In an effort to help seniors get around San Francisco safely, a nonprofit group is expanding a program that escorts older Chinatown residents in the wake of attacks on Asian Americans.
While Self-Help for the Elderly’s existing program, originally slated to last three months, has already offered some Asian American seniors peace of mind in light of recent attacks, it will now run at least six months and expand to include all seniors in San Francisco.
“In our experience, simply having a senior escort virtually eliminates the threat of violence, but our escorts are ready to respond to situations to de-escalate tension and call police if needed,” said Anni Chung, the president of Self-Help for the Elderly.
Alex Chang, who was born and raised in San Francisco, said that volunteering was a way for him to get back in touch with his Asian culture.
In many Asian families, grandparents are often the ones who care for their grandchildren, Chang said. Particularly amid attacks against Asian Americans, he wanted to help.
“In my eyes, it’s scary enough as it is for our senior citizens just to go out because of COVID,” said Chang, 33, an accountant. “Then you add another layer, with almost something scarier, where you can be attacked. I just think it’s ridiculous, and so that’s why I decided to start volunteering.”
He noted that the program, which began offering its services in April, is still quite new, and that they are in the process of recruiting more volunteers to extend its reach.
As a result of the attacks, the city funded the program with $30,000 earlier in the year. A $60,000 donation from real estate management company Veritas Investments and CEO Yat-Pang Au’s family will keep the program running for another six months.
The firm also converted more than 300 leasing signs on its apartment buildings to read “Stop Asian Hate” and “Dial 911 to Report Hate.” The signs include a QR code that, when scanned, leads to a page on the Veritas website with links to anti-Asian hate resources.
“With this major donation from Veritas and the Au family, we want seniors to know they can end their 15 months of being cooped up inside, and get back to everyday life,” said Chung.
The program has already made a difference in some seniors’ lives. On Jan. 1, five elderly Asian American women had their purses stolen during their regular 8 a.m. tai chi practice at Yerba Buena Gardens. In the months following the incident, the seniors stopped attending practice because they were scared, said Yim Fong Wong, who helped them file a police report and is a client of the program herself.
With the help of the volunteers, the seniors have been able to resume their daily exercise routines. Last week, they finally felt safe enough to attend their first tai chi practice at the park in months. The group was accompanied by two trained volunteers: one to watch over their personal belongings, and another to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior.
For Wong, it was an emotional reunion.
“We hadn’t really seen each other in the past year or so,” Wong said in Cantonese. “Seeing each other again, and practicing tai chi together with that entire group of 10 or 20 seniors — we’re filled with so much gratitude and happiness.”
Those interested in volunteering should call Self-Help for the Elderly at (415) 677-7600 or visit their website at www.selfhelpelderly.org.