As founder, president and CEO of the Asociacion Nacional Pro Personas Mayores, Carmela Lacayo is at the forefront of a demographic trend expected to challenge social services across the country.
Ms. Lacayo's organization – headquartered in Pasadena, California, with an annual budget of $20.7 million – provides programs of employment and training, health, housing and economic development to Hispanics ages 55 and older. She says she established the organization in 1975 because "the issues of aging weren't getting much attention and there was no infrastructure to serve the needs of an exploding aging Hispanic population."
Although elderly populations are increasing among all racial and ethnic groups, nowhere is the growth expected to be faster than in the Hispanic community, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics. The forum estimates the number of elderly Hispanics will increase from about 2 million in 2000 – about 6 percent of the total U.S. elderly population – to more than 13 million by 2050 – about 16 percent of the older population. By 2028, the forum estimates, the Hispanic population age 65 and older is projected to outnumber the African-American population in that age group.
While Ms. Lacayo's organization initially focused on researching strategies and offering technical assistance to benefit aging Hispanics, in the late 1970s it switched its focus to providing direct services. Training and employment are now its principal activities, and through grants from the Department of Labor and other government agencies it currently employs about 2,000 Hispanics age 55 and older as administrative workers, librarians, and healthcare and daycare workers with dozens of employers across the country.
"Many of these people do not have the financial resources to retire – they might still have dependent children at home," Ms. Lacayo says. "They face barriers of language and not knowing how the system works. Many of these people have been working and have skills. We help them re-position themselves."
Francisco Velasquez, a 61-year-old from Nicaragua who came to the United States 12 years ago, is one of those whom the nonprofit has helped. Mr. Velasquez initially had trouble finding a job because he lacked English-language skills. And while he had valuable skills after working in accounting for the Nicaraguan government for 15 years, he didn't know how to apply them in this country.
After receiving training from the ANPPM, he took a job two years ago as a bookkeeper in the organization's administrative office in Pasadena. "I'm very satisfied and proud," says Mr. Velasquez. "The Senior Community Service Employment Program (through which he was re-trained and subsequently employed) is really valuable in that people between the ages of 55 and 90 are given a dignified way to contribute. … I talk with the other participants in the program, and everyone is so grateful for the opportunities this organization has provided."
While the ANPPM has concentrated on training and employment, it also conducts national gerontological studies on the Hispanic community, produces and distributes bilingual information on the Hispanic elderly population, produces a newsletter, and holds conferences on Hispanic and other low-income elderly issues. Last year, Ms. Lacayo, a widely recognized leader in the fields of housing, aging, and social science research, won the National Council on the Aging's Jack Ossofsky Award honoring her creativity in services and programs for the elderly.
Still, Ms. Lacayo says her organization faces the same challenges as others: the search for funding. And the fact that 94 percent of her organization's funding comes from government grants (the rest comes from corporate donors and membership dues) worries Ms. Lacayo, who sees a trend to "supplant" the more-traditional nonprofit sector – the 501C3s – with faith-based organizations.
"I'm a former nun, so I can say this: We cannot begin to compete in the marketplace with God for economic resources. You're still going to have to rely on government grants," she says. "In the Latino community, we still haven't established our donor bases. You have to have an independent, charitable network of agencies whose primary mission is to serve the needs of its community. Until we start convincing our community to support their own charities, funding's going to get tougher and tougher."
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