Columbia University’s Aging Center profiles our member Chandrakant Sheth

Starting in 2015, the people behind Exceeding Expectations, a project from Columbia University’s Aging Center, searched far and wide for 20 New Yorkers from all different circumstances and backgrounds who have both exceeded life expectancy and who are disrupting commonly-held expectations of what it means to grow old. “The project, through writing, photography and video, explores how people find purpose in later life and how their environment and circumstances make it easier or more challenging to do so. Their stories are filled with mystery, drama, wisdom and search for meaning,” according to the website.

The Exceeding Expectations project, Chandrakant Sheth and India Home was also given a two page spread in India Abroad, the oldest newspaper in North America catering to the South Asian diaspora.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-1-13-35-am

The project’s goal is to challenge people’s expectations of growing old and to present different possibilities beyond the extreme images of frailty and skydiving, as we like to say.  – Heather Clayton Colangelo

 
Heather Clayton Colangelo found India Home’s very own Chandrakant Sheth and shadowed him for a year, going to his home, meeting his family and friends, and visiting us and his friends at India Home’s Sunnyside Center. We interviewed her about the project and what sparked her interest in Chandrakant Sheth:

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What made you choose Chandrakant Sheth as a subject?

We spent several months trying to find 20 people all in their 80s that represented the diversity of New York City. We wanted people in all different living situations, with different interests, from different socioeconomic backgrounds and from different neighborhoods. The key piece was that each person needed to be seeking purpose in some way, to have a goal that they were trying to accomplish. The project’s goal is to challenge people’s expectations of growing old and to present different possibilities beyond the extreme images of frailty and skydiving, as we like to say.

I heard about India Home because of the opening of the Desi Senior Center right around the time we were looking for participants for the project, and were intrigued. As a then-resident of Astoria, I was also hoping to find someone suitable to follow in Queens as I wanted to represent the borough I dearly love. I contacted Lakshman at India Home and he recommended Chandrakant to me. He described Chandrakant as someone warm and genuine, with a thirst for learning, which made him a perfect fit for our project. Asking someone to be vulnerable and open their life up to a stranger is not an easy task, but from the beginning Chandrakant was willing to go outside of his comfort zone and share his life and thoughts with me.

You’ve been shadowing him for a year. How did your relationship develop?
The very first time I sat down with Chandrakant he was incredibly candid and genuine. He expressed enthusiasm for the goals of Exceeding Expectations and wanted to share his story as a way to help other people facing aging with limited models. I believe we talked for more than 3 hours that first day. Throughout the project he continued to graciously open up his heart and life to me, sharing his poetry, introducing me to family members, bringing me along on trips to India Home, and feeding me delicious food at his home. I feel grateful to have learned so much both professionally and personally from him.

What has the reaction to Exceeding Expectations been?
The reaction has been wonderful and is ongoing. We have heard from people young and old that they are inspired and see growing old in a more nuanced light. We have had pieces published in a variety of publications to reach new audiences, as well as on our website. We have more stories coming soon and hope people will follow along and share them with their friends! Best of all, we received funding from the New York Community Trust for a second year, so that we are able to follow these 20 inspiring people even longer and share their stories more widely.

Can you share a little of what you learned over the course of this project with Chandrakant Sheth and India Home.

India Home is an inspiring place. The people who attend demonstrate the diversity within the experience of older immigrants in New York, especially depending on what age a person has come to the U.S. and with what resources and knowledge. India Home is an example of the importance of culturally appropriate services and the need for meeting places in a city made of micro neighborhoods and cultural communities.

From Chandrakant, I have learned so much. I have learned how much having a positive outlook can aid resiliency and how it is a basic human need to have a sense of community. I have seen with Chandrakant, as with others that we are following, the challenges of building a new life and finding new connections when one’s partner passes. And I am also inspired by his desire to widen his community beyond only people with his same background. And finally, I have been so impressed by Chandrakant’s thirst for knowledge and how adept at technology he is! Chandrakant certainly challenges anyone’s belief that learning technology in old age is not possible.

We still have another part of Chandrakant’s story to come, so stay tuned!

