E.J. Nicolas '17 is an MSW/MAP student and an intern for Age-Friendly Teaneck. As a student and an intern, she juggles studying, working, and has also found the time to create the newest website for Age Friendly Teaneck at www.agefriendlyteaneck.org.
Where are you from and what attracted you to Rutgers?
I was born in San Francisco, CA but have grown up in Belleville, NJ since I was two years old. Culturally, I consider myself a Jersey girl through and through. In my town, I had the utmost school spirit and Rutgers exudes that community pride and spirit that I feel within myself. Additionally, with its great sense of community and diverse student and faculty population, it only felt natural for me to attend Rutgers. I went to Rutgers as an undergraduate from 2007-2011 (received my Bachelor of Arts degree), worked for a few years, and returned in 2015 to obtain my Master in Social Work.
What year/focus are you in the School?
I’m in my advanced year on the Management and Policy (MAP) track of my Master in Social Work with a planned health area of emphasis. I’ll also be receiving my Certificate in Aging in Health within the social work program. I chose the MAP track to be able to influence the bigger picture and not simply be a cog in the system.
What's your involvement in this project?
In addition the tasks listed two questions below, as project assistant, I helped brainstorm the need for a website and led the development of it using a third party web service tool. Through connections of the other members of our team, I worked with designers and photographers to get the visuals down. As a team, we gathered all the relevant information and organized it in a manner that would be as visually appealing as possible to the senior eye. In the digital age, there is importance to have a strong digital footprint to lend credibility to our cause. There will be regular updates to the website and those in the Teaneck community may benefit from continual check-ins on the resource and events pages.
What drew you to the field of social work (or the major)?
As cliché as it sounds, throughout my life, I knew I wanted to help people. However, as a youngster, I was not exposed to a multitude of careers that the world has to offer; so, at that time, studying medicine was the only answer to helping those in need. I studied sociology and biological sciences in undergrad and believed I would be that “different” doctor – the one who cared a little more and would spend just that much more time getting to know my patients, not the diagnoses. Fortunately, I discovered the world of social work as an adult and fell in love. Why reinvent the wheel when there’s already a field that combined my love for healthcare and service coordination? My hope for enriching others’ lives through empowerment and social change was already in existence for me to take on. Influencing change on a higher level would truly make the difference I imagined in society.
How did you get connected with Age-Friendly Teaneck and what's your level of involvement?
I had initially applied for the Fellowship in Aging program and was not accepted as a fellow. Fortunately, I met Professor Emily Greenfield through the interview process and she (and the other leaders in the aging and health program) seemed to understand my vision in working with the greater community, particularly that of geriatric health and wellness. Through the internship placement process, I was connected to Elizabeth Davis, who is a fantastic mentor and an inspiration. An executive director to a Comprehensive Personal Care Home, a HUD-subsidized independent living facility, and an assisted living services program, she somehow found time to apply for a grant with the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation and, thus, the age-friendly community initiative (AFCI) that is Age-Friendly Teaneck emerged. Serving as the project assistant, under the guidance of a project coordinator (Jacqueline Kates) and project director (Elizabeth Davis), I have helped gather availability of and organize meetings for a steering committee and task forces comprised of Teaneck residents and members/professionals of non-profit, faith-based, and civic organizations and businesses. After some meetings, with all information gathered, and after quite some deliberation with the members of our task forces, I put together an age-friendly website (www.agefriendlyteaneck.org) that seniors, caregivers, and providers can use as a resource for enriching the lives of individuals in the Teaneck community.
What do you hope to do after you graduate?
In an ideal situation, I hope to stay on board for a number of years with Elizabeth Davis’s team, or with someone who has similar visions and aspirations for the aging population. I’d like to continue working to ensuring that seniors have an opportunity to remain independent in their own homes and communities with dignity and comfort and connecting them and their caregivers to services that would best fit their needs and preferences. Advocating for and guiding those in need towards health and social solutions are of paramount importance in my career.