Keys to Successful Aging

Keyboard-621830_640Like many New Yorkers in my generation, I’ve “grown up” reading Jane Brody’s Personal Health column in The New York Times.  So it’s no surprise to me that some of the most useful information I may come across about navigating the sometimes confusing paths of aging successfully comes from her suggestions.

For example, her recent column “As We Age, Keys to Remembering Where the Keys Are” provides some important guidelines on distinguishing common age-related cognitive decline and pathological symptoms of cognitive impairment.  Quoting AARP, she notes that “forgetting where you parked your car can happen to everyone occasionally, but forgetting what your car looks like may be cause for concern.”

She cites recommendations from the Institute of Medicine that increase chances of staying cognitively sound:

First, be physically responsible.  Any question about the consequences of physical deterioration on mental function has long been resolved—it does!  Physical responsibility includes, of course, being physically active.  No surprise there—we’ve been advocating regular exercise as a key part of any prescription for aging successfully.  It also makes getting the regular seven hours of sleep easier, which is also important.  And so is monitoring and moderating intake—moderate alcohol, low amounts of fat, sugar and cholesterol, etc.  All of this will help prevent and control cardiovascular risk factors—i.e., those risks that can precipitate dramatic cognitive decline through strokes and such.

But it’s equally important to treat the mind well.  If, due to depression, the mind isn’t treating you well, address it, get treated.  Continue to learn—reading, taking courses, learning new tasks that are rewarding and meaningful.  There’s lots of truth to “use it or lose it “ on the mental front as well as on the physical.  In another column, “For an Aging Brain, Looking for Ways to Keep Memory Sharp,” Ms. Brody touts the beneficial effect of certain training programs and computer games on improving cognitive skills in older people.  To be clear, she also cautions that many other pills, potions, and programs haven’t demonstrated any real benefit—all are not created equal—and provides suggestions for how to discern between the two:

“The Institute of Medicine has cautioned consumers to beware of phony or poorly tested products that claim to ‘prevent, slow or reverse the effects of cognitive aging.’ Consumers should ask: Was the product shown to improve ‘performance on real-world tasks?’ Are the claims supported by ‘high-quality research’ that has been ‘independently verified’?’ And, most important, how do the supposed benefits compare with those from actions like physical activity and social and intellectual engagement?”

As that quote’s last sentence suggests, staying engaged in social interactions—the “rewarding relationships and activities” we cite in our definition of Successful Aging—in and of themselves are valuable means to keep cognitive decline at bay. 

May 21, 2015

The High Cost of Not Being Authentic

Lying about who you are at work costs both money and happiness. It's true.

Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, spoke at the conference about the importance of sleep and reducing stress at work. “Dalink, eight years ago I was so worn out I collapsed in my office and hit my cheek on my desk. Now we have nap rooms at the office.”

Earlier this month I attended Sodexo’s Quality of Life Conference in New York. Why would Sodexo, a company known in the U.S. mostly for cafeteria food, put on such a show? “Get with the program! You should know Sodexo is about more than cafeteria food," said Laura Schalk, Sodexo's head of press relations. "In this company we are evangelical about quality of life, and ensuring a great work environment so that employees feel motivated and valued – which links to issues like equality and work-life balance.”

Motivated and valued employees are nice but I went looking for gay stuff. The panel discussion “Gender Balance: How Can Women’s Success Benefit All” caught my eye. I went to find out if women are going to pull my gay-ass up the corporate ladder as they smash through the glass ceiling and if I could learn any other metaphors.

And that’s when I saw him, sitting at the dais, wearing a fitted gray suit with legs crossed, his muscular thighs straining against the delicate fabric. Kenji Yoshino, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law. He had the type of biography that makes you feel like a loser who sleeps too much: “He was educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale Law School. He teaches in the areas of constitutional law, anti-discrimination law, and law and literature. He has published three books.”

Then Professor Yoshino mentioned having a husband and two children so I stopped fantasizing about our wedding and began to listen.

