Helping Seniors Take Action

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:03

An U.W.S. resident uses her experience navigating the city for seniors to fuel her organization's mission

Upper West Side Carolyn Stem was living in a studio apartment on the Upper West side when her 92-year-old mother moved in, completely changing her life's priorities. Her mother was a vibrant woman who ran a 5K race at age 80, and began writing poetry in her 90s. Stem quickly became aware of the concept of an "age-friendly" city, and found herself frustrated that more wasn't being done to assist seniors living in New York.

After her mother passed, she found the Institute for Senior Action (IFSA) where she learned how to get involved with her community, and become an advocate for change within senior organizations. IFSA is a 10-week course that teaches seniors 55+ about grassroots advocacy, skills training in public speaking, advocacy through social media, senior benefits and entitlements, intergenerational collaborations, and techniques of social action.

Stem began the 10-week course at IFSA with a few reservations because she had never been involved in local politics of any kind. She moved toe New York at age 18 to pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer. During her first class she found a very accepting environment. "I realized my involvement was not so far off base, everyone was just there to learn," she said.

Nearly 1,000 people have taken the course, and each student is able to apply their newly learned skills to their own specific passion. Molly Krakowski, director of IFSA programs, explained how this course gives seniors the confidence to voice their opinions. Once people retire they have to find something to fill their days, and the IFSA program can offer a great place to start.

Krakowski told us that some of the most popular issues IFSA students become involved with are Social Security changes, the cost of living, age discrimination, housing security, unemployment rates, and environmental issues like fracking. "Senior issues are our issues," she said. "It's a very unique time for people at this stage in their life, we offer a place for them to discover a new passion."

The IFSA program is a part of the Jewish Association Serving the Aging (JASA), the same organization that offers continuing education for seniors every Sunday at John Jay College. The IFSA program is more specific, only offering information that relates to community activism. Krakowski told is that IFSA "has more of a core focus on creating real change."

When caring for her mother, Ms. Stem didn't know what kind of help was available to her. "I didn't know what was out there," she said. After she started with IFSA she realized that there was an opportunity for her to give back, and help improve the lives of seniors.

"For once I was thinking about more than just myself. This program has made me feel more a part of the city, and now I see what is available to seniors," she explained. "People can create change once they discover their voice, and the IFSA program has helped me find my own."

If you are interested in getting involved with IFSA, please contact Molly Krakowski at 212-991-6572. You can also email them at or visit their website to find more details on the courses offered at