She brings heart as well as technical skill to 2Life’s target goal: to double the opportunities to age in community to meet the needs of our rapidly growing senior population.
Heyer grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where her parents drew her into social justice and community service work as members of an inner city Unitarian Universalist congregation. “We did a lot of community projects, always bringing people together to make things happen,” Heyer recalled.
Inspired by the power of community, Heyer decided to build her expertise to help convert that power into solutions. At M.I.T. she took a community development course, taught by Amy Schectman—a course which ultimately brought Heyer to 2Life.
The aging in community concept that drives 2Life’s mission resonates with Heyer’s encounters with aging. When her grandmother became frail, Heyer’s parents brought her into their household and took care of her through her final year. “She died in our house and she didn’t die alone,” Heyer recalled. “I saw first-hand how loving, caring, gentle help and being in a caring community is so important.”
As someone for whom community-making and activism “became my religion,” seeing older people eating alone in a public space breaks Heyer’s heart. Heyer recalled that when her now-college age twins were little, she would take them to a Brigham’s restaurant in Jamaica Plain. “At the lunch counter was an older woman, always there, eating alone. We sat in a booth near her and ended up having lunch regularly with her. Little kids are a beautiful bridge for making acquaintances and turning them into friends.”
Heyer emphasized that 2Life goes where the market doesn’t go. “We believe every older adult should have a full life of connection and purpose,” she said. “Which older adults have that opportunity and which don’t? For middle-income housing, public subsidies are not available. We have to build creatively so the amount we have to charge people is lower.”
The questions that Heyer and her team bring to a new 2Life site include, who is going to live here? How will they use this space? Heyer coordinates a collaboration of public funders, private lenders, philanthropists, architects, builders, and service providers to fit that particular puzzle together. “The way funding, design, and operational planning come together for each site creates a unique platform of community living that helps residents afford their housing and care,” she explained.
“When I get older, I want to be near my friends and my family. Aging in community is what I want, and what that’s going to mean as I get older is really exciting.”