Changing the Lives of Older Adults Certificate Graduate Finds True Meaning in Working With the Elderly
  • May 17, 2018
Changing the Lives of Older Adults Certificate Graduate Finds True Meaning in Working With the Elderly
  • May 17, 2018

Nearly a decade ago, as the U.S. economy went into a tailspin, Jennifer Jones decided to shake up her career.

She’d worked for many years as a photojournalist, and had also operated an import clothing business with her husband. But the Great Recession gave her the opportunity to make a change — and at the age of 50, she was ready for a new challenge.

“I knew that I wanted to go into a different field and take a different path, but I didn't quite know how to do that,” Jennifer said. “I didn't really want to have to pursue another four-year degree.”

That’s when she discovered the certificate programs offered by the University of Washington, programs that would ultimately change her life.

In Her Own Words

Jennifer Jones explains how what she learned in two UW certificate programs — one in filmmaking, the other in gerontology — helped her make a difference in the lives of older adults.

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learning to tell Visual Stories

Jennifer already understood the vital role that images play in telling complex stories. And she also realized that, as she noted, “in today’s media, video is everything.”

In order to move from taking photos to making movies, Jennifer decided to enroll in the UW certificate program in independent filmmaking, now known as the Certificate in Film & Video Production.

“The program’s instructors were professionals who actually worked in the field, Emmy Award winners,” she said. “We learned extremely technical video editing tools. It was the real deal.”

She completed a short documentary film during the program about flooding in a small town in northern Washington, and later made two other documentaries on environmental subjects. But something still wasn’t quite right with her career.

Finding Her True Calling

Another turning point in Jennifer’s life came when she began caring for her widowed mother, who was struggling with grief and depression. In the process, Jennifer found herself drawn to a new field.

“Helping my mom introduced me to the challenges of aging adults, and the support that they need,” she noted. “I became very curious about that as a career path. I knew a woman who was a geriatric care manager, and she invited me to help her. I began working with elders one on one.”

I knew that I wanted to go into a different field and take a different path, but I didn't quite know how to do that.

Jennifer Jones

But she felt like she didn’t have the essential, baseline knowledge she needed to make a full transition to this new profession. So she began exploring her options for further education.

“I really wanted to know more — I wanted an academic background in this,” Jennifer said. “I needed to understand the processes of aging and get a much more comprehensive knowledge base.”

education That Opens Doors

So Jennifer turned again to the UW, this time enrolling in the Certificate in Gerontology program. Once more, the experience paid big dividends in both information and inspiration.

“We studied the biology, psychology and sociology of aging, as well as the current issues related to aging,” she recalled. “It was wonderful, comprehensive knowledge, and I think it gave me so much more confidence that I had the skills to be able to help people. At the age of 55, I was able to go back to school and learn new things, and that was powerful.”

Earning the certificate also helped her understand what good care can do for older adults, a population that is growing at an exponential rate today.

“The gerontology program opened up a vision of the future for me,” she noted. “I could see that this is what healthy aging can look like. It was a revelation, and it’s opened so many doors.”

Jennifer eventually launched her own business, Conscious Aging Eldercare, and now makes her living working with many different clients on their physical and cognitive issues.

“I have eight different clients right now,” she explained. “I visit them once a week and I do different things for them — take them on outings and help them with projects and other organizational things. Using the tools that I gained from the program has allowed me to do this incredibly rewarding work.”

Combining Her Passions

About five years ago, Jennifer found a great way to meld her gerontology and filmmaking backgrounds. That’s when she joined a workshop led Trudy James, a former hospital chaplain who has dedicated her life to issues surrounding death and dying.

After completing the class, Jennifer mentioned that she was also a filmmaker. Trudy said she’d been thinking about making a documentary about the workshops and the overall topic. A partnership was born.

“I spent two years working with Trudy to create the film Speaking of Dying,” Jennifer said. “It’s a short, educational movie that helps people engage with the idea of planning for a good life ending.”

The film has since been shown over 500 times to audiences around the country, generating demand for the workshops and sparking countless meaningful conversations among families about end-of-life plans and desires. Jennifer has even become a trained workshop facilitator herself.

Ultimately, completing the two UW certificate programs gave Jennifer the confidence and ability to remake her professional life — and to make a difference in the lives of others.

“I feel so fortunate that these programs were available. It changed everything for me,” she concluded. “The other day, a client who was grappling with the recent loss of her husband looked at me and said, ‘Thank you, Jennifer. You’ve given me courage.’ There’s nothing better than that.”


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