Head of Asian senior services organization wins national prize

    The Montgomery County founder and director of Penn Asian Senior Services is the winner of a 2011 Purpose Prize fellowship, a national recognition for those who excel in their second careers.

    After spending decades working in real estate and finance, Im Ja Choi found herself the primary caregiver as she helped her mother battle stomach cancer.

    Choi said she did not want to place her mother in a nursing home because she did not speak English or eat American food. So she dropped everything.

    “I thought I would be able to find help,” Choi said. “But it was impossible to find a Korean-speaking home health aide.”

    Seeing a need in the community, Choi started what would become Penn Asian Senior Services in 2004. It trains and employs home health aides who speak eight different languages, allowing more Asian immigrants in the region to age in place.

    “Communication is so important and critical for any patient, especially one with a frail condition, yet it cannot be done without the person who could speak that language,” Choi said.

    The organization has served nearly 300 low-income seniors this year.

    Lois Hayman-El, with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, said Penn Asian Senior Services was the first organization of its kind in the area.

    “They’re doing a monumentally great job,” Hayman-El said. “They are pioneers in getting services to people in the Asian communities and making sure that the cultural aspects of service delivery are attended to.”

    Choi missed out on the top Purpose Prize award of $100,000, but will travel to San Francisco with the other winners next month.

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