Rhode Island Volunteer is Fired from Senior Center for Scheduling a Movie

Bill Isabella

Bill Isabella worked very hard for 30 years. When he finally retired, he wanted to give back to the community. But no good deed goes unpunished in today’s cancel culture.

Bill volunteered in the kitchen of the South Kingstown Senior Center (SKSC) in Rhode Island, serving hot meals to seniors who gathered to socialize and engage with each other.

Social isolation is a pervasive problem in the senior community. Centers like SKSC offer programs to get seniors out and about, thinking and moving, which included a weekly current events discussion, which Bill joined and eventually became the group facilitator.

Seems innocent enough, right? Think again.

Bill continued volunteering in the kitchen and the current events discussion group until the kitchen closed down during COVID. The current events discussion group continued meeting on Zoom, and it became an essential part of pandemic life for participants. As Bill explained:

It’s important to understand and appreciate how important this event is to so many seniors of which I am, but only one. The mental stimulation and socialization especially at this point in our lives is vitally important to our overall health. A sense of purpose as well as the ability to openly express an opinion is at the center of our discussions. Many of the 20-30 weekly attendees have said the Current Events discussion meetings are the highlight of their week.

There were no topics off limits at the discussion group — or so Bill thought. In May 2022, several of the group members expressed interest in seeing the Dinesh D’Souza movie, 2000 Mules. Since Bill was the group facilitator, he bought an internet link for the group to view the film.

According to Bill, one of the group members “vehemently objected to the viewing then proceeded to declare the movie’s content had been debunked.” Bill suggested he bring this information to the next group meeting so it could be reviewed and discussed.

The angry member quit the group instead. That’s when things started falling apart.

The disgruntled former member complained to the director of the senior center, Susan DiMasi. Bill was called into a meeting with Mrs. DiMasi and a representative from the town, who both lectured him on conduct and protocols that Bill would be required to follow.

He was being censored. They shut down the movie showing, and after several weeks, emails, phone messages, and letters, Bill was finally granted a meeting with the town manager. Their message was clear: fall in line.

Bill refused to comply with the town’s newly created requirement that he prepare opposing views of any subject discussed, regardless of his own personal opinion. And rightfully so. His right to free speech should never play second fiddle to the perceived interests of the town of South Kingstown.

As Bill noted:

Their refusal to allow the movie in question to be shown at the Center supports their interests of perceived neutrality while it is in my opinion their position imposes their will upon us all, clearly a violation of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech.

When the town manager attended one of the weekly meetings, he received an earful from about 30 participants, who all felt the town was treating them like young children. As a group of grown adults who have lived full lives, raised children, built businesses, and served in wars, they should be able to view whatever movie they want and make up their own minds about the content.

It wasn’t long before Bill received an email from the senior center director, ordering him to sign and agree with the rules and regulations within a brand new South Kingstown Senior Services Volunteer Handbook. If he refused to sign, he would be fired.

Bill didn’t want to sign it, and members of the current events group didn’t want him to either. They all signed a petition in support of Bill and peacefully delivered it to the senior center.

Ultimately, Bill refused to sign. And he was fired. After eight years of selflessly volunteering at the senior center, one complaint ended it all.

Take Action

Tell Susan DiMasi and the South Kingstown Senior Center to allow Bill Isabella to volunteer again — and to be more open to the types of content its members are able to engage with! 

Call: (401) 789-0268

Email: sdimasi@southkingstownri.com

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