Community Column: Roosevelt Island Senior Association

Written by Sherie Helstein. Posted in Volume 37, Issue 4 - October 22, 2016

A community. What does that mean? According to Webster’s dictionary, it is “a society of people having common rights, privileges, and interests with similarity, likeness, and spirit.”


Sherie Helstein
Sherie Helstein
Secretary, RISA

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Well, that’s the mission of the Roosevelt Island Senior Association (RISA). RISA provides health and wellness programs, workshops, and events to meet the physical, social, civic, cultural, and recreational needs of our active older-adult population while fostering intergenerational and multi-ethnic programs that lead to a full sense of community.

RISA is a 501(c)(3) organization that has been in existence for 37 years. In the last 16 years, RISA was led by Dolores Green, whose over-the-top joy at the many parties and events she organized gave all of us great cheer. This election ended her leadership. A new era for RISA begins with the newly-elected set of officers: Barbara Parker, President; Donna Chenkin, Vice President; and Sherie Helstien, Secretary. Seven new members now serve on the RISA board: Nita Advani, Lorraine Altman, Woody Deas, Anna Doumanova, Dottie Jeffries, Julie Palermo, and Jennifer Schuppert.

It was under former President Green’s watch that RISA was awarded the contract by the Department for the Aging (DFTA) and appointed to supervise the operation of the Roosevelt Island Senior Center. That contract came with city government funds to conduct classes and social programs with paid instructors, and to administer the lunch program served at the center and delivered to homebound residents.

DFTA appointed two full-time paid staff, a program director and a social worker, who were to administer the approved programs at the Senior Center under RISA supervision. The board, not thoroughly knowledgeable in government technical, regulatory, and compliance processes, unwittingly put considerable trust in the expertise of the DFTA-vetted program director to administer the operational funds. Unintentional errors crept into the program management, prompting DFTA to dismiss their appointed program director. The inevitable consequence was DFTA awarding the Carter Burden Foundation, with a 40-year track record in running government-funded senior centers, the contract to manage the Senior Center.

It was a huge relief when the burden of managing the RI Senior Center was lifted from RISA, as we can now devote ourselves to its primary purpose: servicing its 185 annual paying members. The new board began re-organizing RISA and began refocusing programs to complement and/or supplement those offered by Carter Burden.

Recently, Carter Burden officials and members of the RISA board met to clarify our roles. We also discussed how we might dovetail with Carter Burden, occasionally collaborating on our programs, in order that RISA members and the general constituents of the Senior Center can benefit from the programs of both organizations. It was agreed that we hold regular monthly meetings with Program Director Lisa Fernandez, and Community-Outreach Liaison Hallie Shapiro, to discuss programming and any other issues and ensure there are no conflicts in the use of the Senior Center.

RISA’s re-energized approach was a cue taken from its members, who pushed us to continue offering some of our original programs. This year, we partnered with the Roosevelt Island Garden Club and the Girl Scouts to revitalize RISA’s patio garden. The Potluck Garden Program started in April and has been a huge success with RISA members and other interested seniors. Another recent program RISA brought to our members was a discussion on health care and legal documents necessary for all adults with Elder Care Attorney Douglas Chu.

On October 18, Chu returned to educate RISA members about Medicaid: Understanding Medicaid Eligibility - A short review of basic income & asset rules for NYS Medicaid. With the support of Doryne Isley, manager of Urban American Property, we also conducted a successful eight-week “pilot” session of two fitness classes. This program is now in its second session offering three fitness classes.

RISA hopes to continue collaborating with other Roosevelt Island organizations when it makes sense, while also widening its member base and connection to the community.

Future programming includes Seniors on Safety, November 14 at 6:30 p.m.; a holiday crafts party, November 14 and 15 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.; and our annual Thanksgiving dinner, November 19 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Coming soon is Hands Only CPR, taught by RIRA’s Sharon Williams.

There are plans to organize cultural trips, a genre film discussion series, and more. All these will be in a calendar of forthcoming activities announced in The WIRE, on bulletin boards, and other media. Access to these programs is prioritized for RISA members, but we accommodate non-members depending on available space and the nature of the event.

RISA is strengthening the organization, putting in place all necessary liability insurance coverage required for the organization and officers (not held by the previous board), as well as reviewing our charter to be more responsive to the changing times for aging citizens. We are thankful that Roosevelt Island Resident Association (RIRA) Treasurer and RISA member Marie Luarca-Reyes helped put order into RISA’s financial house while we search for a permanent treasurer.

We hope to engage our members to actively participate in program planning and implementation. Our new website is in progress, thanks to the help of an Island volunteer. We look forward to launching the site by year’s end, enhancing the organization’s outreach and communications.

More importantly, RISA will take full advantage of our 501(c)(3) status to seek grants that will help us offer cultural and learning programs, exposing seniors to the many changes and innovations of modern living.

The strength of RISA lies with its members. Thus, it is the intention of this refreshed organization that RISA be a positive force in the community, while bringing in younger and diverse “seniors” with widespread program interests.

The first General Members meeting for the year will be held at 6:30 p.m. on October 25 at the Senior Center. As a 501(c)(3), RISA’s general meetings are open to the public, but voting is limited to those who are current RISA members.

To find out more, or to become a member of RISA, please contact Barbara Parker at 917-951-4137 or Sherie Helstien at 212-935-7534. If you are interested in creating or leading a program, please contact either of the above people.

Tags: Community Column RISA

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