Underwriters respond to Special Olympics’ needs

The relationship between the Rhode Island Life Underwriters Association and the state’s Special Olympics chapter is perhaps a classic example of why it pays for people to talk to one another — that’s networking in ’90s business-speak.

Back in 1985, Jeffrey L. Allison, a staff member at Allmerica Financial in East Providence, attended an educational conference in Florida. As the story goes he got on an elevator, then another guy got on with him. They traveled down three or four floors, and struck up a conversation. The second man was Steven Evangelista, then-director of Rhode Island’s Special Olympics association.

“Wouldn’t you know I had just been appointed chairman of the Rhode Island Life Underwriters public service committee,” Allison recalls. “I was put in charge of finding a project that would endure and would somehow help the community.”

Some 13 years and a few public service committee chairpeople later, talk of the two organizations working together has evolved into RILUA raising thousands of dollars and providing hundreds of volunteers to staff fundraisers and the annual Special Olympics competition. The 600-member professional association was honored for its efforts on Oct. 8, when Special Olympics Rhode Island presented some of the organization’s officers with the Outstanding Community Service award. It was among nine awards presented at an awards banquet that also marked Special Olympics’ 30th anniversary.

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“We are tremendously honored to receive this prestigious award,” said Janice Kaplan, who is now RILUA’s community service chairperson. “People benefit from this alliance so tremendously. People bring their children with them (when they volunteer), because they want their children to work alongside the Special Olympians; they want them to know how these people deal every day of their lives. It’s a tremendous learning experience.”

RILUA, which has an office in Providence, is composed of more than 600 life, health, and financial advisers from around the state, Kaplan said.

In its banquet program, Special Olympics Rhode Island (SORI) officials cited several instances of RILUA’s work as reasons for honoring the group. During the past 10 years, Kaplan has helped recruit and mobilize more than 5,000 volunteers, according to SORI. Kaplan also serves on RILUA’s board of directors and is employed as Allison’s administrative assistant at Allmerica. RILUA also provided 200 volunteers to serve food and clean up the dining room at the State Summer Games last May. And the group has been among the major sellers of tickets for the non-profit group’s annual raffle, selling more than $10,000 in ticket in the last five years.

“We started in a little position of giving them five to 10 people on the field for the June games. Then it kind of snowballed into 300 people over the course of the year, for all sorts of events,” Kaplan explained.

For instance, more than 50 RILUA volunteers staffed food concession stands and other booths at SORI’s sports celebrity carnival fund-raiser at the Providence Civic Center last February.

“By our running the concession stands for them, they don’t have to hire the Civic Center’s staff. That’s more money they put in their pocket,” she said.

RILUA also concentrates its fund-raising efforts on Special Olympics, Kaplan explained.

“The idea is to do something other than just good work within our field that helps tie us into the community, and helps out the community,” said Allison, who is also a past-president of RILUA. And he feels RILUA members who volunteer benefit by developing an association with one particular charity.

“We’ve come to know them well, so we can serve them well, instead of just showing up and filling in,” he explained. “It’s just my opinion, this has been so good for us. Versus just showing up at whatever charity and showing up and being told do this, do this, and you never show up again.”

In September RILUA was also recognized for its work with SORI by the National Life Underwriters Association, which gave the group its Louis Dublin Award for community service, Kaplan said.

“All the way around, this is a double-wonderful for the Rhode Island Life Underwriters,” she said.

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