Inspired a decade ago by a class on women and aging, Amy Andonian switched her undergraduate focus at Stanford University from pre-medicine to geriatrics and public health.
Now at 30 and with eight years of senior-care management under her belt, Andonian is poised to take over the Palo Alto-based senior services agency Avenidas, replacing its CEO of the past 15 years.
"I had no idea that we had this so-called Baby Boom population that was about to turn 65 and there was a total lack of services for them," Andonian said in an interview Wednesday, recalling the time she first enrolled in a class on aging, taught by professor of medicine Carol Winograd. Winograd, a gerontologist, advises and teaches in the areas of women and aging, mobility and geriatrics.
"I was trying to get a (general education) requirement out of the way, but I was just so inspired by her," Andonian said. "There was this lack of people going into the field of geriatrics -- and there was a huge need -- and it really spoke to me and became my calling."
Andonian said Avenidas will be ready for a Boomer generation that's made it clear it intends to age differently.
"They don't want to just go to another senior center and have a lunch and play bingo. The Boomer population is looking for a lot more they're living longer, they're more active and they want to be mentally and physically engaged -- and Avenidas totally understands that.
"I love that they've already started that shift -- wine tastings, lectures, exercise programs," she said.
Andonian made her mark in the nonprofit world -- first at Catholic Charities and later at the San Francisco-based Institute on Aging -- by helping to launch and manage fee-for-service programs whose proceeds could be recycled into subsidized services for low-income seniors.
When grant funding dried up during the recession for three adult day programs she was running for Catholic Charities, she was forced to contemplate closing them. Then, she said, she realized, "We were going to have to start operating more like a business to survive."
At the time, homecare was gaining popularity, and she helped launch a fee-based program for people who needed help in their homes. Within 18 months the new business was breaking even, she said, and continues to subsidize services for low-income seniors at Catholic Charities.
"Nothing says a nonprofit can't make money -- it's how you spend the money," Andonian said. "You can reinvest in services back to seniors, and it's kind of like paying it forward.
"Everybody should get services regardless of income because the needs are universal," she said.
At the Institute on Aging for the past two years, Andonian managed about 200 caregivers who provide home services to about 140 clients from San Jose to San Francisco.
Avenidas for decades has used the fee-for-service model for similar goals.
"We ... try to keep (fees) low enough that almost everybody can afford them," departing CEO Lisa Hendrickson said in an interview earlier this summer. "And we also give away a lot of services too, at no cost.
"But the fee revenue from charging for some services has made it possible for us to continue to grow," she said.
Andonian also aspires to turn Avenidas into something of a laboratory for entrepreneurs wishing to test their ideas about new technology products for seniors.
"There are so many new ventures around aging -- devices, apps -- and the Boomer population likes all of that," she said, citing startups like Lift Hero, which employs retired emergency medical technicians to provide transportation to seniors, or True Link, a debit card whose activity can be monitored by family members worried about fraud.
"Amy has a demonstrated commitment to providing services to older adults underpinned by a strong passion and enthusiasm," said Avenidas board Chair Bruce Heister in announcing Andonian's appointment, which takes effect Oct. 13. "In addition, she has an understanding of how to leverage technology to accomplish Avenidas' mission of serving a significantly larger population, including the now retiring Boomer generation."
In operation since 1969, Avenidas serves more than 6,500 older adults and their families each year in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Stanford, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside and Mountain View.
Hendrickson, a banking executive before she joined Avenidas 15 years ago, plans to devote her time to an upcoming capital project for the organization.