When Mr. and Mrs. Lin moved to Portland from Michigan seven years ago, they noticed a need in the Chinese-American community. While Portland’s Chinese-American population is sizable, many of them don’t speak English. As a result, lots of people are isolated from the broader community.
When the pandemic hit and many Chinese-American seniors lost access to their food, the couple decided to volunteer with the Asian Food Pantry to ensure their neighbors still had access to food. The program has provided access to culturally-specific food to older adults throughout the pandemic.
By volunteering, Mr. and Mrs. Lin said they’ve become connectors and interpreters in their community. It brings them joy to give back and provide access to familiar food. They find comfort knowing that they are bringing nourishment to other Chinese-American seniors.
“Aging my way means giving back,” they said through an interpreter during the board meeting Thursday, May 19. “It means volunteering while we’re physically and mentally able to do so.”
The couple were invited guests Thursday as the Board proclaimed May 2022 Older Americans Month in Multnomah County. The proclamation, celebrated every year in May, highlights and honors older adults’ wisdom, experiences, and contributions to society.
“I am so excited to introduce the 2022 Older Americans Month Proclamation,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, the liaison to the County Disabilities Services Advisory and Aging Services Advisory Councils. “This is how we connect with elders in our community and there’s so much beauty that is there and so much more we can be doing.”
This year’s theme, “Age My Way,” explores the ways older adults can remain independent and involved in their communities. The presentation featured numerous examples of how the County supports the theme through supporting advisory councils and advocacy groups.
One in five people in Multnomah County are aged 60 or older. By 2030, that number is expected to reach nearly one and four. Multnomah County supports older adults through a network of community-based organizations throughout the community.
“I’m so glad that we always take the time to celebrate Older Americans Month in May,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. “I think it’s such an important time to be able to focus on the needs and the ways that we can do better in serving seniors in our community.”
The proclamation included testimony from virtual and in-person panelists. Each one presented different perspectives of “aging my way” from advocating for support and resources for elders to overcoming distance barriers to communicate with friends and family through technology.
Bridging the digital divide
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults have experienced the upsides and drawbacks of gathering virtually. While many older adults have adapted quickly to the virtual environment, online literacy remains an ongoing challenge, said Jim Clay, who manages the Aging Well program for the Cascade AIDS Project.
For the most part, Clay said, transitioning online has helped raise awareness and involve new voices. “By converting to Zoom, we have been able to reach people that we otherwise had never reached,” Clay said. “These are people because of disability, because of transportation, because of distance, moving away, had never been able to be a part of our in-person activities and now they’re regularly connected to the community.”
At the same time, he said, the past couple of years have exposed inequities and a digital divide.
“We’ve learned that some elders have the hardware and software that they need in order to engage online, but some do not,” he said. “Some elders have high speed internet access, and some do not.”
Chair Deborah Kafoury said “it’s really helpful for our community to understand the ways in which elders and seniors had to pivot during the pandemic.”
Advocating for transportation access
As a member of the Aging Services Advisory Council, Dave Daley spoke about the critical need for transportation access among older adults. When he recognized a need for low income access to paratransit, he wrote TriMet asking for a meeting.
Because this gap was having a disproportionate impact on underrepresented communities, Daley and his committee members were able to convince TriMet to explore expanding low income fare support for this population.
“We have in our hands a two-year demonstration project to come up with ways of supporting folks who need more fare support to get around in the paratransit systems,” Daley said.
“Thank you for that really concrete and significant policy change that you’ve been able to make with TriMet,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said, adding that there may be “other ways that we might be able to partner with TriMet to continue to improve those services.”
“As part of that population, I can appreciate the challenges,"Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. "It’s important to hear your voice and it’s important for us to honor our elders,”