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70 Strong: A New Way to Help Older Adults Age Well

We often hear about community organizations that are finding ways to support the health and welfare of seniors in their areas. The Sequoia Healthcare District in California is one of them. They partnered with Peninsula Family Service, an NCOA SCSEP grantee, to create a program called 70 Strong, a “concierge service for older adults,” and its mission is a commitment to returning 100% of property tax revenue in health-related programs and services back to the community.

The need

The truth is that seniors have never had access to all the help they needed. One of the biggest roadblocks has been a surprisingly simple one: How do you make sure that our older neighbors know what’s out there for them?

And once they know, how do you connect them with the services, big or small, that would make a difference in their lives?

We’ve helped to create a new resource to navigate these challenges. It’s called 70 Strong and it serves as a guide to free and low-cost services and activities for older adults in central and southern San Mateo County, about 25 miles south of San Francisco.

Our strategy

At 70 Strong, we identify those services and make those connections. We link those older adults to the services they’re seeking based on their own needs and wants, and we cover everything from critical needs to the smaller things that make surprisingly big differences in enhancing older adults’ quality of life.

We help when there’s a housing issue that needs to be solved right now or when there’s a medical condition that’s gone unaddressed for too long. We also help if you’re hoping to find a club to join that’s involved in one of your interests or if you’d like to “give back” and volunteer your time.

Whatever the issue, people often don’t know where to look for guidance. If they do, they’re sometimes reluctant to reach out because there’s a stigma attached to asking for the help you need. We bridge those gaps.

Distance is no object to 70 Strong’s involvement. Using our multi-lingual website at 70Strong.org, a family member in Connecticut or Texas can link in and contact one of our “navigators” with concerns about a loved one here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It might be a much-needed home visit for someone who had no idea that help was available in the first place. Community resources are there, but finding them isn’t easy, and navigating the system can be daunting. Our navigators are knowledgeable guides who make a sometimes complicated process as easy as it can possibly be.

Those are the barriers we’re trying to breach, and we’re reaching a population that hasn’t availed itself of the services that are out there. Those services are ready, willing, and able to get involved, if people only knew how to connect with the right providers.

To that end, we provide multiple touchpoints for our potential clients, whether they reach us through our website, over the phone, or in person. We take our cue from what our clients tell us, from their own definitions of what they need, what they want, and what would help them the most.

The result

Take David, for example, who faced huge medication bills after an emergency hospital visit. He had been paying out-of-pocket for essential medication, which Medicare would not cover. The situation was causing enormous stress. We started by arranging a free ride via Lyft to Fair Oaks Adult Activity Center, which, like 70 Strong, is managed by Peninsula Family Service. There, he met with a case manager.

The case manager helped David apply for Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid). As a result, he now pays only $20 per month for his prescriptions. He can focus his energies on getting better instead of on his financial predicament, a change that bodes well for his future health.

At around the same time, a couple in Portola Valley contacted us with concerns about early dementia. Our team introduced the couple to people who run support groups and provide other activities at the nearby San Carlos Adult Community Center. There, our clients received a warm welcome, and they’re benefiting from support they hadn’t known was there.

Then, there’s Surlene, a Redwood City resident who turned to 70 Strong when she learned her local gym was closing. We helped her find a free yoga class within a few blocks of her home, and we’re currently looking for a regular Scrabble game for Surlene, as she’s an avid player.

Another recent example is Scott, another Redwood City resident in his 70s who just needed one very simple thing. All he wanted was a haircut. He’d had some medical issues, however, and he’d become homebound. When we learned of his predicament, we found someone to trim his hair at his home in time for his birthday, and the result was nothing short of dramatic.

“I feel like a human being again,” he said, adding that he’d recommend 70 Strong to others without reservation.

From the life-threatening crisis to the little things that make surprisingly big differences, 70 Strong is here to be the lifeline that fills very big needs in all kinds of ways.

We hope that our message reaches every older adult who needs or wants some help, and we encourage everyone to pass it on to anyone who just might need a hand.

Here’s one tip to others thinking of setting up a similar program: be sure to budget for marketing dollars. It takes work for even a great idea to spread.

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About Susan Houston

Susan Houston is Director of Older Adults Services at Peninsula Family Service, a nonprofit that strengthens the community by providing children, families, and older adults the support and tools to realize their full potential and lead healthy, stable lives.

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