Nurul Khan and his wife Farida Begum are an older Bengali couple from Queens who lived for 30 years in damp basement apartments in Jamaica, Queens until recently.
“It was so damp I got arthritis,” Farida Begum said to visitors recently. “The basement was freezing.”
After living in damp basement apartments for 30 years, seniors Nurul Khan and his wife Farida Begum recently moved into affordable senior housing
The visitors were in Farida Begum’s brand new apartment on 96th avenue. Tiny and spry, the 58 year old rushed about the apartment getting us snacks and making chai on her brand new stovetop.
“I never saw the sun for all those years. My body used to ache all over.” “Now look!” She gestures with delight to the window that looks out on to Amsterdam avenue and where her squash and chili plants on the sill soak in the sun.
In 2017, India Home helped Mr and Mrs. Khan re-apply for an affordable senior apartment with the city. A year later, the Khans moved into an apartment owned by NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority), in one of the city’s 41 seniors-only developments.
Mr and Mrs. Khan have been allotted a one-bedroom apartment. For seniors on a fixed income finding affordable housing can be challenging
“Thank Allah for getting us this house.” Farida Begum said proudly showing us the kitchen and the bathroom in the spotless one – bedroom apartment . “Everything is very nice.”
Mr and Mrs. Khan are the lucky ones who managed to get an apartment they can afford. Many others are not so fortunate.
In New York City, the number of people over age 65 has passed the one million mark for the first time in history and 462,000 of those are over 75 years old. By 2040, one in five city residents will be an older adult. However, there’s a severe shortage of affordable senior housing for this rapidly growing population.
In January of 2016 LiveOn NY, an advocacy group for aging New Yorkers released a survey of affordable senior housing buildings located in New York City, financed through Section 202 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). An astounding 110,912 seniors were found to be on waiting lists for affordable housing through the HUD 202 Program. With a citywide response rate of 46%, LiveOn NY estimated that upwards of 200,000 individuals were likely to be on waiting lists in New York City. Further, the study found that seniors wait an average of 7 years after first applying to receive affordable housing, with some having to wait as long as 10 years.
After living in dank basements for 30 years, Farida Begum is happy to live in a bright apartment where she can grow green beans and squash on her window sill.
Nationally, too, a 2014 study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and AARP Foundation concluded that for the older U.S. population, “Housing that is affordable, physically accessible, well-located and coordinated with supports and services is in too short supply.”
The situation has steadily worsened for seniors since back in 2012, the Federal government under President Obama cut funds for new private affordable housing developments under Section 202 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In Jamaica, the Khan’s were paying $1300 for the basement apartment. Nurul Khan (68) continues to work doing security with a contractor at JFK airport, as he has for the past 20 years. His wife retired from working at Rug Doctor in Long Island, repairing carpets. They didn’t have children and have had to depend on these low paying jobs to support themselves. Their economic circumstances have worsened because of the rising rents. Their landlord threatened to raise the rent and that’s when they came to India Home’s Case management team. The team reactivated an old application that had fallen dormant and helped the couple to reapply.
According to the New York Times, “for those who are still working age, it’s getting harder to pay the rent: According to a StreetEasy survey, rents in the city rose twice as fast as wages between 2010 and 2017. The lowest rents (those up to $2,300) rose 4.9 percent annually since 2010, which means someone who paid $1,500 a month in 2010 likely paid nearly $600 more for the same place in 2017.”
For seniors on a fixed income it can be a challenge to find affordable housing in NYC. The application process is confusing for immigrants with limited English skills, and the wait lists long. Even when they do get an apartment, seniors are often displaced from all that is familiar.
Social Isolation is a problem
Farida Begum says she has to depend on her husband now to get Bengali groceries from Queens. While they live in an area that is well connected to public transport, Farida says she’s afraid now to take the train all the way to Queens to see her relatives and friends because she may get lost.
“This is a beautiful apartment, but I ‘m scared. Who will come here to help if something happens to us?” Farida Begum says.
A growing percentage of New Yorkers prefer to age in their community, surrounded by their friends and relatives and supports cultivated over a lifetime. However, given the fact that there are not enough apartments to go around, seniors like Nurul Khan and Farida Begum have to take whatever they can get, even if it is far from their friends and relatives.
