Older Americans Month

Older Americans Month, celebrated every May by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living, provides an opportunity to creatively consider aligning services with needs — acknowledging population growth and special concerns that put U.S. Latino seniors in the forefront of impoverished Americans who are 65 and older. Hispanics in Philanthropy wishes to salute older adults in this special month and all year round. In doing so, it has prepared a series of blog posts that start with this one to focus on some of the best practices of its grantees, particularly as they share some lessons learned in the area of cultural competence, which may be of help to funders and other service providers. There are, indeed, Latino-led and Latino-serving nonprofits who ooze cultural competence as they identify, serve and follow-up with older individuals, provide opportunities that give them self-confidence and resources with which they can resolve the most pressing medical, housing, transportation and financial matters. Sometimes, it’s the transportation to get to a medical appointment outside the Dial-a-Ride service area, or it’s not having anyone who understands forms and can help to fill them out. It’s suddenly finding oneself disabled and not knowing where to turn to carry on with the most basic personal care issues. And sometimes it’s simply a matter of not being able to speak up when others are consulted. Of course, just as one does not have to be Latino to be HIP, there are non-Latino funders and social service agencies that have recognized the cultural and linguistic barriers that often keep Latino seniors isolated. After all, the civil sector already plays a major role in connecting most impoverished seniors to health, housing, transportation and social services, among other programs. But there is a great need for capacity building, for cultural competency training, and advocacy. Seniors love programs that empower them to choose their priorities and stay active. How do they wish to fight isolation, and where can they live out their days with engaging activities in an environment where their wisdom and experience are valued? Over the past five years, Hispanics in Philanthropy has done an important national survey and undertaken projects in Colorado and California under its Latino Age Wave Initiative. The California Latino Age Wave Initiative (CALAWI) is funded in part by grants from Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), The Atlantic Philanthropies, The California Wellness FoundationThe SCAN Foundation, Rose Community Foundation and the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, among others. Six Latino-led, Latino-serving organizations located throughout California have received two-year grants to strengthen their organization’s capacity to serve the needs of a growing Latino aging population and to develop the capacity for effective advocacy on behalf of older Latinos. HIP in this way has championed civil sector efforts to understand and recognize the needs and increase the capacity of those who support Latino seniors, who in four short years are expected to become the largest segment of the nation’s minorities over 65, according to data compiled by the U.S. Administration on Aging. That agency’s statistics indicate that the U.S. population over 65 years old is expected to double in the next 40 years. In less than that, by 2050, one in five senior citizens will be Hispanic. Approaches toward helping older Latinos can be informed by what makes this group different. In the years leading up to the Great Recession, Latino seniors faced:
  • Health Disparities, with a better chance of lacking a customary source of medical care, and being less satisfied with the quality of their care, when compared to the total 65 and older population. Only 36 percent of Latino seniors had gotten pneumonia vaccinations in 2008, compared with 64 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. Along with Blacks, they are also more likely to suffer from diabetes and to need help with their personal care.
  • Higher Poverty Rate. Hispanics were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic Whites to live in poverty (19.3 percent vs. 7.6 percent in 2008)
  • Lower Household Income. In families headed by people 65 and over, 19 percent of Hispanic households had less than $15,000 in yearly income, compared with five percent for non-Hispanic Whites.
  • Lower Educational Attainment. Fewer than half (46 percent) had completed high school in 2008, compared with more than three-quarters (77 percent) of the total older population.
So poverty and low educational attainment combined with generally low incomes, a reluctance to challenge authority that shows up in not seeking clarifications from doctors and about medication instructions, and not knowing where to turn for help. Discerning funders and nonprofits have creative ways to help. In this series of posts, HIP will be exploring some of their successes. Please join in the conversation, and let us know how cultural competence is a compelling asset for funders and others in the HIP network!