SAGECare OnAir: LGBT Inclusion with Carola Cardenas

Carola Cardenas – Aldersgate OnAir

Carola: Hi. This is Carola Cardenas, and you’re listening to Aldersgate OnAir.

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Mike: Welcome back, friends, to Aldersgate OnAir. It’s been a while since we’ve been together and we’re excited to be back on the air with you and ready to kick this new year off with style. While many things have changed in the world since the last time we spoke, I can tell you with 100% certainty that what hasn’t happened changed is Aldersgate’s ongoing commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. That’s why we wanted to come out of the gate at full stride in 2022 by discussing a topic that often doesn’t get the coverage it deserves. That, my friends, is the world of LGBT advocacy and how it ties into Aldersgate’s mission to honor elders.

Today’s guest is Carola Cardenas, Aldersgate’s chief diversity, inclusion, and equity officer. Carola’s passion for this topic shines brightly, and she honored us with an informative discussion about the already legendary LGBT advocacy organization known as SAGE and how becoming SAGE certified and credentialed has opened up new doors and paved the way for more meaningful conversations between staff, residents, and their families, as well as more inclusivity and increased preparedness for an evolving demographic. Not surprisingly, Aldersgate is one of only a handful of organizations to reach the pinnacle of SAGE credentials, further enabling them to lead the charge for LGBT advancement in the industry.

But that’s enough from me. Let’s hear from the expert. Hi, Carola. Welcome to Aldersgate OnAir. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’m very excited to talk to you.

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Carola: Hi, Mike. I’m really excited to be here with you, and I’m excited to start this off.

Mike: Yeah. You know I’ve been hearing a lot about SAGE and SAGE care, and I’m excited to share this conversation with the world. But before we do, if you wouldn’t mind sharing a little bit of your background with us, tell us about your role at Aldersgate and how you came to join this amazing team.

Carola: Yes. I am the chief diversity, inclusion, equity officer here in Aldersgate, and I have the opportunity to engage with the residents, staff, and the community to really create an atmosphere that is welcoming and that lets people feel that they belong. I came to Aldersgate about four months ago. I had been with the Y for 17 years, and I really wanted to focus on my passion. I had done some work through a community-building initiative, and I really just fell in love with this body of work.

Mike: Yeah. They’re an amazing team. Thank you so much for sharing that.

Aldersgate is, of course, known for their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. Our topic today really does tie right into that. With that being said, please tell us about SAGE. Who are they?

Carola: Yes, so SAGE is an organization here in the United States. SAGE stands for Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders. It’s the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults.

We got engaged with SAGE probably around four years ago. SAGE, what they do is that they give us some training, some tools, and some guidance to be able to be welcoming to LGBT elders. Through this, we have been able to acquire certification, so SAGE is an organization that any company – typically, it’s hospitals that get SAGE certified – go through this process.

Mike: What does it mean to be? I believe they refer to it as credentials. What are the benefits of going through that process and achieving that credential?

Carola: When you achieve the credentials, it gives you access to be on their platform. Let’s say that an LGBT elder wants to know where they can go to the hospital or if there is a retirement community that they can be a part of, (through a social worker) they would be guided to go to the sageusa.org website. They would be able to find different resources and places that would welcome them.

We are on there. We are the only life plan services in North Carolina, one of the few of the country, that have obtained this credential, and we also get the opportunity to have consultants. I meet with consultants monthly. I’m able to get education that is cutting edge to the industry standards of what is expected for LGBT elders. And I’m able to then teach our staff and educate our staff so that they can have the tools that they need to be successful in their role.

Mike: What kind of training and education is out there through SAGE? What are some of the things that you go through to make sure you’re able to provide these tools?

Carola: At least 80% of our staff – and we have about 600 staff members – have to go through the SAGE training annually. The training will educate them on how to engage with not just the elders but also family members.

Many of the elders who are not LGBT may have family members who are. And so, what we don’t want is we don’t want inappropriate conversations. We don’t want a staff member to ask an elder, a resident, “Is that your daughter? Is she with her friend?” and make assumptions or make them feel awkward.

