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Remembering Janet Sainer

Posted: January 2, 2014

The following remarks were shared at the Third generations United Janet Sainer Luncheon, sponsored by the Brookdale Foundation Group (August 1, 2013).

“The world lost an intergenerational pioneer and hero with the death of Janet Sainer on June 4 2007. Janet, as she was known to everyone, started her more than 50 years of work in the intergenerational field in 1958, working for two synagogues in New York City after graduating with an MSW from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland.

When Janet joined the Community Service Society of New York in 1968, she launched SERVE (Serve and Enrich Retirement by Volunteer Experience). Through SERVE, she recruited seniors to volunteer to work with patients at an institution for the mentally challenged on Staten Island. She wrote about the program in a book that she appropriately titled, SERVE. She received an enthusiastic response to both the book and the program, which served as the foundation for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Now administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, RSVP can be found in over 700 sites nationwide.

In 1978, Mayor Ed Koch named Janet the Commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging, a position she held for 12 years. As commissioner, Janet started and expanded senior service programs. One of her career highlights was establishing the New York City Alzheimer’s Resource Center, the first municipal center in the country to provide counseling and referrals for Alzheimer’s patients and families. After stepping down as commissioner, Janet was approached by the Brookdale Foundation Group to become a special consultant. She agreed and held that position until her death in 2004. At Brookdale, she showed her creative genius once again by developing the Relatives As Parents Program (RAPP) that, today, serves grandparents and other relatives raising children. Her staunch advocacy on behalf of grandfamilies led the 1995 White House Conference on Aging to recommend adopting a policy supporting grandfamilies. Janet had another major victory with the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP). She encouraged Generations United to advocate for the inclusion of grandparent caregivers. When Congress reauthorized the Older American’s Act in 2000, it included the NFCSP and authorized states to spend up to 10 percent of the funds on grandfamilies.

During her career, Janet received many awards. In 2003, Generations United added to her cache, presenting her with an award that read, in part, “with respect and admiration for your wisdom, vision and tenacity. You are our hero.” Thanks to the generous support of the Brookdale Foundation Group, Generations United’s conference networking luncheon honors Janet into perpetuity. And true to her spirit, we encourage you to network, take risks, and always keep your eye on the good you can do next.”