Diane Conroy-LaCivita heads up the Colonie Senior Service Center, a non-profit, independent organization with three apartment buildings offering 396 apartments to moderate and low income seniors and there is a years-long waiting list. Prior to coming to CSSC nearly five years ago, she worked at the International Center for eight years. She and her husband Joe live in Colonie.
Q: You head up three apartment buildings where seniors live in a congregate setting — identified as perhaps the most precarious living scenario during the pandemic. How stressful was it for you and your staff over the past 18 months and what changes did you have to make?
A: This organization, and the incredible staff of people, pivoted from providing meals and transportation and other basic services to being more about social services. We lost staff — from 62 employees to 11 — because of age and they were worried about their own health or because their kids were home from school taking classes online. From March 13 to Aug. 15 we worked seven days a week in 10 or 12 hour shifts. We didn’t recognize Easter or Memorial Day or the Fourth of July because we knew how great the need was here outside of transportation and meals. I don’t think we can ever go back to what this organization was pre-pandemic. Now that programs are opening up we are pushing them in the traditional sense, but there were things we never dealt with and some things we were completely unaware of and we just can’t let go of that.
Q: In addition to housing, CSSC offers a host of programs and services, what are the most popular?
A: We have critical and non-critical transportation with a fleet of 12 vehicles and we drive people to social events or the doctor’s office and that is popular. Our umbrella program is popular. We have 50, 100 percent vetted handy people we send to people’s homes and they could mow the lawn or do some plumbing or some carpentry work or do whatever to help a senior out around the house if they are still living at home. And we also act as a matchmaker for senior volunteers at a wide variety of non-profit organizations throughout the Capital District like historic sites and schools and even ombudsmen at the airport. And other programs are starting back up again like our health and wellness program that includes travel and art and education.
Q: How rewarding is it to work with seniors and to help them age in place with dignity?
A: It is rewarding. It is a little bit of Smallbany involved. I have interacted with people I worked with through my career, and the parents of friends I grew up with and I have had former teachers from when I went to North Colonie and North Colonie schools use our services now. It is nice to know we are making a difference in the community we were brought up in.
Q: You came to CSSC after the International Center, where you spent eight years hosting international visitors in the Capital District. What do you like better and why?
A: At the International Center we subcontracted with the Department of State and they assigned us delegations and we took our marching orders our of DC. They would assign us delegations related to human trafficking to agriculture so it was fun because we met people from all around the world. Now we are back to the sense of community like the parents of friends and the teachers I mentioned before. We are getting the ‘how we should be doing things’ from a local source, our clients and our Board of Directors, rather than out of state and there is not the inherent disconnect like when you are dealing with Washington. A lot of people from International Center are now involved with me here like Chef Yono Purnomo.
Q: Who would you most like to have lunch with, alive or dead, and what would you talk about?
A: I would have two. One would be my mother, she passed away 11 years ago. And the other would be poet Maya Angelou. My mother was into the arts and they are both strong, compassionate, sincere women and it would be great to share a meal.
If you know of someone you would like to see featured in Five Questions contact Jim Franco at 518-878-1000 or [email protected]