Fifteen residents from various parts of the city attended the Oct. 24 meeting for the newly reinstated Warwick American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Community Group, a resource for information and events that focuses on local issues that affect city residents 50 and older.
The event, held at the Pilgrim Senior Center, highlighted a statewide AARP update, an open discussion about the focus of the group and membership details and an open forum that allowed for questions and comments.
“We’re taking the AARP model and putting a local spin on it,” Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson said at the meeting. “We focus on issues [residents] would like to see tackled, from quality of life issues to local and statewide legislation.”
Vella-Wilkinson was joined by two AARP advocates, Charlie Dress and Verteal “Vertie” Patterson. They are Warwick residents and members of Rhode Island AARP who want to re-establish a local branch.
“We had one, but it dropped off about four or five years ago,” Patterson said. “We need to get back out there because there are more and more people who need to speak out and learn about things that could help them and their families,”Dress said.
With an election coming next year, he said it’s vital for people to start thinking about questions they’d like to ask Rhode Island’s elected officials and potential candidates.
“Next year is probably going to be one of the most critical years, not only in Warwick but in Rhode Island and throughout this country, in terms of a new election,” Dress said. “I know a lot of people aren’t happy with what’s going on in local politics, so this is our chance to voice some of those questions and concerns.”
While most of the residents listened, a few shared ideas. Jan Burza, who lives in Pawtuxet Village, asked what could be done to help people who haven’t yet reached the age of 60 or 65 but are on fixed incomes and having trouble staying in their homes. With the poor economy, she said, it’s getting increasingly difficult for some people to pay taxes and still make ends meet.
She wondered if the city would increase homesteading programs, as Florida has programs that help seniors.
“We’re losing a lot of condo alternatives, small cottages – something that’s affordable for one person or a couple,” Burza said.
Vella-Wilkinson noted that as the airport is expanding, it’s taken a great deal of affordable housing. She said, however, that the mayor is looking at ways to enhance affordable housing within the city.
Eleanor Chadronet, wife of Ward 2 Councilman Tom Chadronet, attended the meeting. She spoke to Burza’s point about Florida.
“The elderly population in Florida runs the state, that’s why they get the services,” she said. “We have to have that happen here. If more people get involved, then we’ll get the services.”
Vella-Wilkinson, Dress and Patterson nodded in agreement. They said getting involved in local government would help them achieve remedies to issues.
Strength in numbers, said Dress, is crucial. If more people speak up, they will have more of an impact.
“We have a voice and we’re looking to you to add to that voice,” Dress said.
Patterson agreed, encouraging attendees to be more active by connecting with local politicians via phone, e-mail or in person at meetings and hearings.
“Don’t sit home and complain about it,” Patterson said. “Let them know about it. If you don’t do it, who’s going to do it? Once you say something, your neighbor or your friend may say, ‘I should have said that.’ Speak out. That’s the only way you’re going to be heard. You have your say, you listen to the candidates, you decide, you help get bills passed for your area. I’m 71 years old, but I try to keep going.”
Vella-Wilkinson also discussed a few issues brought to her attention by local residents who were unable to attend the meeting, including steep curb cuts on sidewalks along parts of Warwick Avenue.
One resident told her that he has noticed that people who use wheelchairs are having trouble maneuvering the curb cuts, and that his family member has tipped over. She spoke to William DePasquale, the city’s planning director, and the Department of Public Works to notify the appropriate people, as Warwick Avenue is a state road.
Dress pointed out that the issue has been dealt with in other communities via AARP, while Patterson said the mayor is working on solving the issue.
When another man at the assembly asked questions about the Affordable Care Act, Kathleen Bennett, head of the social services unit at the Pilgrim Senior Center, welcomed him to visit her office and take a look at the social service board in the Center. She often posts information she receives from the state and Division of Elderly Affairs.
An additional important resource, said Vella-Wilkinson, relates to emergencies. Before Hurricane Sandy hit Rhode Island, the city purchased a rapid emergency notification service, CodeRED.
According to the city website at warwickri.gov, “the system will distribute emergency messages via telephone to targeted areas or the entire county at a rate of 1,000 calls per minute.” It “employs a one-of-a-kind Internet mapping capability for geographic targeting of calls, coupled with a high-speed telephone calling system capable of delivering customized pre-recorded emergency messages directly to homes and businesses, live individuals and answering machines,” to better serve people in the wake of an emergency.
Residents are able to register for free via the city website. By doing so, they will be added to the emergency call list.
“The information is exceptional,” Vella-Wilkinson said, noting that there are computers at the senior centers so people can sign up. “Ask a member of the staff to help you register.”
Before the end of the meeting, Vella-Wilkinson said future meetings, which will take place monthly, will commence at various locations throughout the city to boost participation. Learn more about the group on Facebook.
Burza said she enjoyed the meeting and thinks the group provides a good opportunity to learn more about resources and city issues.
“It’s great because sometimes you don’t know where to turn,” she said.
A website for the local AARP is in the works. Vella-Wilkinson said meetings will be advertised via local media, at local senior centers and at the Warwick Public Library.