Zarlengo Earns AARP Rhode Island’s Most Prestigious Volunteer Award

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.

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Aggressive Scams Popping Up All Around the Ocean State

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 25, 2015

On Thursday morning, Mary Smith (not her real name) received a phone call from Sergeant Bradley from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office claiming she had missed jury duty and because so, there was a warrant issued for her arrest. Concerned, the older woman asked the man, who identified himself Sergeant Bradley, what she needed to do to fix the problem. She was instructed to go to a local CVS, purchase a pre paid debit card in the amount of $300 and to meet him in the parking lot of the Washington County Courthouse.

Thinking quick, Mary reported the troubling call to her local police. Like many older Rhode islanders, she had been a target of an aggressive scam now sweeping through the Ocean State, called the “jury duty scam.”

According to the Attorney General’s Office, in the latest rendition of the scam, an individual is calling Rhode Islanders claiming there is a warrant out for their arrest for failure to appear for jury duty. The individual, identifying himself as “Sergeant Bradley,” from either the “Washington County Sheriff’s Office,” the “South County Sheriff’s Office,” or the “Newport County Sheriff’s Office.” The caller ID shows the individual is calling from the 401 area code.

Here’s the scam

“Sergeant Bradley” tells the people he calls that they will be charged with a felony for failure to appear for jury duty and will then be held at the ACI for 30 days, after which they will be brought before Judge Suttell.

In order to avoid being arrested the scammer urges the individual to make an immediate payment using a pre-paid debit card. Mary did not fall for this old scam. It has been reported that at least one person paid more than $900 before they realized they were tricked.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin calls on anyone receiving a similar phone call or threat to contact either the Rhode Island State Police to report the incident. Kilmartin says, “The individual making these phone calls has just enough information to make themselves sound legitimate.” This information, however, is readily available on the Internet to anyone with access to a computer, he notes.

“It is very important for anyone who receives a similar phone call to write down as much information as possible, don’t provide any personal information to the individual over the telephone, do not pay any money, hang up, and contact the State Police,” adds Kilmartin.

The state’s Office of Attorney General provides the following details about judicial process to keep Rhode Islanders from becoming a victim of the “jury duty scam.”
• Neither the Jury Commissioner nor the Rhode Island Sheriff’s Department makes telephone calls to prospective jurors threatening arrest or demanding that a fine be paid or a bond posted. If a juror who has been legitimately summoned in writing fails to appear, the Jury Commissioner will attempt to make contact and arrange to reschedule his or her service.

• Sheriffs in Rhode Island are a division of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety and primarily work with the Courts. Unlike most other states, Rhode Island does not have sheriff departments based in counties. Each city and town has its own local police department.

Constant Vigilance Key to Fighting Scams

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission list of top consumer fraud complaints last year, more than 6,200 Rhode Island residents were victims of imposter scams.

“These latest Rhode Island scams underscored the need for constant vigilance,” observed AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “We like to remind people that when people hear about a scam, the first reaction often is ‘I’d never fall for that.’ Well, maybe that’s because you just read about it in the news. People need to remember that they are most susceptible to the fresh scam no one is talking about that comes out of the blue.”

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, Connell said, is one way to keep current. If you register for the free service you can receive alerts via smart phone or your computer when a new scam surfaces. You also can report a scam going around your neighborhood that is shared across the network, she added. If you’re not connected to the Internet, you can receive alerts and tips via a quarterly newsletter mailed to homes (Lean more and sign up at http://www.fraudwatchnetwork.org).

“Identity theft and fraud costs seniors billions of dollars nationally – in most cases, money that has been set aside for retirement, “Connell noted. “Impersonating police officers, federal agents or financial service companies, scammers use their “authority” to scare a person into paying them. Or, they pretend to be a friend or loved one in trouble who needs money.

“We’re committed to fighting back,” Connell declared, noting that one recent effort was a “reverse boiler room” operation.

