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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Experience With Her Grandparents Helped Turn President's Lecture Speaker Into an Advocate for the Elderly, and Their Caregivers

By Brendan O'Hallarn

In delivering Old Dominion University's President's Lecture, Ai-jen Poo began by reminiscing how fortunate she was to grow up with her grandparents.

"They showered my sister and me with love and caring, and offered us valuable perspective in life," she said. From her grandmother, she learned to laugh and enjoy life. From her grandfather, she learned diligence and focus.

The author and advocate has also experienced different sides of the aging spectrum from watching her grandparents age. Her grandfather died in a cramped, dark nursing home room that he shared with five others. Her grandmother is still alive and living on her own in California, with the help of a kind care worker.

"It gives me great peace to know that after caring for so many of us, she gets to live life on her own terms," Poo said.

But after two decades as an advocate for domestic workers, many of whom come to the United States as immigrants, she said the country is not adequately prepared to deal with a rapidly aging population.

She warned Tuesday's audience of 300 in the Big Blue Room of the Constant Convocation Center about the looming "silver tsunami" as the baby boom generation reaches old age. By 2050, 27 million Americans will need elderly care and assistance.

"We simply cannot afford not to have a plan in America. There's something deep and fundamentally wrong to have a system failure about this," she said.

The lecture was co-sponsored by Friends of Women's Studies, the community support group for Old Dominion University's Department of Women's Studies. Jennifer Fish, chair of women's studies at the University, introduced Poo as a passionate advocate for the elderly and domestic workers, and a dear friend.

"Her magnanimous life work is certainly a model of public intellectual spirit and a global change agent," Fish said.

The director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of the Caring Across Generations campaign, Ai-jen Poo was named to Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people in 2012. A 2014 MacArthur fellow, she founded Domestic Workers United in 2000, a New York organization that spearheaded the passage of the state's historic Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010.

After noticing an increase in the number of domestic workers originally hired as nannies and housekeepers who were being asked to provide home care for their employers' aging relatives, Poo co-launched the Caring Across Generations campaign in 2011 to ensure access to affordable care for the nation's aging population and access to quality jobs for the caregiving workforce.

She serves on the board of directors of MomsRising, Jobs with Justice and WorkingAmerica. She is a 2013 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, one of Fortune.com's World's 50 Greatest Leaders and author of the book "The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America," published by The New Press.

Old Dominion's President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring fascinating personalities who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Discussing timely topics, the series puts diversity first, offering an international lineup of authors and educators, business innovators and political figures.