When Carla Alvarado’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she faced the fact that her father’s illness might also mark the end of her career as a specialist in student disabilities at Santa Monica College. Isidro Alvarado, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2010, was no longer able to remain alone in his home by 2013.Carla, however, was referred to the Adult Day Care Service Center at WISE & Healthy Aging in Santa Monica. She and her father toured the facility and enrolled in the program.

Now nine years later, Isidro, 84, is lovingly cared for while Carla is at work.“A lot of people who have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease take a leave of absence from work or stop working to care for their loved one,” Carla says. “That was going to be my next choice.” The center’s experts helped her realize she had other options.

Enrolling her father in adult day care resulted in a solution that benefited everyone. “The people at WISE & Healthy Aging have so much love for all the people who attend the center,” Carla says. “I’m able to go to work and not have to worry.” Over the years, WISE & Healthy Aging has also assisted Carla with other aspects of caregiving. “I’ve never found a place that focuses on so many different aspects of what is needed for my dad,” she says.

The needs of the Alvarado family are exactly what the leaders at Saint John’s Health Center Foundation had in mind when they awarded WISE & Healthy Aging a 2022 grant from the CIF. Grace Cheng Braun, president and chief executive officer of WISE & Healthy Aging, says the agency and Providence Saint John’s Health Center have been partners for almost 50 years, dating back to the agency’s founding.

I’m particularly touched by this year’s grant because this is our 50th year of service, and through all of this, Saint John’s has been with us,” Braun says. “Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka, the former president and chief executive officer of Saint John’s, was there with us from the beginning. She was instrumental in encouraging the grassroots movement that led to WISE & Healthy Aging. ”She adds, “Over the years there has always been Saint John’s grant support to reach those seniors or caregivers who are of limited financial means, and resources to help them with case management and access of services.

”THE COVID-19 IMPACT Today the nonprofit organization, which serves older adults residing in either long-term care facilities or their own homes, has more demands than ever as society emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides offering a range of programs to seniors via a 78-person staff, WISE & Healthy Aging provides ombudsman services and elderly abuse prevention in the city and county of Los Angeles.

The pandemic took a unique and costly toll on seniors, Cheng Braun says. The death toll was highest among older adults. Many other seniors became more isolated during the pandemic. “When COVID-19 hit, the elderly were severely impacted because they are one of the most at-risk populations,” she says. “Our ombudsman and elder abuse work went into high gear. We worked with families to advocate for them when they called us over issues such as the rights of families during lockdowns and what facilities could and could not do during COVID.

”The Santa Monica-based organization also quickly pivoted to deal with restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. They began offering drive-through and home-delivery meal programs. They moved exercise groups and book clubs to Zoom. They counseled overburdened caregivers. “The major issues we were dealing with were social isolation and food insecurity,” she says.

GIVING SENIORS CONTROLWISE & Healthy Aging is unique in its thoughtful emphasis on providing its clients with choices to help them make decisions for themselves, Cheng Braun says. The organization serves older adults at all stages of their lives—from preretirement through the elder years. It receives income from private-paying clients as well as government, corporate and philanthropic sources. WISE & Healthy Aging includes a division that investigates claims of elder abuse and neglect, advocates for the rights of seniors in long-term care facilities, offers adult day care in Santa Monica and Woodland Hills, and provides multiple programs to aid seniors and caregivers.

These programs include peer counseling, mobility services, transportation services, and helping seniors complete paperwork for health insurance, the Cal Fresh supplemental nutrition assistance program and other services they may be eligible to receive. Many seniors desire to remain in their homes as long as possible, Cheng Braun says. “When I look at nonprofits that serve seniors, many will emphasize independence. I think, in some ways, that’s misleading. It’s not about maintaining independence or having more independence. It’s about giving older adults a sense that they still control their lives and have choices.

The reality is that very few are able to stay fully independent toward the end of their life journey. We want to help coordinate all the resources out there to support the individual to have good quality of life in their homes. At whatever point that is not feasible, they have a choice at looking at other options. ”Seniors, however, are sometimes reluctant to ask for help, and society can sometimes overlook their needs, she says. “Our society is focused on bringing forth and giving opportunities to the next generation. It’s interesting that our older adults or seniors are some of the strongest advocates for youth and children. They are often quite humble and make do with what they have. We are also a society that looks to do for ourselves.

This notion for independence comes back to bite us. ”The flexibility and range of services provided by WISE & Healthy Aging can break through some of those barriers. The CIF grants help support some of the programs that might otherwise falter in times of funding shortages, she says. “Saint John’s has always had this deep value of community service and taking care of the vulnerable, whether it’s children or the elderly. We’ve been very fortunate to benefit from this over the years,” Cheng Braun says. “In times of government funding cuts to our programs, CIF has helped augment our programs to help us serve more. We have been very grateful to receive this ongoing funding.”