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Charter Professor invests in the power of connection


Exterior of the Westward Ho, an iconic building in downtown Phoenix.

Westward Ho in Downtown Phoenix. ASU photo

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February 22, 2024

Who do you call if you are feeling lonely, isolated or disconnected? A friend, family member or, if you are one of the residents of Westward Ho residential community in downtown Phoenix, it might very well be Charter Professor Stacey Gandy, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Social Work.

photo of Clinical Assistant Professor Stacey Gandy, a 2023 Charter Professor who leads The Collaborative in the School of Social Work at ASU
Stacey Gandy

The Westward Ho is subsidized independent living housing for adults 62 and older and adults with disabilities. Located on the first floor of the Westward Ho, 618 N. Central Ave., the Community Collaborative is led by Gandy, administered through the School of Social Work in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. The program is interdisciplinary and student-run, and provides services to the residents three days a week. For some residents, the collaborative and the student interns are the primary source of socialization and assistance.

Services range from health checks and mental health counseling to tax preparation, veteran’s support groups, storytelling workshops, movie days and parties. Last year, the collaborative provided support for approximately 275 residents of the Westward Ho and educational opportunities for approximately 300 students.

Students join the collaborative from areas such as social work (School of Social Work), recreation therapy and program planning (School of Community Resources and Development), nutrition (College of Health Solutions), nursing (Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation), music therapy (School of Music, Dance and Theatre), and poetry and medicine (Barrett, The Honors College).

“At the heart of every service offered residents, we also provide connection to combat social isolation,” Gandy said.

Gandy is one of the university’s four new Charter Professors. The appointment was recently created by Nancy Gonzales, university provost and executive vice president at ASU, to honor ASU faculty excellence and programs that specifically align with the values of the ASU Charter, serve ASU students and communities, and further ASU’s culture of inclusive excellence. The appointment is for three years and offers significant funding that, in Gandy’s case, will allow expansion of the collaborative’s programs and impact on both residents and ASU students.

“It is truly an honor to have been chosen as a Charter Professor from among all the people and incredible work at ASU that aligns with and exemplifies the charter,” Gandy said. “It took me a little while to wrap my mind around the appointment, what it means, and how it will impact the residents and students with the collaborative.

“As I am currently the only paid employee through the collaborative, my goal by the end of this three-year appointment is to bring on a grant consultant and another person one day a week, and another full-time employee. I’d also like to offer stipends to faculty from other disciplines who coordinate their own courses around student engagement at the Westward Ho. These changes will allow us to gain sustainable funding to be open to residents five days a week, serve more residents in the Westward Ho and educate more students on the joys of working with older adults (the gerontological workforce is declining, while the population of older adults is increasing).”

One resident, John Herrera, said that the collaborative has helped him cope with situations better than before. He says he likes to share his knowledge with students and that this has helped him open up and talk more with others, which helps him be less lonely.

“Many residents have come to depend on the collaborative, not only because of the help they give, but also because of the socializing that happens when they are open,” Herrera said. "The collaborative fills a void for many people.”

Gandy notes that when the collaborative is closed, over breaks between semesters or days during the week, that “residents are quick to let us know how much they missed us, how grateful that we are here. Being available more often allows us to provide even more creative and innovative programming to enhance the well-being of the residents we work with.”

Another resident (who wished to remain anonymous) sums up the impact that the program has had on her life and others in the community: “The collaborative is the oasis where our feelings, thoughts, past and present are valued and respected. It’s a respite from the prison of society and niche of emotional safety.”

Read more about the importance of connection here.

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