According to Professor Yoshino, women, LGBT-people, and all minority groups, are likely to “cover” at work in order to get along, conform and move ahead. Covering means changing behavior to mimic leadership, which is mostly straight white males. Women are urged by leadership to be more masculine. Then women are urged to re-cover when they act too masculine. And they say women are fickle.

Yoshino said he covered as a young professor at Harvard Law School after a seemingly well-meaning colleague told him he would do better there if he acted like a homosexual professional rather than a professional homosexual. I’m an amateur gay right now but hoping to go pro after Nationals.

So what’s the problem with making straight white men more comfortable besides the fact it’s 2015? Yoshino says covering costs cold hard cash. In a survey, 53 percent of employees said they felt pressured by leadership to cover. Of that 53 percent, 50 percent said it undermined their dedication to the organization. “Covering, or being inauthentic, has a high cost for an individual’s well-being and organizational performance.”

At the conference dinner later, several women who were not able to attend the gender balance panel asked me if there is a solution to covering. I told them we must kill all the straight white males. Once I realized I suggested the murder of their fathers, husbands, sons and brothers, I apologized for my bad joke and told them I had not eaten and drank two martinis. Then I told them I’m going to leave it to the guy who went to Harvard, Oxford and Yale to fix the problem. He has some good ideas that you can read here.

For more about Sodexo’s Quality of Life Conference, go here.

-- Jeff Stein, Communications Consultant, SAGEWorks

May 18, 2015

Time For New York to Support Those Giving Care

This was authored by Linda B. Rosenthal and Michael Adams and originally featured in Gay City News on May 15, 2015. Click here to read the original article.

When New Yorkers go home from the hospital, the health care system suddenly becomes very personal.

There may be complicated medication regimens to follow, injections to administer, bandages to replace, complex medical equipment to operate, and much more. In many instances, those tasks are up to the person whom patients trust most with their well-being — their caregiver.

The transition from hospital to home is a critical time for patients — especially for many in the LGBT community who may have fragile family support systems. And the potential burden on their caregivers can’t be underestimated.

Caring for a loved one — without pay or pomp — is a big job. The consequences of mistakes loom large. Yet more than four million New Yorkers do it every year — for older parents, spouses, partners, friends, and loved ones.

It stands to reason that if we want our loved ones well cared for at home, their caregivers must be given the proper instruction in how to provide that care.

That is why, with help from AARP, we’re working to make sure our state laws recognize the critical role caregivers play in our health system.

The CARE Act (Caregiver Advise, Record, and Enable) would allow hospital patients to designate a family caregiver and require hospitals to offer that caregiver instruction in and a demonstration of the tasks that they will be expected to perform at home post-discharge.

This bill reflects our understanding that the LBGT community (and the same holds true for many other communities) will receive the care they need if medical providers recognize the circles of family and friendship that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender New Yorkers have built.

That’s why the CARE Act (A.1323) would allow patients to designate whomever they choose as a caregiver — and why it requires hospitals to provide those caregivers the knowledge they need to follow the discharge plan and to be able to provide proper care at home and to access support services.

The fact is, LGBT people often face severe isolation as they age, since they are four times less likely to have children than other elders, twice as likely to be single and living alone, and much more likely to be disconnected from their families of origin.

The caregivers of LGBT elders are often isolated as well, since many are not part of a larger family network. This fragility of care and support for LGBT elders makes it especially important that medical providers recognize and support the caregiving relationships that exist for LGBT older people – their “families of choice.”

The CARE Act would be an important step forward by providing hospitals with an inclusive framework that recognizes the wishes and preferences of all kinds of families and caregivers, and that helps identify patients who are profoundly isolated.

We know from experience that LGBT caregivers often have limited access to LGBT-affirming services in their communities. The CARE Act addresses this issue as well, requiring that hospitals offer the caregiver and patient answers to their questions in a culturally competent manner and provide contact information for health care, community resources, and long-term services and supports necessary to successfully carry out the patient’s discharge plan.

