Serving Seniors 2020 recognizes pandemic difference-makers

Serving Seniors 2020 award winners
Serving Seniors 2020 award winners (L to R): Dr. Daphne Schneider, Nakaike Okpara, Caitlyn Dickinson, Rosa Deleon and Betty Mitchell.

Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) recently recognized five essential workers for their compassion and excellence at Serving Seniors 2020.

The annual event was held virtually, with most of the award presentations filmed beforehand. Speaking to staff at the live portion of the program on Nov. 12, SCES Executive Director Paul Hollings said the changes were necessary to recognize those who are doing essential work.

“We thought it more important than ever this year to recognize those who are on the front lines of our mission, which is to promote the right of all individuals to live with dignity in the setting of their choice,” said Hollings. “We are proud to recognize these committed individuals, who do so much to make our communities safer and healthier for older adults.”

The following awards were given at Serving Seniors 2020:

The Compassionate Care Provider Award went to Nakaike Okpara, a Home Care aide with Anodyne, who has worked with people in their homes throughout the pandemic.

In nominating Okpara for the award, SCES Bilingual Case Manager Ania Smietanko said he gave generously of his time for a 95-year-old client who needed additional help following a hospital stay shortly after the pandemic began.

“He would go every day, and the compensation for this half-an-hour extra service was not significant,” said Smietanko. “He did it because nobody else could.”

In accepting the award, Okpara said he strives to establish trust and good communication when working with people, and thanked SCES for the recognition.

“This award for me is an embodiment of trust, acceptance, teamwork and community,” said Okpara.


The Outstanding Caregiver Award went to Rosa Deleon, who is caring for her mother, who has dementia.

In presenting the award, Adult Family Care Social Worker Nathaniel Meyer said he wanted to recognize the hard work and compassion Rosa has shown in caring for her mother over the past five years.

“She has shown how an approach of patience and compassion instills in her mother a sense of safety and being understood,” said Meyer. “We all hope to age gracefully and with full and meaningful lives. Thanks to Rosa, her mother is living this life.”

Deleon thanked AFC for supporting her caregiving journey, saying it’s a team effort with both AFC and her family.

“My mom is doing well and she’s happy…, and that’s my goal,” said Deleon.


The Tingle Volunteerism Award went to Caitlyn Dickinson, for her work with the Money Management program.

In presenting the award, SCES Director of Volunteers & Special Projects Colleen Morrissey described Dickinson as an amazing volunteer, who has been particularly helpful for one Money Management client.

“The work that you’ve done with him is unbelievable,” said Morrissey. “The situation he’s being going through with COVID has been really difficult and you have been there every step of the way.”

In accepting the award, Dickinson thanked the agency for providing a wide range of assistance for her client, when he ran into challenges with health and housing.

“I was really amazed at the team and resources that were assembled around him,” said Dickinson. “…it gave me a sense of relief that he had this stable network around him, and he is so appreciative.”


The Kahn Collaboration Award went to Dr. Daphne Schneider, for her work with the Cambridge Health Alliance House Calls program.

In presenting the award, SCES Mental Health Social Worker Cassie Cramer said Dr. Schneider excels at providing essential in-home care for people with barriers to attending outpatient appointments.

“The individuals served by you are among the highest risk for premature nursing home admission, emergency room use and hospitalization, and developing devastating but preventable health complications,” said Cramer. “You always seem to be working—fitting people in after hours and advocating on patient’s behalf and basically doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of those lucky enough to work with you.”

“I am so honored to receive this recognition from people and an organization that I respect and esteem so much,” said Schneider. “We think of geriatrics as a team endeavor and I feel really privileged to be part of your team.”


Spirit of SCES Award Winner Betty Mitchell

The Spirit of SCES Award went to longtime SCES Office Manager Betty Mitchell, who recently retired after 30 years with the agency.

The award was presented by SCES Assistant Director Annie Fowler, Quality Improvement Director Rachel Berry, HR Director Ellyn Torres, and Benefits Specialist Barbara D’Ermo—all of whom nominated Mitchell for the award.

“Betty made it her business to know how best to get things done at SCES, and whenever people had a question about the agency, Betty was the person to turn to,” said Fowler.

That was also the case in 2020, when Mitchell took the lead on securing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for her colleagues at the agency, securing masks and other supplies when they were scare and in much demand.

“Betty has a genuine concern about the well-being of Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services,” said Fowler. “We nominate Betty Mitchell for the Spirit of SCES award because she embodies the best of our agency, exemplifying so many of our values.”

“I really appreciate this award,” said Mitchell. “SCES will always have a special place in my heart.”

Centenarian Recognition: Helen Vincunas 

Helen Vincunas

Helen Vincunas of Somerville, is 103, soon to celebrate her 104th birthday this January. Born in Cambridge, Helen moved to Somerville as a young girl where she has been a resident of Somerville for over 90 years.
Helen’s career began as a switchboard operator for The Bell Telephone Company (known as Ma Bell), where she rose through the ranks to become an executive secretary.

Helen remains in good health. Her prescription for a healthier older age is to nourish the body and nourish the mind. Helen is a very independent woman who lives in her own apartment. She handles all her daily household needs, prepares all her meals, administers her own medications and she manages her personal finances.

Helen reads constantly, enjoying non-fiction books, amounting to at least 5 books a month. In addition, Helen enjoys completing a crossword puzzle each day, loves watching Jeopardy and she is a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.

Helen is a source of pride and affection for her family. During this Covid pandemic, Helen has found meaningful and joyful ways to stay connected to her niece, great-niece, and great-great nephew and niece; by chatting using her old-fashion telephone and our sharing of photographs of happy events.

It is also significant that Helen, one of the oldest residents of Somerville, be recognized for her civic duty. Helen has always thought it important to vote. And this year is no exemption. She received her absentee ballot and voted early.