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Stylin’ Seniors: A Unique Senior Center Program in New York City

Stylin’ Seniors is a unique photography series designed for the NYC Department for the Aging’s (DFTA) social media channels - Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. Stylin’ Seniors features members of DFTA-funded senior centers throughout New York City. Older adults are photographed wearing their “Sunday Best” and fill out a form sharing their name and age, and, if they would like, a brief history of themselves, as well as any comments they would like to make pertaining to their Senior Center.

The Birth of the Program
DFTA re-launched its Facebook page in May 2013 with the goal of promoting DFTA programs, initiatives and resources, as well as the older adults that benefit from them. The Stylin’ Seniors program lends itself perfectly to this vision. In addition, the photo series lent itself perfectly to the photo-specific Instagram platform, Tumblr,and Twitter. Social media allows DFTA an opportunity tell the stories presented in the series.

The program started thanks to Richard Henry, an older worker in the Title V program (for older adults looking to re-enter the workforce). Mr. Henry has a background in photography. As part of his skills training, Richard was offered a review of DFTA’s social media channels. Richard suggested the photo series as a way of highlighting older adults and offered DFTA a distinctive vehicle to drive their social media pursuits while also promoting their Senior Centers. Richard’s work has earned him praise from those who view the photographs and he has since been hired by DFTA as a part-time employee.

The project began under former DFTA Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli. Caryn Resnick, Deputy Commissioner of External Affairs, has encouraged the expansion of DFTA marketing through social media and was instrumental in bringing Richard Henry to the Public Affairs Team. Jon Minners, Director of Public Affairs, has created the social media strategy for the Department for the Aging and is chiefly responsible for creating content for all of the social media channels. He works with Richard and other senior centers to fine-tune the project and make sure as many older adults as possible are featured in the photo series. He also promotes the Stylin’ Seniors posts through emails and other social media strategies. Gail Evans, Administrative Staff Analyst, often accompanies Richard Henry on photo shoots to interview older adults for potential stories they may use to expand upon the picture. The directors of the Senior Centers help to facilitate this program by reaching out to their participants and helping to organize photo shoots. Some senior centers have even brought in makeup and hair stylists to help prepare for the shoot, which creates a fun-filled event for the person taking part in the series. Other directors will obtain copies of the photos and provide those featured with a copy of their own “modeling work”. You can view many photographs taken by Richard Henry on DFTA’s Facebook page. (External Link)

Focus on Older New Yorkers
The subjects of the photo series are the older adults who are members of senior centers. They agree to participate in the program and sign waivers to have their photos taken. The photo series is an opportunity to honor the person being featured. For the moment they are being photographed, the focus is on the person. It offers older members of the community an opportunity to tell their story and share their wisdom while also having the spotlight shined onto them. It is also a wonderful opportunity for caregivers and loved ones to see their grandmother, father, uncle, etc. in a different light.

Senior Centers in a New Age
While the photo series benefits older adults, it also benefits the senior centers throughout the five boroughs. In the brief description offered with the photo, the neighborhood center is named along with the center’s address. Those people who believe they are not “old enough” for a senior center may realize that these neighborhood facilities offer vibrant programs enjoyed by equally vibrant people and may choose to attend these centers to participate.

One of the cornerstones in the city’s efforts to create a more age-friendly NYC is the senior centers. Senior Centers are places where older New Yorkers congregate for meals, socialization and important programs aimed at improving their health. Such programs might involve free health screenings, exercise, workshops and even video gaming through Xbox Kinect Exergaming program that takes place at some Innovative Senior Centers.

However, there is often a misguided stigma associated with senior centers - that they are just places for the “old and frail” to go for lunch and play BINGO. This is far from the truth. The people depicted in this photo series are full of life. They are excited to attend their senior center each day and make new friends. They are having fun and they are still playing very active roles in their communities. In a way, these New Yorkers are “ambassadors” of sorts and they are promoting the rich, informative and culturally diverse offerings at local senior centers throughout New York City.

Did You Know?
According to a Mashable article in August 2013, those age 55+ in the United States are finally jumping on the social media bandwagon. In 2013, 43% of Americans over 65 use at least one social networking site, compared with 26% in 2010 and 1% in 2008. This number will continue to grow, especially now that some senior centers are beginning to use tablets and are providing training in social media as part of computer training. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced(External Link) the donation of more than 700 Google Nexus 7 tablets(External Link) to libraries and senior centers located throughout Suffolk County. The contribution was part of Google’s overall donation of 17,000 Nexus tablets to libraries, senior centers and business and community centers in Sandy-affected areas. The tablets will help older individuals maintain their independence and stay connected with their families and communities.

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