NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Janet Sainer was a pioneer and activist in the field of aging, developing innovative programs copied nationwide. She was 88 at the time of her death June 4, 2007. She was attending a training conference on the elderly in Denver at the time of her death. At the conference she was leading training seminars for nonprofit groups on the Brookdale Foundation's Relatives as Parents program.
Sainer was born in Queens on July 4, 1918. She graduated from Hunter College in 1938 and received her MSW in 1940 from Case Western Reserve University. She worked for New York's Community Service Society and began utilizing seniors, believing that they would volunteer if given the opportunity. With the support of her employer and private foundation funding, she developed a pilot project called SERVE(Serve and Enrich Retirement by Volunteer Experience) in 1985. She recruited seniors from senior centers on Staten Island and began pairing them with patients of Willowbrook, a large institution for the mentally retarded.
In time hundreds of seniors began volunteering regularly through SERVE. Working with researchers, she conducted a study of the program, which was published in her work entitled "SERVE". She testified before Congress to get paid staff to develop volunteer programs. In 1969, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program was created as a volunteer program of the Administration on Aging under an amendment to the Older Americans Act. The name was changed to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in 1993. The program is part of the National Senior Corps and is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Janet Sainer is referred to as the ‘Grandmother of RSVP.’
In 1973, Rockland Community College received approval to operate a Senior Volunteer Program for the first community college in the country to sponsor the program. RSVP of Rockland County now has more than 800 members actively assisting non-profit agencies and county government, providing services to more than 100,000 residents. In the year 2006 RSVP members served more than 115,000 hours.
Sainer was appointed commissioner of New York's Department of the Aging in 1976 and over the next twelve years expanded the program with a panoply of programs. Among her innovative additions were intergenerational programs with young people, many from troubled homes, to visit and provide services to the elderly. She opened the department's health protection unit, which educated the elderly on disease prevention and its Stay Well program which advised them on stress management and offered exercise classes and offered walking tours with trained volunteers who had to be at least 60 years of age. In 1981 she started Citymeals-on-Wheels which provided meals to elderly people on week-ends as the federally financed program provided meals only on week-days. The city also conducted job fairs for the elderly under her administration and an Alzheimer's unit was opened.
Her nomination as a NASW pioneer is certainly warranted on the basis of her interest and leadership in the field of aging and intergenerational programs.