The theme of this year’s Older Americans Month was “Connect, create and contribute.” In keeping with those imperatives, Brooklyn Borough Hall hosted the Brooklyn-wide Interagency Council on Aging’s ninth annual Outstanding Senior Service Awards. BWICA singled out seniors who have applied energy, creativity and compassion to making the lives of those around them easier and more fulfilling.
BWICA’s process permits people involved in senior organizations to nominate volunteers whose efforts reflect exceptional commitment and effort on behalf of NewYork State’s largest senior community.
Ruth Cohen, president of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged at the Hebrew Educational Society, was one of seven honorees singled out for their exceptional contributions. Also honored were Rivolye Alex, Marilyn Brown, Patricia Gregory Marcia Headley, Shirley Luck and Ng So Sim.
Sue Ann Partnow, program director of the JASA Senior Center at the HES, said, “This was a wonderful opportunity to honor one of our hard working volunteers. I sent in Ruth’s bio and wasn’t surprised when she was selected to receive this special recognition.
“Ruth is the center’s Energizer Bunny,” said Partnow, as she spoke about Cohen’s dedication to the center and the members of JASA. “She’s involved in every aspect of the center, making my life so much easier. There’s no job too big or too small.”
“Volunteering is what gets me out of bed in the morning,” said Cohen. “It gives me something to get dressed for and someplace to go. The center is my home away from home.”
Ng So Sim, 90, is from China. After receiving her award based on her work at Homecrest Community Services, Ng immediately returned to her seat, not realizing the audience expected her to comment. Ng spoke in Chinese, her comments then translated by presenter Karen Zhou.
In keeping with the theme of volunteering, the audience was invited to work on behalf of both their peers in the elder community and the wider Brooklyn community.
“Many of you have gifts,” said BWICA Outreach Specialist Leslie Sierra. “I want to talk to you about volunteering for SMP, Senior Medicare Patrol, that helps seniors prevent, detect and report instances of Medicare fraud. Most of you have good street smarts and good street cred. You know what you’re doing. You can help.”
Sierra went on to outline how potential volunteers might offer their time and effort. “When you volunteer,” she continued, “that means you can give me say two hours next Tuesday—we might be able to use you. We know you care,” she concluded, “because you’re here.”
Borough Hall Community Affairs Director Nan Blackshear apologized for the borough president’s absence: “You know Eric Adams has been all over,” she said, “but I’m here to continue our celebration with proclamations for each honoree.”
New York City Department for the Aging Brooklyn Community Outreach Director Charise Lawrence, presented awards on behalf of the department’s commissioner, Lorraine Cortez-Vazquez.
“I’m always so happy to come here and see what I see,” said Lawrence. “I know the selection process was made with a lot of integrity and consideration. We thank you from the Department for the Aging for what you do each and every day.”
BWICA Executive Director Maria Alvarez outlined some of the organization’s recent and forthcoming activities. “We just came back from Albany to lobby for a state-wide standard on nurse-patient staffing rations,” she said. “And also the New York Health Act, which would bring single payer to our state. We had maybe two buses for seniors from the other boroughs, but four buses just for Brooklyn residents.”
In the fall, BWICA will hold a Health Care Summit explaining how to sign up for Medicare once open enrollment season begins. This will take place on Wednesday, October 23 from 9:45 a.m. to noon at Borough Hall, and is free and open to the public.