A Millennial Takes On Aging
When young people think about their future, a career in aging is hardly at the top of their list, or even on it. But 28 year-old Amanda Cavaleri is bent on changing this. This spring, the “gerontechnology entrepreneur,” as she calls herself, founded Connect The Ages. It’s her fourth 50+ start-up; her first venture was at age 20.
Cavaleri’s newest company has a daunting goal: to recruit five million students and young professionals into careers, internships and volunteer opportunities with older adults by 2025. “This is not a typical startup. This is trying to change a system,” she says.
Achieving that goal will require a massive mind-shift for a youth-obsessed, anti-aging culture that often views older adults as infirm, nothing-to-offer blobs—and a career in aging, seriously uncool.
Getting young people on board will necessitate a rebranding of old age, showing a broad spectrum, including vibrant and active elders. “No one has tried to reach young people about the value of older adults so that a career in aging is something to strive for rather than be viewed as an anomaly,” says Cavaleri.
Gauging the Interest of a Younger Generation
The idea to tap Generation Z, millennials, and young professionals germinated when Cavaleri attended a conference on aging four years ago.
She learned about the looming work shortage, particularly in geriatrics. (Not only were baby boomers retiring in droves, those Grateful Dead fans were going to need help of their own.) The Washington, D.C.-based entrepreneur wanted to find a way to mitigate the problem.
Cavaleri knew that many high school, college students and even young professionals don’t have a clue about what they want to do in the future. What if they could have meaningful careers in aging?
At the time, she was consulting to companies and universities about gerontechnology, workplace technology and strategies to implement programs around aging. She still earns income that way and from her former start-up Capable Living. From 2009-2015, Cavaleri ran (now defunct) the Denver boomer and eldercare concierge service that employed mostly millennials.
To get a sense of whether there was enough interest in her idea, Cavaleri conducted eight pilot projects on intergenerational mentorship and storytelling, connecting 15-25 year olds in Colorado with older adults. “Once we get kids into these communities, stereotypes about working with senior starts to go away through positive experiences. Students only know about the negative side of aging,” says Cavaleri.
It turns out, many more students signed up for the pilot projects than there were seniors. The young adults found the interaction meaningful. Cavaleri decided that Connect the Ages was a go.
Getting the Word Out
To generate awareness of, and interest in, this career path, Cavaleri has launched a grass roots campaign through videos, speaking at conferences and becoming involved with age-related organizations. (She sits on the board of the national intergenerational group Generations United and is currently doing a year-long AARP fellowship around innovation.)
Attending national conferences, Cavaleri has honed her concept with the few peers her age—not many hang out at events on aging—and with industry leaders and companies working in the 50+ field. She still seeks their advice; several other passionate 20 and 30 somethings have agreed to help with future company needs.
One volunteer is Reid Estreicher, now 35, a healthcare business development manager from Samsung who she met at an American Society on Aging conference. He thinks her idea is “spot on.” Along with others Cavaleri conferred with, he knew that an effective way to reach their peers is through social media and videos. The campaign has an active presence on such sites as YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
Estreicher oversaw the filming and production of two Connect the Ages videos, released this spring at a LeadingAge conference. In one video, 27 students and young professionals in the aging field talk about what they do and why. (Give away: fulfillment, feeling they’re making a difference, and learning from elders’ life experiences.)
Social media is essential, says Cavaleri, “but it all comes down to technology and creating software tools so that students, educators and employers can easily connect to a younger generation of talent.”
Talent like Hannah Monroe, who is featured in Cavaleri’s recent video. Now 26, she worked as a caregiver at Cavaleri’s former eldercare company and later volunteered for one of her intergenerational pilot projects in Boulder.
“I would place a lot of money on Amanda,” says Monroe, a care worker for an Area Agency on Aging in Indianapolis. “She is sparking a conversation that really needs to take place. I know very deeply the need for our generation to step up. I work in a place that is federally and state funded and feel the full force every day of not having enough young staff.”
One hitch is that young people don’t understand all their options. “When you tell them about the field they immediately think of an in home nurse which is great,” says Monroe. “We need more of them but there are so many other possibilities. Aging touches literally everything.”
Educational institutions could do more, too. Cavaleri has reached out to high school counselors, community colleges, universities and nursing programs, urging them to create more internships, mentorships and paid and volunteer work opportunities.
A Self-Supported Venture
From the start, Cavaleri has bankrolled her “passion project” on her own. It’s not by being an heiress, she jokes. Rather, the former college business major is footing the bill, “so far tens of thousands of dollars,” through money she has made over the years and continues to earn through consulting.
“I’ve only ever bootstrapped start-ups,” says Cavaleri. “It sounds strange to most people but it forces you to be more efficient since it’s your money.”
Nevertheless, she plans to actively pursue other revenue streams this fall. They hope to partner with industry organizations, senior housing developers and operators, and universities.
Cavaleri’s goal for the next two years is to build the software (“even if I have to go coding school!”), and grow storytelling and mentorship programs within senior living.
She will definitely need more revenue. Later this month [August], Cavaleri will take a six-week trip to 10 European countries, filming in 3D. She plans to interview geriatric experts, older adults living with purpose, centenarians in Blue Zones, and survivors of major historical events such as World War II. From the videos she will create content showing the diversity, wisdom and knowledge, and passions of older adults around the world.
Upending the Aging Image
A few months ago, Cavaleri spoke with Estreicher about how she could enlighten young people about their grandparents’ demographic. She decided to make videos showing older adults in situations you wouldn’t normally associate with them. She and Estreicher found a group of avid skydivers in their 70s. They skydived with them, filming it in 360 degrees for future virtual reality content.
Cavaleri and her peers don’t expect that one campaign will convert the millennial masses. “Change must be systemic and is going to be slow. It will be more like a marathon,” she says.
At a time when purpose is important and work is necessary (unless you are an heiress), Monroe thinks there’s another point Connect the Ages should make: “Working in the aging field is amazing job security. Everyone ages!” she says.