Who Is Old?

Edith Connors 77 year old body builder
Edith Connors 77-year-old body builder

Who is old?  What does old mean?  Who decides that you are old?  Who do you identify as old?

Is it age?  Do you automatically become old the day you start collecting your social security? Some people collect at 62, some at 66, and some at 70.  Or, maybe it’s the year you become eligible. Can it be the day you retire from your career job?  Or maybe it’s the day you become a grandparent.

My mother-in-law didn’t become old until she turned 90, while my mother decided she was old at 80. They self-selected when to be old. Meanwhile, my best friend who has a form of rheumatoid arthritis self-identified as old when she was only 55. So, it’s possible that old is when you need assistance with certain activities and realize that you are slowing in your performance. A 72 year old friend mentioned to me, “I can’t believe how much longer it’s taking me to walk to the office each morning. I used to be such a fast walker.“  Is she now old?

I am certain that my grandchildren identify me as old, while my peers tell me how young I look. Maybe that’s the answer. Old, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. My husband tells me I look as young as the day we met, which can hardly be true since that was over fifty years ago. Maybe we are old when our hair turns gray. Yet, I have a friend who went prematurely gray in her thirties.

Another answer might be that we are old when we start receiving senior discounts. I do have a senior Metro-Card that entitles me to use New York City’s subways and buses at half price. I have an AARP card, and I now go to movies and visit museums for senior admission rates.

Do all cultures and societies see “old” similarly?  Eastern cultures tend to value age and equate age with wisdom. Unfortunately, Western cultures put a higher value on youth. This causes many of the aging people I know to go to great lengths to appear younger than their actual age. I have an 85 year old constituent who came to see me one day carrying a large umbrella. “Is it raining?” I asked. “Oh, no”, she replied, but I refuse to walk with a cane.”

We, here in the United States and other Western industrialized counties, are experiencing a longevity boom. People here may not be perceived as old until they are in their 70s or maybe even 80s. Yet, in third world countries that are ravaged by war and hunger, people are perceived as old at a much younger age.

So, old may be determined by the place you live or the era in which you were born. My grandmother at 70 was an old woman. I am 68 and would not be described as an “old woman” by most people I know. Old can also be determined by one’s environment or the circumstances under which one lives. Those who live in poverty and those who are marginalized may not have access to good health care or healthy food. People who live in these minority communities are old sooner than those from middle and upper class majority neighborhoods.

So, it seems then that old is a socially constructed category. What old is to me may be different than what old means to you.

There is much truth in the adage, “Once you’ve seen one old person, you’ve seen one old person.” We are aging from the moment we are born; and the more we age,–the more we experience our own individual lives–the more diverse we become. Our individual lived experiences then may be the only key to determining when each of us is old.

Are you old?  If so, when did you become old?  If you are not old, what makes you see someone else as old?  Why do you think a society’s definition of old is important?

Ageism In The Workplace

If we are not welcome in the workplace and we are expected to live well into our nineties and beyond, how can we ever hope to be able to sustain ourselves financially?

Can you imagine a workforce made up of 3 generations?  I am 68, my children are in their forties, and my oldest grandchild is 17. I am one of the fortunate aging boomers who is still part of the American workforce. I have no problem envisioning a workplace where my granddaughter, my son, and I will all be participating in the growth of our nation’s economy. Yet, there is one major obstacle to achieving this goal. It is the oldest, most entrenched form of discrimination in this country. Ageism!

agediscriminationintheworkplace02Nowhere is it easier to identify ageism than in the workplace. As older workers are staying longer and younger workers enter the field, more often than not they will find themselves part of a multigenerational workforce. By the middle of the next decade, the United States will be an aging society, with more Americans over age 60 than under age 15.

What this means for an evolving job market is that there will not be enough young workers to fill entry level jobs. We will then have two choices. We can import young workers from other countries, or we can prepare ahead by accommodating older workers and encouraging them to remain or re-enter the workplace. This would be a welcoming departure from the cold shoulder that older workers receive when applying for jobs today.