In September, Connell and AARP Rhode Island volunteers Alan Neville of Cumberland and Carlo Gamba of West Greenwich met up in Boston with more than 50 others. Borrowing a favorite tactic the con artists’ playbook, AARP Fraud Watch Network staff and volunteers from New England and New York operated their own telemarketing boiler room. Instead of hearing from scammers, local residents received tips and information on how to protect themselves from imposter scams.

Strong Connections Protect Seniors from Scams

“Friends and family are key partners in protecting senior citizens from financial exploitation,” remarked Elderly Affairs Director Charles Fogarty. “Isolation is a major reason that people get victimized, so ensuring that senior citizens living in the community have strong connections to family and friends helps to protect them from scams and exploitation.”

The Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA) monitors fraud and scam reports from a number of sources, and distributes those notices to a network of approximately 500 partners in the community. If the victim of a scam is referred to DEA, they immediately contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit. DEA does not investigate instances of scams perpetrated by strangers, but does investigate financial exploitation of an older adult by family or acquaintances.

Critics of Chained CPI Call It a “Flawed Policy”

 Published in the Pawtucket Times, July 5, 2013

            With President Barack Obama’s fiscal blueprint unveiled almost three months ago, on April 10, 2013, that included a chained consumer price index (CPI) for the purpose of calculating Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), Rhode Island aging advocates go on the offensive opposing the suggested way as to how the federal government would calculate inflation.

             In June 12, 2013, Rhode Island AARP State Director, Kathleen S. Connell, a former secretary of state and one-time teacher, and State President Alan Neville, of Cumberland, along with AARP staff and volunteers from every other state in the nation, traveled to Inside the Beltway to Capitol Hill, on June 12, 2013, to urge Congress to just say “No” to a tying a chained CPI to Social Security.

             Continuing to protest, early this week Connell, Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Langevin and Cicilline, joined over 150 people who voiced strong concerns over Congress’s consideration of a chained CPI.  The Rhode Island Alliance of Retired Americans, the organizer of Tuesday’s protest, called it a “flawed policy,” charged that “switching to a chained CPI would compound benefit reductions dramatically over time, resulting in an annual benefit cuts.” 

            AARP Rhode Island is also planning to host “You’ve Earned a Say” discussions at seniors centers across the state this summer and into the fall to get its membership to rally against changing how Social Security cost of living adjustments are calculated.

 

Critics Take Aim at Chained CPIs

             President Obama’s push in his proposed budget request to rein in Social Security costs (a concession to GOP leadership), through the use of the chained CPI, pushed liberal Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. David Cicilline, representing Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, to strongly oppose President Obama or any Congressional efforts to put Social Security on the chopping block to lower the nation’s federal deficit, through changing the way COLAs are calculated.

            Rather than tinkering with the CPI linked to Social Security to rein in the nation’s huge federal deficient, Rep. Cicilline called for reforming the nation’s tax code by ending subsidies for “Big Oil,” along with “making responsible target spending cuts,” to slash the nation’s huge federal deficit

 

            Referring to the Social Security’s 2012 Annual Report in April (see my June 1, 2012 Commentary in the Pawtucket Times) , Sen. Whitehouse stated that Social Security is fully solvent for the next 20 years and has not contributed to the nation’s budget deficit and has no place in the debate over federal spending. 

             Senator Whitehouse called it “a [Social Security] benefit cut disguised behind technical jargon.”  The Senator and other critics argue that the current CPI shortchanges older persons by placing too much emphasis on products that these individuals are less likely to buy, like “smart phones” and “computers.”  He noted that in 2010 and 2011, Social Security beneficiaries did not receive a COLA, even though prices for food and beverages, medical care, gasoline and fuel oil increased.

             According to the Washington, D.C.-based, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the Obama Administration sees this [chained CPI] switch as just “a technical adjustment.” Aging group warn that using the chained CPI will substantially reduce the Social Security benefits of current and future beneficiaries.  “If it is adopted, a typical 65 year-old would see an immediate decrease of about $130 per year in Social Security benefits.  At age 95, the same senior would face a 9.2 percent reduction—almost $1,400 per year,” notes NCPSSM.

