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PROJECT VISIBILITY

PRESENTED AT THE OLOC GATHERING 2006

Emily Lewis

Emily Lewis

BY EMILY LEWIS, 65

Seven years ago Boulder County Aging Services Division (BCASD) recognized that one under-served segment of the older adult population in Boulder County Colorado was the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) older adult.

First, there was a need to acknowledge the existence of older LGBTs from service providers. At that time, LGBT older adults were virtually “invisible” in the county. Secondly, there was a need to provide training to cultivate a more sensitive and aware aging services system in the county.

Project Visibility as a training program grew out of these needs. Project Visibility puts a “face” on aging as an LGBT, and subsequently brings a new awareness of how to provide culturally-competent care to the older LGBT. The training is comprised of a 20-minute locally produced documentary film that showcases the lives of older LGBTs. (A number of OLOC members in the Colorado area were interviewed in the film.)The PowerPoint presentation, manual and tool-kit provide research data, tips, and other materials to further educate the provider.

The history of Project Visibility can be traced back to September 2000 when BCASD along with Longmont Senior Services jointly established the first Colorado publicly-funded support group for the LGBT Elder Community in Boulder County. When the group, now known as the Rainbow Elders, first met only two persons attended. It has now grown to over 100 members sponsoring activities and events designed for older LGBT adults.

Teresa De Anni, then the Aging Services Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator, sought to identify the needs of the older LGBT community in Boulder County. She established a task force, AGLE (Advocates of GLBT Elders). This was an advisory board to BCASD whose mission was to identify and plan programs to meet the needs of Older LGBTs in Boulder County. I became a volunteer member of the AGLE advisory board.

It was out of AGLE that the need for a sensitivity training like Project Visibility was identified. To find out what LGBT elders in our community needed, focus groups were held around the county. Those LGBT elders who participated were not certain where to turn if they should need services. They expressed a concern about the level of sensitivity and awareness of staff at facilities and agencies. There was a general hesitancy to reach out for help. If they did accept help or enter a facility to live, they often chose not to speak about their lives for fear of discrimination, neglect, and/or violence.

In response to these expressed needs the first edition of Silver Lining, A Resource Guide for Boulder County Elder LGBT Community was published in 2003. Although happy with the product, BCASD wanted to be sure that those entities listed really did understand how to provide service to this population. Hence, the development of Project Visibility began.

BCASD continues to offer the trainings and manuals to participants free of charge. Funding for the video and trainings came from local foundations, including the Open Door Fund, a fund of the Boulder Community Foundation; the Theodore and Chandos Rice Charitable Foundation (local to Boulder County); the Aging Services Foundation of Boulder County, the charitable arm of Boulder County Aging Services Division plus numerous private donors.

The film was unveiled in August of 2004 and the first general training took place in October of 2004. I came on board Aging Services on a part time hourly basis as the Project Visibility Trainer in October of 2004. Since that time Project Visibility Trainings have been held throughout Boulder County, the State of Colorado and the US. Project Visibility has also been taken to a number of conferences including the 2005 National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance and the American Society on Aging 2006 conference.

In our recent outcomes measurement survey over 90% of respondents indicated that they had recommended the training to others. About 75% responded that the training had raised their awareness of LGBT elder issues and at least two-thirds had changed their agency policies and personal interactions with older adults based on what they had learned in a Project Visibility training.

In 2007 Project Visibility will remain one of the components of Boulder County’s Aging Service’s Wellness Services for older adults. While there are a number of other LGBT sensitivity training programs around the country Project Visibility is the first and only one, so far, developed by a government agency. Most recently Project Visibility was the winner of two national awards. It received the 2006 n4a (National Association of Area Agencies on Aging) Aging Innovation Award for Ethnic and Cultural Diversity and the 2006 NACo (National Association of counties) Innovation Achievement Award.

You can learn more about these awards, Project Visibility trainings and how to purchase the video by visiting the Project Visibility web site: www.projectvisibility.org.

In 2006 Project Visibility was a recipient of a Gill matching grant. The Gill Foundation will match dollar for dollar every contribution. To donate to this fund you can send a check made out to the Aging Services Foundation of Boulder. In the memo line write glbt or gill grant donation. Send checks to Aging Services Foundation, PO Box 471, Boulder CO 80306.

If you have any other questions you can direct them to elewis@bouldercounty.org.

 

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