JFS Perspectives

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Seniors Matter: Reflections of a Social Work Intern



Seniors Matter: Reflections of a Social Work Intern

While attending the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver, I had the unique opportunity to enroll in a travel course and brief internship in Cape Town, South Africa. I had the pleasure of interning at The Haven Night Shelter (The Haven), an organization that provides transitional housing for adults ages 21 to 60. Through this experience, I identified two strong principles that now help guide my work at Jewish Family Service.

The first is Ubuntu, which means “I am what I am because of who we all are.” During my time in South Africa, it became apparent to me that more than anything, people depend on their loved ones and community to help them thrive.

In America, many older adults experience a diminishing social network and may face social isolation, which can contribute to chronic disease, a higher risk of dementia, and in some cases, depression. As a social worker, I have the unique ability to help seniors find and maintain connections to loved ones and community members. Building and maintaining close relationships is one way to combat the ill effects of social isolation.

The second principle I discovered was the importance of maintaining a person’s dignity and self-worth. I witnessed poverty on many levels, and regardless of the circumstances each individual faced, the volunteers and employees within The Haven held no judgment and were patient, understanding, and knowledgeable with each resident. Through one-on-one conversations, they worked to uncover each individual’s strengths and helped them find self-worth and dignity.

As people age, they step away from their careers and their children grow into adults. Seniors may begin to feel as though they are without a purpose. However, regardless of age, they are fully capable of participating in meaningful experiences. Though not widely discussed, self-worth, dignity, and autonomy are very important aspects of life and are directly connected to mental and physical well-being. It is vital to boost self-worth and dignity whenever possible, which can be done by engaging in meaningful conversation, taking a walk, or allowing them to maintain their autonomy whenever possible. Letting an individual make decisions about their living arrangements, health care, or even when and what they eat can make a huge difference in their life.

No matter where you live, aging is a process that we all face, but aging well looks different for everyone. Aging well refers to an individual’s mental, physical, and social health. One common thread I have seen both at Jewish Family Service and in South Africa is that aging requires a stable support network of loved ones, friends, community members, and service organizations. The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” can also apply to helping an individual age well. At Jewish Family Service we offer homemaker services, Kosher Meals on Wheels, care management, and many more services to help seniors do just that. If you need support in caring for your loved one, please feel free to call us at 303.597.7000.

De Andra Sharp
Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center Intern

De Andra Sharp is a second-year intern with the Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center at Jewish Family Service. She earned a bachelor’s degree in law and society from the Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work at the University of Denver. De Andra is a Denver native who has a passion for advocacy, improving the quality of life for seniors, and creating change through social justice.


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