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.

Raimondo Rolls out Educational Initiative to Financially Empower Rhode Islanders

Published in the Pawtucket Times, August 2, 2013

Everybody has been hit hard over the years with the economic downturn in the Ocean State. The statistics are startling about the impact on Rhode Islander’s pocketbooks. According to the Office of the General Treasurer, two-thirds of Rhode Islanders reported some difficulty in covering their expenses and paying bills. Startling the average borrow in our state has $13,221 in credit card debt, the 5th highest amount in the nation. Almost 47% of the Ocean State’s homeowners are “cost burdened,” that is home ownership costs more than 30 percent of their income.

During her first term, overcoming strong opposition of union groups, Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, working with Governor Chafee and leadership in the General Assembly, successfully redesigned Rhode Island’s state-administered public employee pension system. Now the Smithfield native, and mother of two, who graduated from LaSalle Academy, Harvard University and Yale Law School, who became a Rhode Scholar at Oxford University, goes into full gear to financially empower the state’s residents to make informed disciplined choices to achieve their financial goals.

Raimondo’s interest in financial empowerment came from her memories of growing up in a modest-income family, and a house with three kids and her grandfather. “My family had to become very smart about saving and budgeting,” she noted. By financial juggling and hard work, she was able along with her two siblings to attend college. According to Raimndo, getting a good college education allowed her to climb up the career ladder and eventually run for General Treasurer.

Building a Prosperous Financial Future

Recognizing that everyone could use a little free help understanding and managing their finances, last October, Raimondo, in partnership with the Providence-based Capital Good Fund, kicked off their financial empowerment initiative to provide guidance, though the Rhode Island Financial Coaching Corps, to provide free financial help to Rhode Islanders balance their home budgets, managing debt, building up credit and plan for their retirement.

According to Raimondo, becoming financially secure and taking care of your family can become tricky with the huge number of financial products available today. One can become confused with the different types of mortgage and banking products available, especially the proliferation of pay day loans, credit cards and reverse mortgages, she says. “If people are not careful they can be hit hard by hidden fees or hidden risks by choosing the wrong product,” she says.

Recently, Raimondo took her Smart Money Tour out on the road visiting local libraries, farmers markets and senior centers, “right into the community,” she says, noting that it might become a permanent initiative if it proves to be successful. At these locations treasury staff, through an online computer data base, (treasury.ri.gov/unclaimed) also helps people locate their lost or abandoned property for free. Unclaimed property includes items such as long forgotten bank accounts, stocks and dividends and life insurance claims. During the last fiscal year, Treasury returned more than $8 million to over 8,000 Rhode Islanders.

Supporting Common Goals

According to Executive Director Andy Posner, of the Providence-based Capital Good Fund, he met Raimondo during her campaign for Treasurer and found a kindred soul. She had similar interests in bringing financial literacy to Rhode Islanders and a desire to fight predatory practices (pay day loans that have interest rates of 260 percent and rent-to-own centers where consumers ultimately pay more than the product is worth).

Capital Good Fund trains volunteers, for the Empower RI initiative, in financial coaching techniques and provides them with curricula to use either in one-to-one sessions with employees at companies who contract for the service or to those interested in getting help, learning about this assistance at community events or through newspaper coverage or social service agencies.

Since the inception of the program over 200 Rhode Islanders have been helped, says Posner. Currently, the Financial Service Corps, has 17 active volunteers, he added.

Joining the Financial Coaching Corps

Jerry Leveille, a Burrillville resident, jumped at being a volunteer with the Financial Coaching Corps after reading the mission of Empower RI, “Moving Rhode Island forward – one person at a time – through financial empowerment.” The 68-year old retired banker, who served as a senior vice president and lending officer, had worked for over 51 years at Warwick-based Greenwood Credit Union.

Filling out the application at the Capital Good Fund, he was accepted, trained and now has worked with two clients.

In one case, Leveille stated that 83-year-old widow learned the art of balancing her checkbook after the death of her husband, who had managed the family’s household account, paying the bills for over 58 years. The woman still coping with the recent death of her husband only needed a couple of sessions to learn this financial skill.

Meanwhile, Leveille says that a 62-year old woman who worked for a large Rhode Island company for over 30 years made a personal decision to retire. She would later learn that this financial decision would reduce her income by a whopping 40 percent. This was combined with mortgage problems. The single older woman owed more on her family homestead than its market value. She could not get her out of state mortgage company to lower the eight percent interest rate or allow her to extend payments.

Before coming to Leveille “her only choice was to walk away from the mortgage or continue to work,” he said, noting that if this occurred the lender would most likely suffer a $60,000 loss. “As a volunteer I was not going to talk her out of retirement, it was not my role to do this. Ultimately, the Financial Coaching Corps. volunteer would refer his client to Rhode Island Housing who is in the process of negotiating a lower interest rate on her behalf.

“We must be very nonjudgmental when we work with our clients,” says Leveille, noting that humans do make mistakes they regret when making bad financial decisions. “We are there to be helpful. It is what it is and we try to find the appropriate solution,” he says when counseling client.

Cumberland resident, Randy Sacilotto, who serves as Navigant’s vice president of business and community development, joined Raimondo’s effort to ratchet up the state’s financial literacy knowledge. Sacilotto, with 21 years working for the credit union, also brings to his clients the expertise he gained from training to become a certified financial counselor, accredited by the National Credit Union Foundation.

Sacilotto, 52, has met with two individuals and one couple, teaching them how a household budget works and another couple on tips on refinancing their home.

Working on budgeting, Sacilotto told his clients to track the spending of “every penny,” for two to four weeks. Write everything down, he says, because you will learn where your money is spent.

“We don’t always actually know what we spend on things,” he says, and if you track your results, cutting spending on things you don’t need can allow you to put your money into more important things, like saving for a house,” notes Sacilotto.

Finding Satisfaction in Financial Problem Solving

Emerson Gardner, a retired manager of the New York-based Bank of America’s International Banking Office, brought this experience and working in the City’s AARP Money Management Program, to the Ocean State in 2010. Two years later he would join Raimondo’s Financial Coaching Corps.

One of the original volunteers, Gardner is already working on his fifth client (their ages range from early 30s to their 50s). “Any time you help a person get their credit rating up or confront their debt problems it begins with creating a budget,” he says, noting that people need to learn how to live within their incomes.

While Gardner’s clients profit from his expertise gleaned from his banking days and a Masters of Business Administration received from Harvard University, he benefits, too. “I get satisfaction in helping clients solve their problems.” The retiree likes the flexibility of the program, allowing him to decide who to take and when to schedule the counseling session.

“For a person who has financial skills and the time to give because they are retiring, it is a great thing to do,” quips Gardner.

Those interested in volunteering for the Financial Coaching Corps, or meeting with a financial coach should visit http://www.fcCorpss.org.

Pawtucket’s Smart Money Tour is scheduled for August 30, 2013, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the City’s Leon Mathieu Senior Center, 420 Main Street, Pawtucket RI.

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