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NYSOFA Celebrates Martin Luther King Day 2014 by Remembering Former Director, Eugene Callender

Each year, on the third Monday in January, Americans from all walks of life come together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Next Monday, January 20 is MLK Day.

New York communities, from Buffalo to Long Island, will celebrate the day by holding events that include parades, stories, poetry, music and songs honoring Dr. King and his legacy, and provide volunteer opportunities for individuals to help their neighbors and community.

As NYSOFA celebrates MLK Day with the rest of the nation, we pause to remember a prominent New Yorker and civil rights leader, Dr. Eugene Callender. Dr. Callender was a Presbyterian minister and civil rights leader from Harlem who served in the administration of Governor Mario Cuomo as director of the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA.) He was appointed at age 60 and served from 1983 to 1988. Dr. Callender died last November in Manhattan at age 87.

Eugene Callender's career covered a broad span of social, political and devotional activism for over 60 years, from serving as a long-time civil rights and community leader in Harlem, to serving our nation on five presidential commissions under five separate presidents. From students to famous musicians, thousands have been inspired and supported by Dr. Callender's work. In 1957, he brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Harlem for the first time, creating a public event from a flatbed truck in front of the Hotel Theresa on 125th Street. Thousands of people came to hear Dr. King speak on this momentous occasion, according to Dr. Callendar's bio.

Dr. Callender understood and shared in Dr. King's vision of equality, social and economic justice for all, and made those goals the centerpiece of his life's work. During his time at NYSOFA, he helped the administration of Governor Mario Cuomo to enact ground breaking programs to help older adults in need and to help expand home and community-based services which still exist today. Those efforts included enactment of Enriched Housing, which allows frail older residents who can no longer live independently on their own to successfully and safely age in place in a private apartment setting, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (currently Wellness in Nutrition,) Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Program (EPIC,) Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program (EISEP,) and funding increase for the Community Services for the Elderly (CSE) program.

By actively working to implement programs and services meant to support those with limited resources, he helped ensure greater economic security for all older New Yorkers - balancing out inequality, which was MLK's dream.

In 1984, Dr. Callender held a statewide training for aging services staff on how to target the underserved populations. The training included presentations by Cesar Perales (currently the Secretary of State in Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration,) and Arthur Flemming, another prominent New Yorker, who received two Presidential Medals of Freedom and was a major influence on passage of the Social Security legislation under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Dr. King once said, "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." Let's heed his call this weekend by participating in community events and volunteering our time and talents to projects that would make our neighborhoods and community better places to live for all.

To find out about events in your community, consult the local newspaper or search online.

Corinda Crossdale
NYSOFA Acting Director