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7 Questions – Aaron Knight (Legal Counsel for the Elderly)

We’re super glad to welcome to “7 Questions” … Aaron Knight, the Development Director at Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE). LCE champions the dignity and rights of DC’s vulnerable seniors by providing free legal and social work services to those most at-risk — empowering, defending and protecting our older neighbors in need.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

Legal Counsel for the Elderly recently partnered with the Washington Area Women’s Foundation to co-host a groundbreaking community “listening session” on the obstacles to economic security faced by older women here in the Washington region. The demographic trends are truly startling: during the past decade, the population of women over 65 living in the metro area grew by 18%, compared to just a 5% increase in the overall population. This has huge implications for our community, and it is heartening that several local funders are collaborating with service providers like LCE to deal with this new reality.

2. What else are you up to?

For 72 hours this week (until midnight today!) one of our most innovative volunteer programs, “Elder Buddies,” is being featured by Groupon. That has made this week rather exciting! Information about our work and a heart-tugging photo of one of the seniors was recently helped was sent out to more than 870,000 DC area Groupon subscribers.

We were also thrilled by our recent victory in the Washington City Paper’s annual “Best of DC” reader poll, where we were the top vote-getter for The Best Place to Volunteer. Our volunteers are absolutely critical to our work — on average we involve over 500 volunteers in several different projects each year. So we were thrilled to receive this honor. It really is a great win for them!

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

I trace my commitment to making a difference in the world back to my very first trip outside of the United States. I grew up on a pig farm in Iowa, and in 1989, while I was in college, I had the good fortune of participating in a trip to a small farming community in rural Ukraine — which was still part of the Soviet Union at that time. Sponsored by Iowa Peace Institute, a small group of young people from throughout the state were hosted in the homes of Ukrainian farm families for a week. This experience opened my eyes to the reality that people all over the world have so much more in common with one other than the things that we think divide us. Following that trip, I charted a vocational path that allowed me to focus on global issues for the first part of my career. And then four years ago, I made the conscious decision to shift from the global to local — because I wanted to give back to my community that I love and call home: the District of Columbia. My wife and I are proud Ward 1 residents, and we are committed to lending a hand and helping those in need locally and globally.

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

My philanthropic hero is a remarkable gentleman who lives here in the Washington region, Edward Rawson. He is a lifelong volunteer and supporter of Citizens for Global Solutions, where I worked for the first 16 years of tenure in DC. Since I arrived here in 1991, Ed took me under his wing, and he has been an amazing mentor and a great friend. I appreciate his passion for making the world better and improving the lives of those who are in distress. And his approach to giving generously, strategically, but not in a way that micromanages program execution is refreshing (and pretty rare!). When I grow up, I aspire to be half as extraordinary as Ed Rawson.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

Telling our story. Because Legal Counsel for the Elderly is accomplishing so much every single day, it is truly a challenge to gather up and share all the incredible, inspiring stories about the older neighbors we serve. But this sure is a nice problem to have!

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?

I’m a big believer in finding ways for people to play to their strengths. When you’ve figured out what your strengths are (not an easy task, but doable), seek out work that routinely puts you in a position to use those strengths. You will be amazed at how much more you will enjoy your day. Equally important is to build or find a team where each of you recognizes one another’s unique strengths, and you work together as a team in ways that maximize everyone’s special talents. Again, not easy to do — but your impact, your happiness, and your productivity (individually and collectively) will soar.

7. What’s next?

Over the past few years, LCE has been increasing our outreach and services for Spanish-speaking seniors and elderly DC Latinos. Reflecting the diversity of our local community, nearly 90% of those we serve are African-Americans age 60 and older, and a growing number of the seniors we assist are Hispanic/Latino. So when we’ve had some job openings on our staff in recent months, we’ve sought to hire and promote bi-lingual (and even tri- and quad-lingual) staff attorneys and paralegals so that we can provide top-quality services to our clients without needing to do this work via a translator. We greatly improve both our credibility and our effectiveness when we can offer direct assistance to seniors in their native language, so it’s important that we are able to deliver our help in this way. As I mentioned earlier, demographic trends all show that the US population is rapidly aging, and the faster growing portion of this older population are Hispanic/Latino seniors.

EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?

A “power breakfast” implies an early-morning, fast-paced, exchange. I’d be much happier at a “leisurely dinner” with copious amounts of food, wine and conversation! And I would love to reconvene such a languorous feast with two of my oldest, dearest friends: Joel Spoonheim and Mindy Burrell, along with my beloved wife, Kim Adler, so that the four of us could enjoy one another’s company. It’s been too many years since we all broke bread together.

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