“Baby Boomers” – the generation of people born between 1946 (after the end of World War II) and 1964. They currently number 77 million people and the first of the boomers started turning 65 on January 1, 2011. The senior age group is now, for the first time, the largest in terms of size and percent of the population in the U.S. By 2030, nearly one in five of all U.S. residents will be aged 65 and older. These staggering numbers do and will continue to impact the U.S. economy, workforce, health industry, social services, and communities throughout the U.S.
Ariel Sherry ’15 has a passion for working with seniors. As a team leader of Adopt-a-Grandparent, through the COVE, and as a participant in the Elders Project (part of the Sociology of the Lifecourse class), Ariel has enjoyed getting to know the Hamilton community of elders. After taking a course on the sociology of aging from Professor Meiko Loe, she was inspired to do something even bigger to improve the quality of life of seniors in the community. She approached Professor Loe with her idea and it was Professor Loe who encouraged her to apply to the Thought Into Action Student Incubator.
When Ariel first thought about applying to TIA, her idea was very broad – she just wanted to help local seniors. However, she soon realized that the first step in figuring out what seniors wanted most was to ask them, and it was then that she knew that an assessment alone could be a beneficial venture. It was with this idea that Ariel applied to TIA. Her venture is called Age Together, which is an organization that assesses how senior-friendly a community is in terms of how well it provides seniors with opportunities for social, civic, and intellectual engagement. Age Together then shares these results with community leaders and, when necessary, proposes ideas of programs and plans for implantation that would make the community more senior friendly. Age Together is currently assessing Hamilton, NY.
According to Ariel, the TIA program and mentors have helped her form her idea into something concrete. She says “My mentors were the ones who actually helped illuminate for me that the assessment itself could be a project. The lectures, specifically learning how to pitch, helped me focus my idea. The group feedback sessions, particularly because many of my mentors live in or know Hamilton, gave me ideas about who to talk to in the community to make my Age Together assessment work. One of my mentors, Sharon Polansky, has experience in market research and spent a generous amount of time with me helping me to create an effective survey. Having the monthly meetings and mentors gives me a sense of accountability I might not have otherwise and helps me break down my project into more manageable goals.”
Ariel spent last semester solidifying her venture and determining what she wants her goals and outcomes to be. She has met with community leaders to discuss the survey and get their feedback on the validity and usefulness of the survey; so far they have been very encouraging. She has been able to distribute some surveys, but it has been challenging to figure out the best way to get the surveys to the right people. Her plans for next semester include disseminating the survey to as many seniors as she possibly can in order to get the best sampling possible for her study. She will also begin analyzing the first batch of surveys that have been returned. According to Ariel, “Once I get a number of surveys back, I’ll be able to aggregate the data to create a report for the community. In the near future, Age Together will be working with Hamilton officials to make use of the findings of the assessment. Down the road, I hope to bring Age Together to other communities.”
Ariel’s venture is just one example of a student taking a subject that she is passionate about, studying it in the classroom, and working through TIA to develop an idea into a sustainable, value-creating venture. With her Colgate education, Ariel will have many opportunities open to her; with her experience in TIA she has the potential to define her own path after graduation. She is just one more example of how Colgate students continue to change the world.
Ariel Sherry ’15, from Needham, MA, is a junior, double majoring in psychology and religion. She plans on going into the field of gerontology after graduation. At Colgate, she has participated in the Adopt-A-Grandparent group since freshman year, and has been helping lead the group for the past two years. She has a 96-year-old friend in town whom she has now been visiting just about weekly for almost three years.