SAGE Metro Detroit Bids Farewell to Angie Perone, Seeks New Executive Director
When Angie Perone started as Executive Director of SAGE Metro Detroit in 2015, the organization had some part-time employees and a budget of less than $ 50,000. Since then, SAGE, whose mission is to raise awareness and promote change so that older LGBTQ + adults can age gracefully and authentically, has tripled its workforce, vastly expanded programs and services, and increased its budget to over $ 500,000 – not a bad grade for what to end a term.
Perone, who lives in Michigan with her wife and 4-year-old son, is leaving SAGE for a year to do health care work in Washington, DC before moving to the University of California at Berkeley for an assistant professorship begin in Social Welfare and Monitoring for the Berkeley Center for the Advanced Study on Aging Services.
Perone has mixed feelings about leaving SAGE.
“It’s time to hand over the baton to a new leader, which is exciting but a little bit bittersweet to me,” she said. “But of course I’m happy that this organization continues to grow.”
The COVID-19 epidemic has been particularly difficult for older adults, and older LGBTQ + adults face some additional challenges that further isolate them, including much of their lives with legal discrimination and hostility.
“Older LGBTQ adults are twice as likely to be single and live alone, four times less likely to have children and far more reliant on friends for care,” said Perone. “Older LGBTQ adults have higher rates of social isolation and health inequalities, which has significantly increased the mental and physical health risks of COVID-19.”
Like many organizations, SAGE had to quickly meet a huge need during this pandemic. The ability to adapt and master challenges often depends firstly on the leader of an organization and secondly on its employees and volunteers.
“From the beginning [Perone] called us the team and she meant it, ”said Judy Lewis, training and education manager. “She has drawn each of us for his or her areas of expertise and brought them together into a high-performance organization.”
On the occasion, SAGE rose through significantly expanded programs and services to combat the pandemic as well.
“We have provided nearly 15,000 meals and developed new virtual programs that serve more than 1,000 LGBTQ older adults since 2020,” Perone said.
One particularly forward-looking service, according to the SAGE website, was SAGE’s Friendly Caller program, which “connects older LGBTQ adults with other members of the LGBTQ community and allies to keep the connection going.” Perone said the Friendly Caller program was used as a model for other organizations across the country during the pandemic.
SAGE also made tablets available to seniors and started a program to provide technical support to seniors so they can stay in touch with their community virtually. The program “builds on our intergenerational program with LGBTQ youth and young adults to support knowledge and community building across generations,” said Perone.
Connecting generations was also a priority for Perone among the employees. “Angie and I come from two very different places,” said Lewis. “I grew up in a much quieter generation in the 1950s, filled with not and not. Rather than creating an intergenerational negative energy that some leaders may have, for the past several years Angie has engaged people of my generation – with a life experience that may have been unlike theirs [and] to people of their generation – to build bridges and strengthen us all. “
Perone said she was constantly learning from others.
“I’m not an older adult, so a lot of the stories I hear [about the experiences of older LGBTQ+ adults] are from my colleagues and the people we serve, ”she says. “We have achieved a lot in a very short time and a lot of it is because we have a great team that is really committed.”
In addition to senior citizens living in isolation, SAGE is also addressing the challenge that older LGBTQ + adults can face in long-term facilities.
Some of these challenges include: “Not respecting the name and pronouns of transgender residents, not respecting their choice of clothing,” Perone said.
“Sometimes there are untrained staff trying to save LGBTQ residents from sin. We have had residents who are not allowed to be sexually active with people of the same sex. And then of course there is abuse and harassment by other residents and sometimes by staff, ”she said. “It has been reported that some people have been denied care.”
SAGE recently received a large grant from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to provide training in such facilities.
Working with over nine LGBTQ + organizations across Michigan, we have developed this cutting-edge, high-quality training program that is delivered in person and online and has been very useful during the pandemic.
SAGE co-founder and former board member Cornelius A. Wilson called this training an important development under Perone’s leadership.
“I think it was very important that we could secure funding from the MDHHS to make this training available to organizations so they can become more culturally literate in helping the older LGBT adult community,” said Wilson. who is currently Program and Activities Director of SAGE.
Wilson praised Perone’s focus, saying she was “very deliberate about what SAGE wants to be for our older adult community”.
“I hope for the new person who comes on board [as executive director] will also be open and acknowledge that our communities are somewhat disconnected from the wider community, ”said Wilson, who would like SAGE to provide“ more direct services ”such as housing and rental assistance.
Another area that Perone considers important is racial justice. Following the murder of George Floyd, SAGE had a series of intergenerational conversations about Zoom.
“We had really tough conversations about races and we had those in 2020 and 2021 as well,” she said. “They have been very well received and close some generational gaps.”
Perone’s hope is that the next CEO will be someone “who really and immensely believes in the cause”.
“This is passionate work,” she said. “Of course, we want someone with the skills to deliver what it takes to make the genesis grow, but that person needs passion and interest in serving the community. If you have this passion and interest in serving LGBT adults then it all fits together. The most important thing is that you have to have that spark, you have to have this passion. “
For more information on SAGE, visit sagemetrodetroit.org. SAGE is currently accepting applications for the position of Executive Director. You can find the job description here: sagemetrodetroit.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/ED-Job-Description.pdf