We want to just suspend judgment, and that takes a lot of training, unfortunately, because we are all creatures of habit, and we all make assumptions every day, every moment of our waking hours.

Mike: And sometimes our curiosity (just by nature) gets the best of us, right?

Carola: That is so true. Yes.

Mike: The interactive part of this where staff and residents are really kind of guided towards the proper mechanisms on how to approach, how to talk, or just how to observe is really the majority of what the training encompasses. Correct?

Carola: That is correct. It also goes through a revision of our onboarding process, not just to the staff but also the onboarding process for our residents. It is again not making any assumptions. We’re not asking when an individual comes in and registers.

Our application doesn’t say spouse or it doesn’t say words that may encapsulate certain relationships. But it might be that we ask open-ended questions, so, “Who is someone who is important in your life?” We let the resident explain to us who that person is because, in some cases, you may not want your daughter or your child to be making your end-of-life decisions. It may be that you want your life partner (whoever that is), whether you are married legally or not, to make that life decision for you, that end-of-life decision. And so, those are the conversations that we have with our elders as they are being onboard onto our campus.

Mike: Okay. Are there varying levels of certifications and credentials, different tiers, or anything like that?

Carola: Yes, there are. It goes from the very basic level to gold level. There’s also platinum level, which is the highest standard. Aldersgate has actually been able to maintain platinum level SAGE certification. We were platinum level SAGE certification for the first time last year, and we were able to duplicate that this year again. We’re very, very proud of that.

Mike: That’s absolutely amazing. How long has Aldersgate been SAGE credentialed?

Carola: For four years, so we have been SAGE credentialed for four years and, really, there aren’t a lot of life plan services in the area that goes through this process. It’s pretty extenuating because there’s documentation that we have to provide. We look at all different aspects from how we engaged with our residents to how we onboard them, how we engage with staff, how we get them into our doors, and so we need to continuously do this work.

Mike: What does it take to maintain that platinum level that you’ve achieved?

Carola: We need to have at least 80% of our members go through recertification, staff members. Recertification means that they will send us a video. They send us some coursework. And we have some really cool conversations with our staff.

Just last year, when we were up for our recertification, there were some really interesting vocabulary and language that was shared with our team members that many of them had not been previewed to. And so, it’s really giving them those tools and that education that they need.

Mike: How do you feel the staff and the residents are responding to this culture?

Carola: I think that, overall, everyone is very welcoming. You will always have your outliers.

Mike: [Laughter]

Carola: You will always have your folks who are like, “Well, why do we need to do this? Do we really have that many residents?”

I’ve gotten a little bit of pushback from some of the residents, but I would say that probably 95% of our residents are here because they know that Aldersgate is welcoming. The same for the staff. I would say that most of them are here because they really perceive that level of magic that this space has.

Mike: What are some things that Aldersgate is planning on doing in the future that tie to SAGE, the culture, and all of those concepts?

Carola: As far as diversity, equity, and inclusion go, we just finished off with our SAGE certification. We have a DIE council, which is residents and staff together who work on creating the chart of work for the year. One of the things that they came up with – they said, well, it’s great that the staff is SAGE certified. What about the residents?

Mike: Sure.

Carola: And so, that’s something that they’re working on is creating a training and creating a one-pager to be able to communicate to our residents and let them know what SAGE is about, but also to make sure that they understand how to be welcoming because some of them have never encountered relating with the LGBT community.

Mike: Is there any plan (potentially in the future) to maybe include members of the SAGE organization directly to come in and have events onsite or virtual events or partner with them in any way to hold some kind of an event to drive awareness?

Carola: That would be great. I think that that would be something that we could definitely have discussions with them on. They are a pretty busy organization, unfortunately, since they’re the only ones for the entire United States. So, their consultants are very careful on having their time spent in coming out. But they definitely share a lot of resources with us.

Mike: Well, considering that you’re one of the very few life planning communities to maintain that platinum status, I’m just saying, SAGE Care, come hook these folks up because they’re doing the right things. Right?

Carola: Absolutely.

