Local Advocacy: On halal home delivered meals, the Mayor’s budget, and coordinating better services for immigrant seniors

Lakshman Kalasapudi, Deputy Director, India Home and Nargis Ahmed, Program Director, Desi Senior Center, were both called on to testify at separate New York City Council hearings.

Halal Home Delivered Meals

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Ms. Nargis Ahmed, Program Director of India Home’s Desi Senior Center, testifies on the need for Halal home delivered meals for seniors at City Hall

IMG_1182Nargis Ahmed, in her position as Program Director of India Home’s Desi Senior Center, the largest Muslim Senior Center in New York City, testified on April 26, 2017 before the Committee on Aging in support of Resolution 0262-2014.

The Resolution calls on the Department for the Aging (DFTA) to ensure halal meals are available as a part of the home delivered meal program for seniors.

Ms. Ahmed testified that India Home runs the largest halal senior center congregate meal program in the city, with over 100 seniors who attend the program, access case assistance services, recreational activities, health and wellness programs three days a week.

Halal food is an integral part of Islam and a subset of one of the five main pillars of the religion. Muslims seniors eat only halal food in order to continue their faith and religious practices. India Home’s ability to offer culturally appropriate meals, has allowed the organization to serve an underserved and ignored segment of seniors in New York City.

Availability of halal home delivered meals would help India Home and other Community Based Organizations to reach homebound Muslim seniors who desperately need culturally appropriate home delivered meals, as well as case management services, friendly visiting programs, and other aging related services.

Halal meat is readily available. Many New York city schools now serve halal lunches, as a result of advocacy efforts–in which Ms. Ahmed participated. “There should be no reason why Muslim seniors cannot get halal home delivered meals in this day and age. We at India Home are ready to partner with DFTA to deliver these meals,” she said.

Expanding the scope of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA)

On April 25, 2017,  Lakshman Kalasapudi testified his support of  Introductions 1566-2017 and 1578-2017, sponsored by CM Danny Dromm, which expand the scope and work of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and their ability to work with other entities. Kalasapudi recommended:

1. Targeted outreach to Immigrants

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As a community based organization we recommended that the Mayor’s Office of Immigration(MOIA) collect and disaggregate data on immigrants

Almost 50% of New York City’s older adults are immigrants. Many immigrants, including those we serve, have unique needs which require targeted outreach and extra attention. Many older immigrants do not have income support such as Social Security, and experience barriers accessing city agencies and services because they cannot speak proper English. As a result of their unfamiliarity with American ways, they face hardships in navigating the city’s transportation and healthcare systems . Many of them also have culturally mandated dietary restrictions that make attending a senior center or a hospital stay difficult for them. Kalasapudi recommended explicit and intentional interagency coordination and communication between the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) the Department for the Aging (DFTA) to ensure that vulnerable older adults are brought more fully into the aging services infrastructure so that they may access SNAP benefits, city services, and community activities.

 2. MOIA-DFTA Partnership for data collection and disaggregation 

A partnership between MOIA and DFTA could also give rise to increased data collection that would help quantify the needs of our seniors. An entity like MOIA has the sophisticated resources necessary to compile and deliver the accurate data required how immigrant older adults access or face barriers accessing city services, social services, legal services, housing, and adult education. Further, Kalasapudi recommended that MOIA should disaggregate the date to reflect the diverse needs of immigrant communities. Immigrant elders are of different cultures and ethnicities, speak different languages, and practice diverse cultures and religions. We need data along all these variables to better serve individual communities.  He suggested that MOIA pay added attention to homebound immigrant older adults who, because of their physical or cognitive limitations, are even more isolated and vulnerable.

Question at NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Town Hall 

Mayor de Blasio, right, and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer answer some questions during a town hall in Sunnyside, Queens. Photo by Anthony Riley

Mayor de Blasio, right, and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer answer some questions during a town hall in Sunnyside, Queens
Photo credit: Anthony O’Rilley, Queens Chronicle

On April 27, 2017, New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio held a Town Hall in Queens which Deputy Director, Lakshman Kalasapudi attended. He asked the Mayor why New York City was allotting no new funding to senior services in the Executive Budget, even as the country was celebrating the “Year of the Senior?”

