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Meet Our 2019 Influencers in Aging

Meet Next Avenue’s 2019 Influencers in Aging. These 12 advocates, researchers, thought leaders, innovators, writers and experts continue to push beyond traditional boundaries and change our understanding of what it means to grow older.

Learn more about this year’s list | View the 2018 listView the 2017 list | View the 2016 list

The List


Louise Aronson Influencer in Aging
Dr. Louise Aronson
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Louise Aronson Influencer in Aging

Dr. Louise Aronson: Creating a More Positive Perception of Aging

Geriatrician, Professor and Author of 'Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine and Reimagining Life'

Dr. Louise Aronson is a practicing geriatrician and professor of geriatrics at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). Her interests include optimizing health care for older adults, medical education and integrative geriatrics, which is a relatively new field of medicine that advocates for a patient-centered, whole-person, non-pharmacological approach to medical care for older adults.

Aronson’s writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and on NPR, as well as in many scholarly articles. Recently, she has received national attention for her groundbreaking book Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine and Reimagining Life, which was released in June 2019.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ARONSON

Dr. Louise Aronson is a practicing geriatrician and professor of geriatrics at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). Her interests include optimizing health care for older adults, medical education and integrative geriatrics, which is a relatively new field of medicine that advocates for a patient-centered, whole-person, non-pharmacological approach to medical care for older adults.

Aronson’s writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and on NPR, as well as in many scholarly articles. Recently, she has received national attention for her groundbreaking book Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine and Reimagining Life, which was released in June 2019.

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READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ARONSON

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“An acknowledgement that we have these three major phases of life: childhood, adulthood and elderhood. So, not reducing ‘old’ to just these few years of debility prior to death, but really seeing the decades of elderhood for the very important, opportunity-filled time, both on an individual and on a societal level, that it is. And that it be respected and treated equally to childhood and adulthood.”

Chip Conley Influencer in Aging
Chip Conley
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Chip Conley Influencer in Aging

Chip Conley: Teaching and Cultivating Modern Elders

Founder of Modern Elder Academy and author of '[email protected]'

Hospitality entrepreneur Chip Conley coined the term “modern elder” when he joined Airbnb at 52 as a strategic adviser and was twice the age of the average employee there. In the last year, he has opened the Modern Elder Academy, a boutique resort for midlife learning and reflection in Mexico, and published [email protected]: The Making of a Modern Elder. Conley calls the academy, which enrolled 500 students from 17 countries, “the first midlife wisdom school.”

Through his school, book and frequent lectures, Conley helps people in what he calls “middlescence” learn how to spread their wisdom and prepare for this new time of their lives.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH CONLEY

Hospitality entrepreneur Chip Conley coined the term “modern elder” when he joined Airbnb at 52 as a strategic adviser and was twice the age of the average employee there. In the last year, he has opened the Modern Elder Academy, a boutique resort for midlife learning and reflection in Mexico, and published [email protected]: The Making of a Modern Elder. Conley calls the academy, which enrolled 500 students from 17 countries, “the first midlife wisdom school.”

Through his school, book and frequent lectures, Conley helps people in what he calls “middlescence” learn how to spread their wisdom and prepare for this new time of their lives.

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READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH CONLEY

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“’Lifelong learning’ is a catchy phrase, but those are hollow words without a home. Just like we prepare adolescents for adulthood, we need schools to prepare adults for elderhood. It’s not just about getting smarter about DQ (digital intelligence). It’s about mining our mastery about humans (EQ or emotional intelligence). This is a new era of www: ‘wielding wisdom well.’ At a time when many traditional universities are struggling, maybe it’s time we turned them into ‘midlife wisdom schools’ to mint a new kind of ‘Modern Elder’ who’s as curious as wise. The learning revolution isn’t a game of solitaire.”

Larry Curley Influencer in Aging
Larry Curley
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Larry Curley Influencer in Aging

Larry Curley: Advocating for Native Elders

Executive Director of the National Indian Council on Aging

Larry Curley is a member of the Navajo Nation who, with members of the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association, founded the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) in 1976. NICOA is a nonprofit that advocates for health, social services and economic well-being for American Indian and Alaska Native Elders.

Curley was instrumental in getting funds directed to Native elders through Title VI of the Older Americans Act in 1978 and spent decades working as a gerontological planner at the Pima Council on Aging in Tucson, Ariz., directing the Navajo Nation’s Head Start program and serving as a nursing home administrator in a tribal, long-term care facility.

