Highlighting the ongoing advocacy of Common Ground Health’s Senior Adult Community Engagement project, local officials proclaimed September BIPOC/Black and Brown Senior Month during a ceremony Sept. 16 at City Hall.

Participating in the event were Registered Nurse Phyllis Jackson, community wellness project manager at Common Ground Health; State Senator Samra Brouk; Monroe County Executive Adam Bello; Rochester Mayor Malik Evans; Rochester Councilman Michael Patterson; Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health; Ann Marie Cook, CEO of Lifespan; and Florence Clemmons, Curbside Market manager for Foodlink.

“Ordinary BIPOC/Black and Brown seniors are doing extraordinary work every day,” said Jackson, who leads the SACE project for Common Ground Health. “However, their contributions and voices are rarely recognized. SACE is determined to change that.”

The SACE Project is a group of senior adults of color from diverse educational, health and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many participated in a health research project conducted by the University of Rochester, Common Ground Health and other community partners to educate senior adults of color in the basics of health research. It provided them the skills to collect, evaluate, and utilize data; participate in clinical and community-based research; and become managers of their own health and healthcare.

The SACE Project elevates the senior adult voice, particularly those of Black and Brown seniors, to a place of value and inclusion in every area of community engagement that affects seniors, their families and their caregivers/providers.

“We do something very special for our children and grandchildren when we pour the wisdom of their elders into them,” said Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health. Turning to the SACE members, he said, “That’s what you all have been doing with health planning. You have been pouring your wisdom into it.”

SACE members have contributed to efforts including COVID education, SAGE II commission efforts, senior mental health, general health literacy, food access, combatting social isolation and pushing for safe, adaptable and affordable housing for seniors.

Clemmons of Foodlink spoke about the role that SACE members and others have played in serving as ambassadors of the Curbside Market for their fellow residents of senior housing complexes. She said this work is helping to fight food insecurity among seniors.

According to Feeding America, before the COVID-19 pandemic, 5.3 million seniors across the country were considered food insecure, meaning they had limited or insecure access to healthy food. Due to economic disruption, the pandemic also increased food insecurity rates. During the pandemic, according to a 2021 New York State Health Foundation survey, 21 percent of food-insecure New Yorkers delayed or skipped medical care to pay for food and 13 percent of food-insecure New Yorkers did not purchase prescription medications so they could put food on the table.

“We want to make sure we meet the seniors where they are,” Clemmons said. “We know that they are in wheelchairs and have mobility issues. We know that some are at a point where they are homebound. They will not come out, especially during this pandemic, and so there’s a lot of suffering in silence.”