He said that immigrant seniors have limited English speaking skills, have little income support, are unfamiliar with the healthcare and transportation systems here, and desperately need affordable housing to alleviate the overcrowded situations they are living in at present.

Mayor de Blasio answered that NYC has invested in affordable senior housing and mentioned the ThriveNYC Mental Health Initiative. He then referred the question to Donna Corrado, Commissioner, NYCs Department for the Aging, who had some very nice things to say about India Home’s services. As for the questions: “We intend to keep asking them!” Kalasapudi said.

Seniors advocate at City Hall for increased services

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India Home joins the crowd for Advocacy Day!

South Asian seniors, such as the one’s we serve at India Home, are among the fastest growing groups of older adults in New York City.  For example, according to a report by the Center for an Urban Future, from 2000-2010, the number of Indian seniors in NYC grew by 135%. However, in a counterintuitive move,  city funding for senior services dropped by 20 percent, going from approximately $181 million in Fiscal Year 2009 to $145 million in Fiscal Year 2012.

Mayor De Blasio’s Executive Budget for 2018 adds no new funding to Department for the Aging (DFTA), which allocates money for senior services. DFTA receives less than ½ of 1% of the city budget – and less than 2% of all human services funding, even as the share of seniors in NYC has grown to 18% of the population. It has been widely documented that immigrant seniors also have unique needs. Many have Limited English Proficiency and large numbers live under the poverty line. For example, 27 percent of Bangladeshi seniors are below poverty, while the numbers for Indian seniors stand at 15 percent and Pakistani seniors at 22 percent.

As Bobbie Sackman, Associate Executive Director of Public Policy, LiveOn NY, said: “On behalf of the 300,000 older New Yorkers served by LiveOn NY’s members, we find it deeply disturbing that Mayor Bill de Blasio, once again, has refused to add any new money to fund vital services through the Department for the Aging (DFTA).”

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India Home’s seniors meet with CM Jimmy Van Bramer

Given the situation–growing numbers of seniors and a lack of funding–India Home’s seniors felt it was even more important this year to join advocates from LiveOn NY and other senior-serving organizations to make their case directly to elected Council Members.

About 10 seniors from our Sunnyside Center and Desi Senior Center participated in Advocacy Day organized by LiveOn NY at City Hall on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. The day started with a rally on the steps of the famous building, where seniors holding India Home banners chanted, “No seniors, no budget,” along with the crowd. The fact that the budget for DFTA hadn’t increased was highlighted by various Councilmembers who spoke at the rally.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bremer who’s District includes Sunnyside, where India Home runs a center on Mondays, said, that “every year should be the year of the senior,” not just 2017. Danny Dromm, Councilman for Jackson Heights, and a longtime supporter of India Home, reiterated that “we need to be sure that seniors get their fair share of the budget.”

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Councilman Danny Dromm speaks to the crowd on Advocacy Day 2017

Seniors and long time members of India Home’s Sunnyside Center, Usha Mehta, Bharat Patel, Dinesh Patel, Bharat Shah and Narendra Butala met with both CMs Van Bramar and Dromm and presented their demands for an additional day at the Sunnyside Center and better transportation. They urged the elected officials to approve India Home’s capital project citing the huge demand for India Home’s services and the lack of space that we are facing currently.

Seniors from India Home’s  Desi Senior Center in Jamaica,  Md. Abu Taher, Md. Mokbul Hossain, Mahbubul Latif and Mouirul Islam, met with CM Eric Ulrich’s office and CM Donovan Richards office. Desi Senior Center member, Md. Abu Taher spoke as a representative of all the seniors who couldn’t be there in person when he said: “We need more funds for Halal meals to give to people who cannot come to our center.We need more space; when we do exercise, it is very crowded.”

One of India Home’s stated missions is to create opportunities for seniors to lead and advocate for themselves. We were proud to see our members making their case with confidence with elected officials and their staff and their grasp of the important issues.

