Necessity of Organized Efforts
After the conference it was convincingly recognized that Indian seniors need an entity, which can undertake an information, referral and advocacy role for their benefit. After six months of intensive deliberations, post the September '98 conference, a new entity was created known as National Indo-American Association for Senior Citizens (NIAASC). During the deliberative process the working group studied the feasibility of utilizing one of the existing organizations to carry on this responsibility. It was recognized that the primary responsibility of addressing the issues of seniors cannot be addressed by existing organizations, since they have their long-established goals, objectives and activities which do not address seniors' issues. By utilizing one of the existing organizations, the seniors' issues will be secondary. There were two important ingredients in the creation of NIAASC: Firstly, the entity created would primarily address issues of seniors in collaboration with existing groups including community-based organizations; and secondly the new entity will not be reinventing the wheels but will identify services already existing and evolve a process of informing seniors as how to get those services. During the deliberations, the working group also focused on the traditional social and cultural values of Indian seniors and in that regard underscored that Indian seniors will need their own meeting places, where they can cherish their family and social values, where they can develop their own social network, and where they can ask freely without any inhibition about services and benefits in their local areas.
National Entity: NIAASC
Soon after incorporation of NIAASC in March 1999 (New York State nonprofit tax-exempt organization under IRS code 501C3), it ventured to address issues of seniors. The mission of NIAASC is to serve as the leading national information, referral and advocacy organization to the well being and quality of life of Indian Americans in their senior years. The objectives include:
Program Development Process:
The task before NIAASC was three-pronged in order to forge ahead activities for accomplishing its goals and objectives:
The above tasks, though a continuing process, were addressed in multiple ways. In addition, NIAASC through conferences, workshops and seminars provided a forum for community leaders and interested seniors and their families to learn about programs and services available for seniors.
As a learning process with the help of NAPCA, the first task for NIAASC was to be aware of network of services for seniors throughout the USA. This network of services is composed of generically known Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) at the local level, as well as at the state level known as State Units on Aging. They are funded, monitored and evaluated by the Administration on Aging within the Department of Health and Human Services at the federal level under the Old American Act of 1965. Each County has an AAA, though the specific name may be different. An AAA in Nassau County of New York state is known as 'Department of Senior Citizens Affairs' and in the Essex County of New Jersey it may be known as 'Essex County Division on Aging'. An AAA is a public or private nonprofit agency designated by the state to address the needs and concerns of all older Americans at the local level. Of some 655 area agencies on aging across USA about 65% are public (governmental) agencies and about 35% private nonprofit organizations.
The NIAASC, through a periodical 'column on seniors' in print media, through appearances on Indian television and radio stations, and by organizing conferences on seniors urged seniors and their families to send specific problems faced by seniors to NIAASC. So far NIAASC has entertained about two dozen such calls and after professional research directed these people to appropriate agencies for assistance. There is a toll-free number (1-866-6-NIAASC) where a caller can leave a message. This has also been a great resource to seniors.
In order to accomplish its 'information and referral' responsibility, NIAASC initiated the work of developing a working relationship with the AAAs. After procuring the directory of AAAs in the USA, the association contacted these agencies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut states urging them that NIAASC would like to forge a working partnership with them for mutual benefit and growth. So far the response has been positive from a number of AAAs in these three states. In various conferences arranged by NIAASC the local area agencies on aging were involved for professional support. In all its announcements through newsletters, Indian newspapers, radio and television stations, NIAASC continues to underscore the importance of AAAs as the front line contacts for any service to seniors. Any one could get the telephone number of an AAA in their local area by calling the toll-free number of the 'Eldercare Locator' at 1-800-677-1116. The Eldercare Locator is a public service of the US Administration on Aging and is administered by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging in cooperation with the National Association of State Units on Aging. In addition to AAAs and State Units, there are many state and local information and referral services providers identified by ZIP code.
Accessibility to NIAASC
NIAASC is accessible through its web site: www.niaasc.org, and its e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The web site of NIAASC has linkage with many governmental and non-governmental agencies helpful to seniors; linkage with US Senators and Representatives in Congress throughout USA; provides progress reports, newsletters and special articles; as well as organizational and administrative information such as address, contact persons, and membership benefits and membership form.
In conclusion, it will be appropriate to emphasize the following steps for the benefit of seniors of Indian Origin in the United States of America. All community-based, professional and business organizations should focus on issues of seniors by adding a component to their ongoing activities.
Senior Citizen must understand and gradually adapt to a way of life with the system here and create a new culture of our own. Each community organization should establish a close working relationship with the Area Agency on Aging, as they are the front line support system.
(About the author: Mr. Rajeshwar Prasad is president of the National Indo-American Association for Senior Citizens. He is also a Human Rights Commissioner in Suffolk County, New York. He serves as a volunteer with a number of local, national and international Indian organizations including United Way and the Prejudice Reduction Center of the American Jewish Congress.)