Our country’s leaders are always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to planning ahead. For years and years people have been writing about the “graying of the American workforce” and the “aging tsunami”. The boomers are not coming; we have arrived!

We are healthier than previous generations, and we are living longer–in many cases, as much as 20 years longer. Yet, when we leave our career jobs, whether by choice or not by choice, we step into a void. We discover that there is no role for us in society. We become invisible. The invisible man today is not a bandaged wrapped non-body. He is an invisible somebody.

Here’s the dilemma: If we are not welcome in the workplace, and we are expected to live well into our nineties and beyond, how can we ever hope to be able to sustain ourselves financially? We have the intelligence, skills and wisdom to become one of society’s greatest assets.  Yet, without the opportunity to earn our own way, we will certainly become society’s burden. Most salient is our position as repositories of historical and cultural history and our ability to solve long term problems that younger people do not have the time for.

One excuse I hear for not keeping or hiring older workers is the fear that it will be too expensive. “They will be sick too often and, therefore, be less productive.” Not true. Older workers come with an innate work ethic. We take less sick days than our younger co-workers. We also come with our own health insurance, namely, Medicare. And, older workers are often willing to work for lower salaries as a supplement to our Social Security.

Mainly, we want to be valued and be seen as contributors to a better society, not as a drain. I wonder if those who would shut older adults out of the workforce are ageists who drank the youth-obsessed Kool-Aide that the media hands out. They probably do not even recognize their own internalized ageism. Have they thought about why they do not want a workplace filled with grey haired people? Could it possibly be the threat of having a workforce who reflect the true life process of aging that they would rather deny?

Ageism does not only affect the old. It affects our entire society. It deprives one generation the opportunity to pass on knowledge to the next, while depriving the younger generation the opportunity to learn and build on that knowledge.  It deprives an older generation the opportunity to keep growing and learning new skills for which the young are our best teachers.

The stereotypes of older people that we all own do not match up with the reality of today.  They are out of date.  It’s time for an upgrade.


Healing Our Most Dangerous Communities: Putting the ‘Social’ back in to Social Work

Last week, a British Court heard how Police Officer Keith Blakelock died in an estate in North London which was identified by Scotland Yard as being “impossible to police.” The Broadwater Farm estate was described by the Chief Superintendent Colin Couch, as a “working-class, multi-ethnic area” with a notoriety for the sale and use of drugs, and PC Blakelock died in October 1985 after riots broke out across Tottenham.

Keith Blakelock
Officer Keith Blakelock

Thirty years later, the problem of “impossible to police neighbourhoods” is still as prevalent as ever. In almost every country in the world, there are inner-city neighbourhoods where crime, drugs and prostitution plague the community. Cities across Jamaica, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States are all well-known for their troubled areas. And yet, there are hundreds more cities across the world, whilst they may have lower murder rates, which still suffer from the effects of poverty, drug addiction and unemployment. We all know those places where it is not safe to walk or where you would not want to raise your children.

When you actually take the time to not just look at, but really see and understand these communities, you immediately discover the inherent potential and beauty within them. This is no more evident than in the photography of Chris Arnade, who has taken thousands of photos of homeless people and sex workers in Hunts Point in the Bronx, one of New York City’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Through his photography, Chris states how he aims to “capture conventional snapshots of unconventional people.” However, what the photographs do best, is capture the humanity of even the most excluded and berated individuals; a humanity that we all share.

As a student Social Worker I undertook my first placement in an area of Sheffield that was notorious for gangs, shootings, violence and drugs. It was an area, I admit, that I had previously avoided and it would be dishonest to say that I was not a little nervous about working there. However, within the first few weeks, I found myself in love, not only with the eclectic an exciting range of people but also with the general sense of comradery and community that can only be found in neighbourhoods where there is a shared concern. The passion and involvment of individuals manifested itself in to local groups and charities who worked tirelessly to support and improve their community. Behind the poor reputation of the neighbourhood lay numerous individuals and families who were fighting for a better world. There was so much intelligence, compassion and dilligence waiting to be utilized even in this, the most “broken” of communities.

