an interview between Shirley Scott and Marianna Mapes
Shirley Scott, a resident at the Gloria Adelson Field Health Care Center, had considered the Rashi students her next-door neighbors for over two years. But it wasn’t until the Gateways Ambassadors for Inclusion program, which launched a design thinking partnership program among Boston area Jewish day schools in 2018, that the students came to know Shirley on a first-name basis.
The project required students to engage with a client, or “needs knower,” who could speak directly to the personal, everyday challenges related to a disability. The students would then develop a tool or concept to address one of the challenges, eliciting feedback from the client as they built their prototypes. The seventh-grade cohort wondered if a NewBridge resident might be willing to serve as their client for the project. Shirley, who uses a wheelchair, was eager to support the students through this exploration of creativity and inclusion.
Through an iterative design process, the students built and revised a range of innovations to address Shirley’s articulated challenges. Their designs included a jacket she could easily put on and take off while seated in the wheelchair; a model for adapted, interactive cooking classes; and social media platforms to connect her with other seniors within and beyond the NewBridge community. On April 3, the students pitched their final products in Shark Tank-style presentations to a panel of staff from Rashi and NewBridge, as well as Shirley herself. With these culminating presentations a month behind us, I sat down with Shirley to reflect on her introduction to the design thinking process, her relationships with the seventh-grade students, and the impact of living on a multigenerational campus.
Marianna Mapes: You were remarkably candid in sharing your story with the 7th-grade students throughout the project. Did you have any reservations about sharing that level of detail with them?
Shirley Scott: No, I didn’t. In retrospect, I realized that many of these kids don’t have grandparents, and it’s good for them to talk to older people. So it was a benefit to both of us…I tried not to frighten them about life. [My limited mobility] is the result of a surgery, and here I am. I’d be doing other things if I didn’t live here — driving, going to meetings, shopping. All those things are out of my life. But if I weren’t [at NewBridge], I wouldn’t have met so many people I care about.
MM: What, if anything, surprised you about the design sessions with the students?
SS: I was amazed at how smart they were and how they followed through on what they wanted. Those two don’t always go hand in hand. And in their questions and ideas, they were sweet and kind. They didn’t make me feel like less of a person for being in a chair.
MM: We like having kids around here!
SS: Kids are more thoughtful than most people realize.
MM: How does NewBridge’s design as a multigenerational campus impact your day-to-day experience here?
SS: It changes everything. I love children — when they’re babies, when they’re older. I don’t stop loving them. When I’m around them, I’m in heaven. Now that I live [at NewBridge], I don’t care what else is on the schedule — if there are students visiting, I’m there. They add so much. The connection between Rashi and [NewBridge] is so important in my life.
This design thinking challenge was made possible with support from CJP, The Ruderman Family Foundation, and Gateways.
About the author
Marianna V. Mapes is the Multigenerational Program Associate at Hebrew SeniorLife, working to develop and implement programs that support youth and seniors in building mutually beneficial relationships. Marianna’s primary focus is the implementation and management of multigenerational programs at NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham, including NewBridge’s partnership with the co-located Rashi School. She also oversees the training, placement, and support of a growing portfolio of individual youth volunteers across HSL.
Marianna graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Classical Studies.