Advisory Council Reaches Out to Beacon Hill Residents, Partners with Cleveland High School and other Community Groups

Students learn they can make a difference by distributing information about programs and services for their elders and for residents with disabilities. 

Early this year, the Advisory Council for Aging and Disability Services launched a pilot project on Beacon Hill to let residents know where to find information about aging and disability issues—a ride to the doctor, home delivered meals, financial counseling, care for a family member, exercise classes, and more. Residents were also asked for feedback on the community's needs.

Over many weeks, Council members spoke to neighborhood associations and church groups, distributed hundreds of educational brochures, and joined forces with Cleveland High School to get the word out.

The project was created and managed by the Outreach and Communications Committee. Its aim was to find new ways that the Council can serve as a link between the community and the Area Agency on Aging. Beacon Hill was chosen as a test site because a high percentage of its older adults report being in fair or poor health. Most Advisory Council members participated, one way or another, in the project. 

The intergenerational partnership with Cleveland High School—an idea suggested by its PTA president Pat Murakami—proved to be one of the most innovative parts of the effort. On April 7, several Advisory Council members teamed up with a small group of students to go door-to-door, distributing brochures that provided resource information and limited translation in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish in addition to English. Cleveland also agreed to insert about 700 of the brochures with end-of-the-year report cards mailed to students at home.

At their May 11 meeting, Council members celebrated Cleveland's participation in the project with guests from the school—Cleveland principal Princess Shareef, YMCA Community Schools site director Kalayaan Domingo, and a few of the students who participated in the neighborhood walk: Khari Miller, Lina Le, and Bashawn Mccants.

Advisory Council member Katty Chow and student Lina Le, with a young friend, enjoyed the morning's activities.

Principal Shareef said the project gave students important real world experience and the opportunity to practice public speaking skills. Advisory Council member George Dicks emphasized that it was vital to distribute resource information targeting vulnerable individuals in the community. He also appreciated the opportunity to tap into the energy and vitality of the young people from Cleveland High and align with the school on this initial project.

The students also gave feedback on the day's events. They agreed that walking door-to-door through the neighborhood was a good way to reach outside themselves and pay attention to others. They began to see that some neighbors appear isolated and in need of extra support.

Not surprisingly, some residents did not answer their doors. But many were pleased to get the information and invited the teams to talk. One Chinese-speaking woman read the Chinese characters on the brochure and invited the team into her home. At another home, when a student revealed to an older man that he was the Cleveland student body vice-president, the man shook his hand and said, "I am honored that you came to my home." Others asked for more information and volunteered to post or distribute the brochure to older people in need.

Advisory Council members commented on the energy and enthusiasm of the students, and found it a positive growth experience that boosted the students' self-esteem. Although distributing brochures door-to-door may not be as efficient as mail, participants agreed that personal contact was an effective way to get messages out into the community. They felt a higher percentage of people were reached by talking with them directly, while mailers tend to be tossed out.

After the walk, spirits were high. Participants felt they'd helped bridge a gap between the school and neighborhood. At least one student expressed interest in a career path related to social work or work with the elderly. The experience made them more open to the different cultures living in the neighborhood.

Ms. Domingo, who facilitated the project at the school, said it was a first of its kind. She described the importance of connecting with a staff member who has the time and interest to champion the project, as well as get students interested and excited about the project. She felt everyone involved gave positive feedback and saw interest among participants in replicating the project next year. The key is developing and maintaining a strong relationship between the school, Aging and Disability Services, and the Advisory Council.

Beyond the work with Cleveland High School, the Advisory Council project forged new connections for the Area Agency on Aging with churches, neighborhood associations, the local crime prevention council, fire and police precincts, and organizations that serve immigrants. This summer, the Outreach and Communications Committee continues to distribute brochures at food banks and grocery stores and is preparing a report on the full Beacon Hill Pilot Project that will be available this fall.

—Marsha King, Advisory Council for Aging & Disability Services & Gigi Meinig, ADS Planner