By Carly Loy
Slightly uptown from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is the New York Academy of Medicine. Here, Carolyn Stem works for a program called Age Friendly NYC. The Age Friendly NYC employees and volunteers collaborate with the mayor and his council to create initiatives to implement into the inner workings of New York City.
When former Mayor Michael Bloomberg first started the program, he asked all city departments to evaluate how “age friendly” they were. From that data, he created 59 initiatives to help make New York CIty more suitable to our aging community. Age Friendly NYC interviews specific seniors, runs polls, and more to assist in the process of creating a senior-friendly environment in the city that many call home.
Carolyn Stem is not your average worker. She was actually retired before joining Age Friendly NYC. She came from a proactive family: Her father and uncle both worked in steel and her brother was a journalist — and all were involved in unions.
However, she wanted to follow her passion of opera singing which led the 18-year-old Carolyn Stem to New York City under an Opera and Voice program at Mannes College. This talent of hers even lead her to spend three years in Vienna under a fellowship. However, there is not a very large market for opera singers in the United States. When she returned to New York City, she continued looking for performances and taking singing lessons, but often had to turn to temp agency work to provide extra money. She said that much of her life was surviving in New York City.
Throughout her entire working life, Carolyn never gave community work much thought. That all changed after retirement when she received a postcard in the mail from a councilwoman inviting her to a town hall meeting. This is when she first learned about the Age Friendly NYC movement. The things they were saying really resonated with her and caused her to join the line of 50-60 people waiting to give their contact information to get involved. Perhaps it was because of her instant passion for the cause, or perhaps the stars aligned in her favor, but Carolyn was offered a position with Age Friendly NYC under a senior employment agency. She has been with them since 2008 and says she is “as happy as a lamb”.
If someone had told the opera singer Carolyn that she would eventually hold the title of “Age Friendly Project Assistant”, she probably would not believe you. Even though her field of work now is much different than the one that led her to New York City in the first place, she radiates passion and joy. Carolyn is no longer giving back to the community on the stage (although she still takes lessons), but she is giving back through her work with Age Friendly NYC.