CBN/RI Senior Center Director Makes AM Seawright's Annual List

Lisa Fernandez To Be Honored as "Woman of Distinction"

Updated 30 weeks ago David Stone
Lisa Fernandez (L) celebrated the 2017 holiday season at an event organized by Do For One, a local group supporting people with disabilities.
Lisa Fernandez (L) celebrated the 2017 holiday season at an event organized by Do For One, a local group supporting people with disabilities.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily
The Roosevelt Island Daily has learned that Lisa Fernandez, who serves as the Carter Burden Network's onsite Director at the Roosevelt Island Senior Center, will be honored as a "Woman of Distinction" by NYS Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright at her annual Women's History Month Celebration on March 8th. We would like to point out that we saw her first.

Bill Dionne, CBN's Executive Director, later recalled mixed feelings about sending Lisa Fernandez in to lead the troubled Roosevelt Island Senior Center, but he could not have foreseen the fierce resistance she'd face from our usual local suspects - nor the grace with which she'd handle it.

Dionne's reluctance stemmed not from the challenges ahead - he was confident she could handle those - but from taking her away from an East Harlem program at which she excelled. A woman like Fernandez is hard to replace.

Stiffer than expected head winds awaited as Fernandez joined forces with personnel from the Department for the Aging to transition management of the Senior Center from RISA, a local nonprofit whose contract had been terminated. With only a few weeks to get organized for serving meals and scheduling programs, Fernandez swung into action. 

Roosevelt Island has a well-deserved reputation for being unwelcoming to those considered "newcomers," and that was on full display as CBN replaced a group led by well-known and mostly well-liked residents. A Main Street WIRE editorial whaled about the community being "outsourced," and the newspaper went on to publish articles masking RISA's crime-riddled track record and making its being kicked out seem unjustified.

A letter writing campaign opposing CBN got kick started.

Although the experience had to be more gut-wrenching than Fernandez showed, she plunged ahead with grace and the abundance of charismatic charm with which she's been blessed. Joined by her first community liaison, Hallie Shapiro, and case manager Yulisa Santana, recently promoted to Shapiro's vacant position, she began introducing new activities for seniors while working to patch holes in a wobbling operation.

Meals at the Senior Center, a huge benefit for local residents, got better and less expensive. (Fernandez admits the food's not where she wants it yet, but upgrades are in the works.) Teaming up with the Disabled Association improved community outreach as did an open door policy that welcomed everyone, even RISA, to participate in the healing and betterment of services for seniors.

Today, the Senior Center is a place reborn. A main hallway, community rooms and a cafeteria that often felt abandoned two years ago are now resonant with activity.

Music swells during monthly birthday parties. Once isolated seniors lean forward over computer keyboards as instructors introduce them to a digital world filled with previously unknown resources. Classes from art to yoga to genealogy keep minds active and bodies limber.

Lisa Fernandez will be the first to tell you that she's not responsible for all the positive changes at the Roosevelt Island Senior Center. Shapiro, Santana, newcomer Fred Colero and a host of local residents - too numerous to mention without missing someone - all pitching in deserve plenty of credit. But it's hard to imagine it all coming together with so much vigor and grace without her.

Assembly Member Seawright will share her thoughts on what makes Fernandez a Woman of Distinction for 2018. We have already collected ours.

The Roosevelt Island Daily salutes Lisa Fernandez and the other nominees recognized by Seawright this year. The Women's History Month Celebration will take place at the historic Abigail Adams Smith House, 417 East 61st Street, between First and York Avenues - you can see it from any passing Tram - at 6:00 on March 8th. If you'd like share in the celebration, Assembly Member Seawright's office asks that you RSVP. Call 212-288-4607 or email SeawrightR@NYAssembly.gov.

We hope to see you there.

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