Now, Curley’s career has gone full circle, bringing him back to NICOA as its newest executive director.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH CURLEY

Larry Curley is a member of the Navajo Nation who, with members of the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association, founded the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) in 1976. NICOA is a nonprofit that advocates for health, social services and economic well-being for American Indian and Alaska Native Elders.

Curley was instrumental in getting funds directed to Native elders through Title VI of the Older Americans Act in 1978 and spent decades working as a gerontological planner at the Pima Council on Aging in Tucson, Ariz., directing the Navajo Nation’s Head Start program and serving as a nursing home administrator in a tribal, long-term care facility.

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Now, Curley’s career has gone full circle, bringing him back to NICOA as its newest executive director.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH CURLEY

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“I wish that we didn't have to rely as much as we do on institutional care. I think that everybody looks at institutional care as a godsend. Not to minimize institutional care, but it would be so much better if we could change the structure holistically. We are all connected. We are human beings. Service delivery systems need to consider having the same characteristics as well.”

Sharon Emek Influencer in Aging
Sharon Emek
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Sharon Emek Influencer in Aging

Sharon Emek: Helping ‘Vintage’ Workers Succeed

Founder, president and CEO of WAHVE

A top leader in the insurance industry, Sharon Emek is the president and CEO of WAHVE (Work at Home Vintage Experts). In 2010, she founded this company devoted to pairing home-based, older professionals (she calls them “pre-tirees”) in the accounting, insurance and human resources fields, with clients across the country.

Throughout her career, Emek, 73, has been the recipient of several awards, most recently a 2018 Leadership Longevity Award for Women in Innovation and Entrepreneurship which she received at the What’s Next Boomer Summit earlier this year.

At the 15th annual Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit in June 2019, WAHVE was a winner in its Silicon Valley Innovation Competition, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs. Emek’s company will go on to compete in a national contest this fall in Washington, D.C.

In 2016, Emek was awarded the SmartCEO Brava Award, and in 2014, she was the first woman to receive the 1882 Fellow Award from Big I New York, an insurance industry organization.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH EMEK

A top leader in the insurance industry, Sharon Emek is the president and CEO of WAHVE (Work at Home Vintage Experts). In 2010, she founded this company devoted to pairing home-based, older professionals (she calls them “pre-tirees”) in the accounting, insurance and human resources fields, with clients across the country.

Throughout her career, Emek, 73, has been the recipient of several awards, most recently a 2018 Leadership Longevity Award for Women in Innovation and Entrepreneurship which she received at the What’s Next Boomer Summit earlier this year.

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At the 15th annual Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit in June 2019, WAHVE was a winner in its Silicon Valley Innovation Competition, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs. Emek’s company will go on to compete in a national contest this fall in Washington, D.C.

In 2016, Emek was awarded the SmartCEO Brava Award, and in 2014, she was the first woman to receive the 1882 Fellow Award from Big I New York, an insurance industry organization.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH EMEK

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“The lexicon and the vocabulary have to change. You can’t be a ‘senior’ between the ages of fifty to one hundred. The range is too broad. I think middle age is more like fifty to seventy-five. I’m seventy-three, but I do yoga, Pilates, and I’ve been a health nut since the 1960s. People tend to think that we’re living longer ‘older.’ But in reality, we are living longer, ‘younger.’”

Karen Etkin Influencer in Aging
Keren Etkin
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Karen Etkin Influencer in Aging

Keren Etkin: Discovering the Intersection of Gerontology and Technology

Founder, TheGerontechnologist.com

Keren Etkin, 32, calls herself “a gerontologist by training and a tech enthusiast by nature.” In 2015, Etkin, who lives in Tel Aviv, received a master’s degree in gerontology from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and two years later, founded TheGerontechnologist.com. Etkin recently left Intuition Robotics after 3 ½ years, where she worked as a researcher and “robot tamer” and helped develop ElliQ, the social companion robot for older adults.

Etkin is now doing public speaking and working as a consultant to several organizations looking to implement technology for aging populations. She’s also creating additional content for The Gerontechnologist, including video and a podcast.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ETKIN

Keren Etkin, 32, calls herself “a gerontologist by training and a tech enthusiast by nature.” In 2015, Etkin, who lives in Tel Aviv, received a master’s degree in gerontology from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and two years later, founded TheGerontechnologist.com. Etkin recently left Intuition Robotics after 3 ½ years, where she worked as a researcher and “robot tamer” and helped develop ElliQ, the social companion robot for older adults.

