SENIOR POWER: Welcome Jonathan Torres

By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Friday September 06, 2013 - 10:19:00 AM

Following its opening in 1979 in its own new building on the corner of Hearst and MLK, the North Berkeley Senior Center (NBSC) became well known as innovative and active. Attendance and the number of volunteers and donors increased dramatically. The many accomplishments included The Nugget newsletter, Japanese Seniors Program, Portable Meals, and minibus service. Special programs included local authors and musicians, intergenerational activities, the Nutrition Program, assistance and advisory groups, monthly birthday celebrations, entertainments as well as topical discussions, and the Center’s own up-to-date Resource Guide. Gray Panthers and Save Section 8 began meeting at the NBSC. A relationship with the Berkeley Adult School brought onsite free classes taught by credentialed instructors. A diverse and accessible staff was on hand. As senior citizens and elders (and later, boomers) entered, they were welcomed, often in their own language. 

I devoted the August 17, 2010 Senior Power column to "A Conversation with Two Old-Timers" who were retiring. One was NBSC director Suzanne Ryan. In the interim, concern for Berkeley’s aged citizenry has bounced around among City departments and divisions while three or four persons tried to fill her shoes. My attempts to arrange interviews were unsuccessful. 

That was then, and this is now. On June 17, 2014 Jonathan Torres assumed the leadership role of NBSC Director. Recently, I had an opportunity to chat with him. As I was ushered through closed doors to his office, I was impressed with how organized everything looked. As always, the Center was busy… the phone rang constantly. That same day a senior had experienced a health crisis. 

Torres reports to Leah Talley of the Aging Services Division, part of the Housing and Community Services Department. I learned that he recognizes the importance of the Center’s successful functioning of the advisory council and volunteers in general. He says that the NBSC is now fully staffed, including a “case manager” three-days a week. (“Case management” is the city’s Social Services [Unit], which provides consultation and referral in areas of concern to Berkeley residents over age 55.) The Nugget newsletter is being redeveloped, and WiFi workshops scheduled at both North and South Berkeley Senior Centers. 

Thirty-two year old Torres comes to us from Pinole, where he was employed in city government that included senior services. He and his family live in Emeryville, and he drives to work. In 2005 he received his B.A. degree from San Francisco State University, with a major in recreation and Leisure Studies. His interest in embarking on a UCB Master’s degree in public policy is on hold while family life and the NBSC fully occupy his life. 

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Independence at Home is a program part of Obamacare, said to provide incentives for selected primary-care providers who are able to save money by making time-consuming home visits to medically complex, Philadelphia patients. In other words, it’s an experiment in one big city. House calls were once the main patient-doctor point of contact, but physicians have been encouraged to maintain high-volume offices, mainly by low reimbursement rates. (Doc Martin’s writers apparently haven’t been informed.) 

In August 2013m the U.S. Justice Department announced an agreement with the City of Fort Morgan, Colorado to improve access to civic life for people with disabilities. Reached under Project Civic Access (PCA), the Justice Department’s initiative ensures that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The settlement agreement with the City of Fort Morgan can be accessed at the ADA website. 

On August 28, 2013 PBS Newshour identified the top U.S. cities for “successful aging” (none in California) and “8 Things Your City Should Be Doing to Help Seniors, According to Age-Friendly New York City.” They include advocate for improvements in public transportation. People over age 65 make up 54% of the national average of those who use public transit. Work toward affordable, supportive housing solutions. Welcome HUD Section 202 housing. Check out Creating an Age-friendly NYC, One Neighborhood at a Time, a toolkit for creating age-friendly neighborhoods. 

Of 59 nations that promote gender equality in the workplace, Israel ranks 21st. Women’s pension benefits in Israel average NIS 2,000 lower than men’s, according to the Annual Statistic Report on the Elderly released by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel - Eshel-JDC. (1 Israeli New Sheqel = 0.28 US Dollar.) According to the data, women’s pensions stand today at an average of NIS 4,197 compared to NIS 6,192 for men. Tsk Israel. The employment rate among women aged 65+ has been rising steadily over the last decade, from 4.1% in 2000 to 7.4 % in 2011. 

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In September:

The National Council on Aging, Inc. has announced Senior Center Month. 

Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013: National Grandparents Day. 

Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013: PBS Frontline will present an encore of its November 2012 program,“The Suicide Plan.” 

Monday, Sept. 16, 2013: Grantmakers in Aging is hosting “Senior housing plus services,” a webinar linking affordable housing with services for seniors. Jennifer Ho of the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) will discuss partnerships to improve health and housing stability for residents of HUD-assisted housing. Register online with the NCOA. (The term webinar is a combination of web and seminar, meaning a presentation, lecture or workshop that is transmitted over the Web.) 

Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013: Falls Prevention Awareness Day: Help spread the word about falls prevention, on the first day of Fall. 

In October:

Wednesday-Friday, October 2-4, 2013: “Senior Centers 2013: Where Do We Grow from Here?” Join the National Institute of Senior Centers and the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging for a national senior center conference. Sturbridge MA.