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Ben Lewis is the founder of Engage As You Age, an organization that pairs homebound or isolated seniors with active adults who share their interests. (Max Morse)

Alumnus Profile

Entrepreneur Engages the Elderly

Ben Lewis, AB ’99

by Blaire Leible Garwitz

Ben Lewis, AB ’99 (psychology and African and African-American studies), never dreamed he’d become a pioneer in the senior-care industry. It all started when he met 91-year-old Anna. Anna’s daughter, Leslie, was looking for help with her elderly mother. She introduced the two because she thought Lewis, with his background in African-American history, would be a good match for Anna, “an old lefty.” The pair hit it off, and Lewis was hired to be Anna’s conversation partner.

“Anna spent most of her time in bed in an assisted-living facility saddled with an oxygen tank,” he says. “Still, she watched CNN and read as many books as she could. Until we met, she didn’t have many people to talk with and discuss the news and history she was digesting.”

Lewis worked with Anna for more than two years, reading to her and debating ideas and concepts. He also arranged for other people to come spend time with her, so that she had a visitor every night of the week. Lewis even found an opera singer to come and sing for Anna, an opera enthusiast.

“My experience with Anna showed me the profound need for connecting the ­elderly with others who share their interests,” Lewis says.

“My experience with Anna showed me the profound need for connecting the ­elderly with others who share their interests,” Lewis says.

When Anna died, her family requested in her obituary that money be sent to Lewis to start an organization to provide this service to other seniors.

A year later, Lewis founded Engage As You Age, an innovative San Francisco–based organization that pairs homebound or isolated seniors with active adults who share their interests. The active adults, or “activity specialists,” visit regularly with the elderly clients to stimulate cognitive and social ­interactions. Engage As You Age also provides respite to family and caregivers.

“I haven’t always had an interest in working with the elderly,” Lewis says. “In high school and college, I spent a lot of time working with children. It wasn’t until I met Anna that I realized how much of a need there was — that the elderly, like children, need one-on-one social interaction.”

According to Lewis, the matching process is extensive and involves meeting with the potential clients and their families to determine what the best match would be. After selecting and training an activity specialist, Lewis brings everyone together for an initial visit. He receives detailed notes after each session and also drops by unannounced to make sure things are going well.

Engage As You Age offers its clients many different activities. “We can help someone use a computer, swap travel tales, debate about nearly anything, and, most important, engage the senior,” Lewis says.

In addition, Engage As You Age works with assisted-living facilities, nursing homes and community centers to provide group programming. Programs range from U.S. history discussion groups to Shakespeare workshops.

Engage As You Age — the only known ­organization of its kind — is receiving attention in the media for its pioneering services. Lewis appeared on a local newsmagazine show, and CBS aired a segment on the organization in January 2010. The Gilbert Guide, the Internet’s leading senior resource database, even profiled Lewis as an “Aging Innovator.”

Always looking for ways to improve his company, Lewis frequently bounces business ideas off friends he made at ­Washington University. “The university provided me with a place where I felt comfortable following my interests,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade that ­opportunity for anything.”

No matter how busy he is with running his business (delivering public talks, interviewing prospective activity specialists, checking in with clients, and reading up on the industry), Lewis finds time to spend with his matched client.

“I meet weekly with 89-year-old Verna,” he says. “She suffers from dementia, and I represent an ‘escape’ from the normal routine and am someone she looks forward to seeing.”

In the future, Lewis hopes to expand his client base in the San Francisco area and, eventually, to offer services in other locations.

“The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I have the opportunity to profoundly change not only individual lives but also the senior-care industry,” he says.

For more information, visit www.engageasyouage.com or call 415-690-6944.

Blaire Leible Garwitz is associate editor of Washington Magazine.

MY WASHINGTON:

The Best Investment He Ever Made Alumnus John Beuerlein, MBA '77, parlayed a college scholarship into a successful career. Over the years, he’s supported those institutions that helped give him a good start.

ALUMNI PROFILES:

Entrepreneur Engages the Elderly Alumnus Ben Lewis, AB ’99, is the founder of Engage As You Age, an organization that pairs isolated seniors with active adults.

Filmmaker Develops Craft, Finds Her Voice Sasha Isaac-Young, AB ’99, BFA ’99, is an award-winning film writer and director in Los Angeles.

Music Industry Veteran Connects Artists, Fans David Sherbow, JD ’76, a 35-year music industry veteran, helps individuals book bands directly from his website, LiveMusicMachine.com.

ALUMNI HIGHLIGHTS:

Alum Lands Exclusive Interview Talk radio veteran Joe Madison, AB ’71, known as the Black Eagle to his audience, met with President Barack Obama for an exclusive interview.

ALUMNI ACTIVITIES:

Reunion: Good Times Abound Thousands of alumni and friends return to Washington University annually for both Reunion weekends. Alumna Danielle Forget Shield, BS ’94, speaks on why she stays involved with the university.

CLASSNOTES:

Read news of your classmates, and submit your own classnote.

In Memoriam

ASIA EXTRA:

Asia Extra is a supplement to Washington University for alumni and friends in Asia. (PDF Download)

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