The State Senate last month passed the CARE Act unanimously and the Assembly Health Committee quickly followed suit. But the bill still must clear the Assembly’s Codes Committee and the full house before going to Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign into law.

The governor proposed a similar “Caregiver Support Initiative” in his 2015 State of the State/Opportunity Agenda, so we are optimistic that he will sign the CARE Act once it reaches his desk.

This bill is critically important, and we will do all in our power to ensure that it passes into law this year. Let’s pledge to join together and give all caregivers the support they deserve.

Linda B. Rosenthal is the prime sponsor of the CARE Act in the New York State Assembly, where she represents the 67th District on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Michael Adams is the executive director of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).

Quick Chat: How to Be a Trans Ally

Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants, volunteers and staff offers a first-person perspective on our community. This month, we spoke with Monica Pedone, a facilitator of our successful "How to Be a Trans Ally" workshop. The monthly gatherings are led by transgender facilitators who guide discussions, field questions, and build understanding among trans and cisgender (non-trans) participants.

Monica_PedoneAt age 62, Monica is a Cross Sector Technology Leader at IBM, a martial arts enthusiast and mother of two adult children. She transitioned at age 30, and says that before that “I was so deep in the closet I was finding Christmas presents! My divorce allowed me the freedom to find myself, and I began finding my people in the community.”

One of the topics discussed in the “Trans Ally” workshops is surgery and the idea that  questions about gender-affirming procedures (sometimes referred to as “sex change” operations) are usually inappropriate to ask  strangers about, especially since surgical and medical decisions are kept private by many trans people. At the same time, “Trans Ally” workshops are not intended to shame participants or discourage them from asking questions. In fact, Pedone says she’s enjoyed the lively conversations she’s experienced as a facilitator. “There were a lot of people there who were curious and inquisitive and have interesting points of view,” she remarks. “It was fun to interact and hear their perspective. I didn’t want to just be a talking head up there—it’s nice to have a dialogue.”

So how does one become a trans ally, exactly? Pedone has some wisdom to share. “I think that part of it certainly is learning the ‘ten things you don’t say to a transgender person’, but I’m not worried about people saying something as long as it’s coming from a place of learning rather than resentment or anger. You have to be a good person and say what’s in your heart. And if you make a mistake and call someone the wrong pronoun it’s OK, don’t make a big deal of it but next time try to do it right. Treat transgender people the same as everyone else, and also understand that there might be some gender cues that are slightly different.”

Pedone finds the approach of SAGE’s “Trans Ally” workshops to be especially impactful because “it allows trans people themselves to lead the conversation, and to meet and interact with people. Participants learn that trans people are just like them—they have mothers and pets and homes, they have trouble paying their bills. These workshops open the community up to new conversations, and new friendships. We shouldn’t box ourselves up into little groups.”

--Posted by Kira Garcia


May 13, 2015

Employment Boot Camp Gets Emotional

May_boot_campThe SAGEWorks May Boot Camp Team

Towards the end of the ten-day SAGEWorks employment boot camp, I joined the 20 participants so I could hear and share their stories. I was expecting everyone to tell me how they will now use LinkedIn or create a more strategic social media profile and personal brand. What I was surprised to hear was how angry one woman was with her former employer and colleagues—and the way that this group of boot campers created their own support system outside the classroom.

When Rosie O’Donnell (not her real name…maybe) told me how she was let go after more than 30 years with the same company, I suggested she reach out to her ex-colleagues for support and networking. Rosie wasn’t having it.

“They called me but I didn’t want to see them. I was let go. Who wants to sit around with a bunch of people who still have jobs at the place from where you were downsized?”

Rosie has a point. I was angry with my last employer--and I left on the best of terms. I think there are two main reasons for this. One, when we leave an organization, for whatever reason, it’s normal to rationalize the move by exaggerating all the negatives. The second reason, for me, is I love to create unnecessary drama.

Eventually, Rosie and I each got over our anger and realized many of our former colleagues are friends who want to help. Also, some of them are horrible people who should never again darken our doorsteps--but such is life.

