Celebrating Older Americans: Engaged, Independent, and a Vibrant Part of Communities

By NCEA Collaborators 

May 2, 2023

Phyllis Raphel  
Age: 87  
City, State: Beachwood, Ohio  
Occupation (past or current): Retired social worker 

Phyllis Raphel has volunteered nearly her entire life. She was inspired to do so by watching her parents, particularly her father, whose community service activities ranged from Boy Scout Commissioner to member of the local Anti-Defamation League. Phyllis’ volunteerism started during her teens. It led to her getting a master’s degree in social work, since “helping people brings meaning to my life”. Now retired and residing in a senior living facility, Phyllis still contributes by regularly helping in the gift shop at Menorah Park, perhaps the largest nursing facility in Ohio. Prior to the pandemic she also paid regular visits to hospice residents there as well as made telephone reassurance calls and newsletter deliveries to older adult clientele of the Community Partnership on Aging, which serves five eastern suburbs of Cleveland. Everywhere she goes, she wears her “Smiley” button, hoping that others will focus on the positive aspects of life, as she has done over her nearly nine decades.

Tony Sarmiento  
Age: 71 
City, State: Silver Spring, Maryland 
Occupation (past or current): Tony is retired from paid employment after a 50-plus year career in aging, the labor movement, and community organizing.

Tony served as executive director of Senior Service America (now the Center for Workforce Inclusion) from 2000 to 2017 and held senior positions within the AFL-CIO national office from 1979 to 2000. Tony was honored by HelpAge USA in 2022 as one of 60 Americans over 60 “who are making significant contributions to society,” awarded Fellow status by the Gerontological Society of America in 2016, and accepted membership in the National Academy of Social Insurance in 2007. He has served on numerous advisory panels and nonprofit boards, including for the American Society of Aging, the National Institute for Literacy (an appointment by President Clinton), and Silver Spring Village (as president). Tony currently serves on the board of the Charles Koiner Conservancy for Urban Farming and as president of the AFL-CIO Retirees Association. He is a lifelong activist for social and climate justice. 

Since he started drawing his pension five years ago, Tony has continued his lifelong activism for social and climate justice in the spirit of Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers. Recently, he joined union retirees and Third Act in a “rocking chair rebellion” in Washington, DC, to pressure the four biggest banks to stop financing fossil fuels. As a youth worker in the 1970s, Tony spent a day with Kuhn during one of her advocacy visits to Washington. Three decades later, he deepened his understanding of Kuhn’s work when he became director of a national organization serving low-income older workers. As income inequality, concentration of power, and the existential threat of climate change worsen, Tony urges old and young to learn about Maggie Kuhn—too often caricatured or forgotten today—and her broad and often radical vision of a just society. Tony asks, “What would Maggie do now?”

Catalina Esquivel 
Age: 82 
City, State: Montebello, CA 
Occupation (past or current): Former manager of a major bank

Catalina Esquivel immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a teenager and has since created a beautiful life in Southern California. In her career, she worked hard, starting as an administrative assistant, and ultimately retiring as the manager of a major bank. After a few years of retirement, she decided to return to serving her community. She is now making a significant impact on students as a high school lunch lady. By providing meals to students, she ensures they have access to a nutritious meal, which positively affects their academic performance and overall well-being.  Beyond her job, Catalina’s love for her grandchildren speaks to her caring nature. Her dedication to her family translates to her interactions with students at the high school, making her a familiar and trusted presence in their lives. She remains connected to her community through time with her family, relationships with her friends and coworkers, and regular engagement with students. By being a positive role model and making a difference in the lives of those she interacts with daily, Catalina is undoubtedly leaving a lasting impact on her community.

Bobbie E. Blakeney 
Age: 70 
County, State: Monterey County, California  
Occupation (past or current): HICAP Counselor, Alliance on Aging of Monterey County

Bobbie E. Blakeney, a HICAP Counselor at the Alliance on Aging of Monterey County, has dedicated the past decade to serving clients with diverse backgrounds including Medi-Cal recipients, disabled persons under 65, veterans, teachers, and dependent vulnerable adults. Additionally, as an At-Large Member of AAA Advisory Council to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, she collaborates with non-profit organizations that provide services for older adults and vulnerable adults. She is a member of each committee of the AAA and has written all but one of the resolutions for the Legislative and Advocacy Committee for the past decade. Her resolutions, including the Older Americans Act Resolution for May and the Elder Justice and Dependent Vulnerable Adult Resolution for June, are presented to the public each year in formal settings such as OAA and Elder Justice Summits. Bobbie holds a B.S. in Dietetics from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and an M.B.A. in Computer Information Systems from Golden Gate University, San Francisco.  

Despite becoming disabled in 1992, Bobbie dedicated herself to caring for three generations of her family. She cared for her ninety-nine-year-old grandmother, seventy-two-year-old mother, and granddaughter while learning to navigate the complex world of finances. Bobbie is passionate about helping others receive the services and benefits they deserve.

Jeanette Martinez 
Age: 59 
City, State: Mystic, CT 
Occupation (past or current):  Nursing Home Resident, Co-President Resident Council; formerly Reception/Asst Office Manager at a local college 

Jeanette Martinez is a long-term care resident who dedicates herself to ensuring the home she lives in is a real home and community for herself and other residents. She recognized that there is more to life in a nursing home than the typical routine and demonstrates that older adults have the wisdom of life lived, and they should be listened to. Her engagement started with delivering mail to other residents and evolved into serving as the Resident Council President for 12 years.  She now serves as Resident Council Co-President. Her impact extends beyond her home; she collaborates with others in a statewide Resident Council Presidents’ group and is on the Steering Committee of the national Moving Forward Coalition.  

Jeanette builds strong relationships with residents and their families as their in-house advocate. She raises resident voices with administration and staff and takes a “responding is better than reacting” approach. From resolving issues to creating a rock garden and a store to showcase resident talent, she improves resident quality of living.

Lillian Matsumoto 

Age: 90 
City, State: Rosemead, California  
Occupation (past or current): Former Speech Language Pathologist

Lilian’s passion for staying active is evident in her love for walking, biking, and painting, reflecting her commitment to good physical and mental health. She continues to nurture her curiosity through activities like chess, foreign language films, and other pursuits, demonstrating her dedication to personal growth and intellectual enrichment. 

Beyond embracing an active lifestyle, Lillian cherishes the connections she forges within her community, exemplifying her kindness, empathy, and sociability. Recognizing the role of human connection in our lives shows her depth of character and wisdom. As a Speech Language Pathologist, Lilian has made a positive impact on many lives through her work. Her commitment to staying active, continuing to learn, and remaining connected to her community makes her an admirable individual.