The tables filled with local seniors were bustling, the sense of camaraderie and genuine respect was tangible among the members who had spend decades working together for the sake of Allah. Many of the original founders of the Muslim Community Center were in attendance.
As the sun set over the copper dome , they were realizing that the their years were also setting and the same fervor they had when setting the foundations of the Sunday school and masjid for their needs when they were younger needed to be used to get this project going. Past and present presidents of MCC, from Akhtar Zubairi to Tamseel Butt, came to support the event.
The force behind Empowering Muslim Seniors, Identifying their Needs and finding Alternatives and Solutions, a town hall style meeting was "Mama Mona" as she is affectionately known, a soul full of hugs and warmth, greeting everyone who walked in the door. "This is first ever town hall of its kind to assess the needs of the seniors in the Muslim community of Montgomery County, Maryland. A group effort of all my wonderful partners: Islamic Center of Maryland, Islamic Center of Germantown, Montgomery County Muslim Foundation," said Mona Ngem, who is the Director of Senior Committee at MCC, as she darted back and forth across the room, brimming with energy.
"This is first ever town hall of its kind to assess the needs of the seniors in the Muslim community of Montgomery County, Maryland. A group effort of all my wonderful partners: Islamic Center of Maryland, Islamic Center of Germantown, Montgomery County Muslim Foundation," said Mona Ngem, who is the Director of Senior Committee at MCC
"[Our parents] took care of us when we were young and we would take care of them when they got old. They was never any question of of what will we do when we get old. We broke our security net when we left. This vacuum was filled by the Islamic Centers and mosques, look around you. This your extended family."
This is a tough topic as there are great cultural barriers to even discussing these needs. The prevalent narrative amongst Muslims is that we take care of our own and do not need services but in reality services are needed and available and pride, language barriers, shame, etc. deter Muslim seniors from using these services. "This unique event helps us identify your needs and helps us go back to county officials and funding sources," said Ngem.
Tufail Ahmad, founder of MCMF, presented the need for the meeting. He spoke about the focus on inter-community and interfaith work after 9/11 but said MCMF recognized the needs of the Muslim community in Montgomery County. 3 years ago, MCMF bought a bus for seniors which takes them to Jummah and brings them to the MCC Clinic.
Ahmad also spoke of his research and visit to senior community centers across the ethnic diaspora. The best options he found were divided into if the recipient had Medicare or Medicaid. He gave top marks to the Chinese and Iranian centers for the elderly on Medicaid. "For non-Medicaid, the Korean Center ran a great program," he said, "we can rent a place and provide the same services as other communities, the county give them money."
A survey was presented to a group of 60 seniors, asking question related to transportation, health,
"This is not a financial status issue , many seniors are alone a good deal of the day , in this empty time human beings feelings can run the gamut from depressed to bored. The county asks us what is the need of your community. We have never done an assessment we know there is a need but we need to quantify it and for this we have this survey," Guled Kassim of the MCMF as he explained the survey.
"This is a universal need, when people say 'I am taking care of my own', we aren't saying that you aren't but there is help for you depending on the family's needs. There is in-home medical care or adult daycare facilities." continued Kassim. "These may seem like personal intrusive questions but there are many seniors who are very fit, but do not speak English so will be able to evaluate the need for classes."
"If you don't have healthcare or transportation, there is a whole host of services that we can funnel your way. May your needs a more social or recreational. We will be cultural sensitive"
Dr. Ramla came up on stage and reminded the audience of a brand-new daycare called Loving Care which was available for anyone who had Medicaid. They pick seniors from their homes and bus them into the state of the art facility which serves halal meat, and has full services like a barber, showers, social activities, nursing services etc.
Brochures for free services such as conflict resolution, The Maryland Senior Legal Helpline, and other services were on tables for the audience.
Arshad Quraishi is the Chairman of the board of trustees of MCC, he made a presentation based on his personal research as well as the findings of consultant of the feasibility of building a permanent Muslim Senior Residential Facility on the grounds of MCC.
"My house is too big, the snow is heavier, the grass is higher and the yard bigger, I am was thinking of downsizing but the smaller homes are either not being built or they cost more," ruminated Qurashi poignantly. "Most of us come from majority Muslim Countries where our extended family was our security net. They took care of us when we were young and we would take care of them when they got old. They was never any question of of what will we do when we get old. we broke our security net when we left. This vacuum was filled by the Islamic Centers and mosques, look around you. This your extended family."
"We explored senior living facilities and want to share with you what we found," he addressed the hall. 6 facilities within the Silver Springs area and more than 12 facilities in the metro area that he researched.
They had surveyed facilities such as the 5-star Leisure World, to mid-income projects supported by the state of Maryland such as Grandorf which have assisted and independent living options. All these have long waiting list as do for profit facilities such as Brooks Grove Nursing Homes in Olney, MD.
Some of these facilities require a 400K to a 700K upfront deposit plus monthly rent. The deposit is partial refundable in some facilities. "The most practical was the Sunrise facility which would cost approximately $150 a day, "said Quraishi, "these projects are extremely profitable."
Br. Rasheed Makhdum and Br. Quraishi collaborated on a model for a senior residential facility that would let MCC keep the profit within the Muslim community.
This 60,000 sq ft 60-unit facility of 1 bedroom to 2 bedroom apartments, a cafeteria, gym, would be run under Islamic guidelines on the current MCC land. This project has not yet been approved by the MCC Board.
Ngem spent the rest of the meeting brainstorming with the audience on their needs so the the Islamic centers could use resources wisely an offer programs that reflect their priorities. Pragmatic comments and suggestions accompanied many nods and whispers, with several seniors and those who will be seniors in the near future shared ideas as did audience members in their 20s and 30s, who have parents or were those who realize that they themselves will age one day and need to plan for their future.
Sameera Hussein, an active community member, suggested that the center host positive and uplifting social events to balance ones that address serious issues such as elder abuse and preventive care.
Needs were assessed as priorities under transportation, healthcare, recreation, spiritual care, classes on preventative care, physical and mental health. "If you know a senior not here today who needs to go grocery shopping or needs food delivery or needs to be taken to a medical appointment, tell us." said Ngem. " We want to be able to take you to the doctor and once we get there we need to know that you can afford it," said Kassim.
Several speakers stressed that this is a matter of assessing need not financial status. Many people who have the money and still have the need and their needs are not being met.
"If you know any seniors who are not here, I am willing to visit them. This is a monumental opportunity, we will look back knowing there was a need and that we did not do anything about it," ended Kassim.