Radio Talk Show Host St. Pierre to be Inducted into Pawtucket Hall of Fame

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 22, 2017

After 40 years, the life’s work of Ron St. Pierre, who grew up on Vine Street in Pawtucket’s Darlington section, has not only stood the test of time, for he has become a longtime fixture in the Rhode Island broadcast community. One of his most shining achievements was being inducted into the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame in 2010. This Pawtucket native has certainly gone a long way in his broadcasting profession and its particularly rewarding to hear his local pride is still there, as he tells stories on-the-air about growing up here.

The Pawtucket Hall of Fame is extremely proud to welcome St. Pierre into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame, who will join 7 other award recipients on Friday October, 27, 2017 at the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center beginning at 6 pm. This award is given to those individuals who have gone “above and beyond” in helping their community and/or have been a vehicle to shine a positive light on the city. This is a way of recognizing those pertinent and outstanding contributions.

A Four-Decade History of Achievements

Once he got into the broadcasting profession, St. Pierre turned his talents up to full throttle. During his time at Rhode Island College, he began to learn the ropes of TV production as a weekend cameraman for WJAR TV10 in Providence. He started his radio career at WNRI in Woonsocket in 1977 and never looked back. His first major position was as Program Director for 920 WHJJ AM from 1982 to 1988, now known as NewsRadio 920. He was also part of The WHJJ Morning Show at that time, eventually serving as Program Director for both 920 WHJJ AM and its sister station, 94 HJY FM during the last year of this tenure.

During his time at WHJJ, St Pierre literally helped revolutionize talk radio in Rhode Island in terms of listenership and ratings. He recruited then-mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci for his first stint as a talk-show host at this time, while working with other local radio stalwarts such as Steve Kass.

In his “spare” time, St. Pierre served as a weekend sports anchor for WPRI TV-12. During the early and mid 1990s, he managed several stations in Providence, before taking a series of management positions in West Palm Beach and New York City. He returned to Rhode Island radio in 1997. Now, he began with a highly successful on-air and program-management tenure at WPRO 630 AM, again enabling his chosen station to rise to the apex of listenership and ratings in our state’s highly competitive radio market. The station’s hosts at that time included the legendary Salty Brine, along with the return of Buddy Cianci to the airwaves — with whom he co-hosted a highly successful afternoon drive-time show.

Fittingly, Ron St. Pierre’s career has now come full circle as a popular morning-drive host at NewsRadio 920 (formerly 920 WHJJ). His unassuming, authentic style and natural quick-wit are enjoyed daily by a wide expanse of radio listeners in Rhode Island and neighboring Southeastern New England.

The early genesis of a creative spirit

Anyone who knew Ron St. Pierre back at Pawtucket-based Saint Raphael Academy was pretty sure that he would in up in the broadcasting business. It would also most likely be in front of a microphone — where his personality, wit and intelligence could take him quite far.

“In his high school yearbook profile, at St. Raphael Academy in 1973, Ron said his life’s goal was to become a sportscaster. So a career in broadcast was always in his mind. But he opened it up a lot wider than any of us could imagine,” says Ron Fournier, an advertising copywriter and musician who’s known the WHJJ talk show host for over 40 years.

During high school and college days, St. Pierre was already working magic with his reel-to-reel tape recorder. He would create uproariously funny audio bits, in the style of the classic National Lampoon and Firesign Theatre albums at that time. He was already setting himself up to be a voice talent and producer back then.

“Ron is a virtual encyclopedia of comedy who’s studied all the greats — from the Marx Brothers to the present day,” Fournier adds. “That’s where his quick wit comes from. On the air, you never know what kind of quip or one-liner is coming next. But you know it’ll be a classic in his trademark. tongue-in-cheek style of humor.”

St. Pierre now lives now in East Greenwich with his wife, Patti, and their dog, Hazel.

