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MSW Fellow in Aging attends ASA through a Scholarship

With the support of Southwest Airlines, on Monday, March 27th, I arrived in snowy Chicago to attend the American Society on Aging (ASA) conference. I attended various workshops, general sessions and networking events that expanded my understanding of the innovative programs that exist across our nation to assist older adults. Services and programs were geared towards a great variety of audiences. I saw programs for aging in place, supporting quality care once a senior can no longer live in the community, support for caregivers, and educational programs for volunteers and rising professionals. This experience truly showed me the endless possibilities for professional roles and out-of-the-box projects. Presenters showed how not sticking to the ordinary and taking risks can generate extraordinary rewards. This was inspirational to me as I begin my career in gerontological social work.

An emphasis on the power of language really stood out to me as a take-away. In a presentation, “Disabilities in Aging: A Future Redesigned” we explored the lives of differently-abled older adults who live in the community and require creative accommodations to navigate independently in their homes, through streets and public buildings. The presenters emphasized the importance of this issue by pointing out that many older adults will experience some level of physical or cognitive decline by virtue of the normal process of aging. They referred to those in the room without disabilities as “the not yet disabled.” This really put things into perspective for the crowd.

I was very excited to be in the room when the ARRP presented the next big resource that would be made available through their website. Administration from the national headquarters of the AARP revealed their next resource to be released at the end of April, the AARP Network of Age Friendly Communities: Livability Index. This exciting new tool will allow anyone to access information online about how aging-friendly their town or city is. Category breakdowns will be provided to include transportation, housing, resources, etc. This will be a significant resource for professionals in the field advocating for elders and presenting new plans for change, as much of the needed research can be extracted from the data found in this source.

My favorite event, hands down, was the site visit to the Heartland Housing and Center on Halsted Town Hall Apartments. This apartment complex provides a safe space for LGBT older adults aged 55+. This subsidized housing (with an income limit) has 60% of its inhabitants as those who identify as LGBT. It is built into the old Chicago Police Department building. The bricks from the original building provide powerful symbolism, as this property has been transformed from a place many LGBT individuals once feared, to a place they now embrace as a part of the Chicago community. There are many common areas for residents to join together and have company in, as well as an exercise room and library. An LGBT resource center is right next door. Hearing the residents share their stories with us was very inspiring. This housing was truly life changing and empowering for them. It was great to see a city taking action to support this marginalized population. As a student attending, I accepted an invitation to participate in the Women in Gerontology Legacy (WIGL) project. This research project was made possible by the Gerontological Society of America’s Committee on Women’s Issues. As a participant, I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Colette Brown WMA, from the University of Hawaii. Questions were focused on how she became interested in gerontology, her incredible career focusing on diversity, and whom she would identify as her mentors. The two topics of discussion I found most thought provoking, and of which were at the core of this project, revolved around the intersections of being a woman in the field of gerontology, and being a gerontologist experiencing the aging process. Transcribing the interview back in New Jersey, reviewing and deeply processing Colette’s insight has been very insightful and enlightening.

She pointed out that it is very empowering to be in a field where there are many female leaders. Recalling her first time attending the ASA conference in 1977, she described the presenters and experts who heard speak and met as “rock stars,” being familiar with their work and having looked up to them. It was a powerful reminder to me that today I am right where Colette started her career. And based upon my experience at the conference, I couldn’t have described it better myself.

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