Intern brings wisdom of age to GR city job

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When you think of office interns, you probably picture a college student looking to get into the business. But at the Grand Rapids City Development Center, one intern has brought years of experience to the post.

Virginia Smith is not your typical intern and her internship won’t get her additional credits. At 65, her last semester was decades ago. She spent 40 years in the workforce at various jobs and then, like many her age, she figured it was time to retire.  

“Then I found I enjoyed working,” she said. “And in our listening tour we found that for many reasons, this particular generation wants to stay involved. They want to stay active.”

Smith’s official title is age-friendly coordinator. Her job is to develop an action plan that, in the coming years, will make Grand Rapids a place older residents want to call home.

“I’m loving it. Because the work I’m doing, I’m actually part of the demographic and so I’m passionate about this topic,” Smith said.

While much of the city’s planning for the future has been developed for what younger adults are looking for, Smith’s research shows many older adults — defined by the city as 50 and over — want the same things as millennials and other younger generations.

“We’re finding older adults are also moving in to our cities,” Smith said. “They’re also looking for transportation, for affordable housing and services.”

The goal is to become a World Health Organization-designated age-friendly community. The designation will not only provide older adults a better place to live, but also bring their dollars here.

“If you’re planning a convention and many of your members are older adults, or you’re planning a vacation, why would you not want to go to a city that is already thinking about you?” Smith said.

The city hopes to get the age-friendly designation by 2021.

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