Announcing the 2017 Pawtucket Hall of Fame Inductees

The Pawtucket Hall of Fame cordially invites the public attend its annual Pawtucket Hall of Fame Banquet and Induction Ceremony on Friday, October 27, 2017 beginning at 6pm (reception), 7pm (dinner) at the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center 172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket, RI. Tickets may be purchased at the Blackstone Valley Visitor’s Center, 175 Main Street, Pawtucket, RI, open 7 days a week from 10-4pm. Our Master of Ceremonies for the evening will be Anchor/Reporter, Alison Bologna from WJAR NBC10.

This year’s 2017 Pawtucket Hall of Fame Inductees are: (civic activist) Janina “Jean” Babiec; (American film director) Kevin Lima; (the late) coach and coordinator Robert K. Neill, Sr.; and (legendary Rhode Island radio broadcaster) Ron St. Pierre. Also, being recognized this year as “historical inductees” are (the late) Dr. Ellen R. Jolly and (the late) Edwin Darling. In addition to these inductions, the tradition of presenting the “Person of the Year” award, which began three years ago as a special award given to recognize the person(s) the committee believes has made an outstanding contribution over the past year will be shared by two recipients this year: Mayor Donald R. Grebien, City of Pawtucket and Adrienne Marchetti, Director of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen.

Tickets are $45.00 per person (cash or check only) and must be purchased in advance. Tables of (10) may be purchased to accommodate a group or family, and should be purchased early and as available. Tickets will not be sold at the door. Tickets may be purchased at the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center, 175 Main St., Pawtucket, RI – open 7 days a week from 10-4pm. Checks should be made payable to: Pawtucket Hall of Fame Committee.

The Pawtucket Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization established in 1986 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Pawtucket as a city. The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to honor the contributions of people whose efforts, in any line of endeavor, have added to the heritage of the City of Pawtucket.

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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.

Checking That off My Bucket List

This ‘Age Beat’ Writer to Publish Collected Stories on a Myriad of Aging Issues

Published in Woonsocket call on August 7, 2016

With the graying of America, a growing number of aging Baby Boomers and seniors are turning to newspapers, television and cable shows and even the Internet to learn more about growing old. This “age beat” coverage percolates up from the bottom of a newsroom, often with middle-aged reporters and editors/producers who are now facing the elder care issues of their elderly parents or in-laws, says San Francisco-based journalist Paul Kleyman, who edits Generations Age Beat Online (GBONews.org), an e-newsletter of the Journalists Network on Generations, distributed to more than 1,000 journalists and authors on aging. They discover “what a huge, untold story it is,” he notes.

Over the years, like many of the nation’s news organization’s The Pawtucket Times, created an ‘Age Beat’ in 2002 that allowed this writer for several years to cover a myriad of aging issues, including Social Security and Medicare, ethics, long-term care, consumer issues, spirituality, pop culture, health care and economics. Ultimately I returned in July 2012 to resume writing of my weekly commentary, with The Woonsocket Call picking it up. My ‘Age Beat’ at these Northern Rhode Island daily newspapers continues to this day.

As an ‘age beat’ journalist for over 36 years, I have penned more than 600 stories covering aging, health care and medical issues. These authored and coauthored pieces have appeared in national, state and local trade and association publications, daily, weekly and monthly newspapers and even news blogs.

AARP Rhode Island recognized my journalistic efforts to educate the public on aging issues in Amy weekly commentaries that appeared in The Pawtucket Times when I received AARP Rhode Island’s 2003 Vision Award. My efforts in covering the long-term care continuum caught the attention of the American College of Health Care Administrators and I became a two time recipient, in 1994 and again in 1999, of its Journalism Award. I also was awarded the Distinguished Alumni’s Award by the Center for Studies in Aging, North Texas State University, in 1997, for my career coverage of aging issues. In 1997, the prestigious McKnight’s LTC News identified me as one of its “100 Most Influential People” in Long-Term Care.

Crossing ‘One Thing to Do’ Off My Bucket List

As a seasoned writer I can now cross off the publishing of my first book from my life’s bucket list. My first book, a collection of 79 newspaper commentaries, will be published shortly by Chepachet-based Stillwater River Publications. Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, brings together this collection published in the Pawtucket Times, and Woonsocket Call, each article citing the date it was published.