But Mr. Khan hopes that things may change soon. “There’s some new apartments that have opened up in Queens.” He’s been keeping track.
May is Older Americans Month – an observance that is led by the Administration on Aging, part of the Administration for Community Living (ACL). The theme for 2018 is ENGAGE AT EVERY AGE, which celebrates the way in which older adults make a difference in our communities whether it is by volunteering at hospitals, senior centers, marching in a rally or babysitting their grandkids. The slogan is also a reminder that you are never too old (or young) to take part in activities that enrich one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
At India Home our elders have been immersed in a great number of events that have kept them happy, and yes, engaged at every age!
1. May 9: Advocating for all elders at City Hall
On Advocacy Day 2018, organized by LiveOn NY, our elders made a show of strength at City Hall to advocate for more funding in the budget for cultural congregate meals, case management, hiring culturally competent staff, transportation and a host of other needs.
Our elders got to New York City’s City Hall bright and early!
They got to meet with the City’s electeds like Council Man Jimmy Van Bremar, shown here, and make their case
India Home showed up in strength at the Press Conference and Rally.
2. May 10: Our “Memoirs and Moments” writing workshop ended with a public reading!
Our Bengali Muslim elders at Desi Senior Center have been writing memoir pieces in a writing workshop for the last eight weeks. They celebrated their efforts and their writing with a reading. The writers read about beloved objects, loved ones, childhoods in Bangladesh and the pieces were beautiful and poignant. There was cake to celebrate and hugs all around.
Certificates for our writing workshop participants who worked so hard
So many poignant and beautifully written pieces!
Our elders wrote about beloved objects, people and places. Sabbin Akter, the teaching artist who taught them looks on proudly.
3. May 14: Mother’s Day Celebrations
We celebrated India Home’s mothers and grandmothers with gifts, cake, musical interludes and a big, fat party!
What’s a party without dancing?
Gifts for everyone!
A special (culturally appropriate) feast!
4. Dance theater workshops continue at a vigorous pace
India Home’s elders at our Sunnyside center are having a great time working with Teaching Artist Parijat Desai in dance theater workshops that combine garba and abstract movement, with their own individual stories.
Salma Abdul1 was born and grew up in Bangladesh. Her children left for the US to study, then settled in the country as permanent residents. When her husband died, she found herself alone. Her children, unable to leave their lives in the US, but worried about her aging alone, asked her to come and join them in America. When Abdul arrived in the USA at 69 years of age, she had to find her feet in a brand new country and culture. Her adopted country was technologically more advanced and spoke a language she didn’t understand. Its culture was completely different from hers. Its systems were complex and, because she couldn’t speak fluent English, harder to navigate.
With the numbers of immigrant elderly surging in cities like NYC, cultural competency on the part of service providers like hospitals becomes ever more important.
“I feel tension in my mind,”: Being ill and unable to communicate
Abdul’s real troubles began when she became ill with kidney disease and had to visit a city hospital on her own. Her children were pre-occupied with work and demands from their young families, and couldn’t spare the time. The hospital had few interpreters. Intake staff at the hospital couldn’t speak Bengali and instead made her access the Translation Hotline and tell the disembodied voice at the other of the phone her symptoms. Doctors ignored what she was struggling to say in her broken English, or dismissed her after a cursory examination.
Discrimination as a barrier to care
According to a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed data from 6,017 Americans older than 50 who took part in a Health and Retirement Study and found that one out of five of these adults experience discrimination in healthcare settings, and one in 17 experiences it frequently. “Ageism in healthcare is very common and experienced by many older adults,” says lead author Stephanie Rogers, MD, MPAS, MPH, a clinical geriatric fellow at University of California San Francisco. There have also been several studies that prove that immigrants in particular report more discrimination in healthcare settings (Derose et al., 2009).
In Abdul’s case, she “found it difficult to understand the instructions the doctors gave her or the questions he asked her,” said Afroditi Panna, India Home’s Case Manager. Abdul’s daughter also spoke to Panna. Abdul’s daughter felt her mother, was being ignored and treatment options were left unexplained, perhaps because she was older immigrant woman of color who spoke hardly any English. The doctors and nurses would explain things to her when she accompanied her mother, Abdul’s daughter reported, however, when her mother went alone, they would be unresponsive and “not nice”.
