Eden Updates

As CEO of On Lok, Grace Li Champions Vital Services for Local Seniors

May 18, 2022

Headshot of Grace Li

It is often said that if you follow your passion, success will follow, and that is certainly the case for Grace Li, CEO of On Lok, a Bay Area-based nonprofit which empowers seniors to age with dignity and independence.

Li joined the organization in 2001 as chief operating officer and became CEO in 2016, and during her tenure, she has been steadfast in advancing its mission. She has focused on creating innovative programs and advocating for policies that help this vulnerable population stay healthy, active, and connected to their communities; and works closely with her team to increase the organization’s partnerships and expand its existing programs to meet the growing demand for its services.

As part of her commitment to service, Li is an active mentor and community volunteer, serving on the Eden Housing board of directors for seven years, the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition board for more than two decades, and National PACE Association for over 16 years.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Li to discuss On Lok’s innovative programming and what’s on tap for the future.

Q. What makes On Lok unique and how has the organization grown and evolved over the years?

A. On Lok was founded with the belief that every individual should be empowered to age at home with dignity and independence. This core value led the organization to develop the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) which helps nursing home eligible seniors live at home as long as possible.

Being part of an organization with such an important mission, it’s an honor to lead On Lok into the future. What started with a doctor and a social worker who came together with the local community to address an unmet need for its aging population has turned into an organization that supports the full spectrum of diverse seniors. We are proud to say that today the program reaches more than 1,700 PACE participants in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties and the Tri-City area of Alameda County. The PACE model has also been replicated nationally with 144 PACE programs serving nearly 58,000 participants in 30 states.

In addition to On Lok PACE, the organization provides health programs, wellness classes, activities, case management services and meals for active older adults.

Q. Tell us about your new partnership with Chef Martin Yan.

A. As a respected Bay Area icon, Chef Yan has a passion for helping people embrace their health and heritage, and we are proud he has partnered with On Lok over the past year to celebrate our community and corporate milestones.

Together we created “Yan Can Cook with On Lok,” free, virtual cooking segments to help the community feel supported and connected during the pandemic. They were such a hit that we turned it into a year-long series this year, which anyone can attend by registering at https://onlok.org/yan-can-cook-with-on-lok/.

Additionally, Chef Yan helped celebrate our 50th anniversary year in 2021 with a fun segment during our annual Celebrates fundraiser and during our anniversary month of September. It has been a delight to work with such an acclaimed chef. In March, he received the James Beard Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award for 2022, which recognizes individuals whose lifetime body of work has had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way we eat, cook and/or think about food in America.

Q. How does On Lok benefit from partnering with organizations such as Eden Housing?

Through our relationship with Eden Housing, we can co-locate housing and provide services to help seniors age in place in their own homes for as long as possible. Stable housing is key to good health and quality of life, which is why we seek out partners like Eden Housing to build on our collective community-based experience and create innovative solutions to support seniors’ independence. I’m also proud to have served on Eden Housing’s board for seven years.

Q. Given that California’s population is projected to age faster than the rest of the nation, services like those of On Lok will be in great demand. How would you characterize plans for governmental support in expanding services like yours?

A. California has taken a leadership role in creating its Master Plan for Aging, and Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-14-19 in June 2019, which affirmed the priority of the health and well-being of older Californians and the need for policies that promote healthy aging. It also called for a “blueprint” for state government, local government, the private sector and philanthropy to prepare the state for the coming demographic changes and continue California’s leadership in aging, disability and equity.

The Master Plan has five goal areas: Housing for All Stages & Ages; Health Reimagined; Inclusion & Equity, Not Isolation; Caregiving That Works; and Affording Aging. We stand in support of expanding access and services to seniors within these five bold goal areas, which align with the work of On Lok and Eden Housing in our 50+ year-history of serving local communities.

Q.  What’s next for On Lok?

A. We look forward to investing more deeply in our communities to bring more services to seniors and create new jobs for people who are dedicated to community-based programs and aging services. We also seek to continue developing partnerships and new approaches to serving seniors in our communities, especially where there is limited access or unmet needs.