Elders waited patiently at Queens Borough Hall to see the Mayor and air their issues
On 18th July, Mayor Bill de Blasio hosted a City Resource Fair at the Queens Borough Hall in order to help residents understand the various services available to them, and untangle problems incurred by the people of the city. The event was very well organized and different departments like NYC Department of Health, Department of Aging, New York Police Department, Fire Department of the City of New York, MTA’s Access a Ride as well as Reduced Fare services, NYC Rent Freeze Programs were represented at the venue.
India Home seniors Bharti Parikh, her nephew, and Narendra Bhutala with NYC Mayor Bill D’Blasio at the City Resource Fair in Queen
Most of the people who were waiting to meet the Mayor had come in search of a solution to specific issues like health care, transportation, housing and so on.
Several seniors from India Home attended the Resource Fair. Our seniors were very excited as well as honored to be able to meet the Mayor of New York City. The long lines did not deter our seniors, instead, the waiting allowed our elders more time to come up with other concerns they wished to share with the Mayor. “Since the Mayor has made so much of effort to organize this type of an event for all of us, in turn, we can definitely spare a few minutes standing in the line to meet him,” said Mr. Butala.
In the end, the hassle of waiting in line paid-off as the seniors finally got to meet the Mayor and expressed their problems. Mayor de Blasio immediately helped the seniors find solutions. “He was very friendly and patient in listening to all my problems and further asked Donna Corrado, Commissioner of Department for Aging who in turn helped me with information on care resources for my husband,” said Bharti Parikh. As for Mr. Butala, he brought an important issue to the Mayor’s notice: “I notified the Mayor about the increasing number of accidents near my neighborhood and how badly someone needs to take action for it,” he said.
By Rohandeep Arora, Intern (Pace University).
India Home’s Dilafroz Nargis Ahmed has won AARP’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Community Hero Award. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) created the award in 2016 to acknowledge the hard-working staff and volunteers of nonprofit organizations serving AAPIs age 50-plus. AARP is the largest membership organization in the United States with over 38 million members across the country.
Nargis Ahmed, or Nargis Apa, as she is known to the seniors and staff, is the Center Director at India Home’s Desi Senior Center, the largest Muslim senior center in New York City. A staff member since 2014, Nargis has worked tirelessly to make the Desi Senior Center a warm and welcoming place for new immigrant Bangladeshi Muslim seniors, helping them to access social services, feel comfortable in their new country and integrate into American society. As Center Director, she oversees the programming that improves the well being of her seniors and provides a safe haven for the over 150 Muslim seniors who visit the center every program day. She also advocates for our seniors, providing valuable culturally relevant testimony and perspective to elected officials and city and state authorities on issues as varied as halal home delivered meals and transportation.
Talk to our seniors about Nargis, and they say that they look forward to coming to the center every day because of her warm and generous nature. She knows each one of them and their problems and always has the time to stop and listen. She has been their hero all along.
AARP garnered 61 nominations for the award and their judges chose 10 outstanding finalists. A popular vote competition on Facebook helped involve the AAPI communities and choose the top three winners. The top three finalists will each be awarded with $1,000 dollars and another $1,000 dollars will go to the non-profit organizations they represent.
Congratulations to them all — and especially to Nargis for her hard work and dedication to her community and India Home’s mission.
India Home marked the beginning of Ramadan by celebrating our members’ achievements
The elders were dressed in fancy saris and kurtas. Their grandchildren played catch in the back of the room and were shushed by their mothers. The aroma of fried snacks was everywhere.
It was the beginning of Ramadan and India Home’s Desi Senior Center hosted a night of poetry, songs, and a meal to celebrate before the elders entered a period of fasting in Jamaica. The venue and dinner were generously donated by Exit Alliance Realty, a well known real estate company in New York. Mr. Azahar Haque and his colleagues were gracious hosts for the entire night.