“That’s when we decided to start accompanying Salma to the hospital because, as with so many of our immigrant elders, she didn’t know what questions to ask her doctor, how to fill forms, or even where to go, or how to get to different specialists,” Panna said.
Case managers and cultural Interpreters
In her experience with Care Management, Panna said, older adults need help with much more than just paperwork. Sometimes, she and her team are called upon to become interlocutors between cultures.
For instance, when a doctor asks a Bangladeshi senior, how she feels emotionally or mentally she’ll invariably answer, “amar onek tension,” or “I have a lot of tension in my mind.” In Bengali culture, the English word tension is often used as a catch all term for anxiety or depression or worry, and other distressing mental issues. Most American doctors don’t understand this culturally specific term, unless someone with cultural competence (like an accompanying case worker) can explain what the elder means.
Salma Abdul’s case highlights an important point that often gets lost in the scramble to deliver aging services: with the numbers of immigrant elderly surging in cities like NYC, cultural competency on the part of service providers becomes ever more important.
The fact that her team speaks Bengali and understands South Asian ways has made a huge difference in her clients lives, says Afroditi Panna, the Case Manager at India Home.
How to deliver Culturally Responsive Care
At India Home, where we have culturally competent and multi-lingual staff like Panna, working with our South Asian elder population, we have found that the culture from which our elders come affects all aspects of their behavior. For example, it affects whether they seek help, the kind of help they seek, the symptoms and concerns they bring to their doctor or their family’s attention. Here are some of the guidelines that our case workers and managers follow in order to become more cuturally responsive:
Maintaining the tradition of respecting elders: A focus on engaging clients in a manner that is consistent with their cultural values and adapting communication to be consistent with the client’s traditions. For example, in Asian and South Asian culture this would entail addressing our elders with a honorific and never by their name. It would also mean case workers listen respectfully (and patiently) so that the elder feels understood and establishes rapport before rushing into the business at hand. It would mean being respectful of cultural norms around touch, personal space and so on.
Involving the Family: Mostofour immigrant elders live with their families and are dependent on them. Individualistic Western methods where the patient is solely responsible for their own welfare may need to be modified for aging South Asian elders. Other family members may have to be made familiar with the treatment process and involved actively in their care. To take Abdul’s case as representative: our case workers engaged with her family members and took the time to talk to them and explain her treatment.
Framing issues in culturally relevant ways: For example, music and art therapy is used in Western practice to reduce tension and stress, but some South Asians older adults may have restrictions based on their religious beliefs on the kind of music or they are allowed to listen to or the art they may practice. A culturally competent case worker may have to advise the Western doctor to come up with alternate methods to help her client to cope.
Facilitatingcollaboration: Many older adults have learned important ways of coping with life’s stress and have developed impressive resilience that is informed not only by their experiences but also by specific cultural beliefs and values. Our case workers learn a lot by showing cultural humility and listening and learning from our clients. These are some of the ways in which India Home’s case management department is developing client-agency interactions. It’s an evolving art Ms. Panna says and her team learns something new every day. But for her, she says:
“cultural competent case management means that for every one of our 75 active cases, our clients feel that we understand their concerns, and that we are treating them with respect. We want them to feel that we hear them.”
Join India Home and the Diverse Elders Coalition for a Twitter chat about cultural competence in aging services on Wednesday, March 21st at 3pm EST. Follow the hashtag #CultCompMatters to join in.
1 Names have been changed to protect privacy of the client.
7. Ten seniors from India Home participated in Advocacy Day at New York’s City Hall and presented their demands to Council Members.
8. We organized a panel at the 2017 South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) Summit in Washington D.C., joining over 300 activists, organizations and community members from across the country to raise our voice on issues important to South Asian communities.
9. Bangladeshi elders from our Desi Senior Center documented their stories in a memoir writing workshop and had their work printed for the occasion.
The elder patrons of our Sunnyside Center celebrated the end of their Drawing Workshop with an exhibition of their paintings at Jackson Diner in Jackson Heights, Queens. For eight weeks they had learned what Ebenezer Singh, the teaching artist leading the classes, called, “Pen and Ink Wash, Dry Pastel and Water Color techniques.”
