The Area Agency on Aging recently presented a $2,500 scholarship to Clair Lee, a Republic native and Seneca East High School graduate. About to begin her senior year in social work at Bowling Green State University, Lee plans to specialize in gerontology.
Duana Patton, CEO for the Area Agency on Aging, made the presentation at the July board meeting of the Seneca County Commission on Aging. In applying for the scholarship, Lee had to submit a one-page essay in which she describes her "dream job" as helping older individuals with Alzheimer's disease.
The selection committee considered a letter of recommendation, her grade-point average (4.0) and other accomplishments. In accepting the scholarship, Lee said she began her studies in social work at Malone University.
When her priorities started to shift, she learned about the gerontology program at BGSU.
"I was actually going to minor in Spanish because I wanted to help the minority population. But being around my grandma a lot, and a lot of her older friends, I felt a real call to that. ... So I transferred over to Bowling Green State University," Lee said. "My grandmother passed away last year, and she had really helped me to see that helping older adults is where I would really like to be with my social work degree."
Last spring, Lee declared a minor in gerontology. She said her mother reminded her about another Seneca East classmate who had received a $1,000 scholarship last year from the Agency on Aging, so she decided to apply.
In his letter of recommendation, HeeSoon Lee, Ph. D., MSW, pointed out her ability to interact with a variety of people of all ages with "excellent communication and critical thinking skills." He also commended her interests in research and community service.
"Her application and letter of recommendation really stood out among many," Patton said. "... and I personally have to say this is one of the most phenomenal young individuals we have seen in the history of our program. She's just done some wonderful things, and she's really tapped into a lot of areas that are really critical."
For one of her classes, Lee and four other students did a group project, "Adults with Developmental Disabilities and their Aging Parents." Their instructor mentioned this project in his letter of recommendation. Lee interviewed a relative who is aging and caring for a child with Down's syndrome.
The students submitted their work to the Ohio Professional and Student Conference on Aging and then presented it to conference participants. Lee described the experience as "nerve-wracking" and "intimidating" but also valuable.
"I've never had to present to people in the professional world before. It was a little daunting, but it was a good experience and I really appreciate the people who provided that experience," she said. "A lot of people
seemed really interested in our topic."
This summer, Lee has been working on an independent study, "The Impact of the New Medicaid Budget on Community-Dwelling Older Adults in Rural Areas." She visited senior centers in Seneca, Hancock, Huron, Wood, Sandusky counties to obtain responses from 31 people.
"Getting people to talk with me was a real challenge because, once I mentioned the word Medicaid, a lot of people kind of shut down. It has such a negative stigma attached to it because it is a public assistance program," Lee said.
She was able to work past those attitudes and finish the interviews. Now Lee is analyzing the narratives and writing a report on her findings.
Her mentor said the study will help to identify improvements needed in health services for older adults in the Ohio Medicaid program.
"Since the Medicaid cuts were so recent, a lot of (clients) were unaware that anything had been done to their health care coverage. I noticed that quite a few of them, if they had Medicare and Medicaid combined, did not receive eye care or dental coverage under either one. I thought that was a problem," Lee said. "Eyesight gradually declines with age, so that is a huge issue. It's very crucial."
Lee said she plans to enroll in a year of graduate study, but she has not chosen a school yet. She hopes to help Alzheimer's patients.
"I have a real passion for those with Alzheimer's, and I want to work with caregivers and families," Lee told the board members.
"We're lucky to have someone like Claire in the community with that passion." Patton said.