I believe that in the UK, we have lost the ‘social’ in Social Work. The true value of Social Work would be in immersing ourselves fully in these communities. Energy needs to be focussed on getting to know these neighbourhoods and then, not only supporting people on an individual basis around issues of health and housing, but also advocating for better resources and support for those living in poverty. We need to lobby at a political level and act as a voice for the voiceless.

Radical Social Work is not a new idea, but it is certainly one that has fallen by the wayside since the spread of neoliberalism which has pushed privatization, the centrality of the market and crucially, the individual as separate from the whole. As Social Workers we must draw on Critical and Radical Social Work to identify oppressive functions in society and analyze them to create social change. “No man is an island” and we must accept that a profession which seeks to heal social problems, such as child abuse, addiction and prostitution, will not be successful as long as we continue to work on a one-to-one basis with people.

No neighbourhood should remain a no-go area or indeed a complete ‘write-off’. Social Work, if utilized correctly, has the potential to heal these damaged communities. However, the key lies in ensuring that neighbours know and care for each other; that inequality does not go unchallenged and that people are never seen as less than the sum of all their parts. There is no such thing as a neighbourhood full of ‘junkies’ or ‘criminals’; there are only neighbourhoods full of varied, fascinating and important human beings.

The Fight for More Accessible Taxis Was Won In New York City

Wheelchair Accessible Taxi 1
New York City Taxis

Accessible taxis will now become a reality for those with disabilities in New York City as the city agreed to make 50% of its taxi fleet accessible by 2020.  The battle to create more accessible taxi transportation services for those with disabilities has existed for years. In 2011, four disability advocacy groups decided to file a class-action lawsuit against the city for its failure to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) policy regarding public transportation.  Mayor Bloomberg’s administration had repeatedly denied being non-compliant when it came to providing appropriate accessible public transportation options to wheelchair users.

The agreement reached earlier this month regarding transportation accessibility outlines that half of the city’s 13,000+ yellow cabs must be accessible to people with disabilities in six years.  As of the time of this article, only 231 of the city’s 13,237 in-service taxicabs are wheelchair accessible.  Though the city did implement a dispatch program in June 2012 that allows wheelchair users to request the few available accessible taxis, this service alone does not ameliorate the transportation barrier that plague wheelchair users.  Given the national and international appeal of the Big Apple, it is unacceptable that 1.75% of New York City’s yellow taxicabs are currently wheelchair accessible.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission will pass regulations that will require cab owners to purchase wheelchair accessible taxicabs when it is time for them to replace or retire the taxicabs that are currently in use.  (Most taxicabs have a lifespan of three to five years, taking into consideration of how they are utilized.)  This landmark deal demands that half of all new yellow cabs that are obtain in any given year to be wheelchair accessible, until the 50% goal is achieved.

Winning this battle for transportation accessibility is a key moment in the disability rights and advocacy movement.  When disability advocates and allies band together to demand equality and justice for those with disabilities, especially when it is clearly outlined in a pivotal piece of federal legislation such as the ADA, our lawmakers cannot continue to ignore such united voices for what is right and just.  New York City is not the only city in the United States where the war for appropriate transportation options has been waged.  Transportation is a huge barrier that people with disabilities endure in rural and urban areas alike.  Not having access to appropriate transportation options unfairly disadvantages people with disabilities when it comes to attaining educational and employment opportunities, as well as hinders their ability to become independent members within their communities.

Many people are unaware of how serious the impact of a lack of accessible transportation can negatively affect one’s quality of life and gaining the opportunities to be productive, sociable, and self-sufficient members in our society.  It is erroneous to assume that policies regarding accessible transportation are being properly adhered to within our cities and towns.  I urge everyone who reads this article to research the accessible transportation options in their area.  If you find ADA-related compliance issues, write and/or call your local, state, and federal representatives.  It is only when we bring such disparities to their attention that empowering change(s) will occur.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of NMEDA.)

