On our first day back in the classroom, we spent most of our time discussing and planning for our individual HAPs. Last quarter, when we finalized our HAPs, it was so difficult to choose. I think I had my name put down for 4 HAPs before I was able to narrow them down to just two. My first HAP, which our group has cleverly named “Living, Creating, Striving” (“L.C.S.”), will be a one day event that provides elders with free haircuts, make up sessions, and clothes. They can then take part in a fashion show and photoshoot where they can flaunt and feel good in their new looks. Our goal for this HAP is to not only provide them with a practical service (haircuts and possibly even massages!) but to also provide them with an experience that helps them relax and feel their best selves. Our plan is to bring together hair, beauty, and massage professionals from within the San Diego community who are willing to donate their services for this event. We also wanted to incorporate a clothing drive to collect clothes that the elders can take home with them at the end of the day. Besides the seemingly daunting logistics of such an event, one of my biggest concerns is that I hope we don’t end up creating a space that perpetuates ageism, especially in regards to beauty standards for the elder community. In planning for this event, I hope we are able to delve deeper into this potential issue and figure out how we can create a welcoming and positive environment. The second HAP I’m involved in aims to bring generations together through a succulent and herb planning workshop. Through these workshops (we hope to have a few!), our goal is to create an intergenerational community learning space where people of all ages can interact with one another and potentially even create things together. Everyone will get to plant their own herb or succulent plant and decorate them in their own way. At the end of the day, they get to take home their own little plants and if they take home an herb, they’ll be able to cook with them too! While the logistics of this HAP is pretty straightforward, I wonder how we can really make these workshops into spaces for intergenerational connections. I hope that we, as the organizers, are able to figure out how we can facilitate these connections in a way that is both organic and meaningful.
For our last class, we went around the room to discuss what part of this program held the most impact for each of us. Like many of my classmates, the most impactful experiences for me were the off-campus site visits and having the opportunity to get to speak with some of the seniors. For me, being outside of the classroom helped me learn and absorb information much more effectively than if we had been in a conventional classroom environment. Being physically present in the different communities and spaces we visited allowed me to fully immerse myself and learn at a much deeper and personal level. If the different sites had been translated into a lecture slide instead, I don’t believe that it would have made as large of an impact, not just in our learning but also in our overall experience and connection with the issues at hand. Our NAP for Barrio Logan and Logan Heights was unlike any other project I’ve undertaken. We spent two days in Barrio Logan and Logan Heights to do an “age-friendly assessment” of the area based on the WHO’s standards. This project exercised our abilities to conduct our own learning and research experience through actual visits and interactions with community members, not just through books and a google search.
The moments I will always remember were the conversations shared between us and the seniors we had the pleasure to meet. There was Tessie, Remi, and Neil from Bayside, Felix and Armando from the West Center, and the lovely Irene from the Potiker Residences who graciously let us into her home and shared her story with the whole class. There were many others whose names elude me but I will always remember their stories and lessons I learned from them about love, sacrifice, perseverance, and of course, not letting their “age” define them. I look forward to what’s in store for us in the next quarter, from more site visits to our individual HAPs, and I especially look forward to the people we have yet to meet!
On Saturday, we held the Senior Prom at the Gary and Mary West Center. As soon as we arrived, we got started on the decorations right away as we only had a limited amount of time for the prom. It was carnival themed so we had carnival themed streamers and signs, carnival games, and even some carnival themed food. I helped serve the churros and they were hit, with many asking for seconds, but some also limited themselves to just one sugary treat and asked for some fruit instead. Even after the event had finished, when we were passing out plates of food to go, many asked for plates that specifically contained fruit. This reminded me a lot of my own grandparents who would more often than not, trade sugary desserts for a bowl of fresh fruit. Like the seniors at the West Center, they’re still watchful of what they’re putting into their bodies; this is especially important for individuals who may have health issues that can be heavily affected by their diet. The senior prom, complete with a prom king and prom queen, went by so much faster than I expected. With the music playing in the background, I was looking forward to dancing with some of the seniors and my classmates, but by the time we had finished serving the food, the event was practically over. We didn’t have too much time to be able to sit down and speak with the seniors there but I was able to chat for a bit with one woman as the vent was coming to an end. I didn’t catch her name but she told how she had a great time. She was in line for the chocolate covered treats and she particularly wanted to try the bananas covered in chocolate because she’d never tried it before. It was a brief chat but my encounter with her reminded me of the things I may be taking for granted on a daily basis and as well as how there are still new experiences for me to try and that there will still be new experiences to try even when I get older.