New Board Members: Ali Najmi & Mukund Mehta

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Ali Najmi is an attorney in private practice focusing on criminal defense and personal injury. Politically active, Mr. Najmi,  has succeeded in increasing the political involvement of the South Asian community. Starting in 2010, he was Council Member David Weprin’s Legislative director for two years. In 2015 Mr. Najmi ran for City Council and was endorsed by the New York Times. Mr. Najmi has been an early supporter of India Home and continues to advocate for more resources for immigrant senior programs and issues.

Why he joined India Home:

“I joined the board of India Home because I have seen the organization provide important and crucial services to South Asian seniors. Our community is aging and there are not enough culturally sensitive and appropriate senior programs to serve them, except for India Home. I wanted to join the board so that I can help India Home succeed and expand the number of seniors that it serves.  This is our obligation to our older generation and we must make sure that our seniors age with dignity and respect.”

 

 

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Mukund Mehta joined Caltex Oil Company in Bombay, India, in 1964 and joined the company’s headquarters New York in 1971. He has an MBA, CPA and JD from Fordham University and LLM from NYU, NY. Mr. Mehta is a member of American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and a Member of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Law Bars. He has been Moot Court Judge at NYU School of Law for last 20 years.

Mr. Mehta retired as a Senior Tax Attorney from Caltex’s parent company Chevron/Texaco in 2002. He now serves the South Asian community and advocates for senior causes as President of Indo-American Senior Citizens Center of New York, Inc. which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary.

Why he joined India Home:

“Most of the Indian Senior Citizen Centers in the USA cater to the needs and interests of a specific group of people sharing the same language, caste or religion, or belonging to a specific region of India. In contrast, India Home is a unique broad-based secular institution which cares for and promotes the interests of Indian and non-Indian seniors — this distinct feature attracted me to join India Home. ”

 

India Home’s Fall Fundraiser: Music, dancing and future plans

India Home held its annual Fall Luncheon and Fundraiser at Five Star Banquet Hall in Long Island City, Queens on Saturday October 1st. We were celebrating a year of steady growth and expansion, of course, but the well-attended event was also a huge thank you to all our friends, supporters and partners.

The celebration opened with a Hindustani classical music recital by performers from the Chhandayan Center for Indian Music. Our wonderful members from India Home performed a vibrant garba dance and we screened a short video about our Desi Senior Center. India Home was lauded for its work by both Councilmembers, Barry Grodenchik and Rory Lancman who attended. India Home honored Councilmember Rory I. Lancman, who has been a steadfast friend and supporter of our efforts. He was recognized as “a distinguish leader for South Asian older adults”. In his speech he said that India Home was providing vital culturally competent services to a growing community of seniors and the trust and experience we have in the community is an integral part of our organization.

Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi urged the elected officials and community leaders to work with her on trying to get a permanent facility for our seniors. “India Home needs a home,” she said, to cheers from the audience. A silent auction was held for painting donated by artists including the late Hario Sajnani. We were also happy to introduce two new board members to the attendees, namely, Ali Najmi, a prominent lawyer who ran for New York City Council and was endorsed by the New York Times in 2015, and Mukund Mehta, a former Senior Tax Attorney with Caltex and a Moot Court Judge with NYU Law.

The fundraiser was a successful event allowing us to raise critically needed funds for India Home. This support helps India Home tremendously as we begin to expand into new program areas and activities. Here’s to another successful year for India Home!

Please stay tuned for more photos in the coming weeks.

India Home's Board & Staff welcoming our new Board Members

India Home’s Board & Staff welcoming our new Board Members

India Home’s Executive Director speaks at ThriveNYC Forum

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Dr. Kalasapudi, India Home’s ED, was in a panel with Councilman Barry Grodenchik and Deputy Mayor Richard Beury at the ThriveNYC Forum in Little Neck.

It is a well known fact that among South Asians and other Asian American groups mental health issues are regarded as taboo. “Emotional problems” like depression, bi-polar disorder, debilitating anxiety and so on are seen as embarrassing and go underreported, undiagnosed and untreated. Yet, 40% of Asian American elders report symptoms of depression that range from mild to severe. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Asian Americans. For Asian women 65+, the suicide rate is double the rate of suicide among white, non-Hispanics.

