Gathering Around with InterFaith Works

 Human Centered Design prioritizes talking to and collaborating with the people who are most likely to be affected by a new program or service improvement. Aging By Design project teams work directly with clients to understand issues from their perspective. including how something looks and feels to end users and stakeholders. We take human experiences and the surrounding environment into account. Teams take steps to address a specific problem by building prototypes and gradually/continuously improving services with feedback from clients and community.

Review this post for more information on empathizing with end users, defining the problem, ideation, prototyping, and testing your proposed solution.

InterFaith Works is spearheading two Aging By Design projects in Syracuse, NY. The team has developed and implemented a Medical Supply Closet to make expensive medical equipment available to borrow by older adults and their families. The project team has also adapted an English-language learning curriculum to the context and needs of older adults in the local refugee community.

Getting to Know Clients Through Everyday Activities

The IFW design team adapted a curriculum for older adult refugee English language learners. Their adapted approach – Gather Around – uses everyday interactions and situations to facilitate the learning process. Board games and friendly conversations that follow are just one way participants practiced daily interactions to build a foundation for continuous English-language learning.

“We had conversations with some of our clients who told us ‘I don’t feel comfortable on my street or going to the grocery store because I don’t know what people are saying to me.’”

“When we are here in America, you will find your neighbors come from different nationalities. So the only unifying language is English…English is the one that links us up. So it is helpful to allow us to say ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ and ‘how is your health’ to our neighbor.”

Increasing Social Interactions | Reducing Social Isolation

As part of Gather Around, participants regularly leave the ‘provider’ or ‘agency’ setting and go experience seasonal activities that expose new arrivals to the rhythms of life in Central New York.

Gather Around participants were able to visit to the zoo, a horse farm, a pumpkin patch, art galleries, and more. Not only does this approach continue the process of English-language learning, the events and activities help to reduce social isolation among older adult refugees that may not have come to the USA with their families.

“Not only is it wonderful that we’ve been able to learn English, but I was also able to socialize with people and come together with people from different nations. Being able to be surrounded by diversity.”

Gather Around Toolkit

The IFW project team has created a set of adapted materials that can be used to support your own local version of Gather Around.

The toolkit will feature registration forms, information on how to track participant progress, helpful resources and teaching aids, and a set of principles and practices.

View the Gather Around Guide here.

Learning from the Ground Up with InterFaith Works

From the early days of Aging By Design, learn how the team at InterFaith Works and other Central New York agencies started learning from the ground up with human-centered design.

“If we want to build strong programming to address the community needs we see, that are unique to the work that we do, then we need tools like this.”

“We’re already thinking about this approach to bringing the client around the table, building programming together, is very well-fitted to the work we’re doing the direction we want to go in.”

In their own words…

Listen to the audio clip below and watch the video to hear what participants and staff from InterFaith Works are saying about the approach and the impact on their lives and work.

For more information on Aging By Design, visit