HIP Grantees Advocate for Latino Seniors

The grantees and fellows of the Hispanics in Philanthropy California Latino Age Wave discussed their experiences and areas where advocacy networking to address the specific needs of California’s rapidly growing population of Latino seniors might be successful. “Aging in place revolves around health, medical and social services; community and neighborhood contexts; social networks; social engagement, and emotional support,” said Iris Aguilar, the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging assistant director, in discussing the inherent complexities of this area of endeavor, particularly as it relates to the nearly completed “Los Angeles: Latinos Aging in Place” report about Los Angeles County’s 50 and over population. In sharing experiences and lessons learned, participants at the HIP Latino Age Wave convening, which took place June 23, 2015, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, sounded very optimistic in discussing how HIP’s capacity building grants have helped them to identify Latino elders willing to actively work to improve their own circumstances, as well as their communities. Among other highlights that they reported:
  • San Diego-based HIP Fellow Judi Bonilla reported that, in seeking support for Latino seniors, she discovered that acknowledging this population’s differences from the mainstream was more effective than to stress similarities. “Latinos are projected to have higher risks of dementia, based on higher obesity cholesterol, blood pressure, poor diet and other factors,” she said, later adding that she had learned that Latinos are more interested in taking a class about local transportation options because it offered a social element, rather than increased independence; had an educational aspect, beyond its focus on travel, and the seniors’ relatives were more likely to approve of their participation in such a program. She lamented that many senior centers do not make small changes that would make them more “Latino-friendly,” and are often run by Parks and Recreation agencies, which tend to lack money for senior outreach services.
  • More than half of the elders who are naturalized in the U.S. are in California, according to Noé Páramo of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. He said that the foundation had worked with a broad coalition, the One California Campaign, to restore funding for the state’s naturalization program. It received $15-million in the California budget that had been approved shortly before the convening. 2.5-million people in California are eligible for naturalization, according to the foundation.
  • Classes that focus on ESL and other skills essential to help those who qualify apply for naturalization are a big help, along with outreach to let Latino seniors know of language and medical exceptions. Luis Sandoval, development manager of Building Skills Partnership, and Santiago Avila-Gomez, also of the rural legal aid foundation, stressed the importance of helping elder Latinos who wish to apply but face many barriers, including $680 in fees.
  • Advocates who work with Latino seniors recommended picking winnable issues that allow seniors to remain engaged. For instance, promotores who focus on getting out the word in their neighborhoods about health issues, nutrition and public safety, among other topics, can be particularly successful, said Maria Becerra, who coordinates such a HIP-funded program for Centro CHA in Long Beach, CA.
The convening also included funding development best practices with consultant Patricia Sinay; nonprofit use of social media by Bonilla and HIP Technology Coordinator John Yap, and a presentation on the evaluation of the California Latino Age Wave Initiative by consultant Laura Morales of JVA Consulting. The more than 20 participants appeared to agree that many nonprofits would be better able to serve Latino seniors — particularly those with low incomes, low educational attainment, and difficulties accessing available services – if they first improved their own capacity to deal with people who have diverse needs. “We don’t call it cultural competency,” said Cecilia Zamora of the Latino Council in the Marin County area of the San Francisco Bay. “We say ‘cultural responsibility.’”