Sowega Council on Aging wins national award

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Jul. 31—ALBANY — The Sowega Council on Aging recently received the 2022 USAging Aging Innovations and Achievement Award in the Home and Community Based Services category for its Senior Center Without Walls program.

The award was announced at the 47th Annual Conference for USAging, the national association representing and supporting the network of area agencies on aging and advocating for the Title VI Native American Aging programs. The annual awards program recognizes USAging members who have developed leading-edge and successful ways to demonstrate sound management practices replicable by others in the aging network.

SCOA implemented its Senior Center Without Walls program in a 14-county region in response to overhead expenses, supply chain issues, work force shortages and low participation rates at senior centers. SCOA contracts with local restaurants, providing nutritious meals on-site or for pickup. Activities and programming, including evidence-based programs, are offered in person at local community organizations or via zoom.

Awards were given based on the criterion of budget, accomplishments, and replicability and noted the following:

— The Senior Center Without Walls model reduces overhead costs, with no physical senior centers or kitchens to maintain and a dramatic reduction in employees, resulting in more funds allocated to meals.

— Participation across the region tripled from 500 to more than 1,500, with 720 more consumers on the waiting list. Volunteer participation increased from 12 to 24 advisory members. Virtual attendance includes thousands of tablet interactions per month.

— The model of SCOA is replicable by delivering Senior Center programming at new places in the community and contracting with restaurants, YMCAs, public libraries, churches or other nonprofits while also including virtual components for those who cannot attend in person.

"Partnerships are vital to our work," Sowega Council on Aging Executive Director Izzie Sadler said. "Senior Center Without Walls is proof that engaging a community and seniors together, at the same time, results in growth for everyone and ultimately allows us to serve more seniors in need."

"Through the Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards, we salute our members' outstanding accomplishments and hold up their programs in the hopes that doing so will seed replication and additional innovation by their peers around the country," USAging CEO Sandy Markwood said. "We applaud our members for their tireless efforts to creatively develop vital services and supports for older adults, as well as their caregivers and people with disabilities in communities nationwide."