Gerontology Student Success Stories
Two years ago I decided I needed to return to school and pursue a career that would be appreciated and that I would enjoy doing each day. The first thing that caught my eye about the gerontology program was the aspect of doing activities. I had experience doing early childhood activities and planning events for groups. So I thought why not take those skills and see if I could make a difference for some elders.
Early in the course work I found my niche within the gerontology community. I had the vision of being an activities director of a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) senior community. Problem was there was not a GLBT Senior community in the Portland metropolitan area; matter of fact there are very few in the US.
In the beginning I found myself volunteering at Portland Impact’s SE Multicultural Center doing outings with their senior program. In addition to working on the weekends at a senior home handling their Saturday morning bingo game. I met some wonderful people during my afternoon activities and morning bingo games but something was missing. I was not meeting any GLBT Seniors or more likely they were not comfortable in these setting about being out.
Finally one day I came across Elder Resource Alliance (ERA) and Senior Housing And Retirement Enterprises (SHARE), two groups working to help GLBT seniors in the Portland area. I started my first internship with ERA, which trains organizations on how to be sensitive to GLBT needs. I started out by designing a professional looking brochure that they could use as a marketing tool about their services. Now I have moved into assisting the coordinating of events that allow GLBT Seniors to have a supportive environment and avoid social isolation.
My internship with SHARE has been by far one of greatest times in my scholastic times. SHARE is a group that has been working on developing housing for GLBT Seniors. This internship continues to be a great fit for me. I have been able to use both my academic and life skills to help out on several of SHARE’s committees. I began working with SHARE after I approached the board about doing a fundraising event to help raise awareness and funds for the group. My greatest accomplishment with them was the creation of a fundraiser that gave the group some wonderful publicity as well as help raised $10,000 for the cause.
I have found my internships and informational interviews great resources for finding and confirming a career path in gerontology. The internships have allowed me to use my gerontology studies in real world situations. Soon the connections I have built during my internships will allow me to transition into an activities coordinator position.
When I completed my Master of Arts in speech communication, I assumed that I would spend many years in my career doing Japanese-English translation. When the Japanese economy bottomed out, however, my translation business suffered, and I had to consider a career change. I thought about finding a career helping others that would also benefit me as a baby boomer. A career in aging was a perfect fit.
I chose the Gerontology Program at Portland Community College that offers a balanced curriculum of both academic knowledge and practical internships. My first internship was as a volunteer in the State of Oregon Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. My reflections on this experience, together with my studies for the AAS degree in Gerontology, opened me to an unexpected career opportunity designing living environments to enable elders to remain in their own homes, rather than moving to a care facility.
I have offered my workshop "Home Environment for Older Adults" at Portland Community College’s Southeast Campus, and my workshop has been approved by Clackamas County Adult Home Care Provider Licensing for the providers’ continuing education credits. I have also established my business called "Home Esteem" that offers redesign, space planning, accessibility, and sustainability for homes of older adults.
Starting up a business is not easy, but I enjoy what I am doing, and I know I am making a difference.
I was lucky to find an internship that led to part-time work through Adult Placement Network with Michele Fiasca (503) 659-2406 at 8826 SE 28th Place Milwaukie, OR 97222. My work involves making calls on foster homes that want to register with the company’s database for a fee to secure priority for our client referrals. If they agree to register I set an appointment and fax them information. I then visit the foster home to do an assessment by interviewing their operator and completing an informal data form, taking photos in and outside the home and talking to some of the residents. At this time I also get a copy of their license, last inspection, menus, list of activities, and house rules. I need to have good observation and people skills as well as marketing skills to do this work. I also advise them on how to market their foster home with a one-page list of ideas that we look at together. The final stage is to enter the information into a database that this company uses to refer clients.
This placement is the perfect complement to my studies in gerontology. I believe this is an excellent learning experience because I see both sides. I have learned from the inside about a business that assists people looking to find a foster home, and through my assessments, I am also learning about how foster homes operate and what their concerns are.
In the spring of 2001, I had just experienced the loss of my mother, followed by learning that the company for which I had worked for 9 years would be closing its doors within a few months. After looking for work for several months, my heart kept returning to an unfulfilled dream of mine to return to college. As I looked through college catalogs, I was always drawn back to the Gerontology program at Portland Community College. Having been the caregiver for my parents for several years and with a life long love for older adults, I decided to combine something I was passionate about with an education, in hopes of developing a career rather than just a job.
As part of the Cooperative Education commitment for the Gerontology degree, I decided to volunteer at Robison Jewish Health Center. What started as just a way to rack up hours ended up opening my eyes to a career path to which I had never given any thought. The more time I spent helping in the Activity department, the more I realized this would be a perfect arena for me to use my talents and skills and get paid! I turned my volunteering into an internship and learned all I could about being an Activity Director. When I learned that Activity Director certification training was available, I took the class.
Being in the right place at the right time paid off: one of the activity coordinators I was shadowing at Robison decided to move out of state and she recommended me to fill her position. Since I had been already been interning for 6 months, management had the opportunity to know me and what I could do. This internship, combined with my soon-to-be completed AAS in gerontology earning, made me competitive for the position.
Cooperative Education gave me the chance to volunteer in many different settings. When I found one that I knew was a good fit for me, a little luck and focused determination developed into a new career for me.
I initially enrolled in the Gerontology program as my children were beginning to head to college, and I was looking for a new direction in my life. As my courses progressed, I became most interested in older adults remaining active and independent.
For one of our projects I studied the benefits of warm water exercises. This led me to consider exercise in water. After meeting with the gerontology career specialist, I decided to do my first cooperative education assignment at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center where they had a hydrotherapy pool.
I was amazed by the freedom the seniors experienced exercising in the water when they had such mobility problems on land. I worked with two great therapists at Mittleman who taught me a lot about exercise with older adults who were suffering from a variety of limitations.
My next cooperative education assignment was at the Waterford Senior Fitness Center in Vancouver. They have a fantastic pool, and I managed to arrange to do two internships there.
At the end of my first internship, where I had been observing the arthritis exercise class in the water, I considered combining my degree in Gerontology with one in Fitness Technology in order to work in Senior Fitness, the fastest growing area in the exercise field.
My second internship focused more on the weight training room and front desk, as well as putting together a circuit training class in the pool. I learned more about the exercise equipment in the gym, and also helped the members with their programs.
Because of this experience I was offered a part time job as Fitness Trainer at Waterford. It was a perfect fit with my two degrees!
I am very excited about working in Senior Fitness. The benefits of remaining active are numerous. I plan to get my Personal Trainer Certification and complete the Fitness and Gerontology degrees in the next year and then start working with seniors. This combines perfectly my personal interest in fitness and working with a population I really enjoy being with.
At the end of last year when I was offered a part time job at Waterford I was thrilled. It was the perfect combination of working in the fitness industry with seniors. From starting out with little idea of the direction Gerontology would take me I found I could combine my interest in fitness with working with a group of people who I find are fantastic to work with.