Being unemployed is extremely difficult, not just financially but also emotionally, so it’s incredibly reassuring to be around others in a similar circumstance. Employment boot camp is not therapy; it’s a chance to learn proven methods for finding jobs but there is an unexpected and welcomed therapeutic quality.

Right now I am working for SAGEWorks but for most of 2014 I was unemployed, gay and over 40-years old, the SAGEWorks dream (spoiler alert: I’m still gay and over 40). Now I regret not taking a friend’s advice to attend the employment boot camp last year. Not only would I have had more emotional support, I’m confident I would have been offered a job much sooner. I simply was not putting into play all the job search and interview best practices taught at boot camp. My thinking was, I don’t need to go to a class for free, which is taught by experts, I’ll somehow figure it out on my own.

That thinking led to me living with my mother and drinking the same cup of tea for two months. Boot camp for two weeks or living with your mother for two months? I will say this if you choose not to take advantage of SAGEWorks programs, there are a lot of exciting story lines on The Young and the Restless right now.

-Jeff Stein, Communications Consultant, SAGEWorks

May 12, 2015

Get Into the Act

15549360990_084aba77ec_mThis year’s theme for Older Americans Month is “Get into the Act.” Although unintended, the theme made me think of how often LGBT older adults have had to “act” throughout their lives – whether it was living in the closet growing-up in a time and place when it was not acceptable to be out – or the unfortunate number who feel compelled to go back into the closet as they get older and enter places where they feel more vulnerable and don’t feel safe or comfortable being out. The bottom line, of course, is that after spending a lifetime of trying to get out of the closet, LGBT older adults have earned the right to grow older in places where they don’t need to act straight and/or cis-gender, but where they can be their authentic selves.

The Older Americans Act (OAA) is turning 50 this year. It serves as the country's leading vehicle for delivering services to older people nationwide, providing more than $2 billion annually in nutrition and social services. Since its enactment, the OAA has aimed to ensure that older people have the supports they need to age in good health and with broad community support. And what better time to look at the act and celebrate all that it has accomplished to enable all older adults, including LGBT older adults, to grow old and age with independence, dignity, and respect in their own communities.

It’s also a good time to consider that this primary vehicle for the delivery of supports and services to older adults makes no mention of LGBT older adults. Due to be reauthorized, SAGE is mindful that at some point in the near future, whether it’s through administrative change or legislative change, it’s necessary for this all-important piece of aging legislation to explicitly include LGBT older adults. This means, among other things, that through data collection, we might once and for all come to understand the degree to which aging programs and services are reaching and meeting the needs of LGBT older adults. And to the extent LGBT older adults are not being reached, by having targeting language, the aging network will need to step up to the plate and target services and supports to LGBT older adults.

The goal of the Older Americans Act, is in part, to reach those who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, LGBT older adults all too often fit the bill. As we celebrate Older Americans Month it’s time for the Older Americans Act to ensure that LGBT older adults will no longer need to act, but can be their authentic selves, and get the services and supports they need. Interested in making your voice heard? Fill out our survey on LGBT voices that we'll be taking to The White House in July for the White House Conference on Aging!

This post was written by Aaron Tax, SAGE's Director of Federal Policy.

May 6, 2015

Can a Job Search be Gay?


No. It can only be effective or ineffective.

Before attending a SAGEWorks workshop on April 8, The Soul Search before the Job Search, I was curious how career advice in a LGBT-welcoming and inclusive environment would be different. It’s not.

What is different is the feeling of support and understanding. This is the same reason I go to a gay doctor. Straight doctors are probably qualified but I’m less likely to go to one because of my fear of being judged. (The last time I went to a straight doctor, I needed to explain the Black Party so my allergic reaction to a rubber mask could be put into context.)

There were only a few reminders that the SAGE workshop was geared toward LGBT-folk: for example, Dr. Howard Leifman, a nationally renowned career coach, likened the necessity to evolve and reinvent yourself to Madonna’s many incarnations. Vogue!