India Home published an anthology of poetry written by our elders
The elders from the center were also celebrating the completion of a successful writing workshop. We wrote about it here. One by one they went up on stage and recited their poems. Some others, sang songs about their beloved Bangladesh. Some told jokes or spoke on a favorite topic.
Council Member Daneek Miller was the Guest of Honor at the Ramadan Celebration at India Home’s Desi Senior Center
Councilmember I. Daneek Miller was the Guest of Honor and he gave away certificates marking the completion of the Writing Workshop to the elders. He said he was happy to see how well the elders were doing. He also officially released the booklet of elders writings that India Home had printed.
Nargis Ahmed, the Center Director of Desi Senior Center, who had expertly managed the ceremonies then introduced a professional singer who took the stage and sang popular songs late into the night.
Elders at the celebration marking the beginning of Ramadan at the Desi Senior Center
The elders left late after a hearty dinner of favorite Bengali dishes, some carrying their sleeping grandchildren and the book with their poetry. A month of fasting, austerity and prayer lay ahead, but the night’s celebration had been a feast in every way.
Until eight weeks ago, Rabeya Khanom had never used the internet. “I didn’t know anything about it,” she told me. She had just said goodbye to her computer teacher at India Home’s Desi Senior Center and was feeling a mix of emotions. Sadness because the free 8-week long computer class was ending. But also happiness because, as she pointed out, she could now, “email, and send photographs, buy ticket from travel sites, book hotel.”
Muslim elders at India Home’s Desi Senior Center use a manual in Bengali to learn computers
Rabeya Khanom, 72, is a student with eight other Bangladeshi seniors in the free computer classes offered by India Home, in partnership with OATS, an award winning New York City nonprofit (the acronym stands for Older Adults Technology Services). OATS provides free tech training for seniors.
The class at India Home was the first and only computer training especially geared toward Bengali older adults in New York city.
“We wanted to be responsive to the unique needs of each site we partner with,” Alex Glazebrook told me. He is the Director of Technology and Training at OATS. Most of the seniors at the Desi Senior Center are immigrants from Bangladesh, hence OATS hired a Bengali speaking computer teacher, Umme Mahmud, to teach the classes.
Council Member Rory Lancman’s Grant Helps Teach Computers in Bengali
A grant from Council Member Rory Lancman, who represents New York’s District 24, helped to pay for the teacher. “In today’s interconnected world, we need to empower as many people as possible with the skills needed to use modern technology, especially senior citizens. I am incredibly proud to provide OATS funding to the Desi Senior Center to enable local seniors to take part in computer classes this year.” Lancman emailed.
Thanks to Council Member Lancman’s grant, OATS was also able to translate the manual used in the classes into Bengali. An effort, Glazebrook acknowledged, “was not an easy undertaking.” Still, everyone involved felt that a manual in Bengali was necessary for this demographic since, as Glazebrook noted “Language is a huge barrier to getting online.”
Computer classes at India Home’s Desi Senior Center teach Muslim elders practical skills
Barriers to learning
When it comes to older adults and technology though, language is only one of the barriers.
In 2016, Pew Research Center reported that while fully 87% of seniors living in households earning $75,000 or more a year say they have home broadband, just 27% of seniors whose annual household income is below $30,000 are online. Many of the seniors at the Desi Senior Center are immigrant seniors, below poverty, and Low English Proficient. For them, the free computer training offered by Desi Senior Center and OATS opens up a world that they would not have access to otherwise.
Household income, education, language abilities, computer anxiety, lack of confidence in their skills, also prevent older adults from going online.
When I visited the class, the seniors were seated around rectangular tables in a red-carpeted room. The women were on one side and the men on another, in keeping with Muslim customs. As the elders stared intently at the screens of their laptops, Umme Mahmud, the instructor, helped the seniors to look for travel sites on the internet. She was teaching them how to find cheap tickets, something that would come in useful to find flights in the future, for instance, to Bangladesh.
Learning Practical Skills
The computer training manual was translated into Bengali thanks to a grant from Council Member Rory Lancman of District 24 in NYC.
