Center to support the offering of art lessons, knew that it would become a popular program.  While not wishing to replace the late Grandma Moses, an American painter who in her late 70s began to paint, Austin paints for her own pleasure and that of others, she says.

         One of Austin’s class assignments was to draw a picture with charcoal using the elements of Van Gogh’s  famous painting, “The Starry Night.”  The drawing of a bag and straw hat were done fairly fast,Austin admits, noting that the swirling lines and distinct outlines of the Van Gogh masterpiece are incorporated into her work.   

         Another class assignment, using a landscape painting drawn by Pierre Bonnard-Ford, taught Austin the proper way to mix and use colors.  Her colorful drawing, using blues and oranges, followed her instructors assignment of copying the French artist’s palette while painting another subject.   

         While pleased with the quality of the art work she has produced in the art classes,Austin quips, “There’s always room for improvement.  I am always competing with myself, trying to improve.”

         Meanwhile, other lessons are learned besides the technical skills of mixing paint or sharpening charcoal pencils.  “Art gives you  insight into what people are like,”Austin says, noting that it also reveals their values too.

         Professional artists Pierre Lamuniere-Ford, his wife Jenny Booth and Jen Iwasyk were able to develop this unique art program for seniors which included  the purchase art supplies, courtesy of a $5,000 grant from the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs.

         Much thought was put into creating the curriculum for each class, Lamuniere-Ford told All About Seniors.                  

        The instructors, all in their 30s, taught basic drawing techniques, from gesture to realistic drawing, along with color mixing to their older students.    

         “When classes began it was hard to get people to get past their self doubts that they could become artists,” Lamuniere-Ford said.  “We worked very hard to dislodge the myth that you are [born] immediately talented, he added..

         According to Lamuniere-Ford, his students learned that art should not always be viewed as a pretty picture. “Art can be disturbing  and not pretty to see,” he says, noting that it can reflect one’s soul or a person’s state of mind.     

         Additionally, the students were able to use art to help them learn more about each other.  More important, he says, “they became less critical of self and of others.”

         Executive Director Marianela Dougal, of the Westminster Senior Center, acknowledges that she is not an artist, but views herself as an art lover.  She believes that art classes at her Center provide seniors with an avenue to express themselves and to be creative, giving them an opportunity to gain a sense of well being.

         Adds Rachel Filinson, Ph.D., Coordinator of Gerontology Program at Rhode Island College,  research findings indicate that creativity extends into the later years.  “People who are artists their whole life continue to be very prolific in producing quality work as they did in their earlier years,” she says. 

         “Anything that is stimulating will promote both your mental and physical health,” adds Filinson.  

          Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. This article appeared in the November 12, 2001 issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best of…Seniors to Become Computer Savvy

           Published June  11, 2001, Pawtucket Times

           More than 50 years ago, Richard Walton received a Smith Corona portable typewriter from his parents for his 21st birthday.   Over the years the journalist and writer Walton, now age 73, touched typed eleven books on that bulky machine.  From his college days in the late forties until the early 1990s, he continued to use the antique typewriter.                 

         Today Walton has gone through three computers, his present system is a Compaq Presario, Model 7470.  “It pretty much has all the bells and whistles,” Walton says.  As a journalist he loves his computer because “you don’t have to retype entire pages.”  With his Smith Corona, any typos forced him to retype entire pages.   Now paragraphs can be moved around with ease, to view and change before the final draft.

         Walton gets other bennies from using new computer technology.  “I communicate with people everywhere using e-mail” he say,noting that when he needs to research topics for his articles its simple, just cruise the World Wide Web.

       Walton is one of growing number of seniors who are using the computer to keep in touch with family and friends, word processing documents, keeping the checkbook, making electronic purchases for a vast variety of items, from books, drugstore purchases to travel packages.  Seniors can also tap into this evolving technology to research and buy stocks and to do their banking and pay their bills. 

      Stacy Dieter, vice president of Business Development for SeniorNet, a nonprofit San Francisco-based company that teaches seniors to use computers and the internet, calls seniors “savvy” when it comes to operating computers.  “May be younger people are more use to maneuvering the mouse, but seniors can quickly pick up how the use the computer technology,” she says.

      Older adults are the fastest growing audience online, Dieter tells The Times.   According to Jupiter Communications, Dieter notes that by the year 2003, it is estimated that 27.3 million people over age 50 years old will be using the Internet regularly.”

       Adds Dieter, computer ownership is also slowly increasing too.   A SeniorNet and Charles Schwab & Company 1998 market research study found that 40 percent of all seniors now own a computer at home compared with 29 percent in 1995.  Meanwhile, seniors spend more time per month online (38 hours) than any other age group, with more than 83 percent making daily visits to the Internet, she says.

      Senior centers are also moving into the computer age by making computers more accessible to their older participants.   With assistance from the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA), a growing number of senior centers acrossRhode Islandare opening up computer labs. 

      With two Compaq computers provided by DEA, one donated by a Rhode Island  Dot.Com company, FindRI.Com, and one surplus City of Pawtucket computer, Joan Crawley, Director of Pawtucket’s Leon Mathius Senior Center, pieced together her equipment, bringing the computer age Pawtucket’s seniors.

        Beginning in June, a small multi-use room in the Senior Center, originally used for health promotion activities, was transformed into a computer lab.   The City of Pawtucket provided the expertise to install the computers with Internet access.

