As fears of the coronavirus mount, and social distancing becomes the norm, a painful side effect is loneliness. For retirees who have lost a spouse, don’t have children or other relatives nearby, or who’ve been out of the workforce for years, the issue can be particularly acute.
The statewide union recently began using the NYSUT polling center to check in with retirees and to let them know the union is here for them.
Carol Davis, a former school librarian and Mechanicville Teachers Association retiree, was one such member who got a call at home.
“It felt nice to have the union check in, to know you were on someone’s radar. I’m fortunate that I’m not alone, but many retirees are,” she said. “Having someone reach out is a wonderful gift.”
That simple reassurance, just letting retirees know that NYSUT cares about them, is the main goal, said Nicki Richardson, NYSUT’s deputy political director and polling center manager. “Having that personal connection is so important during isolating times like these,” she said noting that one retiree they spoke with, who lives alone, said the union’s was the only check-in call she’d received. “Other retirees were in tears because they felt lonely and isolated. They were thankful the union cared enough to reach out.”
Callers also offered help with filling out census forms, even walking retired members through the submission process if online filing was daunting. In the wake of widespread COVID-19 cases, “ensuring that every New York State resident is counted is vitally important,” said Richardson. Census numbers are used to determine how more than $700 billion in federal funding is distributed for schools, hospitals and roads and to allocate congressional seats.
Ken Ulric, first vice-president/acting president for Retiree Council 17, received a similar call from the Farmingdale Federation of Teachers and it “made his day.”
“They asked me to spread the word among the retirees to reach out if we need help,” said Ulric. The Farmingdale FT is led by Cordelia Anthony. “They said whether it’s food, or money or anything — they’re here to help,” Ulric said.
An active and involved retiree local that regularly phone banks for union issues and contributes funds, food and time to local organizations like the Farmingdale School District Family Assistance Fund, RC 17 members aren’t used to being on the receiving end. But, Ulric admits, “in the 50 plus years that in-service and retirees have worked together, this is the first time that we might really need some help.”
Farmingdale is located in Nassau County which currently has more than 350 reported coronavirus cases. Since the disease has a long incubation period and is easily spread, just going to the grocery store is risky for many seniors.
“It really makes me feel good that they made this gesture,” said Ulric. “I’m so proud of the people with whom I work.”