Although a commentary in this book may have been written years ago, and the person quoted is no longer in his or her position or even deceased, the insight that they gave in their interview is still factual and valuable. While most of my sources are from Rhode Island, their stories are universal and their insights applicable anywhere in the nation.

The 291 page book is chock full of researched stories and insightful interviews with experts and everyday people who have shared their personal observations about growing older. The stories cover a variety of aging issues ranging from caregiving and retirement planning, health and wellness, mental health, preplanning your funeral, choosing the right nursing home, Social Security and Medicare, and pop culture to thoughts about spirituality and death.

A short summary on the back of the book says, “Don’t just grow older, take charge and age boldly!” The collection of stories, organized in 13 chapters offers readers – age 50 plus and even those younger – insights and practical information as to how they can plan and enjoy a full and satisfying quality of life unparalleled in our history. With increasing lifespans, Americans are living longer, decades after our retirement.

In Praise of…

 In the foreword of this book, Kathleen S. Connell State Director of AARP Rhode Island, sets the stage for readers as to what they can expect from reading this book. “He moves beyond the surface to explore the facts as well as the depth of feelings beneath it. In this era of speed and change, with eternal youth as a major goal, he takes the time to find the truth, and then uses it to illuminate the many facts of aging with timeless observations delivered in lively readable portions, says Connell.  Meanwhile, short pithy statements on the back cover of Taking Charge: Collective Stories on Aging Boldly, from well-known Rhode Islanders and national aging experts give their thumbs up and endorsement of this book. Specifically:

“Herb Weiss’ book gives practical information for caregivers and a foreshadowing for those of us approaching retirement years. Links keep the information fresh.” — Dr. Nancy Carriuolo, former President of Rhode Island College.

“Herb Weiss reminds our anti-aging society that becoming pro-aging can bring us greater rewards than mere wrinkle cream and tummy tucks.” — Paul Kleyman, Publisher of Generations Beat Online, the E-News of the Journalist Network on Generations

‘Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly’ is more than a book about aging well. What it actually reveals is how to live well. Each page crackles with insight, perspective and good advice. There’s a lot of hard-earned wisdom to be found on these pages.” —John O’Connor, Editorial Director at McKnight’s Long-Term Care News

“These stories within stories blend real-world wisdom and research to create an engaging and enlightening view of the many sides of aging that is both informative and inspiring.” —Dr. Phil Clark, Director of Gerontology Program, University of Rhode Island

“Herb Weiss’ unique experience as a journalist, congressional aide, arts and culture critic and aging expert come together beautifully in this rich sweep of commentary on aging in America today.” — William Benson, Managing Principal in Health Benefits and former Assistant Secretary for Aging, U.S. Administration on Aging

“Herb Weiss knows well the power of the personal story to both teach and learn. Aging brings changes and challenges, whether we are a caregiver, the one in care, or anyone who is dealing with his or her own aging.” —Connie Goldman, Speaker, Author, and Public Radio Producer on Aging Issues.

Everybody Has Their Story to Tell

Yes, the stories in Taking Charge: Collective Stories on Aging Boldly, clearly show that everyone has their own story to tell, a personal life experience that just might provide a road map to the reader on how to age better and even living a longer and healthier life.

Like my fellow Age Beat colleagues, I will continue to bring my readers in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call the latest, most informative coverage of aging, medical and health-care issues you need to know about in future articles, even books.

The price of Taking Charge: Collective Stories on Aging Boldly is $20 (includes free shipping and handling). Just ask — I am glad to sign copies of your book. For purchasing information email, hweissri@aol.com.

 

Regular Folks Give Sound Advice to Class of 2016 for Future Success

Published in Pawtucket Times on June 6, 2016

As previous years, high-profile commencement speakers are coming to Rhode Island’s Colleges and Universities selected to give to the robed 2016 graduates their unique practical tips as to how one can have a rewarding personal and professional career. As I mentioned last May in my weekly commentary, these widely-recognized speakers can quickly bring prestige to the educational institution but they oftentimes command big bucks for their brief appearance. . . .

Like last year this writer calls for choosing regular folks to give commencement speeches to graduating College seniors. Their practical tips, suggestions and “words of wisdom” are honed each and every day at work and through their personal intimate relationships with family and friends and by the challenges faced throughout their life’s journey.