       “We’re in the organizational phase right now,”Crawley says, adding that her waiting list of seniors wanting to learn how to use computers and the Internet has grown to more than 30.

         Although Pawtucket’s Senior Center Director expects the computer lab to be up and running and courses taught by the fall, the computers are now available for use by those who are knowledgeable about their use.  Half and hour time slots will be made available to these individuals.

          Meanwhile, volunteer instructors are now being recruited to teach the basics (using computer’s key board and mouse) to learning computer software programs and how to surf the Internet.          “The perfect volunteer might be someone who has recently retired and wants to share their expertise,”Crawley says.  The more volunteers will allow the computer lab to have extended hours. .

          Why a computer lab?   “We want our seniors to use the Internet to look up information on health care, Social Security or even about Medicare. Crawley notes that a social worker will be available to assist the computer user in culling the needed information from the targeted web sites.

          Crawley adds, “Ultimately we would like to get an e-mail address so that seniors can talk to their love ones who live are far away.”  Additionally, she believes that savvy senior computer users can save money too, by not spending money for newspapers and magazine subscriptions.  They can just use the Internet to seek out information in hundreds of thousands of newspapers or magazines published around the world.

          By adding a computer lab to the Senior Center’s programming, “We’re very excited about bringing Pawtucket’s senior population into the 21st century,Crawley says gleefully.

          SeniorNet is the world’s largest trainer of adults over 50 on computer technology and the Internet with 220+ SeniorNet Learning Centers in 38 states as well as the best on-line community for older
adults at http://www.seniornet.org.

           Herbert P. Weiss is a Pawtucket Rhode Island-based writer covering aging, health and medical care  This article appeared in June 11, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best of…RSVP Provides Volunteer Opportunities Throughout Rhode Island

         Published July  2, 2001, Pawtucket Times

         A little bit of leisure activity, combined with a part-time job, with a little volunteering are just the right mix of ingredients to make Janet Catineault’s retirement years fulfilling.   

          At age 68, Catineault, who formerly was employed by Fuller Box Company in Central Falls and International Packaging in Pawtucket, now works as a part-time receptionist at the City ofPawtucket’sLeonMathieuSeniorCenter.  The semi-retired Pawtucket resident has joined 4,500 senior volunteers in Rhode Island who give time to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.  This federally funded program, authorized by Congress in 1971, helps people age 55 and older put their skills and live experience to work in their communities.  RSVP volunteers serve in a wide variety of organizations ranging from hospitals and nursing homes, youth recreational centers to local police stations, historic sites to education facilities.

         Serving as an RSVP volunteer at the Leon Mathieu Senior Center, Catineault has taken on the role of a friendly visitor an elderly woman.  “I took her out to visit different nursing homes,” said the RSVP volunteer, noting that a tour of these facilities allowed her older companion to have a choice in the selection of a facility.   Additionally, Catineault has served meals at the Pawtucket senior center and has assisted another homebound elderly person with shopping, banking, and housework.

         “I volunteer with RSVP because I enjoy helping people out,” Catineault tells The Times.  “I thought about doing this for years and now that I have a few extra hours, I do it.  When we visit seniors it gives them something to look forward to, a little lift for the day and makes them feel important,” she said.

          At the RSVP program, sponsored by Blackstone Valley Community Action Program (BVCAP), there are 43 volunteer sites throughout Pawtucket,Central Falls, Lincoln and Cumberland, noted Caleb Petrin, the nonprofit community action program’s RSVP Director. 

         According to Petrin, 183 seniors age 55 and over have signed up to give their time at 43 volunteer sites throughout Pawtucket,Central Falls,LincolnandCumberland.  These seniors put in approximately 6,000 volunteer hours in nursing homes, churches, senior centers, meal sites, historic sites, like Slater Mill, hospitals, along with assisting in educational outreach initiatives, tutoring and mentoring.

        From his office at BVCAP, Petrin along with a part-time staffer determine community needs, design programs, and finally recruit and place RSVP volunteers.  “Our RSVP program is specifically designed to get seniors to become more involved and to have a stake in their community,” he said, noting that the volunteers bring their life experiences and skills to improve the quality of life at the volunteer sites.

         Senior RSVP volunteers are recognized in a newsletter and at an annual recognition dinner, Petrin noted, adding that the event serves as a way for volunteers to share with each other their positive volunteer experiences.

         “One of our newest volunteer stations is atPawtucket’s Slater Mill Historic Site,” Petrin said.  “Now we have two RSVP volunteers who provide information about the historic mill  to visitors. These positions are going to be evolving from providing information into helping with programming and interpretation,” he added.   

       Vin Marzullo, Rhode Island Director of the Corporation for National Service, an independent federal agency responsible for overseeing the nation’s domestic volunteer programs and RSVP states that other RSVP offices are located in Cranston, East Providence, South Kingston, Providence, Kent County and Woonsocket.

       Marzullo stated that volunteer service time is valued at $ 13 per hour.  Thus, he calculates that volunteer service provided by 4,500 Rhode Island RSVP volunteers is valued at $6.5 million.

        RSVP volunteers are playing a tremendous community problem-solving role.   “The reality is our seniors are experienced, knowledgeable of the community and they’ve addressed so many life challenges and situations.  They can help so many people in need if they are given the opportunity, Marzullo said.

        Marzullo firmly believes that RSVP allows older Americans to be valued and continue their contributions to their communities. 

        Herbert P. Weiss is a Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based free lance writer covering aging, medical and health care issues.  This article was published in July 2, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweiss@aol.com