Jennifer B. Cona, Esq. - Founder, Cona Elder Law Charitable Events 'Senior Dreams Come True'
November 10, 2010
by Beverly Fortune
Retirement used to mean a pension, savings and Social Security. But these days many people have had that three-legged stool knocked out from under them as they’ve seen the interest from their savings dwindle to nothing, their pensions or 401(k)’s lose value, and have just received the devastating news their Social Security benefit will not increase in 2011.
One fifth of older Americans now survive just on their Social Security paycheck alone. Millions of retirees, including thousands right here on Long Island, live from paycheck to paycheck with no money left over for even the smallest indulgence.
Jennifer Cona, the managing partner of Melville-based Genser, Dubow, Genser & Cona LLP (Cona Elder Law), grew up in Buffalo in a family that donated their time and money to help charitable organizations. Jennifer remembers being involved in their church, helping animals, working with women’s groups and volunteering in soup kitchens. Her parents even invited people who were less fortunate to live with their family from time to time. Their open hearts and good will were passed on to their daughter.
As a member of the Long Island community, Jennifer wanted to continue doing her part to help those in need, and so do her colleagues at her law firm. “Most people are wired that way,” Jennifer says confidently of her co-workers. “People who work here have the same values.”
The members of Cona Elder Law are involved in many various community activities including the Midnight Run and the Long Island Fight for Charity. But Jennifer wanted to do even more to help Long Islanders. As an expert in elder law, she is familiar with the financial situations and needs of older people, and she wanted to advocate for this growing population who have seen their hopes and dreams fall victim to the Recession.
In 2007 Jennifer founded a non-profit arm of her law firm called Cona Elder Law Charitable Events with Senior Dreams Come True as one of their signature programs, which benefits low-income Long Island seniors by granting their wishes. “It gives us a reason to do something different,” Jennifer says proudly of the program. “Our attorneys work with many low-income clients who cannot afford to get some basic things they need or want for themselves.”
She says they use the Veterans Administration qualifying income formula to determine the seniors’ eligibility for this program. It is open to any senior 65 and over with an income limit of no more than $1,500 per month for individuals and $2,000 per month for married couples. Seniors do not have to be clients of the Cona Elder Law to qualify.
Some of the requests that Senior Dreams Come True have received are poignant and touching. “One woman said she wished she had enough money to buy a dress to wear to her daughter’s wedding,” Jennifer says. “Some ask just for some basic necessities that they couldn’t afford otherwise, like a new mattress.”
“The attorneys in our office ask for donations through their respective networking organizations,” Jennifer explains.
They also are planning different types of events to raise funds so some of the other wishes that have been requested, such as airfare to visit a child who lives far away, money to pay for experimental medical treatments that aren’t covered by insurance, or even something as simple as tickets to a sporting event, can come true. Another request they’re considering includes making someone’s residence more accessible for the handicapped, a small home improvement that can have a tremendous impact.
The program has “taken on a life of its own,” Jennifer says. Her goal is to grant one wish per month, and her group has already accumulated more than 25 requests that are waiting to be fulfilled.
In addition to all of her charitable giving, Jennifer also sits on the board of directors for the Visiting Nurse Association of Long Island, and on the legal advisory board of the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation and is the founder of the New York Advanced Elder Law Focus Group.
Granting wishes isn’t Cona Elder Law’s only endeavor. The staff also recently did a play, Goldilocks on Trial (written by Ed Monk), at a local assisted living center with the attorneys and residents playing the different roles. One outcome of their stellar performance has been that the facility has now formed a drama club of their own.
Jennifer has begun working with a disabled artists guild in Suffolk, and soon their art will be on display in the Cona Elder Law offices. The firm plans to host a wine and cheese event to help raise money for the guild. A silent auction is also being planned at a local art school where half of the proceeds will be donated to Senior Dreams Come True.
Other community-outreach programs include the Cona Elder Law Annual Mother’s Day Blossoms event, when students from local elementary schools deliver hundreds of corsages to women in nursing homes across Long Island on Mother’s Day. They also fund an Elder Advocacy Scholarship Award, which will be given to some local graduating students in recognition of their effort to enrich the lives of Long Island’s seniors.
Whether Senior Dreams Come True is granting a practical wish or fulfilling a lifelong dream, Jennifer and her staff have truly raised the bar on helping elderly Long Islanders.
“We hope that this new program will make a difference and enrich the lives of a few well-deserving seniors.”