UNC Partnerships in Aging Program (PiAP), a campus-wide initiative in the University’s Office of the Provost, has recently named Jennifer “Jenny” Womack, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, as its associate director. Womack is a clinical professor in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, housed in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Allied Health Sciences. PiAP carries the mission of creating vibrant campus-community collaborations to challenge stereotypes and expand narratives about aging, recognizing later life as a time of continued growth and invigoration. Womack will focus on PiAP initiatives that grow aging-related content on campus and connect students with community partners.
An occupational therapist by training, Womack has also completed graduate-level education in folklore and public health that informs her work as associate director. In addition, she served for many years in various capacities with the Orange County NC Department on Aging, an experience that she credits with offering valuable lessons about aging and community collaborations. “Learning about aging services systems while also working with a team to form and participate in collaborative partnerships has been a wonderful opportunity,” Womack said. “In terms of my professional contribution, I was given latitude to bring the fullness of an occupational therapy perspective to bear in a community context and received feedback that has helped expand the capacity of the professional team. In return, I learned so much about perspectives on aging that aren’t focused on illness or decline.”
Some of Womack’s early initiatives as PiAP’s associate director include spearheading an interdisciplinary think tank to spark cross-campus conversations about aging, teaming up with the Carolina Women’s Center on caregiver support sessions, and collaborating with Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. In the latter role, Womack is working with Habitat staff to document the story of Crescent Magnolia, an innovative senior neighborhood being developed in Orange County, with the goal of creating a toolkit that will inform other affordable housing providers interested in creating similar options. This work will unite Habitat residents and staff, UNC-Chapel Hill students and community organizations. Ryan Lavalley, a doctoral student in the division and PiAP fellow, will contribute to this work through his leadership of the Orange County Housing Preservation Coalition and his work with diverse aging communities.
Under the direction of Cherie Rosemond, PhD, PiAP has created a model of intentional partnership that serves to unite community collaborators, students, University personnel and senior mentors in a process of civic engagement that reframes the experience of aging in our society. In addition, PiAP staff provides consultation, expertise, and resources to UNC-CH faculty, staff, students, and community collaborators who seek to educate and actively engage to create age-embracing communities. For Womack, this work is a natural extension of her 30-year career that has spanned work in clinical and community contexts with older adults, as well as an academic advisor, instructor, and mentor to students. A move into community-based practice in occupational therapy more than two decades ago has evolved into this opportunity to partner with others interested in the intersection of later life, aging in community, and lifelong learning.