The OATS curriculum aims to help seniors harness the power of technology toward achieving practical outcomes. “ I teach them how to research medical insurance, find answers to medical questions, email, read the news,” Ms. Mahmud said. They learn the basic technological skills that could be applied to their daily lives. A majority of the seniors around the table were highly educated, and many had college degrees from Bangladesh. But they felt left out of modern methods of communication. Some seniors didn’t even know how to retrieve text messages. But, Ms. Mahmud said, because they are eager to learn, they learn quickly. “It is my hope that the seniors who participated in these classes will now be able to access the digital world right at their fingertips,” CM Lancman wrote.
The seniors at the Desi Senior Center sure seemed headed that way. Sukhtar Begum had recently started to read the Koran on line. Another student, Mohammad Haque, 70, rattled off the names of his favorite newspapers in Bengali, “Jugaltok, Probash, Aajkal.” “Also Google news,” he said. Abdul Mannan, 62, has gone a step farther : “I never used email, but yesterday I sent an email by myself.” He smiled and shrugged. “To the teacher, but I sent email,” he said.
Increased confidence and self-worth
The classes are doing more than just teaching these elders practical skills; their attempt at mastering technology was making an enormous difference in their lives in other profound ways. Ask Ms. Khanum, the 72 year old OATS alumuna. “If I need something,” she said, referring to searching the internet. “I don’t have to bother no one at home.” The confidence in her abilities had clearly increased as a result of the classes.
Ms. Mahmud pointed out an even more valuable benefit of the classes. “All their connections are back home in Bangladesh. Their past, their entertainment, everything is in Bangladesh. Older people get depressed so easily, sometimes they feel that they have no value.” But with these classes things had changed, she said.
“Now they feel connected with the world.”
Computers for the computer classes were generously funded through the New York City Department of the Aging (DFTA) at the discretion of DFTA Commissioner Dr. Donna Corrado.
By Ashwak Fardoush
Ashwak Fardoush is a writer, writing coach and teaching artist, who recently facilitated the Writing Workshop for older adults at India Home’s Desi Senior Center.
The room buzzed with anticipation. The smell of cooked chickpeas and onion lentil fritters served to the guests still lingered in the air. Children’s cries rang out in the background. Amidst the noise, Salema Khatun took the stage. She recited her poem, “Shadhinota” (translated as “Independence”), alluding to the Liberation War of 1971 in Bangladesh. I felt proud as I watched her read her poem to the audience.
On the evening of May 19, 2017, we were at the Culminating Event for a Writing Workshop organized by India Home for its members at the Desi Senior Center. The event was also a Pre-Ramadan Celebration and a happy and proud occasion for our members. This was the open mic portion of the event
Members of the Writing Workshop at the Desi Senior Center
“I had put away my writing for twenty years. …. But I have written four poems in your class.”
Salema Khatun crafted that poem over the course of a few weeks. She had attended a writing workshop that I facilitated at the Desi Senior Center. Inspired by a prompt at a workshop session, she wrote a poem that she finished at home, writing a few lines at a time in between her household chores, showing me the progress along the way, and adding the final two lines because she wanted the poem to be a sonnet. Just the day before the event, Salema Khatun told me, “I had put away my writing for twenty years. After my husband’s death, I took on the full responsibility of my family. But I have written four poems in your class. Look what you have done for me.”
Seniors tell their stories through poems and memoir
Salema Khatun was one of the eight participants who were part of a bilingual memoir writing workshop* at the Desi Senior Center. This workshop was designed to help seniors tell their stories. This pilot program was a collaborative effort, making the phrase “it takes a village” truer than ever. The staff from India Home and the Desi Senior Center—especially Lakshman Kalasapudi, Nargis Ahmed and Meera Venugopal—worked tirelessly to make sure the seniors had a great writing experience.
