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Circling Back to My Community
By AV Board Member Carrie Graham


There’s a beloved story about the founding of Ashby Village that many of you might have heard: After reading a 2006 article in the New York Times about Beacon Hill Village, Pat Sussman and Shirley Haberfeld convened several friends to discuss the idea of launching a village here in the East Bay. I was one of those friends in Pat’s living room. In those days, I was working at the University of California School of Public Health, a young Gerontologist just launching my career in state and federal aging policy. Now, 15 years later, joining the Ashby Village Board of Directors seems like circling back to my community. 

A Lifelong Affinity For Aging Issues

Just about everything in my past and current work life aligns so well with Ashby Village’s mission, values and challenges. I call myself a lifelong Gerontologist. In high school, I often skipped out on classes, but instead of hanging out with friends I would go hang out with my grandmother who I was very close with. Later, I put myself through college as an activity director in a nursing home. I finished a master’s degree in Gerontology and doctoral degree in Medical Sociology/Aging Policy at UCSF in 2002. After a decades long career as a researcher and aging policy evaluator at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, I recently took a job as Director of long-term services and supports at the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS). I currently oversee CHCS’ portfolio of work to improve care delivery for older adults and people with disability who need long-term services and supports. Most of my work focuses on access to services for older adults who are very poor and have disabilities, including those who are on Medicaid, immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, LGBTQI+, and others with complex care needs. 

I can trace my interest in aging to when I was growing up in Fresno. My grandmother, Mary Griffin was a strong, independent woman. In her 70s, after her husband died, she chose to move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Fresno called San Joaquin Gardens (same owner as Piedmont Gardens in Oakland). My grandmother loved living there, and volunteering to visit the “old people” in the nursing home portion of the community into her 90s. She proved to be a role model to me for the importance of not being in denial about the need for support as she aged and also for making her own choices ahead of time. Her move to a retirement community was not a failure to “age in place,” but a reflection of her independent nature and her desire to make decisions for herself and not have her children play a guessing game about what was best for her. I so admired my grandmother for her pragmatic approach to aging. My parents often said that my grandmother planning out her own old age was a “gift” to her children, and I plan to emulate her in that. 

Some Thoughts About Villages and Where We Fit

As a researcher at UC Berkeley I spent 10 years studying Villages nationally. I led several studies, including a longitudinal study on the outcomes of Village membership that included 20 villages across the country. While I published several papers on Villages, I don’t think our research ever “cracked the nut” on where Villages fit in the current continuum of care. As Village members age and their needs change it will be imperative to coordinate with other organizations that can provide the services and supports that are outside the scope of Ashby Village. 

In some ways the underlying values of most Villages are a little contradictory. Most Village mission statements focus on promoting “independence.” But what Villages actually seem to be doing is promoting inter-dependence by creating community and providing peer support. Additionally, some Villages are designed in a way that perpetuates the myth and stigma around needing help in old age. Americans (and especially Baby Boomers!) are often in denial about the very likely possibility that they will need assistance with activities of daily living as they age (in fact, for people who live to age 65, at least 70% will need some assistance in their lifetime). We have to work to help people understand that needing services and supports isn’t shameful or bad. We have a lot to learn from the Disability Justice movement in that regard! Berkeley was the home of the independent living movement (see Crip Camp!) But the city has not lived up to that heritage in my opinion. Ashby Village is well positioned to advocate for the rights of all people to great health care and affordable supports, and I’m hoping part of my role in the village will include that work. 

Other Experiences That I Bring

In 2019, I spent the year in Washington DC as a health and aging policy fellow in the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, Health Subcommittee. In this role, I worked on Medicare policy including prescription drug pricing, skilled nursing facilities, post-acute care, surprise billing, and Federal financing options for LTSS—issues I know Ashby Village members are interested in.
Another area I’ve heard that Ashby Village’s Elder Action interest group has been following closely is Governor Gavin Newsom’s Master Plan for Aging. In 2019, I was a senior policy advisor on that effort and have remained very connected to implementation efforts of both California’s Medi-Cal agency and the Dept of Aging. 

A Bit About the Rest of My Life

My husband and I were both born and raised in California, but we met in Philadelphia when he was in medical school and I had my first job at a Gerontological research center. We moved to San Francisco in 1995 to attend UCSF. He did his medical residency and I completed a doctorate in Medical Sociology with an emphasis on aging policy. We moved to North Berkeley in 2000, and have three boys-- two college age and one in middle school. None of my boys are interested in health policy or medicine, but they all love Ultimate Frisbee! Outside of work I love to garden, do yoga, and take walks around Berkeley. In the evenings after working from my home office all day, I can often be found listening to an audiobook while walking around the Berkeley hills for exercise. One thing I do NOT love is cooking. I have recently transferred that duty to my husband who is diligently finding recipes and making huge messes in the kitchen as he learns to cook. It’s very cute (the husband, not the messes). 

I look forward to learning much more about Ashby Village as it is today and working with you to make us an even more vibrant and supportive community.