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    Tuesday, April 23, 2024

    New London County Retired Teachers Association members give back to community, socialize and advocate for themselves

    Members of New London County Retired Teachers Association’s board of directors meet at Jane Aarnio’s home in Uncasville. Seated in the back row from left, are president John Andriso, reservations/raffles co-chairpersons Freddie Gimbert and Chris Friese, and member Lin LaPierre. Front row from left, are secretary Jane Aarnio, treasurer Judy Dailey, vice-president Dennis Shea, scholarship chairperson Trenda Caron and newsletter chairperson Sue Chojnacki. Photo by Jan Tormay

    Part of teachers' genetic makeup is to give and help others, said John Andriso, president of the New London County Retired Teachers Association, which was founded in the early 1980s. Teachers are known for purchasing their own school supplies and finding coats and other clothing for those in need. This philanthropic trait doesn't stop after they retire, he said during a telephone interview.

    One way teachers continue to give back to the community is to join NLCRTA, which is open to teachers who taught or live in New London County. Beautiful items they create are raffled off to other members to fund causes throughout the year. During the 18 months they didn’t meet because of COVID, they just mailed in their donations.

    Annually, NLCRTA donates to Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, Safe Futures (a New London organization that helps women, men and children who leave their homes, because of domestic abuse), “A Reason to Ride" (an Eastern Connecticut motorcycle club which supports veterans) and also gives gifts and toys for children at Christmastime to Thames Valley Council for Community Action in Lisbon. In past years, they have also donated gifts to Salvation Army in Norwich and New London.

    Additionally, the association gives annual scholarships to New London County high school students who plan to major in education in college. In June 2022, two $1,000 scholarships were given, said scholarship chairperson Trenda Caron, an Uncasville resident, during a telephone interview.

    Currently, about 2,300 retired educators live in New London County, yet only about 150 members belong to NLCRTA. Members are working on increasing their membership which would in turn increase their contributions, said membership chairperson Kathi Williams of East Lyme during a telephone interview. They are also trying to bring in younger people, since many members are now in their 70s and 80s.

    NLCRTA began meeting again in September 2022 and currently holds four luncheon meetings a year at Prime 82 Restaurant in Norwich at 11:30 a.m.

    Speakers talk during meetings about a variety of topics, including the opioid crisis, the healthiest way to walk, safety precautions they should take as senior citizens and guide dogs for the blind (with a demonstration). Periodically, singers and other performers, including magicians, comedians and Shoreline (Bell) Ringers, are brought in to entertain members.

    "It's a great place to be. It's social, but it's also educational" and members "get a lot out of belonging," said Andriso, a Norwich resident.

    NLCRTA is affiliated with the Association of Retired Teachers of Connecticut (ARTC), which he said “acts like a union for all the retired teachers, watches out for our pensions, health insurance, those types of things.”

    “ARTC is the only retired teacher organization which focuses solely on retired teachers’ interests,” ARTC Executive Director Tammy Gowash said in an email. “Teachers, who had a voice in their own welfare through their unions before retirement, need to have a voice after retirement. The strength of ARTC is in the participation of its numerous members.”

    Through persistent lobbying, she said the ARTC finally obtained the 50% exemption of retired teachers’ pensions from the state income tax. Now it is working to repeal the National Government Pension Off-set and the Windfall Elimination Provision.

    WEP affects teachers in Connecticut and 14 other states, as well other public service people, including police, fire personnel, and possibly others, Gowash said. “It is Social Security money that they paid into through their paychecks from another job besides teaching,” but they only receive one-third of it back.

    The GPO “affects spouses, widows, and widowers with pensions from a federal, state, or local government job,” who did not pay Social Security taxes,” according to a government website. In such cases, their Social Security benefits will be reduced by two-thirds of the amount of their government pension, the site states.

    Gowash said many retired teachers are confused about health insurance. “They trust that ARTC will help to clarify information and when they encounter problems, ARTC will help direct them to the right person who can help. In addition to helping local affiliates, ARTC employs a lobbyist who advocates for its retired members and provides information during legislative sessions to keep members up to date on what is happening at the statehouse.”

    NLCRTA Treasurer Judy Dailey emphasized during a telephone interview that it’s really important to make sure the information they receive is accurate and “that you can get that information by going” to their meetings. “Part of the advocacy happens because we get people that work for teachers to ensure teachers get a fair shake at the state level with our congressmen and representatives.”

    Caron said she initially joined NLCRTA to socialize, but quickly realized it's a great philanthropic group and the ARTC keeps her aware of pension and health insurance information.

    The NLCRTA, an organization that is only for retired teachers, is “really important because once you're out of teaching” you no longer know what's going on, said Uncasville resident Jane Aarnio, former president and current secretary, during a telephone interview.

    Some NLCRTA members still work or volunteer part time in school systems.

    Dailey, who retired as a Montville math coordinator, has coauthored many mathematic books and is currently revising a gifted math publication. Explaining another reason she belongs to NLCRTA, the Quaker Hill resident said, “In order to offer the best publications, I have to stay informed about current practices.”

    Andriso said he found out about NLCRTA through retired teacher Annabelle Curran, whom he described as an “incredible teacher” and "a force at Griswold Elementary School” and the association, who has since passed away.

    “I've met some wonderful people through the organization, people that I would never have known,” Andriso said. “The thing that you have in common is that you taught. You don't know what it's like to teach until you've taught, and that may sound silly, but stand in front of a classroom. And don't do it for a day. Don't do it for a week or a month; do it for five years to totally understand what education is like.”

    NLCRTA Vice President Dennis Shea is a member of the scholarship committee and has been outreach coordinator for about seven years. The Lisbon resident said during a telephone interview he enjoys everything he is doing, maybe because he and the “other people who are doing it feel like we’re needed and that we’re accomplishing something by being involved with it as participants.”

    Thinking about the NLCRTA, Andriso said his longstanding goal is to get more people involved. "It's very much a social organization" and gives you the "chance to sit down and have lunch with people that you used to eat lunch with and you don't have to worry about recess duty afterwards or getting stuff run off (printed) for the afternoon.”

    Aarnio encouraged newly retired teachers to get in touch with NLCRTA and join their group. “Love to have them.”

    NLCRTA members have the option of paying an annual $20 membership fee or $100 for a lifetime membership. For more information about the New London County Retired Teachers Association, contact president John Andriso by email at jea6155@sbcglobal.net.

    Jan Tormay, a longtime Norwich resident, now lives in Westerly.

    Breakout box:

    John Andriso taught students in kindergarten through high school, regular and special education classes mostly in Griswold, before retiring 10 years ago after teaching for 34 years.

    “The best time I had was in third grade,” Andriso, 67, said.

    Describing an “aura” that surrounds these students around December, he said, “There's the beginning of independence. A huge amount of growing up happens” then. “Eight-year-olds are the most amazing people on the face of the earth. It's a magical age.”

    As an instructor at a math workshop told him long ago, the most important thing is for students to raise their hands if they think they know the answer – right or wrong, Andriso said.

    “And if you think about it, that's what somebody's boss wants.” Pointing to inventors, he said, “That's all people taking a chance."

    He said he was proud to count Griswold High School Principal Erin Palonen as one of his third-graders, “because she’s doing such a great job” and is now a “dynamic” principal.

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