The following advice from these Rhode Islanders can be especially helpful to those graduating to cope in a very complex and changing world.

Doug Allen, 53, Douglas, Massachusetts (formerly from Lincoln, Rhode Island.), owner of Lincoln Associates. “Look around at your fellow graduates. There is at least one person here that you never spoke to, nor socialized with, that will someday become extremely successful. And they, unfortunately, will remember how they were treated in high school. Don’t make this mistake again. Every person you come in contact with could be that person who changes your life. Make it a point to say a kind word to everyone. Otherwise, you will never know if the next Mark Zuckerberg sat beside you in math class your sophomore year.”

Richard Blockson, 61, Providence, former general manager of The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call, who currently works in the financial service sector. “Striving to be a person of sound character is an admirable goal. It cannot be bought, given to you or taken away. It levels the playing field between privileged and underprivileged. It will help guide you through troubled waters and grant you a path of good decisions during your lifetime.”

Carol Conley, 60, Pawtucket, assistant to the executive director, Rhode Island Film Office, Rhode Island. “Be grateful. Be kind. Karma is a real thing. Give to others what you would like to receive and it will eventually come back to you. Wait for it; trust the universe’s timing. Challenge yourself. Conquer your fears. Never, ever give up.”

Michelle DePlante, 29, Cumberland, director of programs, Leadership Rhode Island, “Discover who you are and what strengths you bring to the table. Engage with people who seem the least like you and listen to them to understand, not simply to reply. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable – you’ll grow as a person, and life will never be boring. Get to know your neighbors and be accountable to your community.”

Diane Dufresne, 63, Pawtucket, director at Pawtucket Prevention Coalition, “Take the knowledge and experience of those who have mentored you and invested in you, those who have helped mold your life and use that to become the best version of yourself that you can be……use what you have gained and contribute to make society better……one day you will have the opportunity to mentor others and you will impact another person to do the same.”.

Paul C. Harden, 56, Newport, director of Transportation Technology at New England Institute of Technology, “As a college graduate take every opportunity to learn, consider new ideas and develop new skills. You do not have to go back to school and get another degree. Trying reading books, taking a free online course or finding a mentor who can give you sound counsel.”

Mike Lyons, 73, East Providence, corporate and community partnerships, Pawtucket Red Sox Baseball Club, “Henry David Thoreau is the author of one of my favorite quotes: To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.’ College Graduates in particular have both the opportunity and responsibility that their education has afforded them to make each day matter.”

John Resnick, 52, Cranston, entrepreneur, “I have learned that your parents may try to live their lives through you and your career choice. Never give up your own dreams to follow the dreams and plans your parents may have for you. The only thing that you owe your parents is the promise that you continually pursue happiness throughout the course of your life.”

Wayne Rosenberg, 60, Providence, real estate broker and construction manager, “Most college degrees are not going to be your ticket to financial freedom. Your most important challenge you will face is finding meaningful work. You must realize that no one can do this for you but yourself. Take charge. If you cannot find employment consider becoming your own boss and employ yourself.”

Joyce Silvestri, 62, Seekonk, Massachusetts, former banquet director at Twelve Acres, “As you are entering upon your post-graduation experience, it is important to remember that as much as you are all vying for possible jobs or post graduate education, the competition will be even greater than you have experienced so far. Reflecting on what you have heard and seen in this election year, you would be wise to entertain this workplace or educational competition without losing sight of civility. That would be your true success.”

Jim Tiernan, 55, Hamilton, owner of 80 Fountain Street, LLC, a Pawtucket mill that houses artists and creative sector companies. “It is important for graduating seniors to realize that not many people know what they want to be when they ‘grow up.’ Don’t fret about making that perfect choice or worry that you don’t have a passion for your chosen field of education. You won’t always make perfect choices, but with a little thought and feedback from your friends and those older your choice will lead you in a positive direction. Wherever you land, learn from those around you with more experience and become as fully engaged in life as you possibly can. You only go around once.”

