A Passion to Help Older Adults: Meet AgeAssured Ally Danielle Zenus

Our AgeAssured Allies are aging professionals who help our members age successfully in whatever place they call home. Because everyone ages differently and in a unique setting, Allies often have to think on their feet to adapt our evidence-based interventions and practices to individual members’ lives and circumstances. Both Allies and members also bring their own passions and rich histories to each interaction, as you’ll see by listening to this interview with Senior Ally Specialist Danielle Zenus

What do you most enjoy about helping our members age in place? 

I have only ever seen myself wanting to help people, and this is my dream job. I strive to be an active listener and an advocate for those who need one. I love using my “detective skills” to find resources and services for our members all over the U.S. The joy I experience in providing a service to our members every day is more than I could have hoped for. There’s a ripple effect, too, as I often end up providing support to their caregivers and other family members. It’s a wonderful feeling. 

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing over and over again how the smallest things can make such a big difference. The check-in calls and small items that we send our members, from educational resources, grabbers, sock aids or night lights, are so appreciated. Sometimes just listening attentively to what they need and what is going on in their lives has an impact. On one of my check-in calls, a member even said “love you!” at the end.

What’s most challenging about your work?

Sometimes our role is to help connect members to resources in their community that they might not know about. When it goes well, this simple act can open many doors for people and support their desire to remain independent. Recently I helped a couple, Beverly, age 87, and Donald, 88, connect to several local resources in their area—from housekeeping services to meal delivery, caregiver support, and personal energy-conserving tips—that have made their lives a lot easier, especially as Beverly’s health has declined and Donald has stepped in as her caregiver. “I love your approach,” he told me. “The Allies are so thorough and do their job beautifully.”

What’s often challenging is not being able to find a solution to a specific need that a member may have, either because it is beyond the scope of what our company is able to provide, or because there’s a lack of resources in their particular area. For example, in rural areas there can be limited transportation and delivery options. I always try to find the best solution to meet members’ needs and discuss all the possible options with them. Even when there is no immediate or easy solution, there is a lot of value in active listening and brainstorming together. Awareness of what could be is often a valuable first step in figuring out a solution that can be just as good if not better.

What’s something about your job that most people don’t know about? 

Allies work on the frontline with members but we also work behind the scenes on many projects, including implementations, testing, and training to help Assured Allies continue to improve and grow as a company.  

You are about to celebrate your 50th birthday. Has working with older adults affected your views about your own aging? 

Every life has its challenges, and aging can be one of them. I am inspired by the spirit, generosity, and wisdom of many of our members and hope to emulate them as I age. Donald, for example, who I mentioned earlier, is a role model for me. It’s more unusual for husbands to step in as caregivers, but in the wake of Beverly’s health issues, Donald has taken up all of the shopping, cooking, and housework, and helps Beverly manage her medications. His spirit is undaunted. “I love being a caregiver,” says Donald, “It gives me joy.” 

I am also inspired by Beverly, who has accepted Donald’s caregiving with humor and grace. Sometimes that can be even harder than caregiving. “I love this restaurant!” Beverly tells Donald, who now cooks most of their meals. They laugh together a lot.

I am also, always, inspired by my oldest son Aaron, who passed away about three years ago. He always showed kindness and compassion to all and was an avid volunteer. He spent the last two years of his life coaching Special Olympics basketball with our family (my bother-in-law has special needs and we have always been involved in some way). 

Danielle and her son Aaron in 2016.

I am so sorry to hear about your son. That’s quite the legacy.  

His legacy is a big part of how I view my own. I want to make sure no one forgets him, and if he is watching over us, I want him to be proud of me and my family. We created the Aaron Zenus Foundation in his honor and recently opened up a candy store in Milford, MA called Sweet Inspirations that offers employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. 

That’s amazing! And very moving. I imagine that your own life experiences help you connect with members. We all suffer losses in life.

Losing a loved one can be the most difficult time in your life and yes, many of our members have experienced such losses, often many times over. Having a focus to channel some of that grief can make an impact on not only your own life, but the lives of many others in the community. I’ve seen many members find a way to do that on their own, and sometimes talking with an Ally can help. The small steps you take in the face of life’s challenges really do make a big difference over time.

Katharine de Baun
Katharine has managed online content since 1994, when she founded one of the first parenting communities online. She is passionate about continually learning and promoting Successful Aging in her job as content manager at Assured Allies.