older adults are leading change


Immigrant elders leading change for their communities


In 2006, as the first of the baby boomers began turning 60, much of the national conversation was about predicted crises in Social Security, Medicare, and services for retired individuals. California Community Foundation, however, saw an opportunity. As a champion of community-driven problem solving in Los Angeles County since 1915, the Foundation engages residents as leaders and supports them in developing solutions that improve their communities. In the coming wave of older adults, the Foundation recognized a vast pool of talent, experience, and energy.

The older population of L.A. is already so large that the city and county each have a Department of Aging. Nearly a quarter of L.A. County residents—more than 2.2 million people—are over age 55. What would it take to empower this resource? What would be possible if we applied older adults’ knowledge and skills, tapped into their motivations, lifted up their ideas, and channeled their energies into action?

The Foundation joined the Community Experience Partnership, a national initiative of The Atlantic Philanthropies dedicated to mobilizing older adults to create change that strengthens communities, and quickly brought a unique lens to the work. L.A. is home to one of the largest urban and suburban concentrations of immigrants in the nation—nearly one in three people. The county’s immigrant communities face special challenges, but also include a substantial proportion of the boomer-aged population. In many immigrant communities, elders hold a unique position of influence and respect. “The conversation around baby boomer engagement often centers on mainstream, well-to-do professionals,” notes Gabriele Burkard, who served as the program officer at California Community Foundation during the project. “A large part of the population in L.A. doesn’t fit that, but they have a lot to offer.”

The Foundation set out to demonstrate the benefits of mobilizing low-income, immigrant older adults to tackle community issues by creating a new multi-year effort, which they called Engaging Immigrant Boomers for L.A.’s Future. Their goal was to build a model that would deliver real benefits to the community and be viable across immigrant communities of diverse national backgrounds, life experience, and educational attainment. Ultimately, the Foundation showed that engaging experienced adults is a powerful strategy for addressing a wide range of common challenges in immigrant communities, including lack of access to services, social isolation, marginalization, obesity and chronic disease, and illiteracy.




  • Los Angeles County, California
  • Total population = 10 million
  • 55+ population = 2.2 million (22%)


  • 119 low-income, immigrant older adult volunteers trained to be community leaders
  • 5,907 contributed hours valued at $146,198
  • 221 outreach events or activities conducted, reaching 138,773 residents
  • Increased engagement of low-income older adults, leading to stronger communities, greater community capacity to respond to needs, and greater access to and use of available services
  • Replicable training model for engaging older adult immigrants to address different community needs