Rico Vota, 34, Cranston, communications & constituent affairs officer, City of Pawtucket. “You never know when the last time you talked to someone, is going to be the last time you talk to someone. Make every interaction you have with people count for something.”

And this writer, concludes with his favorite quote from the Roman poet Horace’s Odes. “Carpe Diem , Quam Minimum Credula Postero.” Translation: “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow.”

‘The Age of Disruption Tour’ Comes to Cranston

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 8, 2016
By Herb Weiss

Internationally- acclaimed aging expert Dr. Bill Thomas and musical guest Nate Silas Richardson come to the Ocean State to offer an entertaining and highly disruptive exploration of aging at the Park Theatre, 848 Park Ave., Cranston, RI 02910 —from 2:30 to 4:30 PM and 7:00 to 8:30 PM on Thursday May 19, 2016, as part of The Age of Disruption Tour.

Dr. Thomas says that his message is quite simple – transitioning into later life should not be spent in “frenzied disharmony.” To play “life’s most dangerous game” successfully “we need to reimagine and create clear and satisfying purpose to how we spend the rest of our lives,” he adds.

The Beginning

Over 25 years ago, Thomas, a 31-year-old physician who was less than two years out of family residency, took a job as medical director of a nursing facility with 80 severely disabled residents. Ultimately the Harvard-trained physician would put together a program in the facility in Upper New York that advocated a shifting away from the institutional model of care to one that is person-directed. .

Thomas recalled, “The place was depressing, with old people parked in wheelchairs like frogs on a log, bored with nothing to do, just waiting for death to finally reach them. It was horrible.”

So the young physician made unthinkable changes to care plans. He persuaded the facility and staff to get two dogs, four cats, several hens and rabbits, and 100 parakeets, along with hundreds of plants, a vegetable and flower garden, and a day-care site for staffers’ kids. At the time, there were laws prohibiting animals in nursing homes. They went ahead anyway.

Thomas’s unorthodox methods had astounding results. Dr. Atal Gawande detailed the impact in his 2014 best-selling book Being Mortal. The residents started caring for the plants and animals, and this restored their spirits and their interest in doing things. Many started taking better care of themselves, venturing out of their rooms and eating and interacting with people again. Prescription drug use was reduced 50 percent, particularly for drugs utilized to reduce anxiety and agitation. Medication costs plummeted, and so did the death rate.

Meanwhile, New York and other states changed the law to allow animals in old age homes and facilities. At some facilities, trucks were hired to take away the accumulations of wheelchairs that were no longer being used.

In 1991, Thomas and his wife Judith Meyers-Thomas co-founded a non-profit called The Eden Alternative to share what they had learned in New York. Today, The Eden Alternatives’ primary mission has expanded to provide education and training to care providers working in home care, community-based care like adult day programs, meals on wheels, senior centers, and, retirement communities, assisted living and nursing homes. “More than 30,000 people worldwide have participated in Eden education including all 50 states and 13 countries. There are currently more than 200 organizations who are members of the Eden Alternative registry,” he says, noting that 13 countries have organizations active in the Eden Alternative movement.

“The idea that care is about helping someone to grow – not just treating illness or injury — touches people in a fundamental way,” Thomas says. Traditional approaches to care tend to focus solely on the human body, while The Eden Alternative philosophy seeks to improve well-being for the whole person. This includes having a sense of purpose and a voice and choice regarding our own care. In 1991,

Since 1991, Thomas’ paradigm shift in care philosophy, to reduce loneliness, helplessness and boredom, has truly become an international movement

On the Road

Thomas formally stepped down as President of The Eden Alternative board in 2014 but is still deeply connected to the movement, notes Kavan Peterson, director of Thomas’ latest project, the 2016 Age of Disruption Tour. For instance, Thomas keynoted the 8th Eden International Conference on May 2 in Little Rock, Arkansas, he says.

The Age of Disruption Tour features Thomas’ signature “non-fiction theater” performance called “Aging: Life’s Most Dangerous Game.” Dr. Thomas has performed in 65 cities in 28 states since 2014, says Peterson. “We’ve had just over 20,000 tickets sold,” he says, noting that the 2016 tour will go to 35 cities, including five stops in Canada and stopovers in the United Kingdom next December.