The agenda for this past week’s class included a debrief of the Casa de Manana Senior Dance, current event presentations, and the remaining oral history presentations. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the dance with my cohort because of another class and I really wish I had been able to go. From the debrief discussion, it seemed like they had a great time dancing with each other and interacting with some of Casa’s residents. I look forward to seeing the photos that were taken from that evening. Hearing about how the Casa dance went just makes me more excited for the dance at Gary and Mary West Center that’s coming up very soon! After the Casa event debrief, we moved on to the current event presentations straight away and my group was up first. My group covered an article about a senior job fair that happened just the day before in Austin, Texas. The purpose of the job fair was to connect senior citizens with employers who are interested in hiring them as finding jobs has become difficult for this particular population. In searching for more information, our group learned that there is a stigma against older populations in regards to their ability to keep up with the modern changes applied in many businesses today. Some employers are requiring certain qualifications that effectively filter out senior citizen job applicants. In one article, one woman said that a potential employer had abruptly ended a call with her after she told him when she had graduated from high school. How can we address the stigma that seniors are unable to keep up with modernized businesses and therefore incompetent employees? How can we assist this community as they seek employment just like everyone else? When I asked myself the latter question, I thought of the many workshops and resources available to us college-aged students here at UCSD. I wonder if and how similar workshops and “career center”-like facilities targeted specifically for older populations that address their specific needs could become available to them today.
Since I started working on my oral history project, I’ve had trouble figuring out how I would present the memoir to my grandmother in physical form. After seeing and hearing some of my classmates’ presentations in class (the second round of these presentations), I was inspired by the personal and sentimental significance of their physical memoirs. I realized that I wanted to present my memoir to my grandmother through something that could symbolize a part of her past and present, but also symbolize something that connects the two of us. I had a couple ideas in my head by the end of class and I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to see if any of these ideas come to fruition! After the oral history presentations, our class moved on to a discussion on the book This Chair Rocks, by Ashton Applewhite. One thing that stood out to me during the discussion was Applewhite’s use of terms and vocabulary such as “olders” and “youngers” to refer to older people and younger people. I like the idea of changing the vocabulary that we use when addressing populations and matters in regards to aging. Perhaps, using words that don’t carry objectionable tones, as Ashton would describe them, could contribute to diminishing some of the stigma we see in society today against aging.
Lastly, another interesting discussion we had as a class was on a current event presentation about how robots could be used as companions for aging persons. In providing some social support and helping in the completion of daily tasks, such robot companions may have the potential to improve the quality of life of people who use them. This to me, also raised a question of, who CAN use them? Who will have access to these robotic companions? If these robots do become available to the public, I imagine that they’ll be attached to a hefty price tag. But then again, I also wonder, if these robots could be proven to significantly improve the quality of life of persons that utilize them (particularly in regards to basic needs for life), would they then be seen as something that everyone should have the right to have access to? Whose lives will be improved? Who will be making these decisions? To me, these “futuristic” robotic companions seem like an innovative and promising idea and could very well accomplish what they are meant to, and yet their potential integration into society bring about broad and complex concerns.
