'I have very big shoes to fill'

Christine Rice is Glen Cove Senior Center's new director

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When Carol Waldman announced at the end of September that she would be retiring as executive director of the Glen Cove Senior Center, staff members were heartbroken at the news, Waldman’s secretary, Laurie Huenteo, recalled. “All of a sudden, it hit us,” Huenteo said. “We were shocked. Everyone was crying.” And so the question was, who could possibly replace Waldman? She was a figure so beloved by the community that both the entrance and the activities room at the center were renamed for her. But as she prepared to retire, Waldman called Christine Rice, of the Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center, and asked her if she was interested in the position.
After interviewing her for the job, the Glen Cove City Council officially appointed Rice, 53, the new executive director of the senior center on Oct. 10. As she completed her first month on the job, Rice said she was in awe of the center’s inner workings and planned to build and expand on Waldman’s work. “I have very big shoes to fill,” Rice said. A lifelong resident of Garden City, Rice, the sister of U.S. Rep Kathleen Rice, has spent most of her career working not with seniors, but with children, as an elementary school teacher in the Garden City School District. Teaching was her passion, but when her mother began developing Alzheimer’s disease in 1995, Rice became her primary caregiver until she died in 2006. Rice said she treasured the time she spent with her mother, and the interaction between her mother and her own two kids showed her the importance of bridging the gap between seniors and younger generations. “I think intergenerational relationships are important to have,” Rice said. “All of us have the privilege of learning from the older generation, and there’s so much to learn.” Looking to connect with seniors and turn her mother’s illness into something positive, Rice joined the Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center (formerly the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation) in 2014 as their director of special events and community outreach. The center is a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia, as well as that of their caregivers. For five years Rice helped organize the center’s events and fundraisers, and she said she felt a sense of fulfillment as she watched those who were struggling cognitively enjoy themselves during those events. Although Rice loved her job, she felt that she couldn’t pass up the opportunity Waldman was offering at the senior center. When Rice had started working at the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center, she stopped by the senior center as part of a tour of senior facilities across Long Island. While some centers were just places to get a hot lunch and play bingo, she said, the Glen Cove center was a hub of continuous activity, and its signature Adult Day program stood out to Rice. The program provides a stimulating environment for seniors all over the North Shore, who take part in gentle exercise and games, and enjoy guest entertainment, food and programs that promote their health and wellness. Rice herself was a regular visitor to the program, discussing the work of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center and how it could help seniors. While she found it a bit intimidating, as the senior center’s new executive director, to oversee all of its programs, with the help of the staff — and with Waldman serving as a consultant until Nov. 15 — Rice has found her footing. “You could tell she really wanted to make a great impression when she started,” said Eric Shuman, the center’s activities coordinator. “She’s doing a great job, and has been very supportive of all that we do. I know she feels comfortable now.” In keeping with Waldman’s philosophy, Rice found that the best way for the center to thrive would be for her to do everything she could for the staff and the seniors who make the facility what it is. She is currently working with Shuman to try to expand some of the programs with grant money Waldman secured before she left. As Rice settles into what she said she hoped would be a long tenure at the center, she added that she was committed to her new community. “I’m dedicated to making the senior center a strong place of support,” she said, “and to continue growing it to meet the needs of the population.”