By Pat Spadafora
The year was 1999, the United Nations International Year of Older Persons (IYOP). Early that year, I walked into the office of Sheridan’s President at the time, Sheldon Levy, and said ‘I have an idea’. The idea was the concept for an on campus applied research institute that would have as its mission enhancing the lives of older adults and their families. With Sheldon’s support, the centre was announced as an organized research unit and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Centre for Elder Research officially opened its doors in September 2003 and, in the intervening years, has grown and matured into a widely respected research centre with a reputation of being a ‘possibility maker’ and of conducting socially innovative, interdisciplinary research into matters of importance to an aging population.
Looking back, I think the spirit and intent of the Centre have remained true to the original concept, one that has strived to build on the unique program mix offered at Sheridan. We have collaborated with approximately 30 Sheridan programs to date and have supported over 600 students through field practicums, as paid Research Assistants, in capstone courses and in co-op and internship experiences. In more recent years, we have explicitly added our role as ‘an education and resource hub for the Sheridan community’ to the Centre’s mission statement.
What has changed? When the Centre launched, for example, we conducted research about ways to better support older adults in learning computer skills. As technology has advanced, our interests have evolved to include investigating the potential for various technologies, including apps and virtual reality, to support older adults. Another new initiative is our research related to social isolation and loneliness, two of the most pressing societal challenges facing older persons in contemporary society. Also new is our emerging focus on older entrepreneurs – their needs and interests – and, most important, their contributions to the very fabric of our society. Our research interests in the health and well-being benefits of participation in the creative and performing arts has endured from the outset and I expect that the arts will always have a prominent place among the research themes of the centre. Finally, over the years, the Centre has become more heavily engaged in industry and business led research.
The core team at the Centre has also grown over the years. Starting with myself in the early years, we have grown to a team of 5 and anyone who knows me has heard me refer to Lia Tsotsos, Kathryn Warren-Norton, Marta Owsik and Kate Dupuis as the ‘dream team’. I gave them that moniker at the Centre’s 10th anniversary and it has stuck! And so, it is time for me to pass the torch to the dream team. Having advocated for healthy, active aging for many years now, I have mustered up my courage to set sail on my own new adventures. However, I will never lose sight of the land and will continue to be involved in the field, just from a different shoreline.
To all of you who have contributed to both the Centre’s and, my own, growth, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite quotes.
“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.” – C. JoyBell C.