To help attendees decide what the heck we’re going to do with the rest of our lives, we were asked to complete the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) before the workshop. This tool helps you discover what kind of work is best suited for your personality traits. My MBTI® is an ESFP (Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving), which means I’m ideally suited to be Auntie Mame. Wish me luck.

Being nosey, I scanned the attendees. All genders, sexual orientations and ages were represented with people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 80s. While we came from diverse backgrounds and experiences, we were universally disappointed to discover our job hunting skills were very 2004. Sending resumes blindly is out, building a network is in. After all, 80 percent of job placements are the result of a personal or professional connection--so learning how to “work your network” is critical. SAGEWorks can show you exactly how to do that in any of its upcoming workshops or in its two-week employment boot camp this June.

Being only 45-years and 22-days old, and pretty tech savvy, I was surprised to find out how out of touch I was with effective job searching. In 1992, when I last pounded the pavement in earnest, I printed 50 resumes on heavy-stock light-grey stone-textured paper I selected lovingly at The Paper Warehouse. Dr. Leifman will explain how you can stand-out in a sea of job applicants (hint, it’s not by selecting  heavy-stock light-grey stone-textured paper from The Paper Warehouse). With so much that’s new to know, I was especially as grateful for Leifman’s expertise as I was for his Madonna references.

-- Jeff Stein, Communications Consultant, SAGEWorks

May 5, 2015

Retirement Shouldn’t Be a Disappearing Act

SAC-FB-memes-LegacyOne of this month’s Successful Aging lessons is “Stay Involved.” It makes sense that it’s offered as part of our theme of “Legacy”—as the lesson says, “Reaching a certain age or retiring from work is no reason to stop advocating for causes that are important to us. In fact, the extra time plus the benefit of years of experience can make us that much more powerful in effecting change.”  Remembering that everyone leaves a legacy, which is no more (or less) than “how we live plus what we give,” the involvement provides one opportunity to be intentional about the content of that legacy consists.

So what does it mean to “stay involved” anyway? The answers to that question are myriad—it could mean a game of scrabble or basketball, volunteering for a favorite cause, part-time work, writing a memoir, providing childcare or visiting friends in need…the list goes on and on.

The great news is, staying involved in our communities doesn’t just contribute to the legacies we leave after we’re gone. It also provides very real and immediate benefits.  A critical LGBT aging challenge is isolation; another is contending with a shrinking network of support—as we age, we often see attrition making our support networks smaller and more fragile just when we need them most.  Staying involved reduces the likelihood of painful isolation and increases the chances of maintaining or even growing a viable support network.

In fact, continued connections to our friends, families and neighbors providereal benefits of their own, in terms of health and well being.  A growing body of research suggests that older adults who are engaged in social and community activities maintain mental and physical health longer than other older adults.  According to researchers, older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel healthier and happier.  Researchers think that over the long term the participants may have decreased their risk for disability, dependency, and dementia.

In fact, staying involved is so key to Successful Aging, that it’s actually part of how we define the term! Indirectly, staying involved helps to “maintain or improve physical and mental function“—a key part of aging successfully. And aging successfully also includes regularly “engaging in rewarding relationships and activities.” And that, after all, is what staying connected to one’s community is about!

April 29, 2015

A Focus on Older Couples in Arguments on Marriage Equality

SAGE was particularly gratified, during yesterday’s historic Supreme Court arguments on marriage equality, to hear several Justices repeatedly refer to the importance of marriage to older couples, while the Justices questioned the attorneys arguing the marriage cases. 

As SAGE pointed out in its recent amicus brief to the Supreme Court, marriage equality is critically important to many LGBT older people.  That’s because, contrary to the arguments of the States defending discrimination against same-sex couples, marriage has never been primarily or exclusively about children and procreation.  This cramped view, repeatedly questioned in yesterday’s arguments, disregards and devalues the many older couples – both LGBT and heterosexual – who have compelling reasons to marry even though they cannot and will not procreate. 