The tour came about when he heard AARP CEO JoAnn Jenkins in 2014 declare her intentions to launch a “disrupt aging” movement aimed at inspiring people to embrace their age and open their eyes to the possibilities and opportunities that come with aging, notes Thomas. “I had recently been dabbling in harnessing the power of the arts — theater, music, live performance — as a tool for social change. I launched the Age of Disruption Tour with the support of AARP to champion the concept of disrupting aging at the local grassroots level. The movement has grown and expanded from there,” he says.

The 2016 tour expanded to include an afternoon educational workshop called “Disrupt Dementia.”

The purpose of the workshop is to directly challenge the tragedy narrative people associate with Alzheimer’s disease and provide an educational experience that opens the audience’s eyes to the possibility of living well with memory loss, says Peterson. You will find the workshop highly theatrical as well– there is a film, a live music concert, and even the workshop section is designed to reach people in an emotional level. “This is an important element to the show to provide an immersive experience for the attendees to open their hearts in order to open their minds to new ways of thinking about aging, he adds.”

Peterson says the Age of Disruption Tour, whose local tour stop is sponsored by PACE and AARP, has had a positive impact on the audience. One attendee said, “It was elegant, warm, and exquisitely-produced. Every single detail. The love was palpable.” Another noted: “Dr. Thomas’ tour not only created a platform to have these inspired conversations, but brought together music, theatre, and play to remind [us] that living life to the fullest is an ageless concept.”

The tour has also had a lasting impact on communities, says Peterson. “In Portland Oregon, the city’s Age Friendly initiative organized a year-long public outreach campaign called “What are Old People For” based on Dr. Thomas’ book of the same name. In other cities the events have helped boost local coalitions ranging from supporting Age Friendly City movements, the Village to Village Network, and, the Eden Alternative movements, book clubs and consciousness raising groups, he notes.

A Good Fit for AARP Rhode Island

“AARP enjoys working with Bill Thomas, for many reasons. Chief among them is his innovative and entertaining approach to getting people to think differently about age and aging,” observed AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Age is something that happens to all of us. But Bill always finds new ways to inspire people to look at age through a different, more positive and affirmative lens. Society is stubbornly negative about aging, equating it with decline. It’s a notion so pervasive that people have come to believe it. Turning that around is what the tour is all about and it’s a good fit with that AARP is doing to disrupt aging,” Connell says.

“An expression that is getting traction is ‘own your age,” Connell added. “Essentially, it means that people should forget about assumptions and prejudices assigned to age. Turning 50 does not make you old. Turning 60 does not mean you’ve peaked. Turning 70 doesn’t make you anything. Owning your age is about you and the life you have chosen to live – not what people think of when they think of a number, she notes.

Ticket Information: $15 per show $30 for both https://drbillthomas.org/local/

Survival Story: Former Business Owner Overcomes Devastating Setbacks 

Published in Senior Digest, April 2016

If you are in pursuit of the American Dream, you probably weren’t given a roadmap that would guarantee a successful journey. Ask the average man or woman on the street today what immediate thoughts come to mind about owning your own business, and you’ll probably hear ‘being your own boss’, and ‘working your own hours’ that top the list of perceptions. But when opening your own business becomes the alternative to unemployment in your later years, as Donald, Russell, Jr. found out, it may not be what you expected or even planned. Like millions of middle-aged workers in the early 1990s, a severe economic downturn forced this Central Falls resident to make choices that ultimately would financially hit his pocketbook as he approached retirement.

Donald Russell had worked his way up from stock boy to manager at F.W. Woolworth Co., one of the areas original five-and-dime stores. During his 33 year career with this large big-box retail company, what was at the time the fourth largest retailer in the world operating over 5,000 stores, he eventually managed seven of the retail company’s stores, one located in Providence (at Westminster and Dorrance Streets), and the others in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York.

