Terri Abelar of San Rafael’s Aging Solutions is one of this year’s winners of North Bay Business Journal’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.
Tell us your story and that of your organization:
From an early age, I’ve had an affinity for helping older people. When I was 11, I wanted to be a volunteer candystriper at a local nursing home. They let me do it, but only after I applied for age waiver because you had to be 12. That was my first lesson in not taking no for an answer. My father worked hard for Chicano rights in the 1970s, so that’s where I got my sense of justice. My mom was successful in real estate so that gave me an appreciation for running a business right.
I started Aging Solutions in 1997 after working in government and nonprofit eldercare services for many years. I saw that many of the Greatest Generation were not leading lives of very high quality, and their families had few resources or information. My gut said this unmet need was a business opportunity. Now, Baby Boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day and seniors will be a huge population component in a few years.
We help families with aging parents navigate the complexities of the eldercare world, find appropriate, safe living situations, deal with myriad financial, legal, and social issues, and help them attain the highest possible quality of life. We don’t provide in-home, hands-on care; rather, we act as a family’s eyes and ears. I know a lot about elder abuse and financial exploitation, so we can help clients steer clear of those who see seniors merely as easy targets.
We are unique in that we are a for-profit that helps people. We are capitalists with compassion.
Most recently, I created a new short-term assessment and review program to help families and seniors find help and answers to common aging events such as memory lapses and falls.
Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?:
Designing and launching our new path-breaking CARE Method program.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?: Twenty-one years in business and still going strong.
What is your biggest challenge today?:
Educating the general public about the coming crisis in eldercare, but also getting adult children not to be in such denial about their aging parents. You have to listen and be aware. Don’t just laugh it off: “It’s no big deal; he gets lost inside his own house,” that kind of joking reaction. If there’s something about your aging parents’ situation that you don’t want to think about, it’s best to think about it, even though it may be painful for you or your siblings.
Words that best describe you: Enthusiastic; optimistic; kind; no-nonsense; fierce advocate (especially when it comes to vulnerable seniors).
As a successful professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?:
Not having a college degree has made it more difficult to gain credibility in the eldercare services field. In the public sector, I could usually outthink anyone in the room, but when I was put in charge of social work professionals with advanced degrees, there was a lot of resistance. Another obstacle was being a woman. Another was being a Hispanic woman. The biggest problem in that regard was the attitude of Hispanic men, especially those I was supervising.
How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?:
I worry that the eldercare field will be saturated with unqualified individuals. Ten-thousand American turn 65 every day. People are seeing that that’s where the money is.
Who was your most important mentor?:
George Telisman was my boss and the director of the Riverside County Office on Aging in the 1990s. He had previously been with San Francisco’s SCAN Foundation, so he was already interested in disrupting traditional senior services delivery. George was honest, which was unusual in government. He cared only about how well we were serving seniors. When he hired me, he told me my predecessor had attended 29 meetings a month. I attended all 29 of the first month’s meetings, then came back to him and told George I would only attend one a month. And he was fine with that.
Tell us about your community involvement:
I was on the boards of a number of nonprofits Southern California, including a hospice and a women’s recovery home. Most recently, in 2016, I served as vice-president of the board of directors of the San Rafael Business Improvement District. I also serve on the board of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of San Rafael.
What advice would you give to a young person today?: Find your passion, and then figure out a smart way to use that passion to contribute to the world.
Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Oprah Winfrey
Current reading: Elena Ferrante, Hilary Clinton
Most want to meet: Barack and Michelle Obama; Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico
Stress-relievers: Bikram Yoga
Favorite hobbies: Photography