Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Update on the Institute for the Ages

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Update on the Institute for the Ages

Article excerpt

Tom Esselman, the founding president and CEO for Sarasota's start- up Institute for the Ages, has spent the quiet summer months making connections -- both inside Sarasota's multilayered aging community and with the outside world.

The idea behind the institute stems from a 2006 finding by SCOPE - - Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence -- that Sarasota should leverage its position as a retirement mecca to create jobs in industries that market to older consumers. The institute was conceived as a "think and do tank" that would research and test new concepts and products, drawing on the county's 120,000-plus elders as a resource.

Esselman says economic development -- the reason behind Sarasota County's $1.2 million investment -- remains the institute's driving purpose. But he says it's equally important to keep the focus on its core mission as a nonprofit: "to transform aging around the world from something we fear to something we embrace."

Recently Esselman gave a "100 Days' Report" to investors that include the county, community foundations and private donors.

"In reality, while there's five years' worth of work that went into it, what I was handed was a completely blank sheet of paper," he says. "We owe it to all of these supporters to say, 'OK, here's what's happening.'"

The progress so far, according to the report:

The institute is working on three data products with its partner, RTI International, a North Carolina research institute. The first, a demographic profile of Sarasota County using census data, has been produced.

Next is a survey, already completed, of 51 local organizations that work in aging. Between now and the first of the year, Esselman plans forums with these groups to talk about how they approach challenges and how other communities are dealing with the same issues.

The third and most ambitious research project is the formation of what Esselman calls -- for now -- an "engage-atory." This would be made up of volunteer seniors who want to participate in both research and community-building activities, engaging with each other and the outside world to share their wisdom and experience. …

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