Black and white ink wash drawings created by India Home’s elders
Dr. Kalasapudi (Executive Director, India Home) and Kamala Motihar (Board Member), and Ebenezer Singh (teaching artist) admire the art being exhibited
Our elder participants each received a certificate
Classes taught by a professional artist
Run by Ebenezer Singh, a highly-acclaimed professional artist and funded through a grant from Lifetime Arts, the classes introduced our elders to advanced drawing using a wide range of materials such as India Ink, carbon pencil, watercolors. The classes also included conversations about historical and contemporary art, and introduced famous Indian artists, thus adding cultural sensitivity to the mix. While some of the participants were unsure of their artistic skills in the beginning, their confidence grew day by day as they practiced the different techniques. “I didn’t know I could draw like this,” Shobana Shah said in a recent class. “I’m enjoying learning this very much.”
“I had to wait 68 years to discover I could draw.”
At the exhibition, we created a gallery of their art, and celebrated their achievements with certificates, chai and pakoras! It was wonderful to have so many of their family and friends join the celebration and stroll along enjoying the art on the walls. Some of the elders spoke about their experiences: “We looked forward to the class every week,” Prabha Basin, one of the participants said.
“I had to wait 68 years to discover I could draw. Now I want to keep doing it.” Bharat Shah said. His wife, Usha Shah, marveled at how she went from being ” zero in drawing,” to creating the beautiful work on the walls. These words from our elders were exactly what we hoped to hear when we started this experiment in creative aging!
Jamaica, Queens: On November 28, 2017, India Home inaugurated the first ever Dementia Day care program tailored to South Asian immigrants at it’s new facility in Jamaica, Queens.
Titled 3 D, for Desi Dementia Day Care, the facility plans to offer expert care that aligns with South Asian values for older adults suffering from mild to moderate dementia. We expect this new expansion will help to bridge the gap for culturally appropriate dementia -related services in New York city.
With a mandate to “serve all” South Asian seniors, regardless of income, faith or country of origin, for the last 10 years, India Home’s culturally relevant programs have helped immigrant South Asian elders deal with one of the toughest problems of growing old in America – social isolation and loneliness. We hope that the new 3D center will provide a welcome and safe space for South Asian patients experiencing mild to moderate dementia, but also provide a respite to caregivers.
South Asian seniors are among the fastest growing groups of seniors in New York city. According to the Center for an Urban Future’s report in New York City alone, Indians are the second largest immigrant group. Between 2000 and 2010 the population of older immigrants from India grew by 135 percent or about 8000 people. The number of Bangladeshi immigrants from Bangladesh grew in the previous decade by 471%, while the Pakistani populations grew by 38 percent from 2008 to 2011. These immigrants face language and cultural barriers, increased isolation, and higher levels of poverty–all barriers to access needed services like dementia care.
Wide Range of Programs to Meet Growing Need:
Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, India home’s Executive Director said: “For the past 10 years, India Home has offered South Asian seniors culturally appropriate services in Queens and our expansion into dementia services is driven by the growing need for such services in the South Asian community.”
The 3D Desi Dementia Care center will offer programs specially tailored to help with dementia such as exercise, arts activities, music and sensory therapy. The center will also provide two hot meals a day, counsel families on dementia care and provide a respite for caregivers.
Nahar Alam of the Center of Asian American Health at NYU will assist with outreach in South Asian community in Queens.
Dancing the garba – great for physical and mental fitness
It’s India Independence Day, 2017, and at the celebration being held at Queens Borough Hall in Queens, NY, the young announcer invites the next act to come up on stage. Ten women from India Home file in and start dancing, their bright white, orange and red saris billowing, their feet making dexterous patterns to the insistently upbeat music. The scene is remarkable not for the fact that there are Indian dancers in Queens, but because the women swaying on stage are all between 65 and 85 years old.
It is no coincidence that these women are so fit and vigorous. They have been dancing for years and are living proof of a growing body of research that links participatory arts activities to an increase in the health, well being, and quality of life in aging adults. One study of adults aged 60 and over suggested “health benefits of dance for older adults such as improved cognition and attention, posture and balance, and hand/motor skills in comparison to the control group. ” And it’s not just dance. Createequity, a think tank and online publication “investigating the most important issues in the arts” has analyzed extensive research that shows that taking part in arts related activity benefits older adults in myriad ways.
