(l-r) Jetta Wiedemeier Bower, Ahmed Mussa and Bahar Oumer, executive director, Oromo Community of Minnesota, at an Iftar breaking the fast at the close of Ramadan. Credit: Trellis staff

Ahmed Mussa believes passionately in community and has a deep reverence for elders. Those attributes make Ahmed perfect for an outreach role with Trellis, a nonprofit organization that helps people optimize well-being as they age and provides Senior LinkAge Line® services in the Twin Cities area.

Ahmed joined the Trellis outreach team in February 2022 after four years at the Brian Coyle Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis where he provided services to his East African neighbors. “In my role with Trellis, I can bring more resources to my community,” says Ahmed. “I can also use my voice to help remove the stigma aimed at people from immigrant and refugee communities.”

Ahmed is one of four Trellis outreach specialists, which also includes Mayla Yang, Maby Almiron and Amanda Bigus, plus Linda Vue the team’s outreach coordinator. The team provides education for the Senior LinkAge Line, a free, statewide service of the Minnesota Board on Aging offered in partnership with Trellis. The Senior LinkAge Line provides information and assistance on Medicare, transportation, housing, food, support programs, ways to stay safe in your home and more. People can call the Senior LinkAge Line at 800-333-2433 Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 4:30, or use an online form at sllreferral.org/onlineform. In addition, people who are looking for one-on-one counseling on Medicare options can schedule appointments at community sites across the metro.

Altogether, Trellis outreach specialists speak six languages, including Oromo, Somali, Amharic, Hmong, Spanish and English. “When we walk into a community of Latino elders or an Oromo community center and we can communicate in people’s native languages, it makes all the difference,” says Jetta Wiedemeier Bower, volunteer and outreach manager at Trellis. “It shows respect and builds trust.”

Participants in an information session Trellis presented at CLUES – Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio. Photo credit: Bruce Silcox

“My job is to lift the voices of those who haven’t been heard and to give them a seat at the table,” continues Jetta. “If community members can see themselves embodied in our team, they will feel welcomed and safe in asking questions and getting the information they need.”

Jetta’s team also established a volunteer ambassador program to provide greater access to information about Senior LinkAge Line services and resources in communities.

One ambassador, Mai Weu, is a wife, mother, grandmother, gardener, bible study leader and trusted member of the Hmong community. Her commitment to sharing information while doing the things she loves is apparent. “When I teach bible study and bring people together to work in community gardens, I talk about Medicare, Medicaid and other benefits,” says Mai. “The older people in my community know and trust me. They don’t know anything about Medicare, and they don’t speak much English. I tell them that Trellis will translate information into Hmong and walk them through everything. I tell them that learning about these services will help them live independently.”

Mai Weu, volunteer ambassador for Trellis and the Senior LinkAge Line. Photo credit: Bruce Silcox

Outreach team members often brings small, culturally appropriate gifts when they visit communities. For Native Americans, they bring lavender oil and sweetgrass, a plant used for ceremonial purposes. In the East African community, they bring Kenyan tea, which is commonly used at weddings and other celebrations. In the Hmong community they provide a soap that has a smell that reminds them of their homeland. “These small gestures are so appreciated among the elders, and help them feel seen and recognized,” says Jetta.

“The work we do in immigrant and BIPOC communities is both a pleasure and deeply rewarding,” says Jetta. “We provide access to essential services that people need to live healthy and connected lives. The elders are grateful, and we get to know people who bring so much value to our lives. It is an honor to have these connections.”

If you are an older adult or a care partner for an older adult and would like assistance, call the Senior LinkAge Line at 800-333-2433. If you would like to be an ambassador in your community, let Trellis know by emailing volunteer@trellisconnects.org. If you are a community organization, the Trellis outreach team would be happy to provide a free presentation about Senior LinkAge Line and other Trellis services. Email them at outreach@trellisconnects.org.