To the Editor:
When I agreed to become a Board Member on the new RISA (Roosevelt Island Senior Association) organization, after being a member for over two years, I looked forward to bringing my expertise as a retired college dean working with senior organizations and not-for-profits to Roosevelt Island, the community I have lived in and loved for over 20 years. I looked forward to getting more involved in civic responsibilities. However, although I always had great respect for the Island residents who helped build this community that I love, I have come to see the ugliness and unwarranted vindictiveness from some of those very same leaders.
I am so proud of the new RISA executive board members I work with. Their dedication, their expertise, determination, and very hard work have enabled RISA to untangle many of the problems they inherited, yet continue to move forward with programs that have been a tradition, as well as new programming.
The thorn in our side is building a cooperative relationship with the Carter Burden Network, and more directly, with their director, Lisa Fernandez, who refuses to follow up with regular meetings so we can plan without “stepping on each other’s toes.” She refuses to communicate and cooperate with the very organization with which she shares both space and populations. Had she communicated with us regarding the pool table, as an example, perhaps she would not have acted unilaterally regarding a piece of furniture she had no right to remove.
This latest unilateral decision on her part leads me to question why Carter Burden continues to employ a director who continually views us as the enemy. We are not competitors; we serve the same and sometimes different, but not competing, populations. Each organization should enhance the other, not detract from the other.
Lisa Fernandez has shown poor judgment on other occasions that were divisive, speaking (shouting) and being dismissive in a typical ageist and demeaning manner to seniors, and to RISA’s executive director while other Senior Center members were nearby. She has surrounded herself with women as her advisers who, although well regarded leaders in other capacities, have actively tried to dismantle RISA.
Case in point is Judy Berdy, who appeared in front of the RIOC Board requesting that the Board divide the funds set aside for RISA among the other organizations instead. Her request was denied but, at the next Board meeting, Lisa was in attendance sitting next to Judy Berdy, Wendy Hersh, and Lynne Shinozaki (whose husband, Michael Shinozaki, was the only Board member to vote against our funding.)
RISA has been a thriving organization and has every right to exist. Over 125 seniors agree. We share the space with Carter Burden and have every right to be consulted on issues, equipment, programming, etc. And we have the right to spend our energies servicing our separate, but sometimes shared, audiences in a positive way, without unwarranted dissention.
[Response from Carter Burden Executive Director, William Dionne]
Since assuming sponsorship of the Roosevelt Island Senior Center in July 2016, the Carter Burden Network (CBN) has been committed to working collaboratively with the Island’s community, including individuals who come to the center and other organizations. The success of our efforts is exemplified by the fact that our July 25 Anniversary Party was attended by approximately 150 people. The CBN embraces hospitality and inclusivity through initiatives such as Senior Law Day, where participants were able to talk with professionals and attend workshops on topics of particular interest to them, increasing the number of volunteers and classes like exercise and art, and working with the NYC Department for the Aging and our legislative delegation to enhance the Senior Center space. The staff in all our sites carry out their work within the environment of welcoming and acceptance that we have created. We have reached out to RISA in the hope of scheduling a meeting to discuss our mutual issues.
William J. Dionne
Carter Burden Network