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Rethinking Senior Services as Demographics Change

India West, News Report, Ashfaque Swapan Posted: Apr 06, 2007

FREMONT, Calif. - The City of Fremont Human Services Department here has announced that it has received a $300,000 grant that will help five community groups reach out to underserved seniors including South Asians.

"The City of Fremont has received a large grant that we are calling Pathways to Positive Aging that will help improve the quality of life of seniors in the area," Asha Chandra, communications coordinator with Fremont's Pathways to Positive Aging Project, told India-West.

The Centerville Presbyterian Church, the Muslim Support Network, Sikhs Engaged in Volunteer Activities, the India Community Center and the Taiwanese Senior Association will develop a program called the Community Ambassador Program for Seniors which will provide information and referral assistance to underserved seniors in their communities.

"When a senior needs help they don't often know who to turn to or where to go and that's often exaggerated in the ethnic and faith communities where language and culture are issues," Chandra said. "So the idea was: Let's take the services to the seniors where they congregate, and so by partnering with these five organizations, we will train volunteer ambassadors from each of these organizations."

These volunteer ambassadors will provide services like filling out forms for seniors, and they will also inform seniors of services they might need.

"These ambassadors will learn not only how to fill out forms - such as how do you fill out a social security form, how do you fill out an immigration form - they will also be aware of some of the local services - some of the assisted living facilities, some of the meals on wheels type of programs, lot of services that are in existence today in the community," she added.

The key, however, was that the volunteer ambassadors would go back to their own organizations and these services would be provided in a setting in which seniors were most comfortable.

"For example (at) the Indian Community Center will have an event or fair where these ambassadors can actually talk to the seniors and their families about these kinds of services. And each of these communities will do that a little bit differently based on what works for them, but the idea here again was to take the services to the communities, have the volunteers that people are more familiar with, feel more comfortable with," explained Chandra.

She added that she was delighted to see communities coming together for this project.

"The really exciting part of this grant was these five organizations who were in existence, have not necessarily collaborated together, and at the end the idea is that they will also begin to learn and share from each other on what works," she told India-West.

The two-year, $300,000 grant that will fund the CAPS program comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, said a press release from the City of Fremont.

The CAPS proposal, developed by a collaborative effort of the five community organizations who have been working closely with Fremont and the Tri-City Elder Coalition, will build the capacity to serve seniors in their own communities, in their own language, within their own cultural norms, and will do so where seniors live, worship, socialize and learn.

The five community organizations will each hire a site coordinator who will recruit at least 10 volunteers per site. City staff will train site coordinators and volunteers to provide information and referral assistance to seniors in their respective communities, utilizing a curriculum developed and tested by staff from Stanford University Geriatric Education Center and San Jose State University. Site coordinators and volunteers will meet collectively across sites to collaborate with one another and to share best practices.

Chandra said that as the city was working on the project, she saw collaborative ventures developing in front of her eyes.

"When we were doing our strategic planning for this, the Afghani group had a seniors' organization that had been in existence for 15 years and there was a Pakistani Muslim group - the Muslim Support Network - that said: 'We have this need in our community for our own seniors, but we don't know how to get started.'

"So they went to the Afghani group, they had a whole presentation on what it takes to get started. Now this Muslim Support Network is up and running and they are filing for nonprofit status."

Chandra said she took particular satisfaction at how various community organizations of ethnic groups from the Indian subcontinent were joining hands.

"The three Indian-origin communities, India Community Center, the Sikh (group), and the Muslim Support Network are working together to find ways that they especially can collaborate because there is so much (that is) similar in those communities. I am just excited that there is so much learning and sharing going on."

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