But everything changed in the late 1990’s, and this 117 year old company struggled to compete with the growing big discount stores. F.W. Woolworth filed for bankruptcy protection, and Russell, facing unemployment, had to quickly make major career decisions. He knew that, “at age 52, big box competitors don’t want you,” or if he was offered a position, the salary would be much lower than what he was used to. “I could not take less because I had to pay for my daughter’s college education,” he added.

Russell credits “courses he took at Boston College” for teaching him valuable lessons on how to open a small business, and with knowledge in hand, he was ready to take that leap of faith and open his own business. . Russell decided to cash out his $80,000 pension (less penalties) and combined with a loan from U.S. Small Business Administration, he would have enough capital to open a small retail business.

Getting into the Pet Business

Russell spent time researching a market niche, searching for one that would not put him in direct competition with the chain store. He discovered that the pet business was not really sought after by “big box retailers” and at that time “there were only 30,000 pet stores throughout the country. Today the number has decreased to 6,000.” Now . Russell found his niche, and in 1997 opened his business “Dr. Doolittle’s Pets & More”, a small pet store in an East Providence shopping plaza. Though situated between two large Petco stores – one in Rumford, RI and the other in North Attleboro, MA., Russell did not view the large chain stores as competition, for he knew his prices were better. In 1997 when Russell opened his store, small business accounted for about 85 percent of the nation’s economy, he states, noting that today this percentage has dropped to 70 percent.

Business was strong when Dr. Doolittle’s first opened and for over 13 years, Russell employed seven full and part time employees. However, by 2004 “the economy began to take a dive” and juggling the monthly rent, utilities and employee salaries became difficult when his cash flow slowed. Russell began to loose money.
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By 2006 his revenue had dropped 30 percent from the previous year, and neighboring big stores located in the plaza, like Ocean State Job Lot, began to close. In an effort to trim expenses, Russell was able to renegotiate his rent to a lower amount, however “losing the Stop & Shop Supermarket in the next plaza, which was a main draw to the area, “was ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

Taking from Peter to Pay Paul

Like thousands of small business owners in the Ocean State, Russell had to juggle each month to meet his expenses, which included his RI sales tax. Choosing to pay his monthly sales tax or paying his employees salary was not an easy choice to make, but he could not pay both. “I chose to pay my employees” first, with the plan to make up my [delinquent] sales tax later” he stated, noting however, that the “economy put the brakes to that”. “I could not even borrow a dime even with an excellent credit rating of 750,” added Russell. The poor economy had forced banks to cut off credit to small businesses – period.

In 2009, the Rhode Island Department of Taxation came knocking on his door, and the now 65-year-old pet store owner was forced to close his business because he was in arrears on his payment of sales taxes. While his business was his sole-source of income, the forced closing of the business put him in a ‘catch 22’ situation – blocking any attempt to rescue his business and pay off the remaining sales tax owed, which had now grown to thousands of dollars. Rather than padlock the door, the State did allow him access to the store to feed and maintain the animals until other arrangements were made.

Two weeks after his closing, Russell hammered out an agreeable payment plan with the State of RI for back taxes, but the economy never recovered, and by September, 2010 the doors closed for the final time. In a valiant effort, Russell paid off $18,500 of the $20,000 owed before he closed, but two years later to his surprise, he was blocked from registering his car because of the remaining taxes (and penalties) still owed. A dispute as to the amount of sales taxes (plus penalties and interest) paid ultimately ended with the state’s tax agency backing off and allowing him to register his vehicle.

Russell’s forced closing and ultimately his bankruptcy caught the eye of both statewide and national media. Two radio talk shows and television coverage brought the news of his closure to the public. Even the nation’s most popular Web site, “The Drudge Report,” posted articles. Amazingly, he says that over 100 pages of blog posting were also generated, too.

Making Ends Meet

Today, Russell, 72, is collecting Social Security supplemented by a part-time job delivering pizzas. He notes that beneficiaries will not receive cost of living this year. Like millions of Social Security beneficiaries, Russell feels the impact of inflation. “There is no extra money to buy groceries after paying my rent and utilities,” he says. Local food pantries provide additional food and the Pawtucket-based Blackstone Valley Community Action Program pays for some of his heating bills.

