(Photo by Albert Hong)
Im Ja Choi, the founder and CEO of Penn Asian Senior Services (PASSi), wanted a mural to adorn the side of the home health agency’s new building in Oak Lane, and she wanted it to show the more lively and beautiful side of aging.
The completed Mural Arts piece, which was dedicated in a ceremony last Wednesday to align with the Korean Thanksgiving holiday, contains a special element for Choi: a painting of her mother that shows her dancing a traditional Korean fan dance.
“Actually, she never danced in her life but she loved to watch other people fan dance,” Choi admitted to the crowd seated in front of the just-completed mural, titled “Longevity through the Arts.”
That tiny inclusion was a way of honoring her mother, who inspired Choi to start PASSi in 2004, which she said was the first Asian American-focused home health agency in all of Pennsylvania. Back then, when Choi’s mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer, Choi found it difficult to find caregivers who could cater to her mother’s specific needs, be it language or cultural preferences, so she left her full-time job to take care of her mother.
Choi’s mother passed away in 2010 but PASSi as an organization has continued to grow, expanding its services and programs to provide full-scope adult daycare programs, including arts programming, to more than 800 people annually, as well as taking on bilingual and multilingual staff to be able to serve other ethnicities such as Chinese and Vietnamese seniors.
“Active, healthy aging” is a core focus behind Choi’s vision for PASSi, said Development Director Fallon Every, and helped PASSi and Choi the 2017 Excellence in Ageing Services Award from the Global Ageing Network at its conference this year in Switzerland. The conference, which takes place every two years, hosted more than 1,450 professionals representing more than 20 countries and six continents.
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The nonprofit was recognized partially because of its intergenerational impact via vocational programs such as home health and nurse aide trainings.
Fourteen Asian languages are spoken among the seniors at PASSi.
Every said PASSi has trained more than 1,000 people with its vocational school programs, and some of the program participants have been offered jobs at PASSi. At times, it’s the family members of senior clientele who are being trained, which PASSi especially values because that person is already able to speak the language of that senior: As of right now, 14 Asian languages are spoken among the seniors at PASSi.
“This is non-skilled care but even the idea of home care and adult day care isn’t really a concept in the different Asian cultures, so to introduce that and to explain to them that there is help available [is important],” Every said.
And the intergenerational connotations in the mural go beyond just Choi’s mother, pointing to the need for there to be more consideration overall for our more older folks that make up Philly’s population.
Even the mural artist, Ann Northrup, took it upon herself to include her own mother in the mural by having her paint the birds that are scattered throughout the piece. The center of the mural shows an older adult and a child working together to fold a paper crane, inspired by an actual photo taken by Yong Heo, a local photographer from the Korea Week Inc. newspaper.
“When some people think about aging, they think of it as a sad experience while you’re degenerating,” Every said. Instead, Choi “sees our seniors as so active and having so much energy so she wanted that point to get across, that aging can be like a happy experience.”