Making a Difference by Dispelling Stereotypes and Aging Poles – Greta Garniss – Poland 2011

I was a mid-career professional at the time of my award pursuing a Masters Degree at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. I used this award to extend my research relating to seniors and housing plus working on dispelling the myths of Polish seniors -all very old, all close to death, and possibly living with extended family. The reality was, this demographic is just as diverse as the general population when it comes to mobility, income, wealth, household size, tenure, families, and what they want in the future -security, especially when it comes to housing. However, in Poland as in much of the world, seniors are seen as only the oldest old, living in a run down care home waiting to die.

With my research I was able to show that Polish seniors and their housing needs were not being met.  Issues with stairs, concrete flooring, over capacity, poor construction/insulation of older buildings and other built physical environment issues were a burden for many seniors. They wanted to move but had no where to go except the open market for a newer apartment. All they wanted was a clean, safe, light and bright place to live with slightly wider doors, less slippery flooring (not ceramic tile) and more unit storage. They also wanted gardening space and a fitness center. These were all easy items that developers could accommodate. Polish seniors wanted (and still want) to be independent and self sufficient as long as it’s possible. This was not being talked about at all while I was there, it was assumed that aging parents would go live with their kids. People were not talking to the market -the senior community- instead, still adhering to out dated development practices based on socialist models. I went out and talked to the market (seniors) but also to developers, investors, social service providers, and affiliated stakeholders.

This led to an international senior housing conference in Krakow in June 2013, where I helped organize, moderate, and present my research to a Polish and European audience, showing there is a market and a social and economic return on investment to develop housing to meet this diverse demographics’ needs – mobile seniors. This is how I utilized the Fulbright Spirit by educating and advocating for a growing and under served group of people. It opened the door to new ideas, new information and new data that could be used by investors and developers and other affiliated professionals. This has led to foreign investment from senior housing developers and providers.

While doing the field work for my research, I traveled around the country and spoke with the most fascinating and interesting people eager to share their lives and speak English with a native speaker. I learned so much from these people.

Greta Garniss – Fulbright to Poland 2011

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