A Passion for Serving African American Elders
At age 81, Margaret Boddie is still a mover and shaker when it comes to case management for older adults in Seattle and King County.
Margaret was born in Nassau, Bahamas and raised in Miami, Florida, the youngest of five siblings. As an adult, she married her husband, who served in the United States Air Force. In the 1970s, they moved to the Pacific Northwest; he was stationed at McChord Air Force Base.
Margaret attended the University of Washington and earned a degree in anthropology. She discovered her passion for working with older adults as an intern with the homemaker program at Senior Services (now known as Sound Generations). When the internship ended, she was hired to supervise the outreach program.
She supervised the outreach program for several years, even after it was transferred to the City of Seattle in the late 1970s, becoming a component of the Senior Information Center—the predecessor to what later became the Mayor’s Office for Senior Citizens, created by then Mayor Wes Uhlman. That’s when the program shifted its focus to providing case management services to support homebound older adults.
Margaret was one of the key staff involved in shaping the City’s case management program, now a major component of Aging and Disability Services’ Care Coordination Programs. In fact, she was the program’s first supervisor.
“Everyone was talking about senior centers for older adults, but no one was focused on the homebound,” said Margaret. “As a result, many ended up in nursing homes, but didn’t really need to be there.” That’s the purpose of case management services—to help clients remain in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.
Meeting Margaret Boddie in 1992
I will never forget the first time I met Margaret. It was 1992. I was a new planner in the Seattle Human Services Department’s Division on Aging—which is now Aging and Disability Services. Margaret was stylishly dressed, with a powerful presence, and she was very direct, yet her warm smile was infectious and lit up the room. As a new employee, she made me feel welcome.
Without hesitation, Margaret took me under her wing and imparted her extensive wisdom and knowledge about the complexities of case management. Her passion for the work was unquestionable and her open-door policy was a blessing! As a new employee, I would often seek her advice and guidance.
In 1994, I recall how Margaret became distraught after reading a front-page article about the country’s Black elderly. It was a sad depiction of health disparities, poor quality of life, and less-than-ideal nursing home care. She was determined to do something about it.
A few weeks later, I found myself accompanying Margaret to an appointment with then-Mayor Norman B. Rice. “We’ve got to do something to prevent premature nursing home placements,” she said. “Our people need to know about programs they can access that can allow them to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.”
Mayor Rice identified with the need and responded by organizing discussions with a roundtable of Black community members about ways he could address the needs of Seattle’s Black elders. In 1995, the roundtable commissioned a report that included recommendations and a mission: “to develop a comprehensive continuum of services that will improve quality of life while strengthening the community’s capacity to support the basic needs of its elders.”
African American Elders Program
The roundtable’s mission led to the creation of the African American Elders Program (AAEP), which provided outreach, case management, and nursing services through a virtual partnership between Aging and Disability Services, Senior Services, and Public Health—Seattle & King County. In 2004, following an investment process, program sponsorship was awarded to Catholic Community Services, where it remains today.
Margaret retired from the City of Seattle in 2001 to pursue a doctoral degree but, in 2005, she heard the AAEP was seeking a program manager. She decided to forego further schooling to shepherd the new program.
“It was very important to me, and a passion burned in my heart for my people,” said Margaret. “No one in the U.S. was doing what we were developing in Seattle for African American elders.” Eighteen years later, the AAEP has helped more than 4,000 older adults in Seattle and King County, both in-person and by phone.
“It’s like I am a mother holding a child in her arms,” said Margaret. “I tell the staff, if we don’t take care of our people, who will? If we don’t embrace our elders, who will? We are the ones! We must love them so much that we are willing to do what it takes to see our elders flourish and survive.”
The AAEP serves older adults and adults with disabilities, veterans, and family caregivers. The program has expanded, despite enduring many challenges through the years, and now includes four case managers, a counselor for veterans, and a Registered Nurse, who joined the team in 2022. For information about services, click here.
When asked recently what she is most proud of as the program manager, Margaret replied, “The accomplishments of my staff. I’ve built a team that knows what it means to care about the community they represent and work in, and I’m proud of that.”
Her hope for the future is that the next AAEP manager will have the vision, aspiration, and concern needed to make a difference for African American elders living in King County. On an even larger scale, she hopes that people will love one another and ageism will be eliminated.
Thank you, Margaret Boddie, for all that you have done and continue to do to improve the lives of African American elders and others in our area.
Contributor Karen Winston is a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County, and a division of Seattle Human Services. Karen staffs the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Photo at top: Margaret Boddie and ADS Director Mary Mitchell (April 2023)