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Laurie Fanelli is the Reporter’s Person of the Year: Colleagues, friends sing her praises for vibrant Senior Services

Innovative, wonderful, remarkable, creative, hard working.

Those are just some of the accolades Islanders used to describe Shelter Island’s Person of the Year, Senior Services Director Laurie Fanelli. Those words reveal why she has received your hometown newspaper’s highest honor.

Former councilwoman Chris Lewis knew Ms. Fanelli, a former psychiatric nurse practitioner, and when the senior services job opened, she remembers approaching Ms. Fanelli to suggest she apply for “a little part-time job.”

Ms. Lewis laughs at that today because in Ms. Fanelli’s hands, the efforts she’s given to some of the Town’s most vulnerable residents is anything but part-time.

“Laurie is just amazing,” Ms. Lewis said. “She’s quite remarkable” and far exceeded what the job initially entailed. Ms. Fanelli sees needs and is innovative in finding ways to meet them, Ms. Lewis added.

The Town website listing programs and services offered to Island seniors is long, but doesn’t begin to reflect all the assistance rendered to the Island’s elderly by Ms. Fanelli, the exceptional staff she’s marshaled, and the many dedicated volunteers who graciously serve the community.

That’s been true from the outset and has only grown during the pandemic. Families couldn’t give all the support they wished to their older relatives when they had to maintain social distancing from them. It left many, especially those living alone, with what would have been total isolation were it not for the structures Ms. Fanelli has put in place. She rallied close to 90 volunteers to help serve needs for their elderly neighbors.


Throughout the pandemic, seniors in need have received hot meals delivered to their doors; had shopping attended to; had their medical needs monitored to ensure they received attention from doctors and, when necessary, hospitalization; and, most importantly, Islanders who otherwise might have been neglected experienced a human touch.

The human contact is not just to boost spirits, but is important to a person’s physical health. According to a study published by Britain’s Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, “The effect [of loneliness or isolation] is greater than that of other well-established risk factors for mortality, such as physical inactivity and obesity, and comparable with cigarette smoking.”

Ms. Fanelli understands that and has placed the idea of keeping a feeling of isolation at bay in the forefront of the services she and her team provide.

Supervisor Gerry Siller called Ms. Fanelli “the heart and soul of the Senior Center,” and noted the exceptional care she provides to the people she serves.

Her interest and love of the Island, and her professional credentials and ongoing experience in her field all have contributed to making her deserving of being named the Reporter’s Person of the Year, Mr. Siller said.

Ms. Fanelli has always gone above and beyond her job title, Police Chief Jim Read said. As the Town’s Emergency Services Coordinator, he’s worked closely with Ms. Fanelli through storms, the pandemic and individual crises that arose.

The team of staff and volunteers has responded to nutritional needs, medical needs, including mental health issues when they arise, and as a former psychiatric nurse practitioner, Ms. Fanelli has also attended to emotional and mental needs. On her own, she’s provided wound care to many seniors to save them from having to make trips to doctors.

According to recent statistics, 27.5 percent of the population of Shelter Island is at or above the age of 65, compared with 15.4 percent for all of New York state, which shows in black and white how essential her work for the community is.


Ms. Fanelli‘s daughter, Julie Fanelli, recounted early in the pandemic how her mother had to quarantine. Unable to go to the office, she created an office in her daughter’s basement.

“I had the opportunity to witness her endless commitment to the residents of Shelter Island, her wellspring of creativity and desire to bridge gaps between communities and generations of Shelter Islanders,” Julie Fanelli said.

She noted her mother formed the Mental Health Group, recruiting professionals and students from universities to introduce a much needed resource.

“My mother goes above and beyond both her position and her pay grade to work endlessly to provide seniors with exceptional quality of life,” Julie Fanelli said. “Her involvement in Senior Services has been a gift to Shelter Island. They didn’t know what they were getting when the fortune of her employment came to the town.”

With all the other responsibilities of the job, Laurie Fanelli found time to start a garden at the Senior Center, to decorate for every holiday and provide treats and gifts to the seniors she and her staff serve.

“The woman works her butt off,” Town Social Worker Lucille Buergers said about Ms. Fanelli. “For me, she’s been a lifesaver” helping to integrate Ms. Buergers into the community and recruiting other social workers to run evening programs on the Island.

“She models what she does and you follow her lead,” Ms. Buergers said. “She’s a little energizer bunny.”


“I can only say wonderful things about Laurie,” said Albert Dickson who served as Town Board liaison to Senior Services during his just concluded term. “Laurie took it to another level,” Mr. Dickson said. Under her leadership, the whole staff responded in a welcoming way to those they serve, he said.

Ms. Fanelli has coordinated with other Island workers, including Recreation Director Bethany Ortmann and Library Director Terry Lucas to provide stimulating programs.

It was Ms. Fanelli’s initiative to develop the “Friendly Visitors” program a few years ago to tackle loneliness and depression, which can afflict some seniors, especially those who live alone. Ms. Fanelli reached out to Marilynn Pysher who got involved by encouraging fellow parishioners at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church to volunteer time to visit, call and form relationships with seniors.

“She’s a great lady,” Ms. Pysher said about Ms. Fanelli.