On September 20, 2016, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, India Home’s Executive Director discussed these issues as part of a forum organized on the ThriveNYC program by Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, Mental Health Commissioner Gary Belkin and Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens). The forum was hosted by Samuel Field Y at Little Neck. A geriatric psychiatrist herself, Dr. Kalasapudi brought her expertise to talk about how community organizations like India Home can help support the nearly one in five New Yorkers with mental health issues. Dr. Kalasapudi offered insights from her experience serving the needs of the South Asian community and shared prevalent South Asian expectations about and attitudes toward mental health :

Mental illness in South Asian communities is a growing problem and requires urgent attention to prevent calamities like the one reported in the New York Times about a postpartum depressed Bangladeshi mother last year. A significant portion of the South Asian community, particularly those living below poverty line, are vulnerable and tend to have higher burden of mental health problems due to cultural and language barriers. I hope Thrive NYC will focus on developing a special campaign addressing South Asian mental health needs by organizing community events and by funding South Asian community groups and health care providers to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services.

ThriveNYC is a health plan which will train 250,000 employees to bring about a change in the way mental illness is viewed. The initiative aims to transform mental issues into a problem that New Yorkers can easily seek help for – without shame – just as they would for a broken arm. Some aspects of the ThriveNYC program are already in the works. According to Deputy Mayor Buery, operators who can speak different languages have already been hired for a mental health hotline. This is welcome news, because even when Asian Americans and South Asians do seek help, they are often stymied by the lack of access to health care providers who are culturally competent or able to speak to them in their own language. Nevertheless, these hotlines need to be staffed better with operators who can speak a  full array of South Asian languages and dialects.

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Deputy Mayor Richard Buery with Dr. Kalasapudi at the ThriveNYC Mental Health Forum.

India Home’s seniors speak up at Advocacy Day at City Hall

 

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India Home’s seniors on the steps of City Hall

“Don’t Forget the Seniors”

India Home’s seniors got an opportunity to make their voices heard by City Hall.  About 15 seniors from our Sunnyside Center and Desi Senior Center participated in Advocacy Day organized by Live On NY at City Hall on Wednesday May 11th. The day started with a rally on the steps of the famous building. Bobbie Sackman, Director of Public Policy at Live On NY thanked the seniors for all their contributions to New York City and said they had to make sure Mayor de Blasio allotted more money to senior services in the budget.  Our seniors had a great time chanting “Don’t Forget the Seniors” at the Mayor’s office windows in City Hall.

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Our member, Dr. Moksed Ali discusses their needs with Council Member Daneek Miller

India Home’s members meet with Council Members

India Home’s Desi Senior Center members Harun R Bhuiyan, MD Taher, Dr. Moksed, Shafiqur Rahman, met for an hour with Council Member I. Daneek Miller and let him know of their need for culturally appropriate senior services. In particular, the need to grow the capacity of the South Asian community to better serve its own seniors. As Council Member Miller rightly noted, India Home is the largest Halal congregate meal service for seniors in the city.

In addition to advocating for more money to be allotted to meals that serve culturally appropriate food, our seniors also discussed ESL classes. So many immigrant seniors have Low English Proficiency and thus cannot communicate their problems or access government services.

India Home’s seniors also met with Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer for an hour. Our members from the Sunnyside Center, Chandrakant Sheth, Usha Mehta, Dakhsha Patel, and Narendra Butala, spoke about the need for funding for transportation for seniors to get to senior centers and to take trips to combat social isolation.

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CM Daneek Miller with Desi Senior Center members

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CM Jimmy Van Bramer with members of India Home’s Sunnyside Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other members, Usha Shah and Prabha Bhasin, met with Amanda Menichini, the Budget Director for Council Member Karen Koslowitz. Our members also met with Dev Awasthi, Budget Director from Council Member Barry Grodenchik’s office and Nadia Chait, the Communications Director from Council Member’s Rory Lancman’s office.

Representing immigrant South Asian seniors

India Home was proud to see so many of our members participate with so much enthusiasm. Our members truly enjoyed meeting with elected officials and their staff and talking about issues that are important to South Asian seniors. They were representing all immigrant South Asian seniors who could not be there to make their voice and needs heard. This is exactly what we aim for at India Home: to develop the leadership capacity of our seniors and help them advocate for themselves!