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Ethnic Adult Day Cares Offer Community and Culture For Aging Indians

Indians Who Move to USA Find Sense of Community in Centers That Cater to Their Cultural and Social Needs
The Patels, in their daughter's home
The Patels in their daughter's home Shaleena Koruth

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ—When the Patels replied to a matrimonial advertisement in their local paper for an eligible engineer in New Jersey seeking a young, well-educated bride from India, they may not have imagined how much their own lives would change.

The couple responded to the advertisement with details of their youngest daughter, a graduate with a degree in pharmacy. It is not uncommon for the families of young Indian American men and women to advertise in Indian newspapers for potential spouses.

Their response -- a photograph of their daughter and her bio data -- was welcomed by the young man’s family. Within a year the couple was married in a Hindu temple in New Jersey.

The parents of the bride were unable to attend their daughter’s wedding because they were denied visas to enter the United States.

Seven years later, in 2008, Mrs. Patel boarded a plane to Newark from Mumbai, India.

She arrived on a green card sponsored by her daughter and husband. She worked as an au pair from Monday to Saturday, returning to her daughter’s house only for two days on the weekend.

She was 57 by then and this was a huge change in her lifestyle. Not only was she living with her daughter's in laws in America, she had never worked as a stay home au pair.

But she was earning too, for the first time in her life, and this was a thrill.

"I had a good experience," Mrs. Patel told New Brunswick Today.  "The families I worked with were good to me and trusted me. I still enquire after their kids, after all these years."

Two years later, her husband joined her in Piscataway.

While it is easier for older women to find work as cooks and babysitters in New Jersey, the older men who make the transition to the new country are often already retired and unable to find work.

Mr. Patel helped with his young grandchildren while his wife worked.

"India is in my mind and my heart, always," he says.

"I used to cry in the bathroom and in bed, but I never wanted my daughter to see my tears," says Mrs. Patel. "In any case, it's been good to earn some money, in dollars," she adds, laughing.

She was a stay home mother in Gandhinagar, Gujarat for all her life, raising and educating two boys and two girls while tended their farm in the village.

In India the Patels lived within walking distance to her brothers homes. Their families met nearly every day.

"Here, people have no time. They go to work and we are left alone at home, unable to drive and with no one we know to talk to. I didn't know what to do with myself those days,until we heard about the day care."

The Patels are picked up every morning by a bus that takes them to Sunny Days Adult Day Care in South Plainfield for older expatriate Indians.

"We've friends there," Mr. Patel says with a smile. "They are from the same community so it's very easy to connect. We have prayers and chanting."

NBToday spoke with Sonia Shah, the director at Sunny day care says that the services at her day care fill a deep void.  She had this to say:

The people who we serve have nothing to look forward to when they wake up in the morning. Their children go to work all day, and often there is no one for them to laugh with or talk to at home. Their neighbors are local Americans and have a completely different culture and language. We offer them fun and enjoyment in addition to the doctors visits and counseling. There is a joke day - bring a joke. Or green day - wear green. So the women can look for green saris and matching blouses at home.

The most critical aspect of the well being that seniors enjoy at adult day care centers targeted to ethnic minorities is a connection to traditions, religion, culture and community.

Since the majority of clients are Hindu, weekly visits to Hindu temples are provided in addition to yoga and meditation. Indian meals are served, and all festivals, American and Indian, are celebrated.

Adult day care centers in New Jersey and other states are geared toward delaying or preventing placement in nursing homes. These centers provide preventive and ongoing health care.

The higher psycho-social wellness provided by the recreational component of the program further reduces the burden on caregivers.

The centers are reimbursed by the state, under a variety of programs of which the principal source of funding, is through Social Services Block Grants (SSBG). SSBG's support programs that allow communities to reduce dependence on social services.

The large number of Asian day care centers in Middlesex County speaks to a changing demographic and a need for culture specific care centers.

According to the census report of July 2014, 24% of the population in Middlesex county is of Asian origin.

Asian Indians make up 61.57% of the county's Asian population.  Across the country, only Santa Clara county in California and Queens, New York have a larger population of Asian Indians.

Panna, another client at the day care center said, "I feel I have regained my lost childhood, by coming to the center. I now have a community. My neighbors are American. I would say hello and how are you, but it was so lonely."

It is a cultural norm in India for aging parents to live with their adult children.

While Indian parents move to the States at the behest of their resident children, once they arrive, the adjustment is difficult for both.

State funded day care centers provide a necessary respite for care giving children and a haven for their transplanted parents.