As I heard Salema Khatun’s voice rise and fall, I remembered the first day of the writing workshop. It was a Thursday morning. I was setting up the classroom in one corner of the prayer room. Some were still praying on the other side of the room. I arranged the chairs in a circle and laid out the attendance sheet and the writing supplies on a chair. I had thought about the content and the structure of the workshop for the past two weeks. I even had a bare-boned lesson plan for the first session. Yet, I knew that I couldn’t plan out all the sessions. I was not teaching these participants. Instead, I was holding the space for the participants to tell their stories—stories that danced inside their bodies, that rested inside their eyes, that settled on their skin. I simply needed to let these stories surface on the page. While facilitating the workshop was not like any other teaching experience I had in the past—the participants were a few decades older than me, and the sessions were conducted entirely in Bengali—the advice I gave myself remained the same: I must keep my heart open, stay present and be curious.
Writing prompts and stories that unfolded against the backdrop of history
Quamrun Nahar reads her piece at the Culminating Event on May 19, 2017
There were eight participants who made up the core group: Md. Hoque, Md. Mokbul Hossain, Rafiqul Islam, Salema Khatun, Haque Mohammad, Quamrun Nahar, Md. Abu Sayeed, and Farida Talukdar. I did not know what to expect each session. By the second session, I stopped bringing a thorough plan. The participants were vivacious, creative, mischievous, intelligent, wise, and in awe of life. We would always begin with a writing prompt from my plan, but then the session would unfold in ways I could never predict. We would write spontaneously. Soon, I became adept at reading what the group wanted in that moment in order to serve them and their writing.
Each session the participants excavated memories from their long, rich, vibrant lives and shaped them into poems and personal essays. When I closed my eyes, I could see the writers leaning over their marble notebooks, and scribbling away. Sometimes we would travel to far-flung places or go deep within ourselves. Sometimes personal stories would unfold against the backdrop of history.
At times, the participants tried to write out a decade of their life during a session. Sometimes, I would ask the participants to scrawl a word on an index card, fold it and put it inside a mason jar. Then, I would ask a participant to pick a word out of the jar randomly and the group would write about that word. The first word picked out of the jar was “baba” (translated as “father”). Writers wrote about their love stories, their childhood friendships, and their son’s letters back home.
Participants eager to share their writing
Every session was memorable in some way. Once, I remembered seeing Md. Hoque writing in his notebook a few steps away from the class. Since the session was about to start, I gently asked him to come inside. He nodded, but his head was still buried in the notebook. A few minutes later, he entered the classroom and announced that he had just finished writing a poem. He not only addressed this poem to another participant, Md. Mokbul Hossain, but he also challenged his peer to respond back in the form of a poem. Md. Mukbul Hossain was deemed as the poet of the group. Even before the workshop, he had a moleskin notebook with poems written in his beautiful penmanship. He once showed me a poem he wrote in his notebook. The first line was a question a stranger posed him on his walk. He told me that he carried his notebook with him so that he could write down any detail, mundane or not, that can turn into a poem someday. Needless to say, Md. Mukbul Hossain managed to cobble together words to pen a poem to respond to Md. Hoque’s friendly challenge in class that day.
Md. Mokbul Hossain’s Poem, “Potichhobi”
Abu Sayeed was another participant in the workshop. He took two trains and a bus to travel from Brooklyn to the senior center in Queens. Before the first day of class, he told me of his interest in the writing workshop. He shared that his life was full of “korun” (tragic) stories and wondered if it was okay for him to write about those stories in the workshop. “Yes,” I said. “Life is full of joy and sorrow. Sounds like you have lived and have stories to tell! Please come and write with us.” So, he did. Md. Abu Sayeed would read his stories out loud in a voice that would tremble and crack at times. We would all listen, understanding the gravity of the moment and our role in it.