In fact, as SAGE’s brief to the Court points out, many LGBT older people who are coupled face severe vulnerabilities in old age when it comes to financial security, caregiving, isolation, health care, and community support.  Marriage can be an important means to address these issues.  Moreover, marriage equality is the right of every older same-sex couple, many of whom have endured decades of discrimination because of who they love.  We at SAGE are grateful that older couples featured so prominently in yesterday’s arguments.  As in the Windsor decision, we are hopeful that the example and leadership of our LGBT elder pioneers will once again be an important part of the formula that helps the Supreme Court embrace full equality for LGBT Americans.  

-- Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE


April 24, 2015

Why Marriage Equality Matters for LGBT Older Adults

Rainbow-13902_640Many don’t know that same-sex spouses in non-marriage states still don’t qualify for all the same federal benefits that their different sex counterparts enjoy, simply because they are married to someone of the same sex.  This is an issue that comes up in the context of Social Security, Veterans Administration, and some Medicare benefits.   And it is all the more important for LGBT older adults who face pronounced poverty and lack of access to culturally competent healthcare.

This topic is one that our Executive Director, Michael Adams, examines in detail with his latest op-ed Why Marriage Equality Matters for Older Americans. "Marriage has proven highly effective for improving the lives of many older people," and given the unique issues our LGBT older adult population face, marriage "could be even more beneficial for older same-sex couples than it has been for older straight couples."

Adams writes: 

"Incredibly, two years after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriages, some married same-sex couples are still being denied federal benefits especially important to older adults.  This is because some federal agencies use the “place of domicile” rule to determine whether a couple is considered married.  As a result, bereaved widows like Kathy continue to be denied Social Security survivors’ benefits because the state in which they live does not recognize their marriage."

With this is mind, SAGE is proud to endorse a bill, the ‘‘Social Security and Medicare Parity Act of 2015,’’ being introduced this week by Representative Mark Takano (D. CA), which would provide equal spousal and survivor benefits, create more flexible marriage tenure requirements, and require the Social Security Administration to engage in more outreach to LGBT older adults so that they are made aware of new or increased benefits.

In addition, SAGE, with the assistance of Jack Nadler as the lead lawyer from the firm Squire Patton Boggs, recently filed an amicus brief related to Obergefell v. Hodges. This historic case will be heard next week and allows the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the U.S. Constitution requires every U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and to recognize marriages of same-sex couples lawfully performed in any other state. SAGE filed the brief with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Justice in Aging, National Hispanic Council on Aging, and the American Society on Aging. To learn more about the brief and our four major arguments, click here.


Honoring Our Volunteers: Jarret and Brian

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? In honor of our wonderful volunteers, SAGE will be asking a few of them some questions about what they do for our members!  For the past few Fridays in April, we featured a number of extraordinary volunteers. Today, we would like to honor two long-time volunteers Jarret and Brian. They have both been with our Friendly Volunteer program since 2008 and 2009, respectively. Learn why they volunteer below!

Friendly Visitor: Jarret Wolfman

Fred and his Friendly Visitor, Jarret

How long have you volunteered at SAGE?
I had to have someone check the records, but I met Fred and Stephen at a Friendly Visitor picnic in October of 2008 -- so I’m going on seven years now!

What do you do as a Friendly Visitor?
During orientation we're instructed to let our friends at home kind of lead the way. Some people want to watch TV with their Friendly Visitor or play cards or go for a walk. It just depends on what they like to do. My guys love to just sit around and talk. So for the most part I just sit there and listen. Sometimes we go for dinner or I go to church functions with them (pancake Tuesdays have become an annual tradition), we go to book fairs and the garden party. I also help Fred organize his apartment and I help him with his computer. My husband and I even had them over for Thanksgiving one year!

