CARA Education Fund Mobilizes Elders to Advocate for a More Secure Future
We all deserve to age with dignity and health. Yet, for a large majority of our country’s older population, that reality is out of reach. A growing number of elders struggle with basic needs such as health care, housing, transportation, food, and caregiving.
Metta Fund believes that inclusive movement building and advocacy is needed to drive lasting change on these issues. To expand power in historically underrepresented communities, Metta Fund partners with advocacy grantees like the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA)’s Education Fund. A statewide nonprofit, CARA is a grassroots elder advocacy organization that unites retired workers and community groups to fight for social and economic justice, civil rights, and a better, more secure future.
“I come from generations of educators and ministers. We didn’t realize that the system is set up against us. I know the difficulties – to be a senior in this wonderful country. We have to fight for benefits for all.”
For the past 16 years, the CARA Education Fund – the educational arm of CARA – has provided training, education, and leadership development programs for older adults in California. Through this approach, CARA aims to increase grassroots leadership, build alliances, and develop a strong community organizing model to bring a powerful elder voice to the table.
One of CARA’s most active members is Ms. Pauline Brooks, who also serves as the organization’s President. At her first CARA meeting 18 years ago, she attended on behalf of a union colleague when the content piqued her interest. From that moment forward, she became a devoted member, advocating for the rights of elders.
In alignment with Metta’s priorities, CARA focuses on educating and organizing older adults to engage in systems change activities, using an equity lens. To that end, CARA Ed Fund provides educational and advocacy trainings and 17 monthly, regionally-based chapter meetings (CATs) to keep members engaged on critical issues and policies that directly affect them.
Notably, during the height of the pandemic CARA was able to influence key decisions such as crisis care standards, protesting the state’s practice of sending folks from acute care to nursing homes; helping develop vaccine protocols; and engaging older adults to inform the Master Plan on Aging – now supporting the implementation of some of the recommendations in that plan. These efforts changed the conversations and helped to refocus and prioritize the needs of older adults in California.
“All elders deserve to retire and live in dignity. We are leaving our seniors behind and that’s not right.” – Dee Rosario, Board Director of the CARA Ed Fund
Dee has been a CARA member since 2013, following retirement. As a former union member, he believes it’s important to fight for people who don’t have pensions. He cares deeply about protecting Social Security and advocating for Medicare for all.
In the past few years, matters of equity compounded challenges for elders from marginalized communities and the importance of digital inclusion was one issue that rose to the forefront. The CARA Ed Fund quickly sought to address this inequity by hosting trainings that engaged and organized older adults around advocacy related to connectivity, device access, and abilities. It was also during these virtual meetings that they started a tradition of singing songs of solidarity and justice, reminding members that they are all part of a larger community and movement. They found that singing for change inspired them, gave them hope, and provided social connection during difficult times. While the pandemic aggravated the problem of loneliness and isolation that many older adults already experienced, CARA’s services helped bridge the digital divide.
Most recently, the CARA Ed Fund’s proudest accomplishment includes connecting with 400 older adults each month through local CARA action teams. While these meetups were virtual, members reported greater purpose and direction. At these meetings, members also met with elected officials and advocated for solutions to help deal with the residual impact of the pandemic.
Another recent highpoint was their in-person Alameda Chapter gathering in December, where they continued the sing-along tradition that started during the pandemic. Member Hali Hammer, who has led the sing-alongs, hosted the December CARA Chapter meeting at her home. About a dozen members, several board members, and CARA’s President, Ms. Pauline Brooks, were able to join. The event began with folks sharing CARA Ed Fund’s priorities for the coming year and concluded with a joyful chorus of organizing-inspiring lyrics that served as a rallying cry.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to reimagine our future and build back better,” said Jodi Reid, CARA’s Executive Director. Pauline Brooks, Dee Rosario, Hali Hammer, and all of CARA Education Fund’s members are more motivated than ever to carry on the good fight for justice and equity for elders. They have big goals set out for 2023, CARA’s 20th year, and plan to continue to amplify the voices of elders.
One song sheet at time.
Photos by Hasain Rasheed with the exception of lead photo of Ms. Brooks and group shot of CARA members, which are courtesy of CARA