I was surprised by how eager everyone was to share their writing with each other. The ink would still be fresh on the page, our head would still reel from the memories we had dredged up on the page. Yet, the participants were ready to share their writing immediately. Quamrun Nahar read about scaling a tree as a child and falling down from it one day when she was stung by bees. She was carried to the kitchen where her grandmother rubbed garam masala paste all over her body. In a similar vein, Farida Talukdar often shared her anecdotes. We rarely made past the first writing prompt. The pieces people shared after the first prompt would inspire others to share their personal stories or debate passionately about a topic that surfaced in someone’s writing. We found ourselves discussing how in-laws’ relationship should be toward their children’s spouses, the struggles with upholding the Bengali language and culture in the United States, and the political climate in Bangladesh.
Teacher as Witness
Nancy Agabian, an author and founder of Heightening Stories, told me that the participants were “lucky to have [me] as their teacher and a witness.” That word, “witness” was the summation of my role. These participants contain a lifetime of memories and the workshop became a space where these writers got to share their testimonies—tales suffused with pain, joy, love, loss, dreams and despair—and were witnessed with respect and camaraderie. Md. Hoque wrote so poignantly on the last day of the workshop: “will we remember the stories of the three sisters and five brothers, a family meeting for a literature class lasting but for a short while?”
Council Member Daneek Miller and his wife, were among the guests of honor at the celebration. CM Miller handed out certificates to seniors who participated in the workshop
At the event, I looked to the stage once more. Salema Khatun had finished reading her poem. She paused for a moment and looked out at the audience. The crowd broke out into applause. Salema Khatun walked off stage. I smiled and then closed my eyes: I imagined the participants pulling out their marble notebooks and writing away with their ball point pens, putting one word after the next word after the next to tell all the stories they held inside of them until they were spent, until they were empty, until they were fully satisfied.
*This Writing Workshop was funded in part by Poets & Writers with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
You can read the full publication of the writings by clicking here.
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
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
Nargis 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
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 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.
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).”
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.”
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.
India Home was honored with a Commendation by Scott Stringer, New York City Comptroller for outstanding services to the city of New York. In his speech on the occasion, Comptroller Stringer, congratulated us for the “culturally sensitive social, nutritional, psychological, recreational” programs we provide to South Asian seniors, as well as the opportunities we give our elders to develop “leadership and engage in self-advocacy.” We were honored alongside two sister organizations providing crucial services to South Asian communities: Indo-Caribbean Alliance and The Sikh Coalition. The event was also a Diwali celebration and was attended by 200-300 movers and shakers from New York City’s South Asian community. We were thrilled to have so many of our members join us and dressed in their traditional best to show their support and joy! You can see more photos by clicking here.
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, our Executive Director receives the commendation for outstanding services to NYC from Comptroller Scott Stringer
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.
Deputy Mayor Richard Buery with Dr. Kalasapudi at the ThriveNYC Mental Health Forum.
As a part of the Asian American & Pacific Islander celebration on Tuesday May 24th, India Home met with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. At the roundtable of Indian American leaders in New York City, the comptroller explained the duties of his office and expressed his willingness to work with the community.
India Home’s Lakshman Kalasapudi was there and discussed a number of pressing issues for South Asian seniors and direct service organizations:
- Small organizations such as India Home need timely reimbursement of their government contracts. As we are required to submit our invoices to our contracting agency (Department for the Aging) by the 15th, we expect a timely reimbursement of funds. Currently, there is no deadline for many city agencies to reimburse their vendors or contractors.
- The comptroller’s focus on Minority/Women Business Enterprises (MWBE) is commendable. The comptroller stated he is committed to increasing the number of contracts and the amounts of those contracts to MWBE. As community-based organizations (CBOs) led by immigrant women of color, India Home and its partners (e.g. Sakhi, Sapna NYC, SAYA and more) receive very little government contracts and those we do are not in the Mayor’s baseline budget. We asked the comptroller to show the same commitment to Minority and Women-led CBOs.
- Housing is a huge need for South Asian seniors. Many of our members are looking for affordable options to live full and independent lives. However, small, growing organizations such as India Home need support to fulfill these needs. We requested the comptroller to look into capacity building opportunities and coaching for small organizations so we can better serve our communities with capital projects.
Comptroller Stringer addressing Indian American community leaders