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer?
Oy, that's a hard one. I’m not really good at saying good things about myself. I would say that one thing that I think is helpful as a Friendly Visitor is my ability to empathize. Sometimes that can be a detriment, but in this case it's useful because as a Friendly Visitor you really have to be sensitive to your friend at home's needs, wants, moods, eccentricities, etc. While great friendships can develop over time (I've come to love Fred and Stephen as if they were part of my family - I call them my gay grandpas), we as volunteers are primarily there to be of service to our friends at home.

How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel?
This is actually the first time I've volunteered for anything in my life. I had thought about it for a while but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do and I kind of felt guilty that there was a part of me that wanted to volunteer because I thought it might make me feel better about myself. Luckily, someone convinced me that there were worse things than "selfishly" volunteering. At least (hopefully) I would be giving back as much as I was getting. And I have to say that there is nothing I've ever done that has made me feel more fulfilled in my life.

What has been your best experience as a Friendly Visitor so far?
I would have to say that it's a toss-up between being a part of their wedding a couple months after it finally became legal in New York state and their 50th anniversary (of meeting) dinner party in 2013. Both were really special experiences.

Fred & Stephen Celebrating!

Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer?
Of course! I’m always telling people to join up! It’s not always easy but it's extremely rewarding.

Anything else you would like to share?
I would like to talk a little bit about Fred and Stephen. Normally, Friendly Visitors are paired with a single friend at home. I mean, that's kind of the point of the program. To provide LGBT seniors that may have trouble getting out to a SAGE Center or other opportunities to socialize, with some companionship. So when I was matched with Fred I wasn't really expecting to end up with two friends at home. While Stephen isn't "officially" a part of the Friendly Visitors program, he and Fred have basically become a package deal and I can't imagine it any other way. Although inevitably one of them will die before the other and that's something we've talked about. I’ve always thought that I was pretty lucky because both of them are healthy and I haven't had to deal with some of the more difficult issues that many other Friendly Visitors have had to deal with regarding their friends at home. Knowing that I’ll be around to help one of my gay grandpas deal with the loss of the other is both scary and comforting. I just felt like you needed to know a little about them to really appreciate what it is that I do. Cause in the end, it's not really about me, it’s about them.

Friendly Visitor: Brian Donnelly

Brian and Mort and MarleneHow long have you volunteered at SAGE?
Michele D'Amato matched me with Mort Silk in August of 2009, soon after my Friendly Visitor training.

What do you do as a Friendly Visitor?I've been visiting Mort once a week since that August of 2009! I mostly sit and talk with Mort about current events in the news, my work, issues in education (he was a teacher and assistant principal), happenings in our lives, theater experiences, and our pasts - family, friends, schooling, pivotal experiences in our lives, etc. 

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer?
My greatest strength? I try to be a good listener, and I try not to share my day-to-day frustrations at work and in my personal life or bring it into our space/time together. There are times when I may share some personal struggle I am experiencing, but I do that to seek advice. Mort's a very good listener and has enormous reserves of empathy. I think that being consistent and reliable in my visits is another strength. My colleagues at work, my partner, family members, and friends know of my commitment to my regular time with Mort, so I so very rarely need to reschedule a visit with him. When I travel out of town, I try to call and send a fun postcard. 

How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel?
Being a Friendly Visitor reminds me that I have the capacity to make room in my busy life to commit to something important on a regular basis. I feel good about that. Oftentimes, I know my time with Mort is the most important 3 hours of my week - again, for me, maybe sometimes for him. I'm no longer a volunteer because we're simply friends at his point.

What has been your best experience as a Friendly Visitor so far?
I can't pinpoint my best experience so far, but I get a kick out of him asking me to reread a passage from an article, like a theater review in the Times. He enjoys words, the way that people use words to express something interesting, funny, or profound. He'll re-experience a passage, in the way a child returns to the line of a roller-coaster after experiencing a thrilling ride. I love that smile on his face when he hears that passage again. Simple joys.

Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer?
I certainly recommend this experience to others. I am still learning and growing as a result of my relationship with my 93-year old friend, Mort.

Are you interested in being a Friendly Visitor? Contact Matilde Busana for more information at