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Senior services try to build trust in Minnesota communities they had not served before

Minnesota's 65-plus population is slowly changing, according to Susan Brower, the state demographer. "Right now, about 7% of our older adult population are Black, Indigenous or people of color,” she said. “We expect that will tick upwards year over year toward greater racial and ethnic diversity."

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Mayla Yang, a community outreach specialist at Trellis, makes a call to a local adult day care center to set up a Medicare and Medicaid presentation. Trellis, which works to connect seniors in the metro area to programs and resources, is trying to expand its outreach to communities it hasn't always reached.
Peter Cox / MPR News
We are part of The Trust Project.

ARDEN HILLS, Minn. -- At her job, Mayla Yang toggles between Hmong and English while talking on the phone.

She’s a community outreach specialist with Trellis, a nonprofit that connects seniors and their families to services that can help improve their quality of life.

Yang is part of a team that helps to make these connections, often by going out to make presentations on Medicare and Medicaid, in English and Hmong.

"I am so honored and privileged to be able to go out to our Hmong communities, the adult day centers, for example, and just be a voice and represent our community,” she said. “Representation is key. And so when you see someone who looks like you, and speaks your language, you're more willing to open up to them."

Over the last few years, Trellis, formerly the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, has tried to reach communities it hasn’t always targeted.

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"We first began hiring individuals that spoke the language of the community,” said Jetta Wiedemeier Bower, the volunteer and outreach manager at Trellis.

"Of the four individuals who are on board with us now, we speak six languages, so we're able to speak with our brothers and sisters in Spanish, Hmong, English, Somali, Amharic and Oromo.”

Trellis has changed pamphlets to better reflect the diversity in the community. They're doing presentations on Medicare and Medicaid in different languages. When visiting senior centers, they bring culturally appropriate gifts.

"We're trying to target communities of color that can't find us or don't know how to find us, or there's barriers in their way,” she said. “We're targeting organizations that are supporting people in poverty. And we're supporting the rural pockets of the Twin Cities."

Minnesota's 65-plus population is slowly changing, according to Susan Brower, the state demographer.

"Right now, about 7% of our older adult population are Black, Indigenous or people of color,” she said. “We expect that will tick upwards year over year toward greater racial and ethnic diversity."

And in the metro region, the senior community will be even more diverse. According to data from MN Compass, nearly 11% of the seven-county metro area is Black, Indigenous and people of color, a number that will rise over the next several years. Immigration will contribute to the growth.

The community organization CAPI works with refugees and immigrants from all over the world who come to Minnesota.

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Souwan Thao, a caregiver support advocate at CAPI, assists individuals taking care of loved ones who have conditions such as dementia. He said people often won't seek help unless it is from someone they trust and who understands where they are coming from.

"In our culture, we have to show respect toward every individual.” Thao said. “We would call (an older person) uncle or aunt, instead of calling by their name."

Thao said he builds trust by listening and linking people to the services they need. He said he hopes more organizations working with seniors and their caregivers will work toward cultural competency and giving information in more languages.

Related Topics: HEALTH NEWSEDUCATION
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