Etkin is now doing public speaking and working as a consultant to several organizations looking to implement technology for aging populations. She’s also creating additional content for The Gerontechnologist, including video and a podcast.

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READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ETKIN

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“Well, I’m not American, so commenting on uniquely American issues seems inappropriate to me. However, if there’s one thing I could change related to the issue of aging that’s a problem in western society, it’s ageism. I would love to see society, in general, become more open and accepting of the idea that we’re all going to age one day, if we’re lucky. It’s ridiculous to discriminate against a group that we’re all going to be a part of, isn’t it?”

Cindy Gallop Influencer in Aging
Cindy Gallop
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Cindy Gallop Influencer in Aging

Cindy Gallop: Disrupting Ageism in Advertising

Advertising consultant with AARP and former advertising executive

Cindy Gallop loves to tell people how old she is. She says it’s a special number because it’s a subtotal of your learnings, life experiences and everything you’ve been through to date. “I’m fifty-nine and shout it from the rooftops,” she says.

Gallop, an iconoclastic former advertising executive, is working with AARP on its Disrupt Aging campaign. She seeks to change the way older Americans are portrayed in advertisements and how older advertising workers are treated, calling the field an extremely ageist industry.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH GALLOP

Cindy Gallop loves to tell people how old she is. She says it’s a special number because it’s a subtotal of your learnings, life experiences and everything you’ve been through to date. “I’m fifty-nine and shout it from the rooftops,” she says.

Gallop, an iconoclastic former advertising executive, is working with AARP on its Disrupt Aging campaign. She seeks to change the way older Americans are portrayed in advertisements and how older advertising workers are treated, calling the field an extremely ageist industry.

Read More >

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH GALLOP

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

"My perspective comes from being a hardheaded pragmatic businesswoman. I would just really want the entire nation to understand that we older people are the key to turbocharging the American economy. I want to see industry leaders across the board in business to understand how much more money they could be making by welcoming and retraining and promoting older people to turbocharge their businesses."

Ronald Long Influencer in Aging
Ronald Long
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Ronald Long Influencer in Aging

Ronald Long: Keeping Older Brokerage Clients Safe From Elder Abuse

Director of Elder Client Initiatives at Wells Fargo Advisors

Ronald Long, director of Wells Fargo’s Elder Clients Initiatives team since 2014, created what’s become a key brokerage industry tool to protect older investors from elder financial elder abuse. Long and his team originated the “In Case of Emergency” form so advisers could contact someone if they thought their client had cognitive difficulties or might be a victim of elder abuse. Now, the brokerage industry’s self-regulator, FINRA, is using a version called the Trusted Contact form.

The need is urgent: Annual losses from elder financial abuse in the U.S. are estimated to exceed $36 billion. In April 2019, Long — based in St. Louis — broadened his scope to assist elder customers of all Wells Fargo’s divisions, heading up the company’s new Elder Client Initiatives Center of Excellence.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH LONG

Ronald Long, director of Wells Fargo’s Elder Clients Initiatives team since 2014, created what’s become a key brokerage industry tool to protect older investors from elder financial elder abuse. Long and his team originated the “In Case of Emergency” form so advisers could contact someone if they thought their client had cognitive difficulties or might be a victim of elder abuse. Now, the brokerage industry’s self-regulator, FINRA, is using a version called the Trusted Contact form.

The need is urgent: Annual losses from elder financial abuse in the U.S. are estimated to exceed $36 billion. In April 2019, Long — based in St. Louis — broadened his scope to assist elder customers of all Wells Fargo’s divisions, heading up the company’s new Elder Client Initiatives Center of Excellence.

