Bernice Soffer, the founding executive director of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), died on June 29 from leukemia. She was 91.
Soffer was known for fighting to protect the rights of Philadelphia’s vulnerable elderly.
A Philadelphia native, Soffer graduated from Overbrook High School, attended Antioch College and earned a master’s degree in social work from Temple University.
In 1977, she founded CARIE. Soffer and volunteers interested in giving a voice to nursing home patients and other adults worked to assist an often overlooked community.
Family and former coworkers said Soffer embraced individuals who were exploited, neglected and abused by society. When she retired in 1995, the agency employed 22 people and offered programs that included an elder-abuse helpline and training sessions for nurse’s aides and nursing home staff members.
The center, whose programs now extend beyond Pennsylvania, provides assistance to the elderly, their families and professionals who operate within the aging field through site visits to Philadelphia-based long-term care facilities and telephone contacts.
CARIE, which does not offer direct services like transportation, home care and meals to those it assists, is instead dedicated to refining the service system and helping older individuals gain access to those services. The agency relies on education, advocacy and action to raise public awareness and improve the well-being of the elderly.
Soffer was an innovator who campaigned against the mistreatment of older individuals from all backgrounds, said Diane Menio, CARIE’s executive director.
“[Soffer] had the most wonderful vision. Bernice understood what the elderly needed and fought diligently for their dignity,” Menio said.
Soffer believed in the people around her, she said.
“When she thought something was wrong, she tried to fix it. She never took ‘no’ for an answer. She taught me that you have to stand for the rights of the people you care about,” Menio said. “Even after she retired, she continued to be an advocate for the disadvantaged among us. She was active until the very end.”
Later in life, Soffer lived in Hershey’s Mill, an over-55 adult residential community. While there, she headed her village’s landscape committee and hosted a local cable television show, her daughter, Edna “Eddie” Goldstein Soffer, said.
“The woman was a force. She was the ultimate go-getter; a true survivor in every sense of the word. She grabbed life — she never once let life grab her. My husband, when he watched her interview people on her show, claimed that she was ‘better than Barbara Walters.’ She was amazing. She was a star,” she said.
Inspired by an unfortunate experience her mother, Mollie, had in a nursing home following a stroke, Bernice Soffer returned to school and acquired a social work degree.
“The treatment my grandmother received in that nursing home was the catalyst for CARIE,” Eddie Soffer said. “The origin story really is a testament to the kind of woman my mother was. So many of us allow things around us to just fly by. We have experiences that inform us, of course, but they rarely result in any kind of particular action. People often think of ideas but do not pursue them. She did.”