Katie Young fell in love with the older adult population while working at an assisted living home and watching her mother take care of her grandparents.
“I wanted to grow and learn more about aging,” said Young, 39. “I realized there was a lot of challenges in that field and I wanted to best support older adults who need to live in residential care for any number of reasons.”
Her role as the planner for policy and program development for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) and as chair of Generation Appreciation Philadelphia, aka GenPhilly, allows her to do this every day.
GenPhilly — which is affiliated with PCA — is a large network of younger professionals in Philadelphia who are interested in connecting with the older adult population, whether through their jobs or their personal lives. The network was founded in 2009 by Kate Clark, the assistant director for the Center for Population Health Innovation at Thomas Jefferson University.
The network has grown from less than 10 people in its early stages, to now 500 people from various industries in the city, including public health, social work and urban planning.
“The idea is to really change stereotypes around aging and for people to work in aging or incorporate older adults into their work,” Clark said. “A lot of organizations are focusing on families and young kids and not older adults.”
The network has an email listserv where members pass around job offerings in the aging field, as well as networking meetings and events. GenPhilly hosts at least six events around aging in the city each year.
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Its initiatives centered around the older adult population have included community gardens, urban planning and pets. Young said many older adults feed their pets with Meals on Wheels America or other home-delivered services because they can’t afford pet food or cannot make it to the store. GenPhilly created Philly Pets & Seniors, a research blog where veterinarians provide pet resources and information for low-cost clinics and pet food banks.
The group also hosted a screening of the film “Gen Silent,” about the aging experience of people in the LGBTQ community. After the film, members had a discussion about the unique experiences of aging for LGBTQ individuals and how to best serve that population.
“We are always working to say, ‘OK there’s a lot of great stuff out there, but how do we bring it all together? How do we lift each other up? How do we connect different organizations with each other and individuals with organizations?’” Young said.
For the future, Young said GenPhilly is interested in strengthening its relationships with local colleges and universities because it’s important for college students to understand the impact aging can have on their future careers: The United States’ 65-and-older population is expected to nearly double from 48 million to 88 million by 2050, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Young said that unless they’ve had a personal experience with it, young adults aren’t typically thinking about the aging population and its needs.
“Even if you’re going to school for interior design [for example], aging will still impact you because you’ll have to think about how do you design for individuals who want to remain in their home after they’ve had some physical or cognitive decline, or how do you help companies make their buildings accessible,” she said.
Lucas Asher, a 2015 University of Texas at Austin alumnus, became involved with GenPhilly when he moved to Philly after graduation. He now works for NewCourtland Senior Services, which provides home and community-based services in the Philadelphia region.
"Aging is not something that any of us are immune to."
He said young people can provide a unique perspective to older adult organizations.
“We think differently than the current population that serves them, so we can bring new ideas to organizations,” Asher said. “We have a responsibility to the older population to not forget about them and make sure that they can live their lives in happiness and with dignity and that is what I want for my family when they age.”
GenPhilly currently has members from West Chester University’s School of Social Work and both Temple University and University of Pennsylvania have hosted events in the past for GenPhilly centered around careers in aging. Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice offers a certificate in aging.
On Nov. 11, GenPhilly members will participate in the 2017 Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Citizens Bank Park.
Young added that since everyone eventually ages, it’s important for people to care about the matter earlier in life.
“It’s not something that any of us are immune to, so thinking about it with an us versus them mentality isn’t going to benefit anybody,” she said. “It has been my experience that once somebody, no matter their age, starts opening up to opportunity to engage with people of different ages and who are older than them, they quickly see that our similarities far outweigh the differences.”-30-
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