The Commissioner Brings Sunshine on a Rainy day
by Donna Marie Caltabiano
Feb 09, 2010 | 7340 views | 0 0 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, commissioner of the Department for the Aging (DFTA), held a borough-wide roundtable discussion on the future of senior centers in New York City recently. While the weather outside was pouring buckets, in the Queens Borough Hall conference room the sunshine was streaming in.

In all my fifteen years as a senior center director, this is the first time I have witnessed such warmth, honesty, and humor coming from a commissioner of the DFTA. She started her presentation by saying the “commissioners cannot make change unless they have buy-ins from the partnerships.”

She stated that she used her first year to get to know how the department worked. “We need to find a way to change how we work with our centers; to look at them not as venders but as partners.” This is something that the former commissioner never understood.

He tried to push through a program of “super centers” with a system of outcome measures. He disregarded the social service aspect of centers - that we were dealing with people not robots. Commissioner Barrios-Paoli stated the outcome measures don't serve any purpose unless people buy into them.

The commissioner explained her new initiative of Charter Senior Centers. This initiative is still in the planning stages so the ideas are not concrete and subject to change. These 10-15 centers would be better funded, experimental, novel approaches to senior centers. They would not eliminate the traditional neighborhood centers.

Initially these Charter Centers would be spaced out in each borough. Eventually the commissioner would like to see one Charter Center in each community board. Although not approved yet, she is asking for all current centers with contracts to receive a two-year extension while the the department develops the Charter Senior Centers.

Barrios-Palio spoke on the need to change the way the DFTA functions. Last year, they reduced the number of home delivered meal venders from 120 to 20. She stated that DFTA needs to look at that number and move it somewhere in the middle range to improve the service.

She talked about the changing the prior commissioner's initiative of outcome measures to more realistic goals. “We need to reevaluate the way our centers are evaluated,” she stated.

If you weren't in Room 213 on Queens Boulevard Monday morning, you wouldn't have seen the rays of sunlight cracking through the system. Outside it was cold, damp, and very windy, but inside it was warm and bright with a definite breath of fresh air coming from Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli.

Donna Marie Caltabiano is the executive director of the Forest Park Senior Center.

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