Forty to None Launches Network For Professionals Working With LGBT Youth

NEW YORK – November 20, 2013 – The Forty to None Project, a program of the True Colors Fund, announces the launch of the Forty to None Network. The Network is a collective of individuals who are working to address or have the potential to impact the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth homelessness.

Forty to NoneRecent reports estimate that up to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBT, while only 5-7% of the general youth population does the same. The Forty to None Network seeks to reduce this disproportionate representation in part by facilitating a reciprocal information exchange among service providers, educators, researchers, advocates, government officials, health care professionals, philanthropists, and young people.

“Most street-based teens use the streets as a means to survive because they have no other way to survive and take care of themselves,” says ZiZi Phillips, youth advocate and formerly homeless young person. For ZiZi the Forty to None Network is a platform where young advocates can connect and educate the public about youth homelessness from their own experiences.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth are disproportionately represented among youth who experience homelessness,” said Network member Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “That’s why the Forty to None Network is so important. By working across sectors and in coalition with other organizations and agencies, Forty to None provides leadership and energy to help end the crisis of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth homelessness.”

“We created the Forty to None Network in response to the feedback we’ve received from people around the country working on LGBT youth homelessness – that there is a missing consolidated, national network to facilitate the sharing of ideas and action,” said Jama Shelton, Director of the Forty to None Project. “It is our hope that the network will build bridges across systems that impact LGBT youth, and keep everyone engaged in this critical work informed and working collaboratively.”

Forty to None Network membership benefits include first looks at best practices, research and fundraising resources, and legislative and policy updates. Members will be invited to help shape the content distributed through the Forty to None Network by sharing their experiences, providing feedback, and engaging in ongoing dialogue via Network facilitated online communication and in-person networking opportunities.

“Joining the Forty to None Network is a no-brainer,” said Network member Blase DiStefano, Creative Director and Entertainment Editor for OutSmart magazine in Houston, Texas. “At my lowest point, I at least had a place to live. For those of us who are homeless, this network could be a lifesaver.”

Those working in social services, public policy, research, and other related areas on the local, state, and national levels, or those whose work impacts the systems that serve LGBT homeless youth may sign up to join the network at www.fortytonone.org/network.  The Forty to None Network is made possible through the generosity of the Yambao family in memory of Norman Miller Yambao.

About the Forty to None Project

The True Colors Fund’s Forty to None Project is the nation’s first and only national organization solely dedicated to raising awareness about and bringing an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth experiencing homelessness. For more information, please visit www.fortytonone.org.

Source: Forty to None

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Interview with Matt Braman: Author Behind Social Workers Can Do More Than Reduce Gun Violence

Rarely, do I read an opinion piece or article not located on a social work site written from a social work friendly place. When I do, I immediately think this person must be a social worker or affiliated with the profession in some capacity. When I came across the article Social Workers Can Do More Than Reduce Gun Violence,  I wanted to know more about the person and inspiration behind the article, so I contacted the Washington Square News, New York University (NYU) Student Newspaper. I had the opportunity to discuss with Matthew his article, and here is some of our conversation:

SWH: Tell me a bit about yourself and your educational background?

Matt Braman NYU Welcome Week Photo
Matt Braman NYU Social Work Student

Matt: Currently, I am an advanced standing Masters of Social Work (MSW) Candidate at New York University Silver School of Social Work. My MSW Field Placement is with Good Shepherd Services (GSS) in the Brooklyn LIFE program. GSS is a leading youth development agency based in New York City and the LIFE program is a juvenile justice initiative based in East New York, Brooklyn.

I am also a contributing opinion columnist for the Washington Square News and a member of the NYU Gender Violence Awareness Week student planning committee. My undergraduate social work degree (BSW) is from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti, Michigan where I also interned at the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative for the BSW Field Placement.

