Innovators seek to create options where few exist

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Larissa Marco, from left, Deborah Rosen and Melissa Murphy are among this year's 11 ConnectGens fellows.
Larissa Marco, from left, Deborah Rosen and Melissa Murphy are among this year’s 11 ConnectGens fellows.

Larissa Marco asked the grandmother of a friend if she would want to remain in her home once she was unable to drive herself around.

“Her answer was, ‘No. I’d want to move into assisted living,’” says Marco, 29. “AARP found that 90 percent of seniors want to age in place. When they choose assisted living, they pay a big premium for coordination” — having services at their fingertips, in other words.


Marco, a Washington resident with an MBA from Harvard Business School, has another option in mind: a concierge service called Ezra, a variation of the Hebrew word for assistance.

“As needs begin to present themselves, this will be a one-stop shop” for seniors, taking them on errands, providing grocery delivery and allowing them to live at home, she says of her idea.

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Marco is one of 11 ConnectGens fellows for 2016. Each, like Marco, has an idea for a nonprofit business or service. Through The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria and PresenTense, an Israeli firm that backs entrepreneurial projects, the fellows will receive assistance to develop their ideas.

“ConnectGens is providing structure, support and mentorship,” says Marco, whose cohort was announced this month and is ConnectGens’ fourth.


Now, at the beginning of her six-month fellowship, Marco is doing market research and looking for potential clients. “I’m hopeful about organizing a pilot,” she says.

She’s been working her way toward this point for a while. “My background is in business and consulting,” she explains. “And at every job transition I’ve thought, ‘I have to get into something working for older adults.’

“This is my passion,” she adds. When it comes to adults aging in place, “there aren’t enough options.”
For Melissa Murphy, the “Aha!” moment came when she was styling the hair of a woman who was trying to get her life back on track and was on her way to a job interview.

Murphy, 36, a hairdresser who volunteered her services to women who didn’t have the means of her wealthy clients, says the woman had “wrecked hair.” But when she was done, “she was so excited to look in the mirror. We both had this moment — ‘Yes!’”

The woman got the job and went back to tell Murphy the news. “She said she wouldn’t have had the confidence to go to the interview” if Murphy had not styled her hair, recalls the Chevy Chase resident.

“How great it would be to create a program to connect stylists and cosmetologists to people in need.”
Her program, called Beautiful World, aims to provide those services as well as kavod, or honor, to residents of assisted living establishments, homeless shelters and at-risk teen centers.

“I’m trying to set up a pilot program for people who have just gotten out of incarceration,” she says, “as a way to refine their image and as a way for them to enter their new life.”

This year’s selection committee looked for projects whose concepts were either based in strong Jewish values, would be beneficial to synagogue life or beneficial to the Northern Virginia Jewish community.

Rabbi Steven Rein of Agudas Achim Congregation says his synagogue plans to be involved with “creating and maintaining relationships with the fellows, and giving them space to try out their initiatives.”

Oakton, Va., resident Deborah Rosen is a congregant of Rein’s. She wants to create a resource that she and her husband would have benefitted from over the last 15 years, ever since they adopted their son, who was born in Guatemala.

“We raised him Jewish,” says Rosen, 64. But, “he doesn’t look like we do when he walks down the street.”
Now that sense of being different has been sharpened by the typical teenage tensions, she says.
Just how families whose adopted children look different ethnically than the parents can ease that sense of alienation is the problem Rosen wants to tackle.

“There are books and training sessions. But nothing in the local area,” she says.

For her project, Rosen plans to interview area families and their adopted children, if possible. Ultimately she wants to put together a manual, or training sessions, all with the goal of integrating adopted children into the Jewish community.

Without it, “some of these kids might be lost to the Jewish community,” she says.

[email protected]
@davidholzel

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