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June 2016 Newsletter

Stories Worth Sharing

In-depth profiles of lives well lived 

Dependent. Disabled. Depressed. That’s how older Americans often are portrayed in the media. But the facts contradict the clichés: Three-quarters of the city’s 1 million elders are independent, active, and giving back.

At The Trust, we want to share the real picture. We’re backing a project that uses journalists’ profiles and photos to counter stereotypes while influencing policies that affect elderly New Yorkers. Directed by the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, the Exceeding Expectations project distributes the stories in print and online and shares them at events.

We’ve invested $225,000 since 2014, and The Trust is the project’s sole funder. Here are glimpses of three New Yorkers the Columbia team has profiled. For more, visit


Luis Cajigas, 86, and his Schwinn decorated with roosters have been a familiar sight in East Harlem for 20 years. After retiring, Cajigas took to his bike and mounted a rooster (symbolizing both Puerto Rico and his nickname, El Gallo). Bringing joy became his hobby. Since then, the roosters have multiplied, while his ride has required some alterations. Cajigas switched to a three-wheeler when a hernia made it painful to ride a traditional bike. He installed a motor because of heart disease. Through it all, his social calendar has become busier: He rides in dozens of celebrations. On June 12, look for him in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Photo by Floor Flurij  


Trained as a dancer and a teacher, Sandra Robbins, 82, now uses puppets and performers to spread a message: “People are the same at their core, and we need to respect other humans as well as nature.” She founded and directs the Shadow Box Theatre, a Brooklyn nonprofit serving 300,000 City schoolchildren a year. She has written hundreds of songs, leads puppet-making workshops, and more. All for free. But running the theater while caring for herself and her ailing husband has become a challenge. Now, she’s figuring out what’s next. Above: Sandra Robbins reviews notes with her cast. Photo by Heather Clayton Colangelo  

SEEING CLEARLY: Although he spent six decades as an optometrist, Hank Blum, 86, says he never worked a day in his life. He tried to retire—and failed three times—because he loved his job so much. Pulmonary problems have forced him to focus on his own health and what comes next, now that he is finally retiring. Here, he sees a patient at Metro Optics in the Bronx a year ago. Photo by Heather Clayton Colangelo  

THANKS TO AN UPPER EAST SIDE RESIDENT: After her husband died, Katherine Park learned the meaning of isolation. She stopped going out, and confessed to a friend she felt “all alone in the world.” When she died five years later, in 1981, her will established the Katherine A. Park Fund for the Elderly in The Trust to help seniors with mobility, health care and financial problems, and depression. We used her fund to support the Columbia University project at left.  

Medicare to Home Care Keeping older New Yorkers healthy 

These days, Medicare offers dozens of options that include a variety of provider networks, benefits, and premiums. Low-income seniors have the added task of figuring out eligibility for savings programs and other financial assistance. Three new grants from The Trust will help older New Yorkers navigate this Medicare maze, improve the quality of home care, and get care for LGBT seniors with mental health issues. 
  • With $100,000, Medicare Rights Center will help elders navigate Medicare choices without leaving home, through a popular hotline. The Center also will get training materials into the hands of thousands of health providers to equip them to answer questions about Medicare. 
  • The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute will use $150,000 to improve the quality of home care for the elderly and disabled—by supporting higher pay and better training for caregivers. 
  • Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), a citywide group, is putting $100,000 to work training staff to screen, refer, and provide help for mentally ill clients during crises.

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