The Sarah Ralston Foundation provides funding for nonprofits that serve vulnerable, underserved older adults in Philadelphia. In our inaugural grant cycle this spring, twenty-eight nonprofits received funding to bolster their work. These organizations all support the elderly population in various ways, from food and housing support to programming and social services. Advocacy is woven into much of the good work that our grantee partners do to obtain the services that their clients need.
“It’s important that our elders have a voice,” said Lynette Killen, Executive Director of the Sarah Ralston Foundation. “They need someone who advocates for their rights and well-being, because they often aren’t heard. Seniors may have physical, mental, or mobility impairments that make them more vulnerable to unjust treatment and less able to protect themselves. Our country also has systemic bias against elders that is evident in many ways – including funding, regulations, and myths. Charitable organizations that focus on advocacy of the elderly are needed now more than ever.”
We are highlighting three organizations that advocate on behalf of seniors, which the Sarah Ralston Foundation is proud to support through grants: Aging People in Prison – Human Rights Campaign (APP- HRC), Grand Central-Kinship Care Resource Center, and The Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of Elders (CARIE).
Aging People in Prison – Human Rights Campaign (APP- HRC): The U.S. prison population is growing older at a faster rate than the general population and much of it can be attributed to a long history of catastrophic policy decisions in the areas of policing, sentencing, and re-entry. 30% of prisoners serving life sentences are at least 55 years old. That represents 60,000 older adults that have been sentenced to die in our prison system. Additionally, underfunding, understaffing and limited resources in the prison healthcare system, make it an extremely unhealthy environment in which to grow old. It is now estimated that for each year spent in prison, a person’s life expectancy is reduced by two years.
Tomiko Shine is a cultural anthropologist and the Director of Philadelphia Aging People in Prison Human Rights Campaign. As advocates for aging prisoners, the organization operates outside the system, providing a voice, while working in conjunction with lawyers for the release of those who have served decades behind bars. “Our organization is a reaction and response to the growing number of people aging in the system. Being separated from their families isn’t good for the community. 30, 40, and 50 years is beyond punishment,” Shine said. “Other countries’ maximum sentences are 25 years.”
Ms. Shine points out a few cases that highlight exactly why advocating for aging prisoners is such a crucial issue. “One client, Mr. Barlow, had served 50 years for being the driver during a robbery at age 17. He’s been denied parole 12 times. This man is more than his crime,” Shine said. APP-HRC worked aggressively on his case and was able to get him released in 8 months. Another APP-HRC client was incarcerated during the black power civil rights movement and has been in prison for 53 years. “He was the victim of historical circumstances during a very racist, very corrupt time. We don’t want people to die in prison. We’re hoping he’ll be out by next year.”
Grand Central-Kinship Care Resource Center: According to Generations United’s “Grandfamilies Project” Philadelphia report, 17,000 grandchildren in our city live in homes where grandparents provide their primary care, and 14,300 grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren who live with them. Of these, 46% are aged 60 and over, 23% live below the poverty line and 33% have a disability.
Grand Central-Kinship Care Resource Center provides services to those who are caring for others’ children, including relatives and family friends. They offer information, referrals, grief services, and advocacy. While their primary focus is on families with grandparents over the age of 60 who are caring for grandchildren, Grand Central will work with anybody who is raising someone else’s child. In many cases family members step in to rescue a child prior to family services being employed, so they are outside of the system and often unaware of what assistance might be available to them. Grand Central helps them locate the services they need, and available funding to help them stretch their household budget as far as possible. “What we do is based on what they need.” said Chartan Nelson, Executive Director.
Nelson received a call from an 85-year-old grandmother who was caring for her 11-year-old granddaughter. She was desperately in need of help. “Often times people come in to use the pantry, but it can go far beyond that. We look at the gaps and can see what they may not see.” Grand Central identified that the grandmother qualified for cash assistance ($102 every two weeks) under the State Department of Welfare, helped to obtain medical benefits for the grandchild, and assisted the grandmother in obtaining full temporary custody giving her legal authority to make decisions about her grandchild’s education and healthcare.
Grand Central also offers technology assistance, educational workshops, and organizes a bimonthly peer-to-peer support group where caregivers can share experiences and help one another. They also run a pantry that provides necessary items. Nelson pointed out, “Someone receiving $785 per month, can’t afford both pampers and food.” Some pantry items are in-kind donations ranging from trail mix to adult incontinence pads, while some are purchased with financial assistance, such as the grant funding from The Sarah Ralston Foundation.
The Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of Elders (CARIE): As the population of elderly people increases, so do the crimes committed against them. Researchers estimate that at least 10% of adults aged 65 and older will experience some form of elder abuse in a given year. A rapidly growing subsection of crime against the elderly is elder fraud, where they are targeted specifically because they live on fixed incomes or have retirement savings.
The Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interest of Elders (CARIE) began with the mission of giving older adults a voice, making sure that there is someone advocating for them at the policy level. From there, they branched out into a range of direct services and assistance for those who have been the victim of a crime.
Whitney Lingle, the newly appointed Executive Director of CARIE described the programs they offer: “The PAVE program assists people who are victims of a crime with everything from paperwork to assistance in court, to funding. Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) is designed to help victims of fraud. Our CARIE Line assists elders with issues that range from transportation to housing, to medicine. The majority of our clients are from communities of color, are typically low-income and underserved. Many are dealing with a language barrier. Our language line translates 39 languages.”
Lingle shared an example of a CARIE SMP Case: “Our client, Catherine, went to her health provider for an X-ray ordered by her doctor. She was told that the provider did not accept her health care plan and she must pay the Medicare out-of-pocket share herself. Unable to afford the 20% copay, she left the office without receiving the X-ray. When Catherine called CARIE seeking assistance, the CARIE LINE Advocate informed her that she was given incorrect information. Her provider, a large health system, accepted Medicaid and therefore was not permitted to charge her for any service. The Advocate called the provider’s office to inform them about the rules, sent them Pennsylvania’s Medicaid policy and asked that it be shared throughout their system so that no other patients in a similar situation would be denied access to needed services.” The client felt more empowered herself, telling the Advocate that “no one else explained how this works.”
The sheer number of people that CARIE helps in a year provides solid proof that the need for elder advocacy and assistance has never been higher. In 2022 the CARIE LINE served 1845 persons. 1361 of those were older adults who called the CARIE LINE. 484 were family caregivers who called on behalf of an older adult seeking assistance. During 2022 the PAVE Victim Advocates provided services and assistance to 937 elder victims of crime and abuse.
“Advocacy, whether at the individual or system level, was needed in the past, now in the present, and will be in the future,” Killen said. “The Sarah Ralston Foundation will continue to bolster these organizations and the good work they are doing to ensure the safety, respect and integrity that our elders deserve.”
For more information, visit www.sarahralstonfoundation.org.