May 13, 2015
Promoting grassroots leadership to achieve national support for diverse seniors
By: Dr. Yanira Cruz

This post originally appeared on the NHCOA blog.

Dr. Yanira Cruz, NHCOA President and CEO

The showing of hands was staggering. 

The forum moderator at our 2014 Los Angeles Open Forum asked participants how many struggled to eat three daily meals. One participant, Angélica*, matter-of-factly told us: “I have had to eat cat food before because I couldn’t afford anything else.” When prompted, she also shared that it has happened more than once. It is no secret that Hispanic older adults and other diverse seniors face great challenges in attaining economic security, good health, and affordable housing due to several barriers and challenges.

It’s one thing to cite data or statistics, but when you relate those numbers and figures to real life people and stories, you begin to really empathize with the daily realities diverse seniors face and want to do something about it.

That is why NHCOA conducts these forums in conjunction with our grassroots leadership program called Empowerment and Civic Engagement Training (ECET). The idea is to hone local leaders’ advocacy skills, who in turn empower their communities to become their own best advocates through effective, localized storytelling. These trainings have become so successful, that is this the first year that we are scheduling additional training sessions to keep up with the demand. Last week, we conducted our second ECET of 2015 in Los Angeles with a vibrant group of committed local leaders. During the training we addressed various issues Latino seniors and members of the Hispanic community face, including homelessness, food insecurity and lack of affordable housing and transportation for seniors. We even received a visit from Congressman Xavier Becerra who encouraged these newly minted NHCOA leaders to keep up their leadership.

Next month we launch our 2015 Promoting Communities of Success Regional Meetings series in Miami with our third ECET leadership training and half-day Open Forum which will bring together Hispanic older adults, caregivers, professionals, NHCOA leaders, and local elected officials, including Mayor Tomás Regalado.

As we look towards the White House Conference on Aging later this year— which we will be submitting recommendations to— these regional meetings provide a baseline that paints a comprehensive picture of the issues most impacting Latino seniors in different regions of the country. During these meetings we also uncover viable solutions driven by local input and connect Hispanic older adults with services, programs, and information that help improve their quality of life. However, perhaps the most empowering message we transmit both to forum participants and trained leaders is that effective local-level advocacy is a catalyst to inspire federally-mandated program and policy changes that improve the lives of all communities, including diverse elders.

The Los Angeles Empowerment and Civic Engagement Training in Los Angeles from May 7-8, 2015 was sponsored by the Archstone Foundation. The upcoming ECET in Miami on June 23-24, 2015 is supported by Amerigroup. 

*name was changed to protect the senior’s identity


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.