Laura Trejo, a One-Woman Force for Social Change

By Biggar, Alison | Aging Today, November/December 2011 | Go to article overview
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Laura Trejo, a One-Woman Force for Social Change

Biggar, Alison, Aging Today

Laura Trejo, general manager of the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging, is the winner of the 2011 Gloria Cavanaugh Award for Excellence in Training and Education (http://asaging. org/gloria-cavanaugh-award). The award is given to an individual or organization that demonstrates continued training and education excellence in the field of aging, makes significant, long-term contributions to the field and creates visibility for exemplary training and education.

Essentially, Laura Trejo can't stop herself from training others. As a young El Salvadoran immigrant, Trejo explained America to Spanish-speaking relatives and neighbors. In her first job in county mental health, she shared her knowledge of gerontology and public administration with staff. Now, as policy advisor on aging issues to the mayor and city council of Los Angeles, Trejo is still in training mode, always thinking about how to disseminate information to the greatest number of people.

The key to successful education, she says, is to aim to change at least one life, then replicate that method until it spans a population, keeping your clientele in mind-what their needs are, and which cultural faux pas to avoid in order to capture their attention (once, communicating with Latino family caregivers, her staff used the word "burden," causing clients to shun their advice).

Trejo's Training Effect

When Trejo started off in L.A.'s county mental health department, she was fresh out of USC's graduate school and in a newly created position coordinating and developing a department on aging-as a staff of one. "It's a good thing I didn't know any better," Trejo says, remembering the challenges. But she was successful, realizing that the only way to run the department with no funding or staff was to share her knowledge in trainings, multiplying her effect. Trejo was thankful for the opportunity to earn her master's in gerontology and public administration, and felt privileged to train staff in clinically assessing and working with elders.

She began with short workshops, and discovered her love for training. Trejo has since extended her reach to the City of Los Angeles, nationwide in conferences for the aging services community and overseas to mainly Spanish-speaking countries. "Many Spanish-speaking countries are aging rapidly, and have no resources, so I started working with them."

A colleague in Mexico, referring to her limited resources, and her program models' scale and accessibility, recently told her, "We always assumed you had all kinds of resources, but you didn't, so you had to develop programs we could replicate [with equally limited resources]." For example, Trejo's department began an older adult daycare program in a church, operating the program when services were not in session. This is a model that communities in Mexico could easily use.

Trejo also holds trainings overseas on assessing treating and developing services and systems of care for managing Alzheimer's disease in U.S. Spanish-speaking populations; on health promotion for elders; and the impact of aging on developing nations. "Our programs are designed to be portable and replicable," she says.

A Change Agent, a Risk-Taker

As an advocate, Trejo often bucks common knowledge.

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