Age Friendly Communities
Caitlin Coyle, PhD ’14
DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SOCIAL & DEMOGRAPHIC RESEARCH ON AGING
I love connecting students with opportunities to conduct research in the community—it's one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. Often they are connecting their classroom learning with lived experience. In my opinion, that's the most powerful way to learn.
We work collaboratively with cities and towns, often via their senior center or council on aging, to engage the community in a needs assessment process. We take the community engagement portion of our work quite seriously. Residents participate in data collection but also in steering the projects and disseminating results.
The communities we partner with have the universal goal of adapting to changes in the population and aligning with the level of demand for programs and services. They want to be contemporary—they want to reflect their community in its present form.
We see lots of small wins while we're engaging with a community. In a focus group, say, someone looking for volunteering opportunities might connect with the food pantry director in dire need of help. We see cathartic moments in our meetings, like when a family member recalls how a senior center supported their loved one to age well, and a public works employee realizes the impact of their work on aging well.
We completed two projects for Marshfield, Massachusetts, first in 2011 and then in 2018. Results of this work directly informed an expansion of their senior center, nearly doubling the amount of space and including features like a café, exercise facilities designed for older people, and space for an adult day program to engage residents with memory loss in social and recreational activities and offer respite to families. We helped connect the voices of older residents with their local government to collectively rethink what it looks like to age in the community."