This past summer, I had the honor of interning for the Gray Panthers, a non-governmental organization that fights and advocates for the rights of older adults. The policy and advocacy work is accomplished on a local, national, and global level. What makes the Gray Panthers unique is their belief in intergenerational collaboration. With our motto of, "Youth and Age in Action" summarizing this view perfectly. The Gray Panthers value intergenerational partnership to spread awareness and the idea that these issues impact all of us, even if we are not an elder yet. The mission statement of the Gray Panthers is "Activism and Advocacy Against Ageism." The organization's vision is a world where the old and the young have as much to contribute to making our society more just and humane. In which each reinforces the other in goals, strategy, and action. In other words, the old and young are equally valued as active members of our society.
I obtained this internship by emailing the current President directly. After learning about the Gray Panthers in my Aging and Social Policy course, I was instantly drawn to their mission. After sending Jack Kupferman an email inquiring if they were looking for summer 2019 interns, we had a series of phone calls. He explained he has been "waiting for someone from Ithaca College to join the team" due to his knowledge of our impressive Gerontology Institute.
Mr. Kupferman entrusted the interns with many responsibilities and projects. My duties were focused on actions and tasks to further the mission of the Gray Panthers but also fueled my passions. One of my most cherished responsibilities was attending the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the United Nations. In this eight day-long forum, as an intern for the Gray Panthers, I represented the Stakeholder Group on Aging, advocating the rights of older adults. My obligations included attending side-events and gaining insight into what other countries are or are not doing to help their aging population.
I organized and facilitated a Death Cafe, made up of people who meet with no agenda, other than to talk about anything relating to death. As death is such a taboo in our society and we are always trying to stop it, this kind of casual meeting often comes as a shock. Another intern and I were able to find a free venue and filled the registration capacity two weeks before the event. The eagerness among the community to attend was a great surprise and demonstrated the number of people who are longing to destigmatize death. I was able to incorporate the techniques and skills I learned in my Counseling the Older Adult course as I was facilitating. We learned about the common fears, such as loss of control, lack of independence, isolation, and family. In addition to these topics, we discussed how important it was to have medical literacy.
Other responsibilities consisted of planning meetings with organizations to gain insight into how they were working to protect the rights of older adults. Meetings included one at State Senator Liz Krueger's office and another with The Guardianship Project in the Vera Institute of Justice. Both of these meetings were planned by me and attended only be interns, perpetuating the trust that Mr. Kupferman had in us.
We planned and started a blog on ageism and the spirit of Maggie Kuhn (the original GP founder). This allowed me to freely write on topics that are important to me while trying to appeal to an audience of my peers. This project was designed to personalize the internship based on my passions and interests.
The successes of the internship came through the connections I made. The opportunity to meet the current board members of the Gray Panthers and learn from them is something I greatly value. Working with other interns who all had very different backgrounds allowed me to widen my perspective on the areas of aging where people can help. I was able to connect on behalf of the Gray Panthers to many other NGOs at the HLPF. The sense of belonging I gained at the HLPF was a success on its own. Gaining confidence to strike up a conversation with strangers at a global conference was a direct result of my work with and on behalf of the Gay Panthers.
As a 20-year-old young adult, it was not uncommon for me to feel like I was not taken seriously at the HLPF. This is a demonstration of ageism - the stigma and stereotyping that follow someone based on their age. Most often, due to my major, we speak about this impacting older adults, but it is also crucial to recognize it impacts people of any age. At the HLPF it was not uncommon to ask someone what Major Stakeholder Group they were representing. More times than not, when I would explain I was with the Stakeholder Group on Aging a look of confusion would fall on their faces. I'd be lying if I said I did not get directly laughed at a few times this summer. When I would explain my internship, a natural response was "YOU are advocating for old people?"
Overall, I am beyond thankful for the experience and challengers I took on over the summer. The opportunity to be surrounded by powerful policy and rights advocates fueled me to work for the masses. My future in gerontology is certain. Through my boss and witnessing the depth of his passion, it has reshaped how I want to work. As the saying goes, "If you love your job, you never work a day in your life.” Jack Kupferman has shown me what it means to give all you can to those all over the world. The changes may not be instant, and you may not know the people they impact directly, but long-term the issues of aging affect us all.