Marie Jobling: Helping Redefine “The Good Life” for San Francisco Elders
AGE4ACTION CONTEST WINNER
Have you ever visited San Francisco? Your memories surely include the magnificent vista toward the Golden Gate Bridge, the sights and smells of Chinatown, the cable cars, Ghirardelli chocolate or even offbeat landmarks such as City Lights Bookstore.
Most visitors probably don’t know that San Francisco has California’s highest concentration of seniors and adults with disabilities. Two of every five seniors lives alone. Many survive on less than $900 a month.
Despite its image as an idyllic urban oasis, “San Francisco is a regular city,” says Marie Jobling, 60, director of the Community Living Campaign (CLC). Formed in 2006, the Campaign’s mission is to use “…the power of relationships to reduce isolation and to eliminate barriers to aging in community. We do this by strengthening networks of support for individuals and across neighborhoods—networks that promote acts of kindness and a spirit of justice.”
“Some people say that San Francisco is an expensive place to live, and if you can’t afford to live here, you should move out,” says Jobling. “But they should never forget that these are people who have lived in the city, cared for it, drove the busses, worked in the restaurants, raised the children. This is where their community is.” Jobling points to rent control and to a supply of affordable, nonprofit-run housing as factors that help. “People with very low incomes manage to live here and piece together communities of support.”
The CLC works daily to strengthen community ties to individuals. “It’s not really just about direct services, or finding out what people need. It’s about asking people what they want in their lives at this point,” says Jobling. “We’re trying to make the shift from services to understanding what it takes to make a good life.”
Filling a nutrition need might start with connecting an elder to a neighborhood food pantry. But the individual is discouraged because lines are long, and it’s hard to carry bags of groceries up a long flight of stairs. The solution: delivering food from the pantry. But the neighborhood volunteers making the delivery find a malfunctioning, unsanitary refrigerator and safety hazards in the home. Maybe the elder is preoccupied with anxiety over a life-threatening illness or the limitations of a chronic disease. Maybe they are trying to get back in touch with family and friends and don’t know how.
The Campaign has a small organizing staff and an extensive network of “community connectors” who are paid hourly. The connectors are community organizers whose main qualifications are the relationships and experience they bring from long involvement with their neighborhoods.
“We really work as friends, not volunteers,” says Jobling. “Volunteering can be a one-way street, and often doesn’t let the person you are helping give something back.” A core CLC principle is to respect the desire for reciprocity. “One woman hasn’t been able to get out of bed for two years, and it bothers her to think she can’t contribute any more. So we get her on the phone for conference calls. Her network got her an iPad so she can still to help as we plot and plan the future of our little world.”
What is the future of people aging in place in their own homes and communities? Jobling says that 80 percent of all support for elders comes from outside the formal service system—families, friends, neighbors, faith communities. Twenty percent comes from formal services provided by government or nonprofits, and it is dwindling. “Our focus is on bolstering the informal helping networks without letting government off the hook,” she says. “We just can’t say to people who’ve made contributions all their life ‘sorry, we can’t help you any more.’” Saving programs like adult day health services, which are being dismantled in California, is critical to helping families care for elders in their own homes.
Social justice and helping create more caring communities has been the focus of Jobling’s entire career. Growing up in rural California, she witnessed her mother’s compassion for people with no place to go. “She might bring someone home for dinner and help them find the help they needed,” says Jobling.
Jobling’s first community organizing internship was helping parents get a better education for their children in integrated schools. When she first moved to San Francisco, she worked with churches helping parishioners secure renters rights and fair housing practices. Later she worked for Catholic Charities of San Francisco, then for Planning for Elders in the Central City. Throughout her career, Jobling’s work has focused on both improving the day-to-day lives of people, as well as on creating beneficial systemic change. For several years, she chaired San Francisco’s Long Term Care Coordinating Council.
Mentors have been important throughout Jobling’s career. One in particular was Norma Satten, CLC’s founding president, who recently passed away. According to Jobling, Satten was a woman of extraordinary wisdom and talent. The CLC is creating a Community Service Innovation Award in Satten’s honor, with widespread support throughout the San Francisco elder/independent living communities, as well as the growing number of San Franciscans joining the community living movement.
The future? “I love what I do and, yes, I will do what I do as long as I possibly can.” It’s not just a mission, though. Jobling is still helping her adult children pay off college loans, and she has her own bills to pay. These days, she hopes to learn from her own work. “My goal is to start talking more about interdependence, not just independence. We all need to learn how to ask for help, to build around us the networks where we can keep on contributing and let others contribute to us.”
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