             While all beneficiaries will feel the impact of this change, its effect will be greatest on those who draw benefits at earlier ages (e.g., military retirees, disabled veterans and workers) and those who live the longest, says NCPSSM, especially “women who have outlived their other sources of income, have depleted their assets, and rely on Social Security as their only lifeline to financial stability.”

 What’s the Impact???

             Washington-DC-based, AARP, representing 40 million members, has rolled out an educational campaign, to put the face who loses most if changes are made in how COLAs are calculated. 

 

              Fact Sheets, placed on AARP’s heavily traveled website (http://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/info-04-2012/youve-earned-a-say.html), tells how a federal policy shift would impact specific demographic groups in their pocketbook.

             Retired women can least afford using the chained CPI calculation because they earn less on average than men (that is $4,000), are more likely to have a part-time job and have gaps in their employment due to leaving the workforce to take care of their children.  With women living longer the chained CPI would slash their benefits more with every year they live.  Older women also rely on their Social Security Pension checks because they are less likely to have other sources of retirement income, this check even keeping 38 percent of them out of poverty compared to 32 percent of older men, the says the AARP fact sheets.

             AARP’s fact sheets, also details the impact on older disabled Americans, noting that 37 percent are dependent on Social Security benefits for nearly all their family income, that is around $13,560 annually.  Many begin getting Social Security checks at a young age.  For instance, a 35-year-old disabled worker who receives average disability benefits would see his or her benefits reduced each year by $886 at 65 and $1,301 at 80.   Finally, Social Security keeps about 40 percent of people with disabilities age 18 and over and their families out of poverty.  Cutbacks in benefits due to tying the chained CPI to the Social Security program would force the persons already living on a very tight budget impacted by rising drug costs, increased utilities and health care expenses to cut back on vital needs.

             Finally, one of AARP’s fact sheets charge that older veterans would be financially slammed, sort of a double whammy.  With almost 1.5 million veterans living below the poverty level, each dollar cut, like older person’s who are disabled, will get hit hard in their pocket book as the years roll by.  Because a chained CPI would cut both Social Security and Veterans’ benefits, this group gets the budget ax thrown at them twice. “A veteran who’s 65 today would have veterans benefits reduced annually by $1,029 and Social Security benefits by $1,422 at 95, when benefits are needed the most,” states the fact sheet.

 Congressional Fight Looming

             Rhode Island’s Senator’s Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have signed on as co-sponsors of SR 15, with over a dozen Senators, a Resolution Rejecting the chained CPI expressing “the sense of Congress that the chained CPI should not be used to calculate cost of living adjustments for Social Security and Veterans benefits.”

             Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, a resolution, HR 34, was introduced by Rep. Cicilline, cosponsored by Rep. James Langevin along with 111 other Democrats, also opposing President Obama and GOP attempts to rein in the Social Security budget through the use of a chained CPI calculation.

             With nonbinding resolutions expressing opposition to the use of a chained CPI index now introduced in both chambers of Congress, union and aging groups are urging rallying support for passage.

            AARP’s Kathleen S. Connell and her colleagues around the nation are gearing up to send a message loud and clear, once and for all to Congress.  Simply put, Connell says:  “Chained CPI is not only harmful and illogical; it is also out-of-place in the discussion of deficit reduction.  As a self-financed program providing earned benefits, Social Security has not caused the deficit—and it should not be turned into an ATM for politicians trying to address it.  We deserve a separate national conversation about how to protect Social Security for today’s seniors and responsibly strengthen it for our children and grandchildren.”

            Congress might well choose to tread lightly on giving the thumbs up to using a chained CPI in calculating Social Security Colas. The anticipated fiscal impact (detailed by AARP and aging group critics, along with the Rhode Island Congressional delegation) resulting from this federal policy change will hit the nation’s elderly right where it hurts, the most, in their wallets.  Increased bipartisan efforts can find better solutions to trimming the nation’s huge federal deficit and improving the fiscal viability of the nation’s Social Security Program.

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