Community Ambassadors for Seniors
City of Fremont Human Services Department
Reaching out to seniors in their own cultural and faith communities
Five days a week, seniors meet at the India Community Center in Fremont, California, to do yoga, have lunch or take part in a round table discussion on issues of the day. For these members – many of whom are immigrants – the community centre is an escape from the isolation that can affect seniors of all cultural and faith backgrounds.
It’s also a first point of contact for seniors who often face challenges accessing essential social services. Recognizing the unique way in which cultural and faith communities can connect with residents, the city formally partnered with community organizations like the India Community Center to create the Community Ambassadors Program for Seniors (CAPS).
CAPS is a unique civic partnership between the City of Fremont’s Human Services Department and ten local cultural and faith-based organizations, strengthening connections between native- and foreign-born community members. CAPS integrates immigrants through a unique model that engages the full community and supports seniors in their own language, within their own cultural norms, and does so where seniors live, worship, and socialize. Ambassadors serve as a bridge between the formal network of social services and their respective faith and cultural communities.
Strength In Community
Like many cities in America, Fremont has an aging and increasingly diverse population. Nearly half of residents are foreign-born, including one-third of seniors in a population of 214,000. Fremont is also home to one of the country’s largest group of Afghan refugees.
In 2004, Fremont’s Human Services Department conducted a series of focus groups in nine languages to find out how best to reach the city’s immigrant seniors, nearly one-third of which live below or close to the poverty line. An invaluable resource emerged from these conversations: a new pool of volunteers. Many residents came forward to work as “ambassadors” within their respective communities. They embraced the opportunity to be useful and draw from their previous work experiences as professionals here or abroad.
Launched in 2007, CAPS includes a comprehensive volunteer ambassador training developed in conjunction with the City of Fremont, San Jose State University and the Stanford Geriatric Education centre. The course covers topics ranging from active listening to information on housing, legal and cash assistance and health issues.
CAPS ambassadors help seniors access essential services through people they know and trust, in their own communities and languages, and according to their own cultural norms. The city’s Human Services Department has also ensured that city programs are adapted to meet the needs of the diverse communities they serve. The social security office, for example, now has a Punjabi-speaking professional to work with Fremont’s large Sikh population.
Since 2007, 138 volunteer ambassadors from each of Fremont’s distinct communities have completed a 40-hour training program designed to help them provide information and referral services to seniors and their families. Ambassadors also meet bi-monthly with the city’s Aging and Family Services staff to review difficult cases, share best practices and receive ongoing training.
CAPS ambassadors have conducted outreach to over 1,500 individuals and helped over 700 seniors receive individual support to access services. Outcomes include an increased level of trust among ambassadors and city staff, between ethnic leaders and local service providers, and between ambassadors from very diverse cultures and religious backgrounds. In 2010, the City of Freemont’s Human Resources Department received the Network of Multicultural Aging Award from the American Society on Aging.
Making it Work for You:
- Engage all stakeholders during community needs assessment, including business leaders, educators, politicians and community groups.
- Look for unexpected outcomes in your research and consultation process, such as Fremont’s volunteer ambassadors.
- Take advantage of existing networks and services through partnerships with organizations that already work with seniors in their communities.
- Provide ongoing monitoring of programs by setting up regular meetings with representatives from different partner organizations.
For this Good Idea contact:
Asha Chandra, City of Fremont
3300 Capitol Avenue PO Box 5006
Fremont, California, United States,