Published in Pawtucket Times on December 18, 2017
“To Serve and Not be Served” – Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus
AARP Rhode Island recognizes its own, Phil Zarlengo, for his decades of serving the state’s and the nation’s seniors. Over 130 family and fellow AARP Rhode Island members gathered at the Warwick Country Club at a luncheon ceremony to recognize his remarkable service to America’s largest aging advocacy group.
AARP top national officials (Joan R. Ruff, Chair of the AARP National Board of Directors, Kelly Clark, AARP Eastern Region Vice-president and Megan Hookley, AARP Vice President, Volunteerism & Services), came bringing their greetings.
Last week, Zarlengo, 71, a resident of Jamestown for over 30 years, became the 16th recipient AARP Rhode Island Ethel Percy Andrus Award for Community Service — the nonprofit group’s most prestigious and visible state volunteer award for community service.
Every year, Andrus Award recipients across the nation are chosen for their ability to enhance the lives of AARP members and prospective members, improve the community in or for which the work was performed, and inspire others to volunteer.
An Easy Pick
Zarlengo, a native of Chicopee, Massachusetts, was nominated for the Rhode Island Chapter’s prestigious award by Alan Neville, a retired executive in the financial services sector who now serves as AARP Rhode Island state president. “It was a very easy to pick Zarlengo,,” says Neville, acknowledging that “working with him has been a great privilege for me.”
“He is dedicated to public service and I consider him to be an authentic leader,” says Neville.
“As I have gotten to know him, I have come to appreciate the depth and breadth of Phil’s knowledge and experience,” says Neville, echoing many at the December 10 award ceremony who observed that the former teacher and school administrator’s volunteer efforts extend far beyond AARP to countless other regional and national groups and span decades of giving back to his community.
Zarlengo’s professional and educational credentials are impressive. He has a bachelor’s degree in Social Science from UMASS Amherst, an MA in History from Brown University, a doctorate in Management & Evaluation from the University of Connecticut and a Public Affairs Certificate from Tufts University.
Zarlengo Brings a lot to the Plate
A quick glance at his bio reveals his love for education. Zarlengo was Executive Director of Brown University’s National Education Research Lab, where he developed new models for teacher and school program evaluations disseminated across the nation. As an administrator in the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Providence School Department he monitored state and local programs for special population children. Currently, he is CEO of his own management consulting firm that evaluates and helps improve innovative school programs for low achieving students in urban schools, and is a member of the ACE Charter School Board of Directors.
Zarlengo’s award “acts as a symbol to the public that we can all work together for positive social change,” AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell told the attending. “AARP has long valued the spirit of volunteerism and the important contributions volunteers make to their communities, neighbors, and the programs they serve,” she said.
Connell considered Zarlengo a guiding light to AARP Rhode Island when he was asked to assist in organizing the first AARP Rhode Island state office in Providence. She had reached out to her former boss after working with him at Brown to serve as the aging advocacy group’s first volunteer state president.
“His advice on elderly and elderly issues was invaluable and his commitment extraordinary,” Connell says, stressing that Zarlengo “helped to put our office on the map early on, and in recognition of his work he moved swiftly on to his position on the National Board.”
Zarlengo eventually put his energies at the national level by serving on AARP National Board and Board Chair before stepping down in 2012. During his 14 years of volunteer service, he has been an energetic defender of Social Security and Medicare and a strong voice in improving healthcare quality and access for all. Since he left his national position three years ago, he still remains active in AARP in many roles, including AARP’s designee on the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, with a focus on helping older Americans prepare for natural disasters. He works closely with AARP Rhode Island’s legislative committee, bringing his understanding of complex national aging policy issues to the General Assembly when they are considering legislation impacting older Rhode Islanders.
“Nonetheless, he never left our fold, offering counsel and assistance whenever asked – and often when we didn’t ask. That’s Phil’s style and everyone who has ever worked with him here has benefited from his vision, wisdom and his warm enthusiasm,” says Connell.
Top AARP Volunteer Comes to Rhode Island
The award was presented by Joan Ruff, current AARP National Board Chair, who has worked as a executive, human resources consultant and attorney. “You have left more than a legacy of service for those of us who have followed in your footsteps,” she said, before presenting the award.
“Your instinct to emphasize the value of state offices and engines for positive social change and to focus on what we now call engaging locally was spot on. You made the case that the more engaged our membership is with AARP the more likely they are to get involved, to renew their commitment and to tell friends and family members about the value of the work we do,” noted Ruff.
“To Zarlengo’s surprise, Huff also conveyed a letter from AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, which read in part, “Having previously served as AARP Rhode Island’s State President, as a national board member for six years and as AARP Board Chair for two years, you know as well as anyone the high level of commitment and dedication this honor represents.
“As a former state president, you were always thinking about how to make the states and national office work more closely together and how to make AARP a stronger presence in local communities across the country.
“You were instrumental in pushing for the integration of the states into AARP’s strategy development and in making AARP more of a local presence across the country. As president of AARP Foundation at the time, I was energized by your support for The Drive to End Hunger and our efforts in financial services,” Jenkins wrote.
“When AARP decided to bring Experience Corps into the AARP family of programs, you saw the benefit of serving all generations to help strengthen our communities. And, as AARP’s representative to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), you spearheaded AARP’s relief efforts in communities hit by natural disasters, leaving a legacy we continue to build on today.
Accolades, Accolades, Accolades
Dr. Reid Appleby, 38, ophthalmologist in East Greenwich who has known Zarlengo for over 48 years, calls him “a wonderful man who is dedicated to society and a friend to everyone he ever met.” It is very appropriate that he receive this prestigious award at this point in his life, says Appleby.
“It’s incredibly important to recognize his work,” says Senator Dawn Euer, representing Newport and Jamestown, noting that she had heard stories about his impact on the state’s aging policy. “It’s valuable for organizations like AARP to recognize their volunteers working to address aging issues that have an impact on the state and nation,” she said, noting that her legislative district has the highest concentration of AARP members in the Ocean State.
Senator Louis P. Dipalma, representing Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton, was not surprised that Zarlengo was receiving AARP’s most prestigious award because “his record is impressive.”
According to Dipalma, you need more people like Zarlengo with their extensive knowledge of Social Security and Medicare with such trying times at the federal level with a GOP Congress looking to cut these programs.
When accepting his recognition, an overwhelmed Zarlengo stated that he was not ready to hang up his spurs and there was still much work to do with Congress targeting Social Security and Medicare for cuts. “ AARP has given me the opportunity to grow, to contribute, to learn and to enjoy – at a very exciting time – when the older population is rapidly increasing – you know today nationally we have surpassed the 50 million mark of seniors age 65 and over and we’re well on our way to reaching 83 million by 2080.”
AARP’ Zarlengo and tens of thousands of committed AARP volunteers throughout the nation will be there “to serve and not be served.”
Zarlengo resides in Jamestown with his wife Charlotte. They are parents of, Nancy Gilbert (who resides in Wellesley, Mass., with her husband Michael) and are grandparents of Jeffrey, Elizabeth and Abigail.