Seniority Matters

Ofie Albrecht (left) coordinates the Peninsula Family Service's senior peer counseling program. (Photo by Voltaire Yap)

Martha Stewart is hailed as the western world's lifestyle guru and domestic goddess, hefty titles she has earned since reinventing herself some 25 years ago. The New Jersey native may be savvy about the pleasures of living, but she could use a workshop on caring for older people.

In the April 27 issue of Parade, the cover story gave her a platform for her book, Living the Good Long Life: A Practical Guide to Caring for Yourself and Others: When you’re through changing, you’re through.

Quite a mouthful, and not at all unexpected from the ''entrepreneurial legend,'' as author Dotson Rader–the Pulitzer Prize-winner–dubbed her.

Stewart pulls no punches in describing her new how-to: ''It’s all about surviving in this extraordinary world–physically, mentally, emotionally," says Stewart. ''I wrote it because nobody is paying attention to the silver tsunami of baby boomers who are now turning 65. My book focuses on what you can do for others and what you can do for yourself in terms of aging gracefully.''

Talk about a blanket statement. Being 71, Stewart should be familiar with her focus audience, what government, private agencies and advocates refer to as ''Older Americans,'' or people 55 and older.

In a recent needs assessment survey in San Mateo County, California, where Filipinos make up ten percent of the population, the community ranked isolation among their top concerns.

Baby Boomer Tsunami

She is accurate about the "silver tsunami" though, the term for the surge of people born between 1945 and 1964, who will all blow out 65 candles and more by 2030.  In San Mateo County, nearly 1 in 4 residents will be over 65 years old. The generational tide will sweep the entire country and raise the demand for expanded and improved physical and mental health services, housing, mobility, transportation and social connection. But is NOBODY really paying attention to them?

Stewart need only visit a Filipino community, where grandparents hold up one face of the "sandwich generation," their children with their own children living with dependent parents.

The Filipino culture tends to care for its own--neighbors, town mates, compatriots, offspring and especially parents and elders. Many of today's Fil-Am advocates for seniors found their calling after having fulfilled their professional aspirations and now seek to share of, rather than take for, themselves.

In San Mateo County, California, alone three Filipino Americans make up the 21-member Commission on Aging, which advises the Board of Supervisors on issues facing older Americans. The volunteer work involves going into elderly communities, giving information about available programs and services and getting feedback on top concerns.

In a recent needs assessment survey in the county where Filipinos make up ten percent of the population, the community ranked the following as the top issues seniors face: accidents; employment-money; crime; parent care; child care, household chores; transportation; isolation; access to benefits.

The findings support the observation of Angela Japson Encarnacion, mother to three sons in college and proprietor of Always Best Care-Peninsula, a private home care and assisted living facility in San Mateo County.

Angela Japson Encarnacion (left) of Always Best Care-Peninsula at a senior outreach event. (Photo by Voltaire Yap)


''An issue I see with Fil-Am seniors is isolation," the St. Scholastica's College accounting graduate tells Positively Filipino. ''Sad to say for some, the choice is personal. Some elderly Filipinos prefer to stay home and wait for their 'anak' (offspring) and 'apo' (grandchildren) to visit, which does not happen all the time. And the outcome is they feel lonely and depressed."

Services offered at Encarnacion’s the facility include virtual contact. ''I believe in reaching out," she says, describing a simple ''two-to-three-minute phone call” as an effective way of connecting with people shut in their homes for various reasons.  

Encarnacion joined the elder care orbit out of her desire to ''own a business that at the same time helps our elderly population and provides jobs.''

Her view mirrors that of Ofie Albrecht, Erlinda Tiongco-Galeon and Soledad Manaay-Hayden, three women of disparate beginnings with a common current purpose.

Albrecht, fresh in her sixth decade, coordinates the senior peer counseling program of Peninsula Family Service in downtown San Mateo. She supervises 13 Filipino volunteer peer or non-clinician counselors and their clients. It’s a part-time job that’s a world apart from her previous profession.

After 25 years of sweetening the coffers of a bank, Albrecht sought a detour that would satisfy her psyche instead of her "manager's quota.'' She found her ultimate destination in a Craigslist ad for a Tagalog-speaker who could build a nonprofit agency's first Filipino-component program from the ground up.  

''I thought with my marketing background and my closeness with the older adults in my parish, I could do it," Albrech told herself. ''I had to learn what senior peer counseling meant. I gathered information about life changes and transitions of aging. I searched the Internet, studied the training manuals and attended a nine-week training at Behavioral Health and Recovery Services in San Mateo on topics such as basic counseling, self-awareness, listening skills, depression, social isolation and related subjects on aging.''

She ended up benefiting herself.