Following my graduation from EMU, I served one year as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) also where I built program capacity, provided direct services to ex-offenders on parole and in seek of employment, and co-facilitated two psychoeducation and support groups which included Job Club and the Men’s Trauma Group for ex-offenders.

SWH: How would you describe the MSW Program at NYU?

Matt: For me, the MSW Program at NYU is quite versatile despite the one year commitment for advanced standing students. Before I decided on NYU, I was contemplating offers from the University of Michigan, Boston University, and University of Southern California. I visited the Washington Square Campus, and I was intrigued by the allure of NYU and the city in addition to reconnecting with friends of mine living in NYC. I researched all of the professors I could select before signing up for classes and selected some of the top social work professionals in the field including Carol Tosone, Gary Holden, Steven Ball, and Jeane W. Anastas (President of NASW).

They each have prominent to the field in international social work, research for practice ), group practice with the LGBT community, social work education, and public policy. Thus far, I have been developed advanced clinical, research, policy, and advocacy skills despite NYU’s reputation for providing solely clinical training. I feel energized and delighted to experience NYU Silver with classmates and professors from across the globe. I feel ready to be in my career, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the NYU and the Silver communities.

SWH: What was the inspiration behind the article you wrote for the Washington Square News (NYU Student Paper), and how did it come about?

Matt: So far, I have written three articles for the Washington Square News which is the NYU Student Paper. The first was a part of an independent study for the course Legislative Social Policy and Social Work Advocacy: Federal Issues in Action with Dr. Anastas at the NYU-Washington, D.C. campus. I was to write and submit a letter to the editor based on my policy analysis of a federal policy, and I chose social security 05/bramen/). I submitted the letter to the NYU student newspaper, and they offered me a regular slot to publish opinion articles. Next, I wrote a position piece on how social workers can end more than just gun violence 14/braman/).

I wrote this piece as a reaction to a public panel discussion hosted by the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge called “Triggering the Debate: Guns, Race, and Mental Illness”. In general, I plan to bring my social work perspective to the national discussion and focus on timely issues that I feel are important to social work practitioners and clients. Also, I published another article which reiterates my opinion that males have a responsibility to end gender-violence, which is timely because of the recent reauthorizing of the Violence Against Women Act, Women’s History Month in March and NYU Gender Violence Awareness Week which occurred April 8-12th.

SWH: Hypothetically, what would need to happen for the vision outlined in your article to become reality?

For the vision of the gun violence article to become a reality there are several things that would be needed. First, social workers should explore the existing knowledge base and become familiar with facts and political rhetoric. When that is accomplished it is important for social workers to create new knowledge based on research. Anytime someone is advocating for a position on a policy issue it is crucial to have evidence that supports their assertions. Otherwise there is a potential that a hostile critic can exploit the weakness of an argument that strongly needs an advocate with a credible social work perspective.

I admit that a weakness exists in this column and I accept it as a learning experience provided by my group of professors. I think that the main goal is to know the rhetoric and change it to align with interests of social justice and human diversity. I learned at NYU-Washington, D.C. that ideas and values affect opinion, and politicians vote on opinion, which thus, makes policy creation personal. Its our responsibility to shape opinions using our social work perspectives, and to do so with evidence as much as possible. Above all, we have to be politically active, and encourage and empower political participation across systems and populations in collaboration and in coalition with relative and interested groups.

SWH: What aspirations do you have for your future, and how will your writing be a factor?

My immediate aspirations are to enjoy the remainder of the semester since it’s the final opportunity for me to maximize my MSW experience in such a rich academic environment. I plan to obtain licensure in New York State as a Licensed Master Social Worker following graduation. I am currently entertaining potential job offers and developing relationships with interdisciplinary professionals in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. I plan to work primarily as a clinician to begin my career.

