Andrea Cohen, MSW ’84, was already experienced in the world of professional eldercare when her own parents got sick. Seven years out of graduate school, she had been the program director at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services for more than half a decade, and had just founded Elderlink, a non-profit direct service organization serving lower-income seniors. "Here I was arranging care for my parents so they could stay in their home, and with all I knew about the field, I still couldn't do it," she said, listing their needs one-by-one until she ran out of fingers: transportation, medication, daily household chores, home modification…. "I knew there had to be easier ways to keep seniors in their own homes." For Cohen, this goal has become both her life's passion and her days' work.
After working in eldercare for more than 15 years, in 1998 she co-founded HouseWorks, a Newton, Massachusetts-based private-pay company dedicated to helping seniors age in place. By providing everything from hourly to live-in home care, medication assistance, and companionship, as well as basic home modification services—building wheelchair ramps, installing grab bars in the shower, moving a bedroom to the first floor—HouseWorks has been a pioneer in private home care. As the company's CEO, Cohen has overseen its growth from a small service organization in Massachusetts to one of the largest of its kind in the country.
Her social work background in one sense provided excellent preparation for the entrepreneurial world. "This is a business that relies on perceiving the needs of others, on relationship building…and in the macro sense, on changing the way the world works." She accomplished with sheer determination what BCSSW students participating in the Social Innovation and Leadership curriculum will be able to do with their entrepreneurial training. Those new skills, she predicts, "will open up whole new possibilities."