She enumerates the different phases of her self-education: ''Having no experience, I went to various senior centers, retirement homes and libraries in Daly City, South San Francisco and San Bruno. I also went to some Fil-Am organizations and did presentations. I sat out with the seniors in Serramonte Center. I joined the exercise programs offered at the shopping center. I showcased the program at the senior health and wellness fairs in the County. I also approached several parishes and presented Senior Peer Counseling to the pastors.'' Taking a breath, she goes on. ''Then I also discovered the many resources and agencies for older adults in San Mateo County, which would be one of the tools in counseling.''

Erlinda Tiongco-Galeon (right) is on-call community director of Atria, an assisted living community. (Photo by Voltaire Yap)

Access to Resources

Knowing what, where and how to access these resources is key to preventing isolation of older adults, Galeon believes, who’s on-call community director with the assisted living community Atria.

''The greatest issue facing them is how to take advantage of the benefits to which they are entitled" on every level, says the mother of two and grandmother of two girls. ''Few seniors know about the different nonprofits that can help them. Newcomers in this country are unfamiliar with medical insurance, food bags, free transportation to the doctors or other errands, free legal services, applying for free or affordable housing.''

Galeon's childhood in Manila in the care of her grandaunt Generosa Tiongco de Leon, co-founder of Centro Escolar University, shielded her from the challenges that underprivileged elderly confront but developed her affinity for elders.  

"I'm used to being around older people,'' says Galeon, a septuagenarian of boundless energy. ''So when I looked for volunteer opportunities to distract me from near-depression after my son's car accident, I chose to explore possibilities at Retirement Inn."

A marimbist-pianist, Galeon regaled the clients with music.  Soon they were making requests for more songs and started singing along, to the delight of the facility director, who offered Galeon employment on weekends and as needed.

"It made me happy because it reminded me of my Lola, who loved music and bought me my first piano when I was five and directed my graduation recital as my biggest party ever," recalls Galeon, who also volunteered with the South San Francisco Recreation and Community Services, where her skills impressed the director.

Notre Dame de Namur University (then-College of Notre Dame) in nearby Belmont had just launched its new course, the South City rec and community services chief informed Galeon, who lost no time in applying. She earned her master's degree in gerontology, sealing her lifelong career in senior services.

Manaay-Hayden earned her gerontology degree at the same institution. A longtime member of the Philippine diplomatic corps in Honolulu, Manaay-Hayden switched career paths when she relocated to the mainland.  She founded and heads Care on Call Inc. She’s a commissioner on aging in San Mateo County and a candidate for PhD in International Psychology. 

A practicing gerontologist, the mid-Boomer used to direct operations at an assisted living facility. As such she recognizes the need to be familiar with warning signs for abuse in order to prevent it. 

"From the bruises to depression and change in mood, we who interact with elders must get education and know appropriate ways of addressing situations," she says in her keynote at the 7th annual Our Family, Our Future. It’s a free seminar-resource fair staged by the nonprofit volunteer community education team ALLICE Kumares & Kumpares to raise awareness of elder issues, deter elder abuse and to usher in May as Older Americans Month.

''My goal is to instill in everyone that there is future in aging, that one can age with grace as well as be healthy and happy," says Manaay-Hayden, a newlywed and mother to a daughter in college. "Being old is license to be outrageous, to appreciate the journey we have taken and are taking; it's a time to look forward to rather than dread."

Soledad Manaay-Hayden (left) is a practicing gerontologist and head of Care on Call Inc. (Photo by Voltaire Yap)

Downplaying Challenges

While the Filipino culture of caring tends to favor older adults, the Filipino tendency to downplay family challenges does not necessarily have the same impact.

''Most of us (Filipinos) are opposed to having an 'outsider' take care of our parents or even send them to care homes," Encarnacion points out. ''But with better understanding, some families are now embracing the idea. And for the most part, they see that they are able to enjoy their parents more with other people caring for them.''

Albrecht draws from her marketing past and supervision meetings with clinicians to overcome the barrier. She has made friends with some of her volunteers, including a 92-year-old.

"More speakers and programs should be held in senior centers so seniors will learn more about the different issues they are facing," Galeon recommends. ''Some of them are too shy to ask questions. During their activities in the senior center, somebody may start talking about different concerns. Informative materials may be displayed or distributed, but if nobody points these out, the clients will not notice. More volunteers are needed in different centers to do presentations about resources.''

Imagine Martha Stewart organizing tea for seniority?  That would be, as she likes to say"a good thing."

Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County on Aging, executive director of ALLICE Kumares & Kumpares and executive editor of Philippine News.


For information on services for older Americans, visit: 

  • California State Department on Aging (for services and programs by county)

  • San Mateo County Aging and Adult Services (public agency)
    For information, advice and 24-hour emergency response, call the TIES Line:
    1-800-675-8437 (TIES)
    1-650-573-3900 (From outside CA)
    711 for California Relay Services (TDD)