Volunteer Spotlight: Elizabeth Pooran ’16
Elizabeth Pooran is a graduating senior at Pace whose passion for education and making a difference has influenced nearly every aspect of her undergraduate career. She has completed a Wilson Center Funded Internship with Senior Planet, which became an ongoing volunteer position and eventually a job as one of Senior Planet’s official trainers, helping to host free classes and workshops for New Yorkers age 60 and over “to learn, work and explore new ways to thrive in today’s digital world.” Read on to learn more about Elizabeth’s work, passions, views on ageism, and more!
Year of Graduation: 2016
Major: International Management
Career Aspirations: To work in the field of education- working to provide it to the underserved and (hopefully) providing it myself by becoming a teacher.
When we’re passionate about what we do, whether it’s volunteering or even our regular work, school, etc. we’re more likely to see better end-results.
How did you become so inspired to work and volunteer with Senior Planet?
My experience with Senior Planet started out as a summer internship with the Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Pace. Of all the internships I’ve had, never have I found one as fulfilling as this one. For me it was that something I looked forward to in the morning- compared to a previous internship I had in the financial sector where I dreaded waking up every day *hits snooze button*. I loved being there so much that even after my internship was over, I decided to volunteer. Throughout the course of my time volunteering, many would ask “Why do you still work there if you’re not getting paid?”, or something along the lines of that. The truth of the matter was that not only had I been adjusted to such a comfortable work environment where I considered the staff to be like family, but I became more passionate towards their mission- harnessing the power of technology to change the way we age. Technology is only advancing each and every day, and ageism is one of the most understated forms of prejudice. Combine the two of those and you have an organization that focuses on sustainability and ultimately enhancing the quality of our lives as we age. Finally, after a few months of volunteering, Senior Planet hired me as one of their official trainers- while I also spend time volunteering with programs and events when I’m not teaching!
Ageism is a touchy subject that doesn’t get much public attention, though it influences our personal interactions with people. How do you suggest we combat it with an anti-aging rhetoric?
Ageism is expressed in so many different forms and is integrated so deeply into the media today that sometimes we don’t even recognize it. When a beauty product claims to have “anti-aging” features- what does that even mean? Ashton Applewhite, a popular ageism activist and best-selling author who I had the pleasure of meeting, paints a clearer picture of this in her book “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.” She mentioned something that really stuck with me right afterwards, something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t anti-aging be anti-living?” When you really think about it, that’s what these products are advertising. Why should we feel insecure about how our bodies look when it’s just us naturally living our lives? These are the things we have to look out for, because that obscures our views on aging, or rather, living.
In today’s fast-paced society, it may seem difficult at times to have that sort of patience to teach someone something they’re not too familiar with or maybe even had absolutely no experience with before. That’s where we have to remember that we’re all only human, each with our own unique styles of learning.
What is a memorable experience you’ve had working with seniors?
As a “low-key crafter” who spends countless hours (when available) working on DIY projects, and as a business management major- my most memorable experience has been working with the entrepreneurs and crafters of Senior Planet for our annual Arts & Crafts Entrepreneur Fair. This event brings together the artists/artisans of our community to exhibit both their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit by giving them the opportunity to sell their products to the general public. Working closely with the program director at Senior Planet, I’m able to work behind the scenes to help make the event possible, while also being able to connect with such a talented group of people.
What are some challenging moments you’ve faced working with seniors?
When working with older adults, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have patience- not because these people are “too old” or “old-fashioned,” among other phrases I’ve heard before, but rather because just like anyone else, they’re learning something that is technically new. Consider what life would be for 20-something’s today over 50 years from now when new sophisticated forms of technology are introduced- completely different from what we learned in our time. In today’s fast-paced society, it may seem difficult at times to have that sort of patience to teach someone something they’re not too familiar with or maybe even had absolutely no experience with before. That’s where we have to remember that we’re all only human, each with our own unique styles of learning.
Volunteering is a form of service where you don’t just contribute your time and physical efforts, but you also give your emotions – it’s like giving bits of your heart away. Are emotions a strength or weakness to have when volunteering?
While volunteering does take up our time, physical efforts, and sometimes even money, at the end of the day your emotions are involved as well- and it’s up to you to determine how you ultimately want to let it affect how/why you work. When people volunteer, they’re generally interested in helping others and making a difference, asides from doing it to fulfill academic/organizational requirements. When we’re passionate about what we do, whether it’s volunteering or even our regular work, school, etc. we’re more likely to see better end-results. But sometimes this could be a weakness. Someone could easily get taken advantage of if they’re “too nice” – but if they’re not nice enough, they would be considered mean. Another example would depend on how invested you are in what you do. When you’re constantly working with the same people over and over again, you tend to get attached- and this could be risky because when they start to experience problems or difficulties in their lives, you’d feel compelled to be involved as well, even though it’s not part of your job. Depending on how you handle the situation, this isn’t always a bad thing – but it could get out of hand once it starts taking a toll on your own personal life.
Besides being a full-time student and volunteer, you also have your photography business, “Lizzz Lemon Photography.” How do you find time for yourself in the midst of balancing those responsibilities?
The key is in prioritizing! Over the past year, photography was a hobby for me and as I became more invested in it, I realized I wanted to take it one step further by starting my own photography service that allows people to get professional-quality headshots/portraits for an affordable price- very popular with college students looking for jobs! To juggle all these responsibilities, I like to plan ahead. I’m very big on planning and organization, and I live strongly by the quote, “Don’t put off for tomorrow what you could do today.” At the end of the day, I know what’s important to me, and I’m able to prioritize off of that. I’m not saying it’ll be easy all the time, because there will be times when you’re just about ready to give up. We have to remember that while the essays and projects and work assignments might be important, years from now we probably won’t even remember it. If we stress too much over things like that, it could take its toll on us, especially our health. That’s why I always make it a priority of mine to find time for myself- even if it’s something as simple as taking a walk in the park or going to a favorite restaurant!
Pay It Forward: Give a shout-out to three individuals who have been your inspirational forces during your time as a Pace student. What is it about those individuals that motivates you to be civically engaged?
- Emily, my supervisor at Senior Planet: Her charisma and constant drive to help people to the best of her abilities inspires me every day. She’s a rare gem who could have the most long, stressful day but would still have a smile on her face and carve time out for you when needed.
- Professor Chris Ramos: Professor Ramos is not just a professor, but a natural leader who teaches his classes with just the right amount of passion mixed with knowledge, and expertise. He genuinely cares about his students. When I mentioned wanting to go in to the non-profit field, he helped me in the process of looking for non-profit internships while also recommending those he knew of. His dedication to his students was truly inspiring and reinforced my decision to become a professor somewhere along the path of my career. I want to be able to inspire others the way Professor Ramos has inspired me.
- Chas, (former) co-worker & best-friend: Never have I met someone with such a fervent desire to truly make a difference in society and is constantly taking action to help those around her. Her civic engagement and ambitious personality both inspire me to work just as hard. If there’s something you think you can’t do, she’ll tell you that you could do it, and even show you how to do it!