Singing improves mental health and subjective wellbeing (i.e., perceived quality of life)
Playing a musical instrument has myriad positive effects, including dementia risk reduction
Visual arts practice generates increases in social engagement, psychological health and self-esteem
In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts published the results of a landmark multisite (Washington DC metro area, Brooklyn and San Francisco) national study undertaken with the aim of “measuring the impact of professionally conducted community based cultural programs on the general health, mental health, and social activities of older persons, age 65 and older.” Referred to as the Creativity and Aging Study, it was the first effort in this area to use an experimental design and a control group to study 300 participants in the 65-103 age range.
The results were striking. The 150 older adults who were involved in weekly participatory art programs reported: (A) better health, fewer doctor visits, and less medication usage; (B) more positive responses on the mental health measures; (C) more involvement in overall activities. The results pointed to the powerful positive effects of community-based programs run by professional artists, now known as Creative Aging Programs.
What in the world is Creative Aging?
Lifetime Arts, a nonprofit organization is very clear on what Creative Aging is not: “it’s not about making macaroni necklaces.” Creative Aging then according to Lifetime Arts is ” the practice of engaging older adults in participatory, professionally run arts programs with a focus on social engagement and skills mastery.” These are programs based in the belief that individuals do not stop growing or learning at any age. They are interventions, and disruptions that help older adults free themselves from traditional and limiting preconceptions about aging and decline and help them discover new possibilities, and new skills.
Learning New Ways of Creative Expression
Drawing with pastels in a class made possible by a grant from Lifetime Arts.
At our Sunnyside Center, Creative Aging classes include photography and drawing workshops, recreational dance, as well as poetry and memoir classes.
At India Home drawing classes are taught by professional artists
Starting in November, a 9-week long drawing workshop, run by Ebenezer Singh, a professional artist and funded through a grant from Lifetime Arts, is introducing elders to advanced drawing using a wide range of materials such as India Ink, carbon pencil, watercolors. The classes also include conversations about historical and contemporary art, and introduces famous Indian artists, thus adding cultural sensitivity to the mix. While some of the participants were unsure of their artistic skills in the beginning, their confidence grows day by day. “I didn’t know I could draw like this,” Shobana Shah said in a recent class. “I’m enjoying learning this very much.”
In a paper published in the journal Arts and Health in 2012, lead researcher Nikky Greer documented improvements in both mental health and social wellbeing, “through increased social engagement, self-awareness, empowerment, and a sense of calm and relaxation.”
Our Sunnyside participants are so enthusiastic about the classes, they take photos of their work with their cell phones, so they can go home and practice before the next week rolls around.
Elders from India Home’s Desi Senior read from their memoirs
Meanwhile, our Desi Senior Center, India Home’s largest center in Jamaica, Queens, offers writing workshops to older Muslim men and women from Bangladesh thanks to a grant from Poets and Writers.
In Beyond Nostalgia: Aging and Life Story Writing, author Ruth E Ray explains why writing and sharing life stories in groups is valuable from a developmental perspective for older adults. Writing and sharing life stories allows them to not only make public the methods by which they make meaning of their own lives, but also “seeing and hearing others” helps them to understand that they are not alone in that meaning-making process.
At our Desi Senior Center, the ten week memoir course meets for an hour and a half every week, and families and friends are invited to attend the final reading. One recent Thursday, participants were encouraged by their instructor, Sabbin Akhter, a published writer herself, to read aloud from short memoir pieces that the elders had written to illustrate commonly used proverbs in Bangladesh. The readings were lively, full of dialogue and imagery. Lyrical descriptions of trees, cows, fields and the seasons evoked the villages from which the elders had migrated. As each writer in the circle finished reading their piece, the others applauded, shouting encouragement. “You get the first and second prize,” one grandmother told another, clapping her hands in delight. The sense of camaraderie and friendliness between the budding writers is palpable.
Our Approach to Creative Aging is Evolving
India Home is committed to intentionally engaging Creative Aging as a targeted program and our approach continues to evolve. Our aim, as it is with most of our programming, is to focus on creative activities that are culturally appropriate. While it is sometimes challenging to find artists who speak South Asian languages or can offer culturally appropriate art activities, we persist because culturally relevant programming is the most effective way to reach the seniors in our communities.
Still, watching our older adults laugh over a wonderful memory in their notebook, or admire a still life of colorful fruit that they created in an afternoon, or dance on a stage at the Rubin Museum, are reasons enough for us to constantly innovate and continue to offer these programs.