India Home at the “Aging in Place in Suburbia” conference

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DFTA Commissioner Donna Corrado at the Aging In Place Conference

Almost all of the adults we serve at India Home’s four centers in Queens are “aging in place,” or living independently in their homes. They get to choose their communities. They get to participate and contribute in their neighborhoods and maintain and widen their friendships and social connections. “Aging in Place” thus gives our members a sense of purpose and of their place in their immediate community and larger society. New York city has been active in developing age-friendly agendas, but suburban communities need to ramp up their efforts in creating livable and viable spaces for the aging.  

The need becomes more pressing when we consider that by 2030 New York State is expected to experience a 40% growth in its 60+ population, increasing from 3.7 million in 2015 to 5.3 million. While almost all of New York State will experience rapid growth of people in the 75-85 and 85+ cohort, New York City, Nassau, and Suffolk counties are home to the largest older adult populations of immigrants and people of color, like the South Asian seniors we serve at India Home.

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Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi and Jacqueline B. Mondros, Dean and VP, Stony Brook University

It is with all these important considerations in mind that  DFTA Commissioner Donna Corrado and others from NYS Office of Aging, AARP NY, and several other government and medical organizations along with experts in various fields serving older adults joined together to hold a Working Summit at the Hilton Garden Hotel on the campus of Stony Brook University.

Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi represented India Home and provided input on the problems unique to South Asian elders at the conference. India Home’s early programs started in very suburban locations such as Queens Village, Baldwin, and Elmont. Through these experiences have given Dr. Kalasapudi a unique insight into best practices for culturally appropriate senior services in the suburban setting.

India Home wins the 2016 Local Community Action Leadership Award from NYU CSAAH and AARP

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India Home wins the 2016 Local Community Leadership Award from NYU and AARP. Seen here with Daphne Kwok, the VP of Multi-cultural Affairs

India Home was awarded the 2016 Local Community Action Leadership Award by NYU CSAAH and AARP at the 8th Annual Aging Together, Bridging Generations conference for Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. This award recognized individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to improving the health of Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) older adults. We were honored for our leadership and commitment in advocating for and providing vital health and social service needs to the Indian and larger South Asian immigrant older adult community. NYU CSAAH felt that the organization’s visionary leadership had been critical in helping to achieve their mission to reduce health disparities in the Asian American community through outreach, education and research. NYU CSAAH is the only center of its kind in the country that is solely dedicated to research and evaluation on Asian American health and health disparities.

India Home was also invited to be on a panel titled “Improving Health at the Community Level: Community-Based Innovative Approaches and Promising Practices.”  We discussed our use culturally sensitive health practices like Ayurveda and Yoga classes to attract, retain, and attain buy-in for continuing health education from our South Asian members. We also discussed the myriad ways in which we use community-specific dance, food, talks and trips that are culturally appropriate to combat social isolation and keep our seniors happy and attend to their physical and mental wellbeing.

Among the special guests at the conference were keynote speaker Jeanette C. Takamura, MSW, PhD, Dean of Social Work at Columbia University School of Social Work (and Former Assistant Secretary of Aging at US Department of Health & Human Services), as well as MSNBC anchor Richard Lui and AARP’s community ambassador, the famous retired general Tony Taguba. 

 

A Fashion-and-Talent Show at India Home’s Sunnyside Center

They wore saris with sequins, salwar kameezes with gold trim and blouses with mirror work. One member wore a cap like a famous yester-year Bollywood star. Another lady wore a costume from the state of Rajastan in India. Most of our members at India Home’s Sunnyside facility are immigrants from India and on Monday, September 19, a spectrum of fabrics, styles and costumes from across the home country were on display. While the event started out as a Fashion Show, our wonderful, enthusiastic members soon turned it into a Talent Show. Some matched their outfits to famous songs, showing off theimg_3099ir prodigious memory of Bollywood songs. Many couples sang duets, danced or strolled holding hands to romantic ballads. Some showed off their comedic talents or did some improv.

As one member, Dinesh Bhai, wrote in an email: “Old is gold.  For a few hours that day, seniors turned twenty years old.”

 

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