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ALMOST 40 YEARS’ EXPERIENCE IMPROVING HISPANIC OLDER ADULTS’ QUALITY OF LIFE

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The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) was first conceived in the late 1970s by a group of Hispanic researchers, educators, and services providers to enhance Hispanic older adults’ quality of life by identifying and addressing their unique needs and the issues of most critical impact. In 1980, NHCOA was incorporated in Denver with sociologist Daniel Gallegos as its Provisional President. Initially designed as a chapter organization, NHCOA was soon deluged with requests for trainings and information from service providers working with older adults across the country.

During its first decade, NHCOA worked arduously to identify and address Hispanic older adults’ most pressing needs while raising operational funds and building a small yet solid human infrastructure. Board of Directors President Marta Sotomayor led the organization through these challenging first years – first on a volunteer basis and later as Executive Director. By the end of its first decade, NHCOA had established itself as a valuable and unique community resource. The organization expanded to eight chapters with a mandate to concentrate on local advocacy, and fielded many requests from service providers for information and capacity-building trainings. The young organization also began regularly publishing an informative research-based newsletter called Noticias.

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During the 1990s, NHCOA faced and overcame a series of challenges— including the elimination of traditional funding sources and Social Security reform, which made many Hispanic seniors dependent on local agencies and organizations for support— as well as the complexities of trying to provide affordable housing for seniors. After a long and difficult process, NHCOA was able to purchase and develop two senior housing facilities, one in Washington, D.C. and one in Garden City, Kansas, with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. NHCOA also developed an internal think-tank, which established the organization as the foremost expert on issues surrounding Hispanic elders and their families. In 1999, the organization ended its second decade of existence by hosting its first annual national conference in Houston, TX with 800 attendees.

In the mid-2000s, NHCOA evolved to become an affiliate-based organization. Under the new leadership of Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO, and María Eugenia Hernández-Lane, Vice President, NHCOA began building and supporting a network of independent affiliates throughout the country as well as continue its annual national conferences, which has become a benchmark event in terms of high-quality information sharing, allows aging professionals and older adults to analyze current challenges and seek opportunities to create and promote positive change.

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NHCOA’s leadership also created a Business Advisory Council to provide strategic guidance in accessing the experience and support of the private sector and built new public-private partnerships which has allowed the organization to expand its funding and outreach.

As the organization approaches its fourth decade of existence, NHCOA has established groundbreaking programs targeting older adults and their families, health care providers, media, local health departments and other public agencies, and academic institutions, among others.

NHCOA not only works to improve the quality of life for Hispanic seniors—it focuses on bringing out the best in the Hispanic community to empower seniors and their families, and therefore ensure our abuelitos and abuelitas fully enjoy their golden years.