Community Living Campaign (CLC) works together with San Francisco neighbors to build the connections, skills, and resources we all need to age and thrive. Engaging our older adults and people with disabilities whose primary language is Cantonese or Mandarin has been part of this work since we started teaching computer classes in 2008.
During the pandemic, our Chinese-language trainers, led by Chinese Community Program Coordinator Wan He (Wanda) Liu, significantly increased the number classes and types of programming
to better meet these neighbors’ needs and interests. Jin Ying (Fiona) Ren, Cai Na (Donna) Li, Amy Yu, and Jin Ting (Leon) Zhang. These classes and activities are now consistently over-booked and we are seeking funding to further increase our capacity.
The Growth of CLC’s Chinese Community Program
CLC’s effort to serve Chinese-speaking older adults and people with disabilities has benefited from Wanda and her team’s energy and commitment. From 2008 to 2019, CLC’s Chinese language computer trainers offered training and tutoring in senior centers across the San Francisco. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, these senior centers and libraries all closed, leaving students isolated at home. Wanda and her team called their students and found that more than half did not have internet at home. Our Chinese-language team has spent the past two and half years helping individuals bridge the digital divide, a most challenging proposition as most of the students use WeChat to communicate and did not have email address or experience with sites like Zoom. The team also helped provide devices and internet access as needed. There are now over 300 Chinese-speaking neighbors who regularly participate in the over 220 hours of online training and technical assistance each month. As they developed confidence online, this growing base of students wanted more engagement. Wanda and her team responded with new activities. First were quarterly cultural celebrations, which computer training students showcasing their other skills in singing, dancing, and playing Chinese musical instruments. Students so enjoyed the early celebrations and so they asked for a singing class. After reaching 150 students in one class, we added a second one to try and meet the need. As student tech skills (and the community evolved), the cultural celebrations have evolved to include more student made videos expressing joy of the season and appreciation of their teachers. Throughout, the gratitude of participants is compelling.
Piloting Additional Classes and Activities
Last Year, the CLC Board of Directors opened a Microgrant process to staff in the organization, using a donor gift to launch. The goal was to encourage staff to identify and help address issues and
create opportunities that advance CLC’s Mission. Wanda proposed a Chinese and American Language and Cultural Exchange. The Board committee was enthusiastic about Wanda’s proposal and encouraged her to start planning. The project aims to close barriers between people of different language and cultural backgrounds, bringing people together and teaching the language and culture to one another. Each group would teach the other about their language and culture, and celebrate the cultural holiday together. Wanda has recruited volunteer ESL and Mandarin teachers plus native English-speaking colleagues. Using a combination of break-out groups on Zoom and a simple curriculum, individuals are given time to learn and to practice in small groups.
The target communities were the Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) and English-speaking seniors who are interested in learning the other language and culture. Wanda’s proposal stated her motivation for this project was “to bring the people of different culture and who speak different language together. They can learn from each other and we hope they can understand and support each other as the community”. Participants’ desire to learn the language and culture of their new home country is strong.
Wanda and a team of English tutors launched the class on Wednesday, October 12 with nearly 100 participants. With Wanda’s leadership and support from her team of Chinese language trainers and CLC colleagues, the program gained structure and more specific topics each week. This Chinese and American Language Exchange has the potential to grow beyond its current size if we can fund additional trainers. More funding and organizing support is needed to fulfill the Chinese-language team’s vision for a range of opportunities for Chinese seniors and people with disabilities.
This additional funding would enable Wanda and her team to:
- Add a part time Chinese Community Connector to coordinate in-person and virtual classes in Cantonese and Mandarin such as writing/memoir, photography and video, and other topics, as well as to ensure a range of welcoming and inclusive activities at Community Connector locations as we add back in-person activities.
- Increase the number of people who can participants in the Chinese-English Language Cultural Exchange
- Increase the levels of support for individuals seeking to keep their devices working and connected to the internet.
- Grow the staffing for the Chinese language computer and technical assistance efforts to serve more individuals in person.
- Increasing monolingual Chinese community members’ access to the Essential Trip Card, NTC Computer Program device lending, home delivered groceries, and other CLC programs through better outreach and translation.