Seniors and Students: Advocating for Change

BY MARISSA DeFALCO, UC SAN DIEGO STUDENT

The UC San Diego Change Maker’s Study brought together UC San Diego students, San Diego city officials, and senior residents of Green Manor, an independent living community in the Mission Hills neighborhood, to teach them how to advocate for their communities to be safer environments for physical activity.

“Through our program, we have worked with seniors to be able to go out into their community and look for specific items that are tied to physical activity in terms of being safe and enjoyable,” said Chad Spoon, MRP, one of the researchers and co-leaders of the study. “Seniors and students surveyed the area surrounding Green Manor to identify problem areas. Then [we] work with them to teach them advocacy skills to work with the city and, hopefully, help them correct those projects and fix the community.”

Added fellow researcher and coleader Christy Thornton: “It’s really about empowering the older adults that are involved.” The senior change makers met with traffic engineer Kharman Tawfiq from the San Diego Department of Transportation and discussed their projects and how to advocate for change to their community.

“We’ve had a few immediate successes," said Thornton. A curb leading into a crosswalk near Green Manor was badly cracked and uneven, causing difficulty for those using a walker or wheelchair.

“The city came over and fixed that really quickly after we made our requests and presentations,“ Thornton said. “I think that by seeing a few of these things fixed, the older adults feel like, ‘We can do this; our voices are really being heard.”

The Change Makers Study has empowered not only the seniors in the group but also the UC San Diego students.

“This study helped me understand the obstacles older adults experience, and I am now equipped with a plan for how to improve the world around me in order to help improve the quality of life of loved ones and those in need,” said Kristin, a UC San Diego student and research assistant.