Key Takeaways

  • NCOA's Trailblazers in Aging Awards recognize individuals and organizations who are working toward a just and caring society.

  • This year's recipients worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure the health and financial security of older Americans.

  • Learn more about this year's 2021 Trailblazers in Aging Awards Honorees.

Individuals and organizations recognized at Age+Action Virtual Conference, June 7-10

Armando Trull
Media Relations Manager

Arlington, VA (June 7, 2021) — Today, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the national voice for every person’s right to age well, is honoring three individuals and three organizations from across the country who worked throughout the pandemic to ensure the health and financial security of older Americans. The honorees are being recognized at the NCOA 2021 Age+Action Virtual Conference, June 7-10.

“We are incredibly proud to recognize these outstanding leaders who are working at the local, state, and national levels to ensure that every American can age well,” said Ramsey Alwin, NCOA President & CEO.

“The past year, especially, has been incredibly challenging for older adults and the people who serve them. These individuals and organizations truly stepped up when they were needed most.”

Below are the 2021 NCOA Trailblazers in Aging honorees by category.


Recognizes an individual or organization that has created innovative solutions to improve the health and economic security of older adults in the community.

Senior Citizens Home Assistance Service, Inc.

When the nation shut down, SCHAS staff found a way to keep employees paid while delivering essential supplies to older adults in rural and urban East Tennessee. Within four days, the team raised $20,000, created an intake system, and began promoting the free SCHAS Out Shopping (SOS) service to bring food and other items to homebound older adults. “We have so many stories to tell from this program, but the message is the same. No matter your circumstances in life, you can have hope, your fears can be removed, and love can be given and received. Dignity does not have to disappear as we age,” said CEO Tim Howell.


Recognizes an individual or organization working to ensure that every person—regardless of race, income, or background—has the resources to age well.

Dr. Steven Wallace, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Dr. Wallace was an internationally renowned scholar on health disparities among older adults, immigrants, and communities of color. He led the effort to have California adopt the Elder Economic Security Standard Index as the official cost-of-living measure for older adults in the state. He also created the consortium of Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research with a goal of increasing the diversity of the workforce on aging research. “Steve was committed to ensuring that older adults, especially underserved communities, have access to resources to age with health and financial security. His work in California and nationally spotlighted disparities that still need to be addressed, and we will sorely miss his leadership,” said Laura Trejo, General Manager, Los Angeles Department of Aging.


Recognizes organizations that have established powerful partnerships that build bridges between the public and private sectors to empower every person to age well.

Bank of America Charitable Foundation

For over 10 years, Bank of America and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation have been trusted and collaborative partners in NCOA’s efforts to improve the economic security of older adults, especially those who are struggling. The company and the Foundation continue to support initiatives to connect limited-income older adults of color to benefits programs, provide casework to victims of natural disasters, and educate seniors about how to avoid scams and manage prepaid debit cards. “We are grateful for this recognition and are proud of our continued partnership with NCOA in helping low-income seniors build financial security,” said Kerry Sullivan, president, Bank of America Charitable Foundation. “Providing integrated services from job placement to health and transportation resources is essential to promoting economic self-sufficiency and stability to a population in need.”


Recognizes exemplary and long-standing service to the senior center field.

Denise Niese, Executive Director, Wood County Committee on Aging

Niese is Past President of the Ohio Association of Senior Centers and served as Treasurer for NCOA’s National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) Delegate Council. She led the effort to update the NCOA Senior Center Standards of Excellence to accommodate online submissions. She successfully secured a $1.6 million capital grant to build a new senior center in Wood County, the largest State of Ohio capital grant ever awarded in the county to a nonprofit. “I have benefitted by the many mentors who have passed through my personal and professional life. Many of those individuals in the field of aging have been connected to me through NCOA/NISC opportunities,” she said.


Recognizes individuals or organizations that went above and beyond to deliver timely and life-saving services to older adults during the pandemic.

WellMed Charitable Foundation

In January, the Foundation partnered with others to convert empty senior centers into mass vaccination sites in low-income, diverse neighborhoods. Over 250,000 shots were administered, with 57% provided to Hispanic/Latino populations and 73% to people aged 50 and older. The Foundation also invested more than $400,000 to build software to allow vaccination data to be transferred directly into the state health database. “The opportunity to take our shuttered senior activity centers and use them to distribute over 250,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in partnership with our WellMed providers and staff has been a humbling but powerful experience that has reminded us that we change lives one at a time,” said Carol Zernial, Executive Director.


This award recognizes NCOA employees and volunteers who have made major contributions to NCOA’s mission and social impact.

James Firman, Founder & Chief Innovation Officer, BellAge

For more than 40 years, Firman has been a leading force for innovation in services, programs, and public policies for older adults. As president and CEO of NCOA for 25 years, he was a national leader in consumer education, benefits access, economic security, and healthy aging for older adults. In 2020, Firman co-founded BellAge to improve public health through artificial intelligence and emerging technologies. BellAge’s initial focus has been keeping older adults safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We serve a great cause. Keep going. Seize the moment!” Firman said.

About NCOA
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is the national voice for every person’s right to age well. We believe that how we age should not be determined by gender, color, sexuality, income, or zip code. Working with thousands of national and local partners, we provide resources, tools, best practices, and advocacy to ensure every person can age with health and financial security. Founded in 1950, we are the oldest national organization focused on older adults. Follow us at @NCOAging.