By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
During these tough economic times, the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) and its new president and CEO Christine Takada are looking out for the aging Asian Pacific Islander (API) population. NAPCA is a national nonprofit organization and its mission is to enhance the dignity, well being, and quality of life for API seniors. I spoke with Takada, who was named the president in October, regarding the organization and what lies ahead in 2010.
Tell me more about yourself.
Takada: I’m originally from the Chicago area. I’ve spent the past 15 to 20 years in government and nonprofit, pretty much always with the API community.
The first two government jobs I had were doing outreach to the API community in Illinois for two governors (Govs. Jim Edgar and George Thompson).
When I left state government, I was in nonprofit that did small business assistance to Asian American small businesses. …
When I came to NAPCA, I came as a national director for the SCSEP (Senior Community Service Employment Program (employment training program funded by U.S. DOL) … it was the first time I was working with the aging population. It was very much in line with the community outreach work that I’ve done since 1986. I’ve been doing that job for the past four and a half years.
Because we’re a national organization, I am able to work with API communities in nine different cities across the country. One of them actually is Chicago. I am very familiar with the API community in the Chicago area.
That’s been kind of a nice connection.
What drew you to NAPCA?
Takada: What really drew me to NAPCA was the mission of the organization as the only API-serving senior-focused organization. It has a very compelling mission; in particular, the SCSEP program is a pretty compelling goal. It’s a very vulnerable population.
Do the seniors work in the departments (DOL, EPA, and USDA)?
Takada: The DOL program is actually set up so our seniors who we employ are actually assigned to work in community-based organizations. They provide on-the-job training to our older workers. It’s a pretty complicated program.
It’s also a really important program for the community because we’re able to employ over 1,200 55 [years old and up] elders. We’re helping to lessen their isolation, get them involved in their community, and help them sustain themselves with the wage. … The goal is that they leave the program and are able to find jobs off the federal government dollar.
What are some of the major issues currently facing aging API’s? Which of these issues are unique to API’s?
Takada: Our biggest issue with our seniors is definitely language access. I think the recession affects our seniors much more acutely because they don’t have mainstream skills, so their employment opportunities, their access to information, and government assistance and programs are even harder to come by because of their language access.
Five years ago, NAPCA established an Asian language help-line in Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Vietnamese. It’s one way we try to bridge some of the access of information of our seniors to government programs.
Language access I think is the biggest issue that we see. Do they feel the same issues as the mainstream?
Takada: Absolutely, but more acutely, I would say.
Another thing we are trying to do is help inform our seniors. Issues like health care reform are going to have a great impact on our low-income especially, but API elders as well. NAPCA tries to work constructively with other coalitions. …
How do you think some of the federal government’s issues (such as healthcare, the economy) will the aging API communities? Will NAPCA’s funding be affected?
Takada: So far, we’ve been pretty fortunate because of the ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act), the U.S. DOL, and the EPA programs received funding. Our SCSEP (Senior Community Service
Employment Program, an employment training program funded by U.S. DOL) program got $1.6 additional in stimulus funding. We are going to enroll 300 additional seniors to our SCSEP program. It’s fantastic because our population is feeling this so much worse than mainstream folks.
What do you hope to achieve for NAPCA in 2010?
Takada: A couple things that I’d like for us to serve, at least in an educational and advocacy role, in addition to health care and immigration reform, is for our seniors to understand the importance of the census. … We’re getting as much of the Asian language materials in the hands of our seniors so they know what the forms look like and how to respond to them. ♦
Ninette Cheng can be reached at email@example.com.