Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media and BVN Staff

The San Bernardino Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Commission on Social Action held a community meeting on aging recently with Susan DeMarios, Director of the California Department of Aging (CDA) and Sharon Nevins, Director of Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services.

Community members listen to government officials during a meeting on aging in San Bernardino on Thursday.

Attendees gathered in the church’s sanctuary where the discussion featured Rev. Betty Hanna Witherspoon, Associate Pastor in charge of Seniors, Rev. Noella Buchanan, Southern California Conference of the AME Church,  other ministers, including Pastor Wade Forde, 16th Street 7th Day Adventist Church, and Rev. Tommy Morrow, Pastor Victory Community Church in Upland. 

Former Assemblymember and Commission Chair Cheryl Brown spoke with community members and leaders from San Bernardino and Riverside counties about programs and resources available for older Californians and the caregivers who look after them. (photo by © Benoit Malphettes)

Others in attendance included community seniors and Social Action Commission members led by former Assemblymember and Commission Chair Cheryl Brown, who represented the 47th Assembly District in San Bernardino County from 2012 to 2016.

Brown spoke with community members and leaders from San Bernardino and Riverside counties about programs and resources available for older Californians and the caregivers who look after them.

“The state has set aside millions of dollars to help older Californians have a better quality of life through the Master Plan on Aging,” she explained to California Black Media, noting, “Caregiving is the 4th of the 5 goals established in the state’s Master Plan for Aging,” 

The role of CDA

DeMarois listened intently to what older adults said was important to them.

Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services stated “We have staff out there in the community, putting information in hands,”  and emphasized the significance of Black churches and their unique influence on Black elders in California. (source: theievoice.com).

CDA administers programs that serve older adults, adults with disabilities, family caregivers, and residents in long-term care facilities throughout the state.  It has a $450 million dollar budget and according to its Strategic Plan, CDA’s first objective is to advance Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California’s Master Plan for Aging.

Newsom’s “Master Plan for Aging” was introduced as an executive order in the summer of 2019. Conceptualized as a five-point plan, its framework encompasses housing, health, equity, caregiving “that works” and affording aging.

According to DeMarois each point of the governor’s master plan has its own budget and will be implemented over the next 8 years.

Community  concerns

During the meeting titled, “Lunch, Listen and Learn,” community members expressed their concerns and suggestions specifically related to taking care of elderly Black people in the Inland Empire. A major theme of the discussion was ensuring familiar (traditional) modes and channels of communications were being employed to reach Black elders.

Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, spoke about ways in which the county has been involved in addressing those concerns. 

St. Paul AME Pastor Steven Shepard reminded those in attendance the church, must follow the tenants of Jesus, and take care of older adults and those who are disabled. (source: stpaulamechurch.org).

“We have staff out there in the community, putting information in hands,” said Nevins.

Nevins emphasized the significance of Black churches and their unique influence on Black elders in California.

“We definitely reach out to the churches. We’ve always done that,” Sharon Nevins.

St. Paul Pastor Steven Shepard, volunteered to prepare the delicious meal and addressed the gathering by saying how significant the day was. He reminded everyone how the church must follow the tenants of Jesus

 and take care of older adults and those who are disabled. That includes feeding them in this “food desert”. As a Chef, it is Shepard’s prayer to have a commercial kitchen to feed them.

Creating a better quality of life in San Bernardino

DeMarois hailed San Bernardino as a model for the rest of the state because the county has been “meeting the needs of the whole person.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California tied with Hawaii in 2019 among the states with the nation’s highest life expectancy at an average of about 81 years.

Susan DeMarios, Director of the California Department of Aging acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches. (source: linkedin.com).

Riverside County has a life expectancy of 80.3 years and San Bernardino County has a lower expectancy at 78.8 years. It is a  primary goal to create a better quality of life for older adults to live and age well.

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process.

DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

“It’s multi-pronged,” said DeMarois. “We know in the Black community faith is a proven path.”

One of the organizations mentioned during the community meeting – an organization that DeMarois claims she took note of – is the Inland Empire Pastor’s Association.

DeMarois expressed the need for the state and local agencies to implement “coordinated strategies” to approach challenges facing the state’s aging population.