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Ashoka Fellow Tim Carpenter on changing how we look at aging

In early May, Ashoka teamed up with the team at Wondros to bring together a handful of amazing thinkers and doers from both the social impact and creative worlds, to examine what it takes to advance an idea in place of a program, and to identify the ingredients of modern-day movement-building. What follows is a transcript from a talk given by Ashoka Fellow Tim Carpenter, Founder and Executive Director of EngAGE and host and producer of Experience Talks

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I founded EngAGE 15-16 years ago now, and I worked in senior healthcare for ten years before that, so I’ve been basically working with older adults since I was four years old. 

I’m Irish, so I’m kind of genetically disposed to storytelling: we’re the world’s greatest liars, and storytelling was a competitive sport in my family that usually happened at the dinner table. I learned very early that older people told the better stories, so I ended up at that end of the dinner table, in part because that’s also where the dessert went. 

We provide programs primarily in independent, low-income senior housing communities. And when I first walked into my first one, what they had on the wall to look forward to every week were two things: one was bingo, and the other was donuts. And I thought, “I’m going to be a genius in this industry if that’s the bar that I have to jump over.” 

I looked for a model for how to change it, and there wasn’t really anything cool going on. So I thought, “What’s another model that I could apply to this?” And I thought about college, because if you look at college through the right sort of goggles, it’s a similar sort of launching-off point. In college, you’ve gone from high school to a new place, a new community, and there’s this sense that, “I can do anything with the rest of my life”. Somebody hands you a catalog, and you start picking which kinds of things you want to be doing each week, and who you are, and what you want to become. 

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Director - Jesse Dylan

Ashoka Fellow Ai-jen Poo on building the caring economy

In early May, Ashoka teamed up with the team at Wondros to bring together a handful of amazing thinkers and doers from both the social impact and creative worlds, to examine what it takes to advance an idea in place of a program, and to identify the ingredients of modern-day movement-building. What follows is a transcript from a talk given by Ashoka Fellow Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and Co-director of the Caring Across Generations.

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I wanted to start by introducing you to my grandmother. She’s 87-years-old, and she lives in El Hambre in a retirement community for Chinese American retirees. And she lives a really good life. She lives independently in her own apartment, and she watches kung fu soap operas, and she goes to church twice a week, and she plays Mahjong–she’s an incredible Mahjong shark; don’t take her on. She really does live a good life. She taught me most of the things that are valuable and useful to me in my life today. She potty-trained me, and that was useful, and she also taught me most of the values that I hold true. And one of the things that she always used to say is that we should always appreciate the people in our lives who take care of us because care-giving is life’s greatest gift. So one of the things that I wanted you to do as we go through this presentation is to call up someone in your life who’s taken care of you, who you really appreciate, and just think about the value of that relationship in your life. 

Let’s take a moment to think about those people. Now let’s give a round of applause to the people in our lives who play that role.

My grandmother lives a great life, and she’s fully independent, and the secret to her independence is this woman named Mrs. Sun, who is her care-giver, and comes to her house three times a week to help her with the things that she can no longer do on her own: cooking, heavy lifting, taking her to some appointments, washing—some of the stuff that’s just harder for her to do on her own. Mrs. Sun also took care of my grandfather before he passed away. He had a stroke which left him paralyzed on half of his body, so she actually used to come seven days a week for 12 hours a day to support both of them. Needless to say, Mrs. Sun has played an incredibly important role in our family’s lives, and in our community, and really in the economy.

Millions of domestic workers like her are doing that work, supporting American families, every single day. At least 2 million workers are going and taking care of the most precious elements of our lives every single day: our children, our aging loved ones, our homes, so that we can go to work knowing that the things we value most are in good hands. 

And despite this really, really important role that domestic workers play in our communities and in the economy, they’re among the most vulnerable workers in the economy. We see all kinds of abuses: everything from human trafficking, to not being paid for years on end, to sexual assault and violence. And there’s the whole spectrum: there are some employers who are really wonderful, and then you get the whole end of the spectrum, in which there’s nothing mediating that relationship. We compare it to the Wild West, because you never know what you’re going to get. 

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