I am trained in Solution-Based Casework for my field placement, and I am highly interested in Ego Psychology, Existential Psychology, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Family Therapy, Group Psychotherapy, and Interpersonal Neurobiology. I plan to contribute writing to the field in whatever way makes the most sense for me given the period of time when I find any opportunity. If I find an opportunity to create knowledge through research, then I will look forward to publishing it. Meanwhile, I plan to continue writing opinion articles. Eventually, I plan to explore more opportunities to add to my knowledge base and professional portfolio.

Mayor Bloomberg’s Fight Against Obesity

by Kyle Jones

Obesity difference

During the summer of 2012, Mayor Bloomberg from New York attempted  to ban establishments from serving sugary soda larger than a 16oz cup to fight against obesity. According to the New York Times,  opponents of the law is calling Mayor Bloomberg’s ban arbitrary and capricious, and a New York State judge agreed with them. An injunction was issued one day before the law was to take effect.

This case raises an important issue such as governmental intervention in American’s health decisions. Many will argue that the government has no place in trying to regulate American’s health decisions. In other words, these people are advocates of individual responsibility for regulating health decisions.

So how can we take individual responsibility for regulating our food and drink intake? For one, watch what you eat. Doctors and health specialists around the country are seeking better dieting programs and encouraging people to watch what they eat and especially where their food is made from. Most big name companies which offer the many food products you see at your local food mart aren’t always properly treated. Some of the foods contain various chemicals and other substances which are harmful to your health.

One way to eating healthy is by buying your food from local farmers at farmers markets. The food they provide are  freshly grown and have less chemicals. Plus, it’s always a great deed to help out your fellow citizens who grow their own food and your food. Also, properly cook your food. Most of us are ignorant to the details of how food is being transported. So to diminish the possibility of words or other infections entering your body, make sure your food thoroughly.

Our bodies have its own mechanisms to fighting obesity; whether you’re awake or asleep. Your body is constantly feeding itself and using what you store to keep itself going. To help this process you need to implement constant movement in your lifestyle. Try to walk more to local areas, ride your bike, or run around your house a couple of times. Any bit of motion which does not involve sitting in a car can aid you into losing a couple of pounds.

Water helps obesityWhat I notice most people do not do is drink the recommended amount of water everyday. Most of the time I witness people drink juice, ice teas, sports drinks, and soda. Ingesting those liquids do not aide your body in replenishing itself. Our bodies are almost made entirely of water so ingesting the recommended amount keeps your body functioning normally.  The cells in your body are made of water and the dissolving property of water allows your cells to use the essentials during biological processes.

The last method I would like to mention is a substance which most people have never heard of. It is considered the tree of life and it provide everything you need. It is called the Moringa Oleifera tree. It is a tropical plant grown in usually semiarid, tropical, and subtropical areas. So why haven’t you heard it before? Maybe because of its INCREDIBLE health benefits which can supplement what you receive from milk, bananas, carrots, and oranges! According to Moringa Benefits, the tree, its roots, and its leaves all grant abundant nutritional value. You receive all of the following from this tree in one serving:

  • 125% daily value of Calcium
  • 61% daily value of Magnesium
  • 41% daily value of Potassium
  • 71% daily value of Iron
  • 272% daily value of Vitamin A
  • 22% daily value of Vitamin C

Moringa superfoodWith the above facts in mind, would you classify this tree as the tree of life?  If you are a skeptic, take the time to Google,  YouTube, or  whatever search method you want to find out the facts. You will be surprised by how many testimonials and videos are out their describing this amazing tree and its brilliant properties.

One problem though is the lack of abundance in the United States. If you live in hot and/or dry climate regions you can order the seeds yourself and grow them! They also sell capsules of crushed dried Moringa leaves on the Vitamin Shoppe website. They come in a bottle of about 60 capsules. So within 2 months compare how you felt now to then and notice the difference. I promise you’ll get what you paid for!

Mayor Bloomberg isn’t the only one who finds the obesity rate in our country a problem. It takes more than someone to tell you to get up and take care of yourself. You must be willing to motivate yourself into becoming a better individual. Take these methods, put your trust in them, and be the person you wish to see.

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