Senior Services is trying to build trust in Minnesota communities they hadn’t previously served

At work, Mayla Yang switches between Hmong and English while talking on the phone.

She is a Community Outreach Specialist at 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 make those connections, often giving presentations on Medicare and Medicaid, in English and Hmong.

“I’m so honored and privileged to be able to go to our Hmong communities, 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.”

In recent years, Trellis, formerly the Metropolitan Agency on Aging, has tried to reach communities it hasn’t always targeted.

A brochure for the Trellis Community Outreach Team, which is working to reach more communities in the metro area.

Courtesy of Trellis

“We first started hiring people who spoke the language of the community,” said Jetta Wiedemeier Bower, volunteer and outreach manager at Trellis.

“Of the four people on board with us now, we speak six languages, so we can speak with our brothers and sisters in Spanish, Hmong, English, Somali, Amharic and Oromo.”

Trellis has changed its brochures to better reflect the diversity of the community. They give presentations on Medicare and Medicaid in different languages. When they visit senior centers, they bring culturally appropriate gifts.

“We try to target communities of color that can’t find us or don’t know how to find us, or there are obstacles in their way,” she said. “We target organizations that support people experiencing poverty. And we support rural pockets in the Twin Cities.”

Minnesota’s over-65 population is slowly changing, according to state demographer Susan Brower.

“Right now, about 7% of our older adult population is black, Indigenous, or of color,” she said. “We expect this to increase year over year towards greater racial and ethnic diversity.”

And in the metropolitan area, the senior community will be even more diverse. According to data from MN Compass, nearly 11% of the seven-county metropolitan area is Black, Indigenous and of color, a number that will increase in the coming years. Immigration will contribute to growth.

Community organization CAPI works with refugees and immigrants from around the world who come to Minnesota.

Souwan Thao, a caregiver support advocate at CAPI, helps people caring for loved ones with conditions such as dementia. He said people often won’t seek help unless it’s from someone they trust and who understands where they’re coming from.

“In our culture, we have to show respect for each individual.” Thao said. “We would call [an older person] uncle or aunt, instead of calling by name.”

Thao said he builds trust by listening and connecting people to the services they need. He said he hopes more organizations working with older people and their carers will work towards cultural competence and provide information in more languages.

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Edward K. Thompson