AAACF’s Jillian Rosen describes new Vital Seniors aging services innovation network and the role WHI will play in continuous learning and systems change

By Jillian Rosen, Vice President for Community Investment, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation

Life for everyone in 2040 will be shaped to a large degree by how we respond now to the needs of the aging.  The Vital Seniors Initiative was first launched as “Vital Seniors:  A Community Innovation Competition” in 2018 as an effort to fund innovation in the aging services sector with a $2.5 million prize competition, the largest of its kind in North America. Powered by the philanthropic endowment of the Glacier Hills Legacy Fund at the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, the competition set out to shape our region’s future by taking action now.

The competition process surfaced 43 amazing, boundary-pushing, and innovative ideas on how to positively impact vulnerable older adults and their caregivers in Washtenaw County.  Ultimately, ten were selected as finalists and each received $20,000 capacity-building grants, coaching and mentoring support, customized workshops, and technical assistance to help develop their proposals.  From those ten, four were selected as prize winners at a community celebration in November 2018.

The competition was premised not just on the prize monies (although AAACF does not underestimate the importance of capital in resourcing community change efforts), but also on building trust, capacity, and relationships to nurture ongoing innovation.

AAACF has long been committed to the values of “emergence,” which stands on the pillars of being in relationship with one another, having a collective line of sight, undertaking ongoing experimentation, and returning learning to community systems. As such, the four grantees–Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels working with Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley; Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County; the Area Agency on Aging 1B; and the Chelsea Senior Center–will form a network of innovators in the area of local aging services.

To support this Vital Seniors network, AAACF is partnering with the Washtenaw Health Initiative (WHI) and Sue Ann Savas to provide data, knowledge, and systems change assistance. We have fondly termed WHI (with their permission of course!) the “Data Design Team” and are excited to leverage the body of work already in process for the WHI’s State Innovation Model (SIM) intervention and Senior Services Work Group to enhance the collective efforts of the emerging innovations. Sue Ann Savas, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the founder of Savas Consulting, will serve as the project learning facilitator and will support systems level learning and evaluation.

AAACF believes that the confluence of aligned activity from the network will be a “hotbed” of experience and information that will help ground a predictive model that can one day effectively deploy all of our community’s collective resources to support older adults in need, whenever and wherever they need them.

Look out for continued updates and features in upcoming WHI newsletters. The journey has just begun and we are excited about all of the new spaces and opportunities ahead!