In her 24-year tenure with MAAA, Gaoly Yang has been at the center of fostering relationships with ethnic/minority-specific organizations that serve older adults. Since the 1990s, MAAA has fine-tuned its approaches and strategies with special access and outreach provider partners to ensure minority elders are aware of, and seeking, culturally sensitive services and support.
For example, a typical Request for Proposal process can be challenging for cultural community organizations that have primarily operated as grass roots organizations. So, MAAA established funding policies and service priorities to leverage their strengths; that is, service models using bilingual/bicultural approaches and staff. In another example of process fine-tuning, MAAA undertook a 3-year pilot project to coach special access provider partners on capacity building and sustainability. These process “adaptations” have become a model for other Area Agencies on Aging in Minnesota.
In 2015, through Older Americans Act Title III funding, MAAA had grants with eight special access provider partners. These organizations served 11 cultural communities and a total of 1,729 minority and non-English-speaking elders with information and referral, advocacy, translation/interpretation, and short-term case management.
One provider partner, United Cambodian Association of Minnesota (UCAM), serves Cambodian elders 60 and older with various health, social and support services, such as advocacy, citizenship, translation, transportation, immigration assistance, civic education, health education, English language classes, Medicare application, cultural and traditional ceremonies, and housing assistance.
UCAM Elder Independent Living Program in Action
“When I was living alone, I began receiving case management from UCAM. I was homeless and staying at a friend’s house. I had no money to move into an apartment, and my case manager did so much for me during that first six months it was unbelievable. He helped me with a housing application, helped me get food stamps, and helped me get health care. I literally had nothing. In some ways I had sabotaged myself—I was afraid of success. And he also helped me with that. I have been lucky that UCAM has been there for me.” —Elder male
Reflecting on how special access outreach has changed over the years, Gaoly noted that “minority/ethnic elders are becoming more comfortable in using community services rather than relying solely on their families for support. This often means a faster response, thereby preventing a situation from becoming a crisis. MAAA has been a champion for cultural communities for the past three decades, and the priority remains as the needs of minority/ethnic elders become more pressing.”