Read More >

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH LONG

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“I would change the isolation and loneliness that comes as a result of the three D’s — Death (of a partner), Divorce and Disability. Research shows that loneliness and isolation are contributing, if not primary, factors in the rise of elder financial abuse. The most urgent need for our aging population is to wage a concerted battle against loneliness and help build defenses against potential abuse. With families increasingly living thousands of miles apart, having a sense of community is essential to helping protect and live happier (and often longer) lives.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom Influencer in Aging
Gov. Gavin Newsom
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Gov. Gavin Newsom Influencer in Aging

Gov. Gavin Newsom: Creating a Master Plan for Aging in California

Governor of California

When he ran for governor of California in 2018, Democrat Gavin Newsom pledged that if he won, he’d create a Master Plan for Aging for the state and its residents. One reason: the Golden State’s 65+ population is projected to grow almost 90% by 2030, topping roughly 8.6 million. After his election, Newsom quickly appointed a team to turn the Master Plan idea into reality by Oct. 1, 2020. As he said in his State of the State address: “It’s time for a new Master Plan on Aging. It must address person-centered care, the patchwork of public services, social isolation, bed-locked seniors in need of transportation, the nursing shortage, and demand for In-Home Supportive Services that far outpaces its capacity.”

California will be the largest state with a Master Plan on Aging, and one of just five in the nation; the others are Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota and Washington. Newsom’s Master Plan will have a cabinet-level working group. “For older Californians, the Master Plan for Aging is probably the most significant thing to happen since the state became a state,” said Dr. Bruce Chernof, a member of the Master Plan’s Stakeholder Advisory Committee and CEO of The SCAN Foundation (focused on finding innovative needs to the health care needs of older Californians).

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH NEWSOM

When he ran for governor of California in 2018, Democrat Gavin Newsom pledged that if he won, he’d create a Master Plan for Aging for the state and its residents. One reason: the Golden State’s 65+ population is projected to grow almost 90% by 2030, topping roughly 8.6 million. After his election, Newsom quickly appointed a team to turn the Master Plan idea into reality by Oct. 1, 2020. As he said in his State of the State address: “It’s time for a new Master Plan on Aging. It must address person-centered care, the patchwork of public services, social isolation, bed-locked seniors in need of transportation, the nursing shortage, and demand for In-Home Supportive Services that far outpaces its capacity.”

California will be the largest state with a Master Plan on Aging, and one of just five in the nation; the others are Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota and Washington. Newsom’s Master Plan will have a cabinet-level working group. “For older Californians, the Master Plan for Aging is probably the most significant thing to happen since the state became a state,” said Dr. Bruce Chernof, a member of the Master Plan’s Stakeholder Advisory Committee and CEO of The SCAN Foundation (focused on finding innovative needs to the health care needs of older Californians).

Read More >

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH NEWSOM

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“I would make sure everyone recognizes that we all age, and that aging is something to be celebrated. Older Americans contribute so much to the health and strength of our communities, especially by raising and mentoring younger generations of Californians. That appreciation for our elders must continue to animate our work — across business, government and nonprofits — to create aging-friendly communities for all older Californians.”

Mary Pipfer Influencer in Aging
Mary Pipher
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Mary Pipfer Influencer in Aging

Mary Pipher: The Cultural Anthropologist Navigating New Currents

Author of 'Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing as We Age'

In 1994, Mary Pipher wrote Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, a groundbreaking, bestselling book examining the complicated lives of teenage girls. It was the result of her work as a clinical psychologist with this age group. And it led Pipher to receive the American Psychological Association’s Presidential Citation. Earlier this year, Pipher and her daughter, Sara Pipher Gilliam, collaborated on a revised 25th anniversary edition.

This year, Pipher, 71, wrote an equally compelling bestseller about an older group — Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. A cultural anthropologist, Pipher is the author of 10 books, including Seeking Peace and Writing to Change the World.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH PIPHER

In 1994, Mary Pipher wrote Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, a groundbreaking, bestselling book examining the complicated lives of teenage girls. It was the result of her work as a clinical psychologist with this age group. And it led Pipher to receive the American Psychological Association’s Presidential Citation. Earlier this year, Pipher and her daughter, Sara Pipher Gilliam, collaborated on a revised 25th anniversary edition.

This year, Pipher, 71, wrote an equally compelling bestseller about an older group — Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. A cultural anthropologist, Pipher is the author of 10 books, including Seeking Peace and Writing to Change the World.

Read More >

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH PIPHER

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“I would like to see integrated public spaces, and integrated schools for ages two to eighty. I would like to see everything be multi-generational, so there would be many opportunities to connect within communities. I’d like to do away with our age-segregated society.”

Dr. Tia Powell Influencer in Aging
Dr. Tia Powell
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Dr. Tia Powell Influencer in Aging

Dr. Tia Powell: Working Toward Better Lives for People with Dementia

Professor of psychiatry and bioethics and author of 'Dementia Reimagined: Building a Life of Joy and Dignity from Beginning to End'

Dr. Tia Powell is a professor of psychiatry and bioethics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. She is the director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for Bioethics and the Einstein-Cardozo Master of Science in Bioethics program.

