Fremont’s Community Ambassadors Program Reaches Out to Immigrant Seniors
Starting in 2000, the City of Fremont partnered with local ethnic community organizations to engage their diverse residents in focus groups. These focus groups were held in 8 languages in order to include the entire community. One goal that surfaced from these conversations was to improve the capacity of the community to serve older adults and to make services accessible to older adults.Residents felt this was especially important for older adults who were not native English speakers and who often had trouble understanding complex government systems like how to apply for citizenship or Social Security.
The City of Fremont’s Community Ambassador Program was developed by the city and ethnic community leaders to address this goal. The city received a two-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to train members of seven local faith and cultural organizations to be Community Ambassadors. The City worked with Stanford and San Jose State University professors to develop a 40-hour curriculum for Ambassadors. A variety of trainers teach classes of 25 seniors from a variety of cultures how to access services such as Medi-Care, how to get Para Transit, how to find affordable housing, and where to go with immigration questions. Participants go on field trips and have discussions about cultural differences such as different attitudes towards depression. According to the city Human Services Director Suzanna Shenfil, the service providers learn a lot from these discussions and the multi-cultural seniors learn a lot from each other.
Ambassadors meet on a monthly basis and are provided ongoing supervision and training based on their interests. Social workers work in tandem with ambassadors and train them to refer difficult cases to service providers.
Ambassadors hold events within their cultural communities. So far 50 seniors have graduated from the training program and hundreds have participated in events they have organized. These events feature speakers chosen specifically to address each community’s needs and interests. According to Shenfil, “People don’t feel comfortable coming to the doorstep of local government when they have a problem or issue. They would rather go someplace they feel comfortable, which for ethnic communities is often a place of worship where they can talk to someone in their own language.”
For more information visit www.capseniors.org or call the City of Fremont Human services department at (510) 574-2050.