Ms. Afreen Alam is a community leader who has been at the forefront of housing counseling and community development both on the ground and on the intermediary level. Most recently she was the Executive Director at Chhaya Community Development Corporation (Chhaya CDC), a HUD approved counseling agency since 2007. Previously she served as the Deputy Director at Chhaya, playing a pivotal role in its regeneration and working tirelessly to build a strong foundation on which the organization is currently thriving. Ms. Alam, a former NeighborWorks America certified Housing Counselor, helped the organization respond to the foreclosure crisis that impacted Queens homeowners more than any other borough of New York City.
Ms. Alam also served as the Director of Housing & Community Development at the Nation Urban League, one of nation’s oldest civil rights organizations, where she was responsible for overseeing housing and economic development programs at 40 local affiliates; and provided leadership on national housing policy advocacy. She also worked at UNAIDS and Harvard University advancing human rights and international community development.
A daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, Ms. Alam has been deeply committed to grassroots organizing in NYC’s immigrant communities. She has been involved with Worker’s Awaaz, South Asians Against Police Brutality & Racism, Turning Point for Women and Families, Shetu (formerly the Youth Congress of Bangladeshi Americans-YCBA) and Muslim Reform Movement, to name a few. She received her Master’s degree in Economic and Political Development from Columbia University. Ms. Alam is passionate about travel, respectful parenting (RIE), elder care/care giving, and all things COOP.
Why she joined India Home
The reason I joined is rooted in my fond memories of my grandmothers. I enjoy the company of the elders, their easy affection and love and am invariably moved by their life experiences. As my own mother is aging and closing in on retirement herself, the issues that India Home addresses hit home. With India Home, I aspire to create a life that I would like to have when I am a senior.
Anjali is a financial services professional with nearly two decades of experience spanning most aspects of regulatory capital and liquidity risk management. She is an Indian born American with a soft spot in her heart for the young and the old. Anjali holds an MBA from Columbia University and spends her spare time with her husband and their two young daughters.
Why she joined India Home
I have witnessed the reluctance of seniors to partake in non-culturally familiar activities and understand the unfortunate health consequences of social isolation. The aging Asian population is an underserved community and India Home has done so much for it while also welcoming non-Asians to its events and activities. I am honored to join forces with India Home and be part of the solution to improve the lives of Asian seniors.
Rosa Mendonza is singing. The 86 year old doesn’t speak much English, so she decides to sing instead. Her beautiful, rich voice rises in long trills above the crowd in the bright room and and seems to set the very trees outside the windows quivering. The murmuring crowd falls silent as her voice fills the room.
She stops. Her audience draws a breath, then erupts into cheers.
Columbia University’s Aging Center celebrated the culmination of its project Exceeding Expectations
It’s a wondrous moment in a morning filled with revelation and wisdom that came from 18 or so elder New Yorkers who sit on chairs before a crowded audience in the auditorium of Columbia University’s Journalism school.
The audience had been invited by Columbia University’s Robert N. Butler Aging Center to celebrate the culmination of its Exceeding Expectations project. Started in 2015, by Ruth Finkelstein, a psychologist, and Dorian Block, a journalist, the storytelling project “explores how people find purpose later in life,” through writing, photography and video. The “people” in this case are aging New Yorkers who are disrupting expectations of what it means to grow old.
“The goal was to show the lives of every day people and 20 people in every category of diversity were chosen,” according to Dorian Block.
The elders being honored are certainly reflective of New York city’s diverse population. Among them is India Home’s own Chandrakant Sheth, an elder who has been a regular at our Sunnyside Center for years. A senior writer and photographer on the project, Heather Clayton Colangelo, shadowed Chandrakant as he went about his everyday life. She followed him to India Home, on his walks around the city, and into his room as he pecked away at his keyboard. She talked to him while he gardened, Skyped with his grandchildren, took art classes or hung out with his friends. “Asking someone to be vulnerable and open their life up to a stranger is not an easy task, but from the beginning Chandrakant was willing to go outside of his comfort zone and share his life and thoughts with me,” Heather said in an interview for this blog in 2016.
Like Heather, other project staff chronicled the every day routines of each of the 19 men and women they followed.
