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Frances Wu’s $1.5 Million Gift Endows First Chair at the School of Social Work

Retired Monterey Park social worker Frances Wu, founder and president of the Chinese-American Golden Age Association, has given $1.5 million to the School of Social Work to establish the Chinese-American Golden Age Association-Dr. Frances Wu Endowed Chair.

The chair is the first endowed chair in the School of Social Work.

Wu is USC’s first recipient of a doctoral degree in social work with a specialization in gerontology and administration, and the first Chinese scholar to receive a D.S.W. from the School of Social Work. The creation of the endowed chair is a fulfillment of her lifelong efforts to provide programs and services that address the needs of elderly Chinese.

“This endowed chair will enable us to give enhanced attention to an important ethnic group in Los Angeles and signifies a milestone in the growing academic stature of the school,” said President Steven B. Sample.

Through a program of research and teaching, the Chinese-American Golden Age Association-Dr. Frances Wu Endowed Chair will build upon Wu’s decades of work with the Chinese American community. It will focus on better understanding the needs of elderly Chinese and developing innovative approaches to address issues such as long-term care, assisted living and the integration of health and social services with housing arrangements for the elderly.

Wu’s commitment to social welfare began almost 50 years ago in Nanking, China, when she graduated from Ginling College in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and social work. In 1953, after working in the field of child welfare for several years, Wu moved to Montreal, Canada, to attend McGill University.

Graduating two years later with a master’s degree in social work, she then went to New York City, where she treated emotionally disturbed youth and counseled parents for more than 15 years.

Despite a demanding schedule, Wu spent considerable time in New York’s Chinese-American community, especially with elderly immigrants. It was there that she became painfully aware of their plight.

“They described themselves as deaf and dumb,” Wu said. “During the 1960s, there were no Chinese-language newspapers, television shows or social programs like they have today.”

Wu realized that elderly Chinese immigrants – who were unable to read or speak English and were unfamiliar with their surroundings – had great difficulty adjusting to their new environment, often feeling loneliness and despair. Moved by their plight, she decided to dedicate her life to the elderly Chinese in this country.

In 1971, Wu relocated to Southern California in pursuit of higher education. There she met Frances Lomas Feldman, professor and director of admissions for the School of Social Work. Interested in the administration of programs for the elderly – then, not a specialization at the school – Wu learned that it was too late for her to apply to the program, and that all of the scholarships and stipends had been distributed. However, when a student suddenly withdrew from the program, Feldman tracked her down and offered Wu a scholarship and stipend.

“It was a miracle,” Wu said.

She immediately enrolled in the Summer Institute on Aging at USC’s Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center. With Feldman’s support, she pursued a course of study that included administration and gerontology – the two areas that interested her the most – breaking away from the school’s traditional focus on teaching and research.

The transition from full-time social worker to full-time student, however, was not an easy one for Wu, who had to make emotional and financial adjustments. “I went from being a director to a student,” she said. “I was the oldest person in my class.”

Wu persevered, receiving her D.S.W. in 1974. Drawing on her doctoral research, she developed a proposal to establish a complex providing housing and social services for senior citizens.

But to make her project a reality, she needed financial support.

While working on her dissertation, Wu interviewed more than 50 elderly Chinese Americans and – through this connection – organized the Chinese-American Golden Age Association, dedicated to meeting the needs of the elderly Chinese in the community. Today, the Chinese-American Golden Age Association is some 300 members strong.

With the association’s help, Wu raised the majority of funds needed to qualify for a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan. After meeting with the city manager of Monterey Park, she secured a five-acre parcel of land no longer needed by the Garfield Unified School District.

Utilizing her USC relationships, Wu asked the university’s Andrus Gerontology Center to be a co-sponsor in applying for the HUD loan. In May 1978, with the support of the Chinese-American Golden Age Association and USC, Wu received final HUD approval for the project loan.

In December 1980, the Golden Age Village opened its doors, offering low-income housing to the elderly.

Thanks to the booming real estate market in the 1980s, two additional private projects were developed on the remaining parcel of land: Golden Age Manor, a 33-unit condominium complex, was unveiled in 1986, and in 1994, the Golden Age Villas were opened, offering 29 condominiums.

With both projects successful beyond her expectations, Wu and the Chinese-American Golden Age Association were able to commit the funds to endow a chair in the School of Social Work.

Wu’s desire to give back to the university stems from that “miracle” in 1971 when the university provided her with a scholarship. Since 1975, she has made more than 60 gifts to USC and has endowed the Frances Wu Scholarship in the School of Social Work.

“It doesn’t matter how much you give,” said Wu, who was recently awarded the School of Social Work’s Dean’s Award for Outstanding Community Service. “What’s important is that it comes from your heart.”

Frances Wu’s $1.5 Million Gift Endows First Chair at the School of Social Work

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