Name: Katie Mahoney
Job title: Co-founder, We Are Young
Currently lives in: Halifax
Education: BSc in marine biology and sustainability, Dalhousie University
First job out of school: We Are Young and Nova Scotia Health Authority
Halfway through her marine biology degree, Katie Mahoney was tasked with doing a random act of kindness. So she spent the day getting manicures and groceries with an elderly regular, 79-year-old Eleanor, from the restaurant where she worked. Mahoney didn’t know her well, but she was struck by her kindness. “I learned about all of Eleanor’s hardships, sacrifices, loneliness and what inspired her to persevere through it all,” she says. “But what I learned most was how much it meant to her and that what we choose to do for others can have the biggest impact on their lives.” Eleanor’s husband had passed away a few years before, and the simple act of having someone to share a day with made her smile. The experience changed Mahoney’s life.
“There seems to be very little support in bridging the generational gap and giving back to a generation who made many sacrifices for the benefit of their family and communities, often choosing to put the needs of others above their own,” says Mahoney. During her final year of school, in 2014, she created We Are Young (WAY) with co-founder Cara Chisholm “as an organization that would redefine aging and inspire people to believe in the concept that our elders are strong, resilient and worthy.”
WAY’s mandate is to grant the wishes of elders who have unrequited dreams—both big (ride in a helicopter) and small but oh-so sweet (ride the Zamboni at a hockey game). People can submit their own wishes or submit on behalf of someone else via the website.
“Our first steps were to build relationships with those who knew more than we did,” says Mahoney about getting her organization off the ground. “Essentially, we built a network of mentors [in non-profit] who gave us direction, we began to get our name out into the public, and resources started knocking at our door. It took two years of building a solid foundation and getting donations through the door before we began to actually grant wishes.”
What stands out most to Mahoney now is how some people never lose their sense of wonder. “Alfred, he’s 92 years old, and he always wanted to go up in a helicopter,” she recalls. “He was in a situation where he really didn’t think his wish was going to come true [due to his health]. He said to always chase your dreams because eventually you’ll get there. Everyone can take something from that.”