Some of the participants who were shadowed by the Exceeding Expectations project
The result is a rich, fascinating glimpse of aging New Yorkers in their later decades–captured through film, photographs and writing. The stories were told in their own voices, in their own language, set in their familiar surroundings. These chronicles of the everyday are moving and funny, and occasionally tragic.
Dorian Black was clear why she wanted these stories out in the world: “Journalism is how we chronicle our time. Aging is universal-all of us are growing old, but the way journalists do it now is to show aging as either terrible, pitiable and static, or heroic!” Or as Heather put it, the project wanted to show aging as having “different possibilities beyond the extreme images of frailty and skydiving.”
The goal was to change hearts and minds, to make people see aging in a whole new way and more nuanced manner, as another life stage. The project asks viewers to understand that each of these individuals and their stories are unique.
For instance, there’s Sylvia Lack, an 84 year old New Yorker and lifelong activist, who has traveled to Albany for 40 years to advocate for social justice issues. “Every time I get on that train to Albany, the attendant greets me with “Here comes the No.1 Democrat!” she recalled to the delight of the crowd.
Not everyone was so voluble. Hank Blum when asked what he would have differently in his life just had only four words, “I wouldn’t have smoked.”
Asked what he thought he had learned from being part of the project, Chandrakant said, “It made me go back over my life, over the sad events and the happy events. Just sitting with these wonderful people enriched my knowledge.”
Chandrakant Sheth with Dorian Block, journalist and Director of Columbia’s Aging Center
“It also taught me that New York is the best city in the world. You meet so many people from so many places and they have so much to teach us. I think we should all mingle, rather than staying in our own little circles.”
Chandrakant, like so many of the others who’s stories we heard, had never stayed in his own circle. He had ventured far, far from home, having come to New York from India in 1969. For 40 years, he had worked and lived in this city, had moments of struggle and happiness, and created a new life and story for himself.
Now his unique immigrant story will become part of an invaluable record created by one of the world’s great universities and help others understand what it means to grow old in New York.
Talk on Dementia Care at Asian American Community Development Conference
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasaudi, E.D., India Home gave a talk at the 10th Anniversary Asian Americans for Equality Community Development Conference
“I never thought when I studied to become a geriatric psychiatrist, I would have to diagnose my own father.” Dr. Vasaundhara Kalasapudi said. The sentence was the emotional opening to her presentation at the popular “EqualiTalks” at “Achieving Equality for All” Community Development conference organized by Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE). As one of four speakers voted in by members of the non-profit community, Dr. Kalasapudi spoke about Equality in Dementia Care among South Asian elders. Adopting a culturally sensitive approach, whether it is for congregate meals or creative aging activities such as art classes or writing workshops, helps to ground affected seniors by offering a sense of comfort and familiarity. Dr. Kalasapudi experienced the travails of taking care of her father who suffered from vascular dementia and watched her friends struggle with providing culturally sensitive care for their parents. These experiences, she said, convinced her that Asian dementia patients need to be offered a different set of treatment options than are currently prevalent.
Panelist on Mental Health Needs in Asian American Pacific Islander communities in NYC
On October 24, 2017, the Asian American Federation released their newest report titled Overcoming Challenges to Mental Health Services for Asian New Yorkers. This report is based on a year-long study that included focus groups, interviews, and meetings with approximately 20 Asian nonprofit organizations providing direct or indirect mental health services in New York City. The report, according to the organization’s Press Release highlights the increasing visibility of mental health needs in New York City’s Asian community and provides recommendations for addressing the major challenges in increasing mental health services for the Asian community. Dr. Kalasapudi was part of a panel of leaders heading community based non-profit organizations who were invited on the occasion of the report’s release to talk about mental health needs in their communities. Other panelists included Chhaya Chhoum from Mekong NYC, Dr. Yu-Kang Chen from Hamilton-Madison House, and Linda Lee from Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc. (KCS). Speaking about her experiences as both a practicing Geriatric Psychiatrist and the Founder and Executive Director of India Home, Dr. Kalasapudi stressed the need for preventative and ongoing mental health services that were culturally appropriate for Asian patients. She talked about the various services that India Home offers such as yoga, wellness talks, South Asian Indian and Bengali congregate meals, celebrations such as Diwali and Eid, as a means to prevent dementia and depression among the South Asian population in New York.