PCA Fieldwork Experience

The African and Caribbean Elder Initiative

August 26, 2016

Kate Clark, Sandra Lawrence, Rick Spector, and Barbara Herzstock


UPenn public health graduate Barbara Herzstock recently completed an internship with Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s Community Relation’s division, serving as the first intern for the newly created African and Caribbean Elder (ACE) Initiative.  The initiative aims to reduce health disparities among these populations in Philadelphia. 

According to the American Community Survey, there are 3,055 African older adults (who speak 200+ languages) and 7,083 Caribbean older adults (who speak 4+ languages) age 60 and over in Philadelphia and Delaware Counties.  The majority of these seniors are extremely isolated, both linguistically and socially.  Many are refugees from war torn countries and have experienced trauma.  They also suffer disproportionally from depression, diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease.

For more than 10 years, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), the Area Agency on Aging for the county, has worked with these communities by participating in and sponsoring health events and providing technical assistance and cultural competency training for the organizations that serve them.  Unfortunately, these efforts have not been enough.  Recognizing the need for additional staff and programming to better address these communities’ needs, PCA gathered their leaders in 2015 to discuss the health disparities facing the elder population and strategies to move forward to seek additional resources.  The group of more than 30 organizations met several times and officially formed the African and Caribbean Elder (ACE) Initiative in 2016. 

The ACE Initiative clearly expressed their desire for PCA to help them to respond to three specific needs:

  1. To connect older adults to opportunities and services that will reduce isolation and depression
  2. To introduce older adults to health resources that will combat chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension
  3. To build nonprofit capacity, specifically with respect to health information and referral

Barbara’s work contributed to the third need.  More specifically she jumpstarted creating an ACE Initiative Directory and health needs assessment.  Over the summer, Barbara compiled a list of known resources available to African and Caribbean elders in Philadelphia through designing and administering a health and resource questionnaire.  As she made contact with these community organizations via phone calls to obtain the information, Barbara noted that “communication was really slow.  Many people are volunteering their time in these informal organizations and are working full time jobs as well.” More work by a fall semester intern (if you are interested in the position you can email rspector@pcaphl.org) will be needed to verify contact information and services available in order to expand the directory.   In the coming months, a PDF version of the ACE resource directory will be distributed to those who have filled out a survey and consented to being added to the directory and new partners.  The health information that Barbara collected will also prove vital.  To date, Barbara has identified the primary health concerns for the populations and this information will be written into a report, which she will present to the ACE Initiative steering committee at its October 2016 meeting

“I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with PCA, an invaluable agency that tirelessly works towards improving the lives of older Philadelphians”

-Barbara Herzstock, PCA Intern

Barbara connected to the effort through PCA’s Planner for Policy and Program Development, who is an adjunct fellow in the Center for  Public Health Initiatives at University of Pennsylvania. 

PCA is a nonprofit organization established in 1973 to serve as the Area Agency on Aging for Philadelphia.  Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Philadelphians who are older or who have disabilities and to assist them in achieving optimum levels of health, independence and productivity.  Special consideration is given to those with social, economic and health needs.  Guided by its Board of Directors and an Advisory Council, PCA contracts with more than 200 community organizations and service providers to deliver a variety of services to more than 100,000 older Philadelphians and people with disabilities each year.  These services include: care at home; employment assistance; health promotion; home repair; advocacy; information and referral; legal assistance; home-delivered meals; protective services; senior community centers and transportation.