Laura Newland, executive director, DC Office of Aging and Community Living

We’ve started working with a communications firm to help us complete our transition from the Office on Aging to the Department of Aging and Community Living, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with. In our kickoff meeting, they asked us a lot of questions like what’s important to us as an agency, how do we want people to view us, and what makes us excited about our work? We think about these things a lot, but now is such a great time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’d like to go. You’ll be part of those conversations as we get going, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Becoming a department has made me especially reflective of my time at the agency. At our Senior Symposium last month at Ballou High School, I sat down at a table for a conversation with an old friend and a new one. We talked about how far we’ve come as an agency supporting LGBTQ programs. The truth is that just a few years ago, I didn’t really understand why it was so important to have separate LGBTQ programming. I wanted to make sure all of our programs were welcoming and inclusive to everyone, and that’s where my focus was. But that changed when I went to an LGBTQ discussion sponsored by the Age-Friendly Task Force. The moderator of the discussion told me that he wanted me to just listen.

For those who have seen me out in the community, you might appreciate how hard that was for me. I’m a good listener, but I like a conversation—a back and forth. I was a debater in high school and trained rigorously in building and supporting arguments in college, which was refined during law school. So just listening was a challenge. But it was the best thing I could’ve done. “Just listening” meant that I heard person after person speak to their experiences, their hopes, their fears. Towards the end of the meeting, I leaned over to my chief of staff and told him we needed to reconsider our position. So, we did. One year later, we sponsored LGBTQ programming for the first time. This month, I’ll be announcing the recipients of LGBTQ grants for fiscal year 2020, and I couldn’t be prouder of how far we’ve come.

So, when I told the communications firm that DACL is an agency that makes a commitment to listening—I meant it. Listening makes us all better because true listening means we open up to each other, and to the possibility that we might not know everything we thought we knew. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can see the best in each other. So, we’ll keep listening—thanks for continuing to share with us!

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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