Job title: Executive director, Westend Seniors Activity Centre.
Why he’s a 2019 Top 40 Under 40: He helps seniors from all backgrounds achieve a better quality of life through recreation and leisure.
During a typical workday, Haidong Liang gets a lot of hugs. Walking through the Westend Seniors Activity Centre, where he’s executive director, people often stop him for a squeeze. He dares not start playing games with them, or he’d never get any work done.
“The best part for me is that they’re so knowledgeable, and willing to share that knowledge. If I need some advice for my son, I can easily grab a few grandmothers and they’ll tell me just what I wanted to hear,” he says. “It’s mutual. When they see you’re interested, they’ll share everything they know.”
Liang became executive director of the thriving seniors centre a year ago, and has worked there since 2011. His career in what he calls the “seniors industry” has deep roots.
Growing up in China, his parents instilled in him a great respect for the elderly. When Liang left to study at the University of Manitoba in 2002, his father shared an outlook that would shape Liang’s career path.
“My dad looked at the future and said there are two things that are going to change the world — one is recreation, and the other is aging.” Liang studied physical education and recreation, and minored in gerontology.
Liang says the seniors industry is still in its infancy because people don’t see its allure. He was the only PhD student in his faculty at the University of Alberta who was studying gerontology.
“The reason why people don’t want to study it is because they think it’s not sexy — it’s associated with death, with disease, it’s all negative. But it’s actually very positive, because who knew you could live that long and still have a great quality of life?” he says. “It is a very sexy industry, because it’s a lot of fun.”