By Paul Antonelli
AMSTERDAM — Pediatrician Dr. Govind Rao spends most of his Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays taking care of patients at his Amsterdam practice; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he does the same at his Fort Plain satellite office.
Caring for others has always been a focal point of Dr. Rao’s medical practice, a trait that he passed on to his own four children — Sanjai, Usha, Naresh and Neena — three of whom have become successful doctors themselves. Two followed in their father’s footsteps and became pediatricians; the other specializes in sports medicine. Neena, the youngest of the four, passed away in a tragic accident.
While Neena is unable to care for others in person, the nonprofit philanthropic organization her father established in her name provides area organizations with the financial assistance needed to do so.
For years, Dr. Rao’s ongoing generosity to the Montgomery County community at large through donations from the Neena Rao Charitable Corporation has been recognized and applauded.
Earlier this month, the Montgomery County Office of the Aging was the recipient of a $500,000 donation from the nonprofit organization. The funds will be used to assist the agency in carrying out its mission of providing food and wellness services to the county’s senior population. In particular, the donation will cover the costs of about 330 meals a month distributed through the agency’s Rao Family Meals of Montgomery program.
“This money will help seniors to remain independent and keep them in their homes,” said Dave Jordan, executive director of the Montgomery County Office of the Aging.
“The meals are valuable, but the wellness checks are even more valuable,” he added.
“Because of the seniors working very hard, they contributed to the city of Amsterdam and that’s why we are enjoying life right now in this city,” said Dr. Rao, who has been involved with the Montgomery County Office of the Aging for over 20 years.
“The senior citizens need help and I think our priority should be to make sure that they’re happy and content. Meals are very important and that was my priority to my family. I still remember my daughter telling me, ‘Daddy, we have to help the senior citizens’ so we decided to help them.”
Rao initially decided to get more involved with the Montgomery County Office of the Aging after learning that it had a wait list of between 80 and 100 seniors hoping to receive meals. He began sponsoring meals for a growing list of seniors each year and at the present time, the agency is able to fulfill all meal requests.
The Montgomery County Office of the Aging is the only agency of its kind in New York State that is an independent not-for-profit 501(c)3 agency. It does not rely on county funds or sponsorships. All expenses, including insurance-related costs, are paid for by the agency.
“It’s tough because when we’re a private not-for-profit and things get expensive,” Jordan said.
Last year, after providing the agancy with funds for a monthly mortgage payment on its property at 135 Guy Park Ave., Dr. Rao asked Jordan how much was needed to pay the loan off.
“$137,000,” was Jordan’s response.
Dr. Rao said, “I’ll take care of it.”
“To not be able to worry about a mortgage is huge,” Jordan said. “Our goal at the beginning of the year was to pay off the mortgage. It was supposed to be a 12-month campaign. Now, instead of paying our mortgage, the money goes right to our programs and services. Dr. Rao has single-handedly helped seniors stay in their homes longer. I can’t emphasize enough how much he has helped.”
Currently, the agency delivers 220 meals per day, although that has been cut to once a week as a result of the COVID-19 virus. For the time being, the office is only delivering frozen meals on Monday.
While the office is closed to the public and visitors, it is accepting phone calls weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“It’s not ideal because we don’t maintain daily contact with our clients, but we have staff and volunteers that are able to follow up throughout the week with daily phone calls through our Telephone Reassurance program,” Jordan said. “We changed to weekly delivery of meals to temporarily limit exposure to both the clients and our staff due to COVID-19. We will resume daily hot meal delivery once the crisis is over and fears subside.”
Dr. Rao, who is involved in a variety of philanthropic projects throughout the city, says he plans to remain active in the Office of the Aging for many years to come.
“The staff at the Office of the Aging is just wonderful,” Rao said.
“You really have to get to the bottom of the needs for our seniors and they are doing just that. I’m really happy with the administration. We felt that no senior deserves to suffer the consequences of food insecurity and possible malnutrition.”
Dr. Rao’s previous contributions to the City of Amsterdam are well-documented and details about of couple of new projects are slated to be announced soon. However, his contributions are not just limited to Amsterdam; he is also involved with a major cancer hospital project back in his hometown in India.
Amsterdam mayor Michael Cinquanti said Dr. Rao’s contributions to the city’s everyday life will be remembered for many years to come.
“What an incredible generous gesture from an incredibly generous man,” Cinquanti said. “Dr. Rao is truly one of the great philanthropists in our city’s history and we are so fortunate to have him and Mrs. Rao as part of our community.”
Dr. Rao said he is just happy to be able to contribute to a city that welcomed him with open arms back in 1972.
“I came here with $4 and a suitcase,” Rao explained.
“Education has helped me so much and I was able to help my children. My goal was to always provide my children with an education. I’m not rich. I feel spending money on good causes and education is very important. Good causes and education are not an expense, it’s an investment.”