Reflecting on the lay off in his fifties that led to the opening of his small business and ultimately its closing as he reached his mid-sixties because of an ailing economy, Russell admits he did not have a strategy for getting through the tough times in his later years.

“I just coped,” says Russell. The former business owner has a strong opinion on opening a small business in Rhode Island. “Never,” he says. .

Gerritt is Green with Commitment

Published in Senior Digest on January 2016

 

Some people ease into retirement, traveling to exotic locales, catching up with friends at the neighborhood supermarket, or fixing up the homestead, long put off because of time constraints.  Not so for 62-year-old Greg Gerritt, who still sees many years of work ahead of him to make Rhode Island economically sustainable through protecting the environment and advocating for the poor and downtrodden.

 

When Gerritt was 14 years old, he remembers reading a book on endangered species. At that young age, he would intuitively know that environmental advocacy would become his life’s mission. Three years later he would create the first Earth Day celebration at his high school in Teaneck, N.J. Later he would relocate to Maine to attend college, ultimately receiving his bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1974 from the University of Maine. With degree in hand, the college graduate hitch hiked across the country before returning to Maine.

 

As a self-taught carpenter, Gerritt was able to make a living on his 10 acres of land. He offered low-cost work to seniors. During his 25 years in Maine, he worked to create a sustainable economy by growing a garden and putting up solar panels on his house along with creating an organic homestead.

 

Gerritt and his wife, Kathleen Rourke, met in 1991 through a personal ad placed in “The Maine Times.” The couple got married at Town Hall in Industry, Maine, and would later relocate to Rhode Island to be close to Kathleen’s family.

His passion for protecting the environment is “on and off the clock,” notes Gerritt. During the day, the Providence resident works as an administrator for the Environment Council of Rhode Island and leads the nonprofit group’s Rhode Island Compost Initiative. In 2012, he received a Merit Award from the Environmental Protection Agency Region I for advancing the cause of compost in the state.

 

Gerritt gives countless hours of his work off time to environmental causes. As the founder of Friends of the Moshassuck, he promotes using sound ecological principles to enhance the community. He even took his environmental advocacy into the political sphere, where he helped to found the Green Party of the United States and ran for mayor of Providence as a Green Party candidate in 2002. He admits, “There’s just no way to distinguish where my time goes because everything I do is interconnected.”

 

Through his love for the environment, Gerritt has learned to shoot videos and has become an expert on amphibians in the North Burial Ground in Providence. He has shot countless hours of video showing the development, feeding habits and behavior of fowler toads,” he says.

However, Gerritt may be better known in the Ocean State for establishing the “Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange” in 1997. According to Gerritt, the idea of giving substance to an already existing “Buy Nothing Day” created by consumer advocates came out of a meeting at the Rochambeau Library in Providence. The initiative had to be “better than a protest,” with the goal of helping the poor, he says.

 

Gerritt estimates that in its first year, more than 250 coats were given away at the site of the GTECH building. “We just put a piece of plastic on the ground to keep the coats dry, and people game to get their coats,” he remembers. The second year the half day event was relocated. “It was so symbolic placing it between the Statehouse and the newly built Providence Mall. You have “big government” and “large corporations” with the poor in between,” he says.

Gerritt has announced his retirement from the very successful coat giveaway initiative held the day after Thanksgiving. Thousands of coats were given to needy Rhode Islanders at 10 sites throughout the state, he says.

 

It was the perfect time to leave, notes Gerritt. “It’s grown big enough and should not depend on just me to keep it going. It’s time to pass it on to another person when it’s thriving,” he says.

In Rhode Island for more than 20 years, Gerritt has published two books and scores of articles in newspapers, magazines and on his blog, www.prosperityforri.com. He writes to advocate for a sustainable economy, social justice and protecting the environment, and he does not expect to retire in the near future from his job or other volunteer efforts.

 

“The work never ends,” he said, noting that there always will be a need for advocates. “I will actually continue my work until I can’t physically do it,” he added.

Looking back at his life as an environmental and social advocate Gerritt has some insight to pass on to those who will listen. “Do what you want to do. Look to see if you are doing what really brings you joy and makes the world a better place to be in. That’s what you should be doing,” he said.