Authors: Katherine Cushing, Executive Director; Kevin Nad, Social Work Student and CCSCC Project Coordinator
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers “help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives.” Some of the most vulnerable people supported by social workers in San Jose are the elderly, who comprise 11.7% of San Jose’s population. This group of residents often finds itself in the crosshairs of affordable housing and healthcare issues. Because they are often more susceptible to physical and mental health issues, many elderly face added challenges that prevent them from effectively advocating for their rights and aging with dignity.
Below, recent SJSU graduate, Kevin Nad, reflects on his advocacy work for the elderly in San Jose through CommUniverCity’s Marketing Smarts project, his placement with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, and his SJSU coursework.
Q: How did you get involved with CommUniverCity?
A: This past spring semester, I worked with CommUniverCity’s Marketing Smarts project, which involves students in SJSU’s BUS 134B course. I supervised the students as they developed marketing content and strategies for my Catholic Charities project, the Senior Bites Network.
Q: What is the Senior Bites Network?
A: The Senior Bites Network is a group of local restaurants serving older adults (60 and over), in San Jose. The elderly community here often struggles to obtain low-cost, healthy groceries and meals. Additionally, this demographic is commonly overlooked by conventional eateries. To combat this problem, Senior Bites recruits local businesses to partner in offering affordable meal options to the elderly community that meet nutrition and cost guidelines. For example, participating businesses pledge a special senior meal that costs less than seven dollars, includes at least one serving of fruits or vegetables, and includes water, tea, coffee, or milk. Through this project, I was able to educate my peers and help them understand the positive impact our joint efforts have on the local elderly community.
Q: How did you become involved with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County?
A: When I was a senior in the School of Social work, I expressed a desire to work with an older population and was matched with Catholic Charities’ Older Adult Services for an internship. Throughout the last year of my degree program (BASW (Bachelor’s of Arts in Social Work) I worked as a project coordinator for two social work field courses, SCWK 141 & 142. The courses focused on providing students an opportunity to work with a community agency and apply concepts being taught in class.
I started with Catholic Charities in November 2016 working as an intern for Older Adult Services. This internship then evolved into paid work when I was brought on as an Administrative Assistant in May 2017, then offered a position as a Project Coordinator.
Q: How has working with the elderly affected your career goals?
A: Working at Catholic Charities has taught me what it takes to be a leader and to simply go for it. Through my work, I have learned that you should be happy and passionate about what you are doing. My career goal is still to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and all the experiences I’ve had that combine coursework with community work validated that choice. I love giving back to the community that I am a part of.
Q: What have you learned from working with San Jose’s elderly community?
A: I learn something new from every interaction I have with this community. Interestingly, what I learn isn’t necessarily factual, it’s mostly about myself. The stories and good times I’ve shared with the elderly have shaped who I am as a person, what I value, and who I want to be.
Q: How have your experiences influenced your attitude towards civic engagement?
A: Working with CommUniverCity and leading students in the Senior Bites Network has significantly shaped how I see myself as a leader. It gave me the opportunity to essentially be a program manager in social work. Through Senior Bites, I enhanced my leadership skills, but just as importantly, I became a community advocate and educator on senior issues. Many people don’t know that some seniors only eat one hot meal a day because that’s all they can afford or that seniors may have to travel across the city just to grab lunch. Being an older adult on a fixed income can be tough. The work has been hard but all the effort has been worth it. The project’s successful implementation shows that everyone can contribute to creating an age-friendly and inclusive community in San Jose.
Q: Through your work with CommUniverCity and CCSCC, how do you feel you’ve made an impact?
A: Through helping individuals with physical needs, with their activities of daily living, helping a blind client read his letters, taking someone to their doctor’s appointment and pushing her in her wheelchair, going out to community events and doing outreach, and advocating for the rights of older adults. These are a few of the ways I feel I’ve made an impact in the community.