August 1, 2012
Empowering Diverse Older Americans to Become Civically Engaged
By: Dr. Yanira Cruz

“[NHCOA is] multiplying leadership through us. If these thirty some people trained today can reach at least two people, in one or two weeks we will double. And, in few more weeks, they will train others and we will multiply again, and so forth.” – Maria Teresa Guzman, Empowerment and Civic Engagement Trainings (ECET)  

When civic engagement comes to mind, we may think of youth mobilization and empowerment. Although engaging our younger generations is crucial, it is equally as important to empower older voters. Yet as the growth of the older American population quickly outpaces that of youth, we see certain segments of this population becoming increasingly isolated.

That is why we need to ensure the voice of older Americans—especially diverse elders— is elevated at the decision-making table when it comes to public policies that can dramatically impact their lives.

The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) is conducting its signature Empowerment and Civic Engagement Trainings (ECET) throughout key regions of the country to energize, mobilize, and empower Hispanic older adults, families, and caregivers to be their own best advocates.

The ECET, in conjunction with NHCOA’s Promoting Communities of Success Regional Meetings, allows us to hear directly from older adults and the highlight trends impacting this vulnerable population. Statistics are easy to find, but ECET and NHCOA’s Regional Meetings teach us there is a human face and tremendous cost to the lack of economic security, health inequities, and difficulty affording safe, affordable, and age appropriate housing.

For example, in California we learned many Latino families aren’t aware of the Leaves That Pay law, which allows workers to take care of themselves or sick relatives without fear that they may be fired for taking time off. NHCOA is currently expanding this initiative to New York where a similar policy may soon be enacted.

As the political ground continues to rumble, it is important for all constituencies, especially those whose voices are not always heard, like diverse elders, to be empowered and civically engaged so our elected officials truly reflect the will of the people.

Dr. Yanira Cruz is the President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.