Powell has received national attention and praise for her book Dementia Reimagined: Building a Life of Joy and Dignity from Beginning to End. The book, released in April 2019, blends a history of how dementia has been viewed in the U.S. — by society and the medical world — with her thoughts on what compassionate care for people with dementia could ideally be and how she’d like to live if she’s given a diagnosis of dementia, as others in her family have.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH POWELL

Dr. Tia Powell is a professor of psychiatry and bioethics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. She is the director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for Bioethics and the Einstein-Cardozo Master of Science in Bioethics program.

Powell has received national attention and praise for her book Dementia Reimagined: Building a Life of Joy and Dignity from Beginning to End. The book, released in April 2019, blends a history of how dementia has been viewed in the U.S. — by society and the medical world — with her thoughts on what compassionate care for people with dementia could ideally be and how she’d like to live if she’s given a diagnosis of dementia, as others in her family have.

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READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH POWELL

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“I would want to address the isolation that is part of aging for so many people in America — certainly for people with dementia, but I think for many people who are just aging. Isolation is a big part of that life.”

Sandy Stokes Influencer in Aging
Sandy Chen Stokes
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Sandy Stokes Influencer in Aging

Sandy Chen Stokes: Helping Chinese Americans Navigate End-of-Life Decisions

Founder of the Chinese American Coalition for Compassionate Care

Sandy Chen Stokes is the founder of the Chinese American Coalition for Compassionate Care (CACCC), a nonprofit based in Cupertino, Calif., dedicated to providing support and education related to end-of-life issues for Chinese Americans.

During its 14-year existence, the CACCC has provided education and translated materials for Chinese Americans related to end-of-life issues. It also has provided training for health care professionals, volunteers and caregivers in helping Chinese Americans navigate end-of-life health care decisions. The organization has active partnerships with 150 local, state, national and international organizations.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH STOKES

Sandy Chen Stokes is the founder of the Chinese American Coalition for Compassionate Care (CACCC), a nonprofit based in Cupertino, Calif., dedicated to providing support and education related to end-of-life issues for Chinese Americans.

During its 14-year existence, the CACCC has provided education and translated materials for Chinese Americans related to end-of-life issues. It also has provided training for health care professionals, volunteers and caregivers in helping Chinese Americans navigate end-of-life health care decisions. The organization has active partnerships with 150 local, state, national and international organizations.

Read More >

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH STOKES

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“To make the community more friendly in talking about end-of-life issues so Chinese Americans will be able to share their thoughts, ask questions and receive end-of-life services. So, hopefully, they can have a better death.”

Imani Woody Influencer in Aging
Imani Woody
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Imani Woody Influencer in Aging

Imani Woody: Building a Home for LGBTQ Older Adults

President and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults

Imani Woody’s father left her his home in Washington, D.C. — the one she grew up in ­— when he died in 2010. Faced with the decision of what to do with the house, Woody, a lifelong activist for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community, chose to renovate the house and turn it into the first of hopefully many locations of Mary’s House (named for her late mother). It’s an affordable independent living community for older adults targeting the cultural and relational needs of LGBTQ older adults.

Mary’s House renovations began in 2012, ground will break in January 2020 and residents will move in by November 2020.

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH WOODY

Imani Woody’s father left her his home in Washington, D.C. — the one she grew up in ­— when he died in 2010. Faced with the decision of what to do with the house, Woody, a lifelong activist for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community, chose to renovate the house and turn it into the first of hopefully many locations of Mary’s House (named for her late mother). It’s an affordable independent living community for older adults targeting the cultural and relational needs of LGBTQ older adults.

Mary’s House renovations began in 2012, ground will break in January 2020 and residents will move in by November 2020.

Read More >

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH WOODY

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT AGING IN AMERICA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

“I would change the culture so that aging would be a celebration. There are some cultures, I understand, that aging is celebrated. Being wise is celebrated. We've been tainted with the idea that youth is good. Aging, you turn into a nonexistent person. An unknowledgeable person. There's a before-and-after in terms of getting old in our country. You're not listened to as much. It's harder for women than men. I would change our culture so that we look forward to aging. ‘Gosh, look at my gray hair! Don't mind her aching bones. She earned that.’”