by Tai Bacani and Cathy Gorman
Through the pandemic, SAGE-RI has been able to grow, adapt, and reflect on who we are as an organization and the possibilities for SAGE-RI’s future. We learned early on in the pandemic that continuing our work would be essential because the population we serve, older LGBT adults, faced greater health threats from COVID-19 and social isolation. Within a month’s time we converted the in-person LGBT Cafe to a virtual Zoom gathering, creating an option for social interaction. In response to feedback from constituents, a weekly schedule was set to offer peer support and share information about community resources. Thus, the SAGE-RI Zoom Cafe was created, continuing to meet weekly on Thursdays at noon with the primary goal of socialization.
Every week a presentation is offered by an LGBT organization or a group that works with older adults. As part of our summer program, every other Thursday, we are showing short LGBT created films with the filmmaker as a guest. In addition to hearing from our local LGBT organizations, over fifty representatives of community based health care, social service, and senior service agencies have provided information about their programs. According to national surveys, older LGBT adults do not receive equitable access to senior services. The SAGE-RI Cafe provides a vehicle for addressing this issue. We gratefully acknowledge AARP-Rhode Island for sponsoring the SAGE-RI Café, for contributing valuable information about local and national efforts to improve the circumstances of older adults, and for being such a loyal ally.
In 2019, training workshops supported by the Rhode Island Foundation through the Equity Action fund were held in-person. The second series, “Promoting Quality of Care for LGBT Older Adults,” planned for the spring of 2020 was postponed until fall and held virtually to address priority topics including HIV and aging, transgender issues, and caregiving issues.
SAGE-RI also successfully completed a Tufts Health Plan Foundation-funded focus group project surveying the needs and concerns of LGBT older adults residing in various regions of RI. Initially planned as small group meetings, the transition to a virtual format presented both challenges and opportunities. The results of this effort led to invaluable information and to a Fall 2020 series of “Lunch and Learn” programs addressing priority needs. Ongoing efforts are focused on helping to create more LGBT-welcoming senior services.
SAGE-RI applied for and received an award from SAGE/USA to address racial equity issues, and is in the process of working with a consultant to ensure the organization achieves results in addressing equity and diversity issues. SAGE-RI is committed to becoming more inclusive, and better prepared to engage membership and leadership representative of our entire community. This commitment will inform outreach efforts going forward.
During COVID, the SAGE-RI Steering Committee focused on organizational development, engaging in a capacity-building effort supported by a grant from the RI Foundation. With an excellent consultant to lead us through this task, we reviewed policies and procedures, and looked at our strengths and weaknesses. We arrived at a restructuring of our organization, realigned our priorities, and created a clear plan for our future. SAGE-RI is now an even stronger nonprofit because of it. Currently, we are continuing our work in educating people working with LGBT older people, hosting our weekly SAGE Zoom Cafes, and doing advocacy work. We are in the midst of a membership drive and seek qualified candidates to work on the board and to join committees. For more information about SAGE-RI, please email us at SAGERIinfo@gmail.com.