Leland Kiang

Coming together to help others

Helpline Manager Leland Kiang
Photo Courtesy of Philip Gerlach

Leland Kiang, who manages and frequently answers Iona’s free Helpline, has a lot of people leaning on him. 2,869 to be exact. That is the number of people who made 4,605 calls to the Helpline in the past year. Staffed by social workers every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Information & Referral Helpline was set up to answer common — and uncommon — questions and to refer callers to services and programs in our area. Anyone can call the line. Iona gets inquiries from residents throughout the region as well as family members living across the country and overseas who have older relatives in the Washington area.

“My affinity for working with older adults stems from my grandmother, who helped raise me,” says Leland, who has a master’s in social work from Catholic University. He worked as an Iona case manager before taking over the Helpline in 2008. The job, says Leland, is part social worker, part resource librarian.

Most of the questions to the Helpline come from caregivers — spouses, adult children, close friends, and professionals — but some come from older adults interested in resources for themselves. Callers represent the spectrum of income levels. During the recession, there was an increase in inquiries related to financial support.

Today, many people are looking for affordable housing. Callers also want to know about free or low-cost transportation services, home care services, government benefits, and home-delivered meals. “Sometimes the call is from an adult daughter or son who has noticed that mom or dad isn’t functioning well,” says Leland. “They are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do.

“Our job is to sort out where the need is,” he says. “If the caller is anxious, I let her vent, which gives me time to figure out how I can help.” Questions run the gamut. Are they trying to find out if Medicare pays for long-term care? How to support a parent who is being discharged from the hospital? How to help a family member who is depressed or socially isolated? Leland frequently refers callers to Iona’s team of experts, which includes case managers, social workers, and a dietician, among others.

Beyond the Helpline, Leland produces the Bi-Weekly Resource Digest distributed to a mailing list of 1,000 area professionals. “The Bi-Weekly Digest is phenomenal, very valuable,” said Mary Ann Floto, United Way’s 211 Program Manager. “I’ve passed it on to information and referral colleagues in Maryland and D.C.”

Asked how this work has influenced thoughts about his own aging, 49-year-old Leland points out that he has the privilege of witnessing both the challenges and the rewards of aging. “I’ve seen a lot of courage and resiliency,” he says. “At Iona — and throughout the community — I’ve seen people collectively coming together to help others. If anything, it’s inspiring.”

To get answers yourself call (202) 895-9448 and ask for the Helpline or email info@iona.org.

Written by Janice Kaplan