Visiting Casa de Manana felt like visiting an all-inclusive resort and in many ways, that’s exactly what this senior residence resembled. Rooms ranged from single bedrooms to “grand villas”, each with a wonderful view of the La Jolla coast. As we walked down the halls adorned with the residents’ own artwork, the place felt more and more like a luxury resort. But of course, after all, with this luxurious feel also comes a luxurious price... We passed through different rooms dedicated to different activities, from an exercise room where a physical therapist and personal trainer were assisting some residents, a fully-equipped beauty salon, to a dining room where the residents' names were typed on individual name cards and arranged on the tables. As the tour went on, we learned that Casa hosts a myriad of classes and activities for their residents, including painting and even Spanish classes. With all of these activities and resources available to them in such a bright, and welcoming environment, I wasn’t surprised to learn that many of their residents are quite independent and eager to pursue various interests. A resident who epitomizes the level of independence and agency that Casa residents have was a charismatic gentleman we met in the dining room (his name, unfortunately, eludes me). He shared with us a brief window into his life, starting with his early life in Wales and how he had eventually settled in the U.S. Some of the activities he participates in while living in Casa are the painting classes and the choir which he helped start. Casa’s choir began as a small group of residents who met occasionally to sing a few songs for fun. Some residents overheard their singing and asked to join. From there, the group grew from a handful of residents to about thirty today. They were even able to bring in a choir director to work with them! Another resident who also comes to mind when thinking about how independent Casa’s residents are, is Helen. We met Helen at the meet and greet portion of our visit. She told us about her life traveling around the world and I wish we had more time to hear her stories, and was well as those of the other residents who were present for the meet and greet. Naturally, as someone who loves to travel, Helen also wants to learn new languages. Today, Helen is attending Spanish classes provided and taught by the Casa staff. Through the residents we met at Casa, I was reminded that it is never too late to pursue and learn something new, no matter how “old” you are.
We spent this past Saturday on a senior housing tour in downtown San Diego and in North Park. There were more places that offered affordable senior housing in downtown San Diego than I had initially expected. For many of them, we learned about the thoughtful architectural design process that went into creating the buildings. The geographic location was also important in that these buildings were situated near public transportation and even right across the street from facilities that provided essential resources such as the Gary and Mary West Wellness Center. Two of the residences that stood out the most to me were the Potiker Family Senior Residence and the Sara Frances Hometel.
The first stop of our tour was the Potiker Residence, a part of Serving Seniors that provides affordable housing for seniors and also connects them with resources to support their basic needs. At the Potiker Residence, we listened to a presentation by Melinda and Jennifer detailing the programs and services they offered but as well as the obstacles they have encountered and continue to encounter. In an effort to change the current legislation on the federal poverty line (a grossly inaccurate and underestimated value) and how it affects seniors, the Elder Index was introduced which details the actual income seniors need to meet their basic needs. In the presentation, it was said that despite being able to present the index to our legislators, it has since become a “footnote” and no major legislation change has been made. While I’m glad that this information is out there and is actually being appropriately and diligently used by some, it was upsetting to hear that the desired level of impact and change wasn’t quite achieved. On a more optimistic note, there are still many individuals and organizations out there, such as Serving Seniors, that dedicate their work to making sure that seniors, especially those in more vulnerable circumstances, get the help that they need. And now back to the tour…
We split up into two groups in touring both the Potiker Residence and the Sara Frances Hometel nearby. The Potiker Residence works with the Sara Frances Hometel in a collaborative effort to provide transitional housing for homeless seniors. When we arrived at the Sara Frances, there was a stark difference in the environment and conditions of the building compared to the Potiker Residence. The air inside the building was thick and smelled of smoke. The small courtyard in the center of the building, despite being an outdoor space, was surrounded by high walls, making it difficult for wind and fresh air to pass through. Michael led us through a narrow hallway to show us a typical single occupancy room and a shared bathroom. The room was vacant at the time and so the furniture wasn’t complete. Even as we filed into and exited the room one at a time, the room already felt pretty cramped. To many, it is likely not the ideal place to live, but to many others, it might be the best and only option they have.
We returned to the Potiker Residence to tour their building and we were able to meet one of the residents there, Irene, who warmly welcomed us into her home. She shared with us the events and circumstances, some traumatic, that eventually led to her staying at the Potiker Residence. When discussing her own experience living there, she said to us, “This place saved my life”. I imagine that a similar experience and sense of gratitude for places like Potiker Residence is shared among many of the other residents. But I can’t help but think of others who might not have had that opportunity. There are long waitlists of qualified individuals hoping to get in to one of these units, and I wonder what their living situations are like while they wait; where do they live and in what conditions? How significant is the difference in access to resources between those who are housed in these units and those who are not but are still qualified and entitled to those same resources? Irene’s story was very uplifting and while I’m glad that she and many others like her have been given the chance to improve their lives, there are still many others who haven’t. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the current state of things, however, I am optimistic that with the efforts and progress being made today by dedicated individuals and organizations, like Serving Seniors, more and more folks in the senior community will get the help and live the lives they deserve.
