West Portal home to new center serving Asian seniors 

click to enlarge Supervisor Norman Yee speaks to a group of Asian seniors at the West Portal Playground Clubhouse as the Self-Help for the Elderly program kicked off Monday. - JESSICA KWONG/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Jessica Kwong/the s.f. examiner
  • Supervisor Norman Yee speaks to a group of Asian seniors at the West Portal Playground Clubhouse as the Self-Help for the Elderly program kicked off Monday.

Despite being one of the largest supervisorial areas, District 7 in The City's southwest only offered senior services at the Stonestown Family YMCA, and those catered to elders acclimated to American culture.

Often, seniors who immigrated from Asia wouldn't return because they were not accustomed to eating salad and bread. Many of those southwest residents traveled to the senior center in the south Sunset run by Self-Help for the Elderly, which offers ethnic food and programming to primarily Chinese and Filipino seniors.

But the demand has become more than the center at 40th Avenue and Vicente Street can handle.

"It's nearly bursting at the seams," said Anni Chung, executive director of Self-Help for the Elderly. "We cannot accommodate any more seniors at the center."

That center may see some relief since Self-Help for the Elderly started a senior program on Monday at the West Portal Playground Clubhouse. The partnership with the Recreation and Park Department allows the nonprofit to pay below-market-rate rent to use the clubhouse on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., before West Portal students show up for after-school enrichment programs.

The city department provides 356 classes at 24 locations for seniors around The City but lacks the funding and resources to activate all its recreation facilities, so such a partnership — the third with Self-Help for the Elderly — was a win-win.

"Talk about a little something for everyone and the cycle of life," Phil Ginsburg, the department's general manager, said at the West Portal clubhouse ribbon-cutting Monday.

Efforts toward the newest partnership started last fall, when district Supervisor Norman Yee secured $150,000 in funding over two years. Adding more senior services was a proposal in Yee's budgeting process involving community participation last year, but it failed to win funding. Given that seniors make up about 20 percent of the district's population and number more than 15,000, he made it a top priority this year.

"It was an issue that had been brewing so I asked Anni what was needed," Yee said.

Jeff Suess, a property manager for Rec and Park, proposed four clubhouse sites to Chung within the district. It was clear the West Portal clubhouse — adjacent to the Muni station — was the best fit.

"This one is a newer building, it's got a large open space and proximity with public transit was a big part of it," Suess said.

Alice Lee, 76, who lives on 12th Avenue and Kirkham Street, on Monday asked Self-Help for the Elderly staff how she could register for some of the programs at the new center.

"I plan to come back," she said in Cantonese.

Feng Zheng Zhang, 76, who volunteers at a senior center in Visitacion Valley, was also delighted.

"I'm very happy," she said in Cantonese. "I'm at a loss for words."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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