Mike: [Laughter] Now, for those out there in the outlying communities outside of just the community in and of itself but out there in the world, we’ll say, what are some of the benefits then that people can think, “Hey, why should I go to Aldersgate? If I’m looking to either go there to live or maybe find a place for somebody else in my family to live, how is this going to benefit them?”

Carola: Here at Aldersgate, because we really care for the mind of the individual and we really want education to be a strong component to what we do, we have a very robust calendar of events that take place. For example, on Monday, we will be having a breakfast to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. That will be streaming online, so they can go to our website at aldersgateliving.org, and that website will give you the information that you need to be able to link into via YouTube and stream with us on Monday at 8:30 a.m.

We will also be having an intentional march at the end of the month to get us ready for Black History Month in February.

We have a book club that’s coming up where we will be reading How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith, and we will be having discussions with our residents and with our staff around that.

In March, we are going to have tea time to celebrate Women’s History Month.

That’s just the first quarter. There are a lot of activities. We have equity impact circles that take place where we have conversations. We bring people from outside in the community, experts to come and have conversations with us.

Last year, we had Dr. Brittany Hunt come out and talk to us about the Lumbee, which is a Native American tribe, and educate our residents. Residents loved that.

We also have had Dr. Farley come out and talk to us about Kwanzaa, and we’ve celebrated Hanukkah.

We just have so many activities, and that’s the one thing that the residents say. They really, really appreciate that they are being fed to spiritually and mentally at every aspect. It’s not like they’re being forgotten, and they’re really cared for and loved.

Mike: Yeah, I’ve been onsite many times, and I can say that the one word that really just encompasses Aldersgate is welcoming. You always feel welcome there. You feel like a part of the family. I know that that’s a very strong message that Aldersgate wants to deliver and I think it does. All of the activities and the things that are community-building that Aldersgate participants in I feel like really makes it just such a fantastic place for people.

What would be some final thoughts you have that you want to send out to the world in regard to SAGE and Aldersgate and, I guess, kind of breaking down some of those barriers and misconceptions?

Carola: I would encourage people to read, to educate themselves, to try and do some investigating online. There is so much information online. If you go to sageusa.org, you will find tons of information. It’ll give you some elements to be able to educate yourself.

Just have conversations. Go today. Go out. Look for someone who doesn’t look like you, who doesn’t talk like you, who maybe has a little bit of an accent. Just go out and find someone who is different and just have a conversation with them.

Knock on your neighbor’s door and just say, “Hey, I just want to introduce myself,” and just talk to them.

Mike: Yeah.

Carola: You get so much out of life by just meeting people who are different from you.

Mike: Yeah, I definitely love that message. People shouldn’t be afraid to have a genuine conversation (if it’s approached properly and with care, concern, and compassion). Right?

Carola: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Mike: Well, Carola, thank you so much for having this conversation today. I feel like it’s a very meaningful conversation. I think it’s going to lead to a lot of amazing things. I have no doubt that (with your epic level of platinum certification) you’re going to be having success in your endeavors for the very long term. Congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished there at Aldersgate.

Carola: Thank you so much, Mike. I really appreciate this time with you.

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Mike: Absolutely. Thanks, as always, to all of you out there in radio and podcast land for tuning in, for listening to, and taking part in these important conversations, and for keeping an open mind because, really, it takes an open mind to embrace progress and to change the world.

If you’d like to learn more about SAGE and their credentials, or if you’d just like to know how you can help drive awareness, check out the SAGE website at sageusa.care. Yep, you heard me right, that’s a .care. How cool is that?

While we’re talking about websites, make sure to visit the Aldersgate website at Aldersgateliving.org to learn about all the ways that Aldersgate honors elders. Don’t forget to follow Aldersgate on all the social media platforms, and you can also listen and subscribe to Aldersgate OnAir on your favorite streaming app like Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon Music, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and many, many more. That way you can get notified when the new episodes come out, and you can check out the older ones as well.

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Well, that’s it for us today, but there’s more on the way. Have yourselves a great day and we’ll see you soon at Aldersgate OnAir. 00:19:20

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Call (704) 532-7000 today to schedule a personal virtual tour to see this beautiful community for yourself!

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