Seniors are the fastest growing age group in the State of California. As the baby boomers retire, it is estimated that by 2030 one in every three people in California will be over the age of 50. The future demands that well trained professionals become available to support this population as they age.
Traditionally, many programs offering training and degrees in gerontology, social work, nursing and other helping professions are focused on understanding and developing skills to deal with older adults who have lost capacity to function independently, need one on one support for daily living, are struggling with ongoing life-threatening medical conditions or injury, or are in need of protection from abuse or neglect. Although these skills address a very real need, there is a population of older adults who do not fit neatly into these categories… those who continue to be active and involved in the world around them, those continuing to contribute to their families and community but find that their primary challenges are more likely related to the threat of social isolation and loneliness in an ever-changing world.
Some years ago, it occurred to several Village members that the Pasadena Village could play a role in preparing young aspiring professionals to meet the challenges of “Growing Gray in California.” With the approval of then Executive Director, Sue Kujawa, they took action.
The Pasadena Village has now offered internship opportunities to college graduate students who are fulfilling university requirements for completion of a Master’s Degree in Social Work since the Village was a newly emerging organization. The Village Board of Directors approved the first contractual agreement with the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work in 2014 and in 2016 approved a similar agreement with Azusa Pacific University (APU). To date, there have been 11 interns who have completed their field placement requirements at the Pasadena Village plus an additional two who are working in the Village now.
The intern project is based on the premise that the program needs to be mutually beneficial to both the interns and to the Village. Therefore, it attempts to meet the needs of both. The interns spend 16 hours per week securing real life experiences working with older adults. They are supervised by a Village member, Esther Gillies, a licensed clinical social worker who provides the required weekly supervision and acts as the official liaison between the universities and the Village. The interns assist Village members in problem solving, in utilizing the resources of the Village and the community at large. They develop an understanding of the importance of community and the need for socialization. They learn how to address issues of isolation and loneliness. They learn how to listen and develop an understanding of the challenges of growing older. They begin to develop professional social work ethics and learn the importance of respect for self-determination by older adults. They learn about the operation of a non-profit organization.
The Village on the other hand benefits from the ideas of a younger generation, their enthusiasm, their varied talents and the multiple ethnic and cultural groups that they represent. Significant contributions by the interns over the years have involved the development of the Women’s Group model; Transportation initiatives helping members learn to use public transportation; participation in information gathering and evaluation of the data for Village annual evaluations; development of the psycho-educational program, Adapting When Life Gets Tough; an informational campaign on voting; active participation in several Village Committees; and the list goes on.
Eleven of our graduates are now practicing social workers in communities across the state. In several upcoming editions of the Pasadena Village E-Newsletter, we will be highlighting the work of our graduate interns letting you know where they are now and how they are applying those social work skills grounded in the training they received at the Pasadena Village.