Reciprocity in Learning

Posted on: May 7, 2024San Francisco

Hi everyone! My name is Natalie (They/She) and I am currently serving at the Curry Senior Center as their Senior Vitality Assistant. Curry Senior Center aims to provide holistic care, dignity and community to older adults in the Tenderloin. Curry serves as a well-rounded resource to access healthcare, case managers, health education, technology support, and community programming offered for different affinity groups - LGBTQ, ethnicity, hobby, etc. I spend my time helping to support a few different programs at Curry and connecting with clients around the Tenderloin (TL), which is meaningful to me since I was born and raised in San Francisco.

Here Natalie is seen handing a client a cabbage during food distribution. Client has been cropped out for privacy. I primarily work with the Senior Vitality program, which aims to increase older adults' access to the digital world, improve health and reduce isolation. Senior Vitality grew out of a need expressed by older adults in staying connected as our world continues to move forward with technology and online services. We focus on connecting older adults to the outside world and essential services through technology. For example, we connect them to loved ones far away over FaceTime, social media and Zoom. They are taught how to access healthcare, digital resources and entertainment. Senior Vitality focuses on teaching older adults self-sufficiency and autonomy on the digital device and empowering them with the tools to continue using their iPad beyond the program. Beyond the program's primary goals, I have witnessed how the Senior Vitality program creates a space for continual learning, routine, and connection that enriches life for participants.

I also serve with the Wellness Department at Curry with their grocery distribution program, health education classes and garden club. Curry provides social programming for older adults where they attend groups based on their interests. Garden club culminates in older adults from places all over the world sharing a lifetime of knowledge about plants. 

Curry’s Consumer Advisory Panel (CAP) is composed of active members of Curry Senior Center who give feedback on changes happening at Curry and within the TL. My role is to support the group by facilitating conversations and bringing information, news and resources to the group. While I help support their advocacy by being a connecting force to other entities in the Tenderloin and beyond, the CAP board is fundamentally community-led and centers the voices of residents. People who live in the Tenderloin deserve agency because they have historically been systemically disempowered and infantilized by both city government and outside organizations. .

A group of older adults meeting outside of Curry Senior Center, on their way to a field trip. Overall, the most meaningful thing I have been involved with at Curry is relationship building and learning to work with clients. Curry presents a unique opportunity where I get to work with these clients consistently and build rapport over time. My most meaningful days are spent doing home visits to provide help and company, calls with clients to check in, or growing my Cantonese language skills with our Cantonese speaking Senior Vitality group. I am both enriched and challenged by the proximity to Cantonese speakers, which I haven't had since my early schooling. When I can be helpful to a Cantonese speaking client it feels very meaningful to me as a person descended from the Chinese diaspora to help my community access crucial social services. I try my hardest to pick up new phrases, I fail at translating sometimes and I might be learning more than I am actually helping, but there is mutual patience and gratitude in a face that looks like yours.

Being at Curry has allowed me to spend time around elders who have lived history of what feels like ancestral lineage. Seeing their lifetimes in fruition, the history personified, the pride and self-assurance, seeing what queerness looks like in hundreds of different forms developed over time–time that is radical when acknowledging historic and present systemic violence against LGBTQ+ folks. It feels like I am experiencing strength coming from non-biological ancestors. I feel this with  the Chinese elders in Senior Vitality, as I feel it with the elders in our gay men’s group, Lunch Bunch, our lesbian/queer women's group, W.O.W, and Ageless, our trans and gender non-conforming group. I carry a lot of gratitude in the spaces and communities I get to access because of this position. Some of the biggest things I have learned are from informal knowledge passed down to me as I figure out how to navigate my own life, my own Chinese background and my queerness.  I am grateful for all that I learn about moving with intention and patience from the elders I serve. I am grateful to be in the Tenderloin.

About the Author:




Position Title

Senior Vitality Assistant

Where are you from?

I am born and raised as a third generation San Francisco resident on unceded Ohlone- Ramaytush land.

Why did you decide to join NHC?

Host Site

333 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
333 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA 94102