As people live longer and baby boomers grow older, the demand for affordable, supportive, and high-quality housing will continue to increase. However, the lack of affordable and accessible housing options that support aging-in-place are major barriers to rebalancing the delivery of community-based services and care. In order to prevent social isolation and better serve seniors, some affordable housing communities have formed connections with universities. These organizations support positive aging-in-place by providing services and programs that support the needs of residents in affordable housing communities. This type of partnership is considered to promote wellness through research initiatives, health education, and social engagement.
Opportunities for Unique Partnerships
Many academic institutions have programs and resources to engage with community-based organizations. Opportunities can take the form of student organizations hosting a program designed for intergenerational events and partnerships. For example, the pharmacy school at Howard University in Washington, DC, has hosted a prom for seniors in a north east community for several years. In other cases, partnerships may be more related to service provision. Several departments at the University of Maryland-Baltimore Center for example, engage with their community of seniors and adults with disabilities by hosting chair-based yoga sessions, health fairs, community gardening projects, and computer classes. This type of engagement provides the housing provider with some additional program opportunities for their residents.
While it’s worth noting the benefits of partnering for seniors, it is also important to mention the benefits for the university, and the students. Several universities have a community engagement requirement in their strategic plans. The physical position that many of these colleges and universities have in the community makes them ideal neighbours for shared opportunities. The Richmond Health and Wellness Program coordinated by Virginia Commonwealth University, provides a community-based, care coordination program that allows students from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Social Work and the Department of Psychology to work directly with seniors in affordable housing communities. By engaging with organizations outside of the classroom, students can take what they have learned theoretically and apply it to a community setting. In my experience, many students have preconceived notions about seniors and expect to interact with them as if they are their grandparents or an older relative. The seniors challenge them, in a good way, to understand that seniors are not a homogeneous group. Working with seniors in community-based settings provides students and early career researchers with the opportunity to gain practical experience and insights to inform their research. From the Senior’s side, some enjoy participating in research studies because it provides them with the opportunity to share their experiences and thoughts.
The agreement between the community-based organization and the university/college often involves a memorandum of understanding, space in the community to provide the engagement, and a willingness for meaningful engagement. These partnerships are more likely to withstand changes in time as there are written agreements between communities and Universities. As the landscape for seniors shifts and grows, critical gerontologists need to consider how academia can be a part of that transformation and further aid both scholarship and practice.