I was particularly nervous about our first off-campus trip to Bayside Community Center. One, because it was a Zumba class and I am not a great dancer; and two, because this was our first opportunity to interact with the elder members in the community. I was nervous, but excited. When we first got inside, I was somewhat surprised by the low numbers of elderly persons attending the Zumba class. I wondered why there seemed to be so few but also asked myself if this number is actually “low” even after considering factors such as: how large of an area does Bayside reach and what does the population look like? How many of these individuals have access or are able to travel to Bayside? Are informed of Bayside events? Are there any other obstacles? Perhaps this could be something of discussion at our next class period.
When the class was over, we settled down, had a small breakfast, and got a chance to catch our breaths. My first instinct was to grab some food and retreat to an empty space on the tables but I plopped myself down next to some other LCS’ers and our TAs. We talked for a few minutes about how our quarters were going and then I noticed that some of the elderly persons were beginning to leave. I wanted to talk to some of them but for some reason felt paralyzed in my seat. Then I saw two women, who looked similar to my own grandma, getting ready to leave and so I mustered up the courage to get up and speak to them...along with Sallie -- I still didn’t want to go alone. We met two lovely ladies, Tessie and Remi, and listened to them talk about a few snippets of their lives. They both arrived to the United States as nurses from the Philippines. Remi, was based in Canada first before coming to the United States and Tessie has been here since 1969. When we asked what they think has changed the most since they first moved to San Diego, they both agreed that their respective areas have become so much more populated over the years. Neil, Tessie’s husband, joined us later on. They asked us questions about ourselves too, like where we were born, what we’re studying, what we want to pursue in life, etc. When I told them I’m also from the Philippines, there was the same “Oh!” response followed by more questions into my heritage and experience that tends to happen when Filipinos meet other Filipinos -- this interaction somehow made me feel like I was talking to a relative.
We wanted to talk them more, especially since they had just started giving us pieces of wisdom when it came to choosing a career, but they pointed out that our class had come together for a debrief and so we had to say our goodbyes. I hope that I am able to meet them again. Looking back at that interaction, I was very nervous at first as I didn’t know how to start the conversation or how to continue it, but a few questions in, the conversation just seemed to flow. There’s definitely some room for improvement in my conversational skills but this was a step in the right direction and I look forward to meeting more individuals and learning about their life experiences. I'm glad that I stepped outside of my comfort zone that day, otherwise I wouldn't have met Remi, Tessie, or Neil.
I’ve always been told by my parents and grandparents to think about my future as I shape and orient my goals. They tell me to think about what kind of life I want for myself and for my loved ones and then think about what I need to do to achieve that. During our retreat, we were asked to do something similar but we were to think about our life by the time we turn 80. In the past when I would envision my future, the images in my head consisted mostly of myself living a comfortable life my family. I’d have a one-story home, my extended family would be a short drive away, and we’d have the time and resources to travel, to host dinner parties for my friends and family, etc. (Does such a life exist?) When we were asked in class to think about what we would want our life to be like at 80, I realized that I’ve never really thought this far into my life at all.
I ended up writing almost two pages of thoughts in my notebook during the exercise and I still had so much to think about and write by the time we had to come back together for discussion. While yes, I have spent an extensive amount of time thinking about my “future”, I never thought of how I’d want my life to be like beyond my 50s until then. That’s hardly where life ends, at least that’s not where I’d like my life to. I’d like to think that other people wouldn’t want their lives to end in their 50s either if they had a choice. I realized that there is so much more to life even when I’m well past “senior” status. By the time I’m 80, I still want to be doing things that I love. I still want to be able to go to places I want to see and experience. I still want to be able to make new friends and try new things. Just because I’d be “old”, doesn’t mean that there won’t be anything “new” that can come into my life. With this new perspective, although still just a spark but has the potential to grow, I am excited to see what else I’ll come to realize and learn in this program.