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Florida RTC office gets facelift for members

New York Teacher
The refurbished Florida Retiree Center in Boca Raton was packed on March 7 to hear from Jill Biden (inset), the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The refurbished Florida Retiree Center in Boca Raton was packed on March 7 to hear from Jill Biden (inset), the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

JIll Biden

Jill Biden

The 7,500 UFT retirees who live permanently in Florida, as well as thousands of winter part-timers known as “snow birds,” continue to await the reopening of the remodeled Florida Retiree Center in Boca Raton, the busy hub that serves them all.

Because of the pandemic, Florida RTC Coordinator Ken Goodfriend’s invitation to retirees to drop by to see the bright, redesigned headquarters, expanded classroom space and technology updates had to be withdrawn a month after the Feb. 27 grand opening.

The refurbished center will provide more and better support for retirees in four bright, airy classrooms, an increase from the original two. A large space that can accommodate up to 90 people can be formed out of two of those rooms, allowing more retirees to participate in informational meetings and popular seminars. Projectors and large screens in each room provide for multimedia presentations that were not possible before. And new water access in each room means Si Beagle classes such as watercolor painting and stained glass can now be offered.

A capacity crowd of retirees visited the new open space on March 7 to hear Jill Biden, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. A former teacher, she spoke about electing leaders who will be more responsive to the needs of the nation’s public schools.

Patti Vitucci, the assistant director of activities, said the reaction to the modern and inviting setting was “Wow!” Vitucci added, “Retirees appreciate that it was done for them.

”One or more of the headquarter’s eight staffers — two pension and six health benefits experts — will be on hand each day to help retirees with appointments as well as those who walk in without one. One issue that retirees need help with is applying for Medicare and learning how it works. Emblem Health and GHI benefits are not as widely accepted in Florida as they are in New York, so the Boca Raton experts also provide assistance finding doctors. They explain the Supplemental Health Insurance Program (SHIP) to retirees as well.

“When I came down here a year ago, this place looked like something from the 1970s,” said John Amato, a health and pension consultant. “Now, it’s more spacious and attractive, and we can offer so much more.” He pointed out the ability to serve large groups of retirees turning 65 who come to the center with pressing questions about their Medicare eligibility.

When UFT President Michael Mulgrew made his annual visit in February 2019, he declared the need for an office facelift, Goodfriend said. “The inconvenience of the five-month shutdown to refurbish and the subsequent shutdown caused by the pandemic will be offset by the new and better ways we will be able to serve our retirees,” he said.

While the center will likely remain closed through the end of the year, Goodfriend said, the plan is to reopen telephone lines in the fall to give retirees direct access to counselors.