The Sowega Council on Aging (SCOA) has won the AAA Excellence in Aging Award from the Aging Disability Resource Connection Summit for the second year in a row.
The agency was recognized for using technology in its Senior Center Without Walls program. Through the program, senior-friendly tablets are distributed to qualifying clients.
SCOA has been a leader in innovation since before the outbreak of COVID-19, which shut down the agency’s operations in March 2020 to protect the aging community – one of the virus’ most vulnerable targets.
Before the pandemic, agency leaders were strategizing how to restructure their delivery of services so they could serve more seniors across its 14-county service area.
The agency pivoted from in-person senior center activities to a safer model that provided a hot meal at a local restaurant and a virtual activity – a senior center without walls – which earned them the 2021 AAA Excellence in Aging Award.
Senior Center Without Walls has continued to grow in participation and popularity with the aging community, resulting in tripling the number of seniors served over the last two years.
In addition, the agency continued its innovation efforts with its latest social isolation project – Claris Companion, utilizing customized tablets for each client.
The pilot program that began with 25 tablets issued to seniors for virtual programming has increased to 50, thanks to funding support from outside sources, which allows the purchase of data plans and new tablets.
Plans are in development to add 50 more tablets within the year.
“We love our tablets and prefer virtual activities to in-person because we feel engaged, safe, and enjoy interacting with each other,” says one Claris Companion User.
“I am proud to accept the AAA Excellence in Innovation Award on behalf of my entire team,” said Izzie Sadler, Executive Director of the Council on Aging. “We continue to push ourselves toward innovation because the future of serving seniors demands it. In addition, our new model is more resilient to economic and health-related issues such as workforce shortages, supply chain issues, fuel costs, and pandemics.”
In addition to being the two-time AAA Excellence in Innovation Award winner, SCOA also received an honorable mention from the National Council on Aging for Excellence in Hybrid Programming for the Senior Center Without Walls.
Every year the NCOA honors the outstanding efforts made by senior centers across the nation to offer innovative, creative, and impactful programs for older adults. Each program is proof of the important work that happens at senior centers. In addition, these programs serve as models for senior center staff across the country to implement in their communities.
“These programs have inspired older adults to learn about history and technology, stay physically active, make healthy eating choices, honor their life achievements, and stay connected with one another even during a pandemic,” said Dianne Stone, NCOA’s Associate Director of Network Development and Engagement.
In May, the agency held their annual Regional Summer Resource Fairs in Albany. The fair served as one of the ways the council participated in May’s “Older Americans Month.”
The council plans to host two more fairs this summer. The next will be on June 24 in Camilla, and another on July 15 in Colquitt to ensure that seniors in all regions have the opportunity to attend.