The last two years have seen incredible innovations and collaborations in the non-profit community as organizations have pivoted to serve the community amidst the constantly changing landscape.  The pandemic has touched all of us in one way or another and older adults have been particularly impacted.  The West End Home Foundation wanted to provide space to lift up the incredible work being done in our community and look toward the future as we continue the work of enriching the lives of older adults.

On April 27, 2022 The West End Home Foundation was excited to host Innovations in Aging: A Symposium for Service Providers, Funders and Community Leaders. Over 90 community leaders, practitioners and funders gathered in the auditorium at the Nashville Public Library to share in a conversation about the state of aging in our community and the incredible work being done to enhance the lives of older adults throughout Middle Tennessee.

Dianne Oliver, Executive Director of The West End Home Foundation, opened the event by sharing the history of the foundation.  Building on its 130 year history of caring for older adults, the Foundation has evolved as an advocate, leader and strategic grantmaker in the middle Tennessee Community. Dianne highlighted the five strategic pathways that guide the foundation’s work going forward: 1) Fostering Innovation; 2) Serving as a trusted partner and convener; 3) Nurturing a welcoming, age-friendly culture; 4) Leveraging public and private resources; and 5) Promoting systems change.

Lindsay Goldman, CEO of Grantmakers in Aging, gave participants a national view of the state of aging.  Lindsay invited participants to examine the language we use that might contribute to an ageist narrative.  Terms like “aging tsunami” and “gray dawn” give a negative impression of aging that makes it difficult to realize a world that values and engages people at all ages. We were encouraged to support and advocate for policies, programs and funding paradigms that can be adapted for increased longevity. Lindsay emphasized that “[a] society that engages, connects, and cares for people at every age is a healthier and more productive society.”  Funders have an opportunity to lean in to trust-based strategies that support multi-year, unrestricted funding; streamlined reporting; and evidence informed practices.  Lastly, Lindsay shared some of the innovations around the country that are contributing to a more inclusive society for older adults: communities that are intentional about engaging older adults through Master Plans and Age-Friendly practices, medication becoming more affordable, and health-care becoming more person-centered just to name a few.

After hearing about national trends, Rachel Solava, Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator at the Greater Nashville Regional Council (GNRC), gave participants a deep dive into the state of aging for the middle Tennessee community. The Greater Nashville Regional council represents 13 counties and 52 cities across Middle Tennessee and serves as the local Area Agency on Aging.  Rachel highlighted that there are just over 2 million people in the region and 503,963 are individuals over the age of fifty-five. We are a community in which adults over the age of fifty-five represent over a quarter of the population in our region and that percentage will only continue to increase. Over the next 25 years, the older adult population will grow by 60 percent. We are also a diverse community. The older adults in our region represent many ethnicities and speak a variety of languages. As the population ages, there is a greater need for responsive services and support networks.  Middle Tennessee has an imperative opportunity to invest in programs and support services that will enrich the quality of life for older adult residents.

The last segment of the Symposium included a panel discussion with non-profit community leaders who are deeply invested in supporting older adults.  David Plazas, Opinion and Engagement Director at The Tennessean, moderated a panel that included Dr. Rhonda Switzer-Nadasdi, CEO Interfaith Dental;  Sallie Hussey, CEO FiftyForward; Marian Christmon, Digital Inclusion Initiatives Manager at Nashville Public Library; Kelsey Oesmann, Director of Design and Development at Urban Housing Solutions; and Grace Smith, Executive Director of AgeWell Middle Tennessee. Each panelist shared how their respective organizations have navigated the last few years and showcased practical innovations and collaborations happening in our community. Urban Housing Solutions provides affordable housing to older adults. Their 26th and Clarksville community in particular has been very intentional about offering opportunities for socialization, health and wellness through the A.F.R.E.S.H. (Aging and Frailty: Resilience and Energy in the Second Half of life) program. In additional to the wellness programming, there is also an emphasis on intergenerational activities. Interfaith Dental is a national leader in senior dental care and has successfully brought together a statewide coalition serving the dental care needs of older adults through the SMILEON60+ program. The Nashville Public Library is a national leader in digital programming for older adults, winning awards for its innovative digital literacy programming that has helped older adults stay connected and take advantage of digital support services. AgeWell Middle Tennessee is a champion for positive aging and offers a number of services to the community including the Directory of Services for older adults and Eldercare Coach for caregivers. AgeWell Middle Tennessee also chairs the Tennessee Coalition for Better Aging leading a statewide movement to re-imagine long-term services and supports in Tennessee. FiftyForward serves older adults through its 7 Lifelong Learning Centers and Supportive Care Services. The panelists represented a variety of sectors and across the board they were both encouraged by all that has been accomplished to support older adults in our community, but also acknowledged that there is still so much to do.

Program attendees left the symposium both inspired and challenged: inspired by the progress that has been made both nationally and locally to create inclusive and supportive communities, and challenged to continue the work of advocating for programs and policies that prioritize the needs of older adults. The West End Home Foundation is committed to continuing the conversation and honored to be part of the community of partners working to create communities where older adults are valued and have access to critical services and supports.