Boston Senior Civic Academy, A Springboard for Advocacy

Carol Leary
This report was provided by Carol Leary.

Dear Commissioner Halberstadt,

I recently had the great pleasure of participating in The Senior Civic Academy, sponsored by the City of Boston's Elderly Commission. It was a pilot project over the course of five Fridays, focusing on advocacy by and for seniors, with presentations by panels of experts from a wide range of programs. We, in the first 'class' of twenty-five, heard from local government officials, including city councilors and the Mayor of Boston; from state senators, state representatives and administrators of The Massachusetts Commission on Affairs of The Elderly; and finally, we were also joined in a JFK Building conference room by federal government staff—Medicare and Medicaid were there, as were personnel from Social Security and the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).

Each of these speakers was frequently interrupted by raised hands for numerous questions. I am happy to report that no one asked us to 'Wait until the end!' These questions brought out deeper, more relevant issues for seniors. There were more personal stories and backgrounds expressed and more detail, which aided panel members in responding but also brought home for the rest of us, certain struggles we haven't yet had to face.

Ours was a diverse class, comprised of women and men of different ethnicities and ages, some of us as many as 20 years apart. Some of us have had more physical challenges, more surgeries, more losses among family and friends, more emotional and psychological obstacles. Some of us wore jeans and jean jackets and some of us were more elegantly dressed with fine watches, rings, and other jewelry. Some of us had canes, some were deaf, some had cataracts. On the breaks, most of us actively, laughingly, discussed interesting arthritis noises we've got in various joints.

One thing we all had in common: we do not like bullies. When it was my turn to introduce 'my' topic, I explained that it is Bullying of Seniors and Persons With Disabilities. I explained that I have witnessed it often during my life and even since becoming a resident of public housing, where one might reasonably expect our most vulnerable residents would be especially safeguarded. This is not the case. Could it be the number of hours with which my neighbors find themselves burdened after retirement? Could it be the loneliness they feel so acutely after moving from old neighborhoods? Or could it be the anger they feel toward family members who do not visit?

In talking about all of this with other Senior Civic Academy class members, we believe all of these reasons, and more, might be factors. We also believe that there is no acceptable excuse for abusing and alienating neighbors. We believe that others' rights to peaceful enjoyment of their homes, guaranteed by the United States Constitution, must not be denied. In my two-minute speech at 'graduation,' I repeated my message about bullying, talked about my experience of it, and a bill in the Massachusetts legislature filed by Rep Alan Silvia. Encouraging my classmates to go online, find, I further urged them to get on the telephone to their state representatives about the new bill.

At the end of our five-week time together, I requested of class members that we stay in touch. After we agreed, Commissioner Emily K. Shea and Alison Freeman, City of Boston Elderly Commission, promised to circulate contact information for us all. A reunion is planned for the future and I look forward to seeing all of my 'mates again!

Very truly yours,

Carol Leary

Editor's Notes:

Other legislation underway

The Stop Bullying Coalition is drafting a bill. See: Report on meeting with legislators  and draft text of the bill supported by the Stop Bullying Coalition.

The Coalition urges each of you to become familiar with our bill and support it by calling or writing your legislators.

Representative Alan Silvia has already filed legislation on bullying of elderly.

A proposal by the Commission on Bullying may be under consideration by the legislature.

Every bill on the topic that is filed may be considered by the legislators, who will determine what features from each of the bills may be adopted.

Senior Civic Academy

The Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School co-facilitated the academy with the City of Boston Elderly Commission, helping to develop the curriculum and evaluate the program. The Tufts Health Plan Foundation and AARP were also important partners in the program.

Older adults are the foundation of our city, and it’s important that we empower all residents to become effective advocates for themselves and their communities,

said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who was on hand to congratulate the academy’s first graduating class.

Carol Leary

Carol Leary is active in the work of the Stop Bullying Coalition and a leader of our outreach efforts.

Leary was a founding board member of The Boston Resident Training Institute (BRTI) whose mission was to educate public housing tenants about their rights under the law, then provide them with tools to elect representative boards & maintain their local tenant organizations (LTOs) in good standing. She has been employed by the City of Boston and by The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and at Urban Edge, Inc. from its early days before she began her own court reporting business. Leary resides in a Boston Housing Authority development designated for Elderly & Persons With Disabilities in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. She loves Jamaica Pond & serves as a Docent at The Loring-Greenough House, a center for historical, cultural and educational programs in Jamaica Plain.