Key Takeaways

  • Every year, NISC's annual Programs of Excellence Awards honor and promote the outstanding programs offered by senior centers across the country.

  • Learn more about the Community Health Worker Initiative, a 2022 Programs of Excellence Award Honorable Mention in the Health and Wellness category.

NISC Programs of Excellence 

  • Year Awarded: 2022
  • Programs of Excellence Name: Senior Helping Senior Network
  • Hosting Organization: City of St. Cloud Whitney Senior Center, Minnesota
  • St. Cloud Population: 68,818
  • 60+ Population: 14,451
  • Senior Center Members: 1,287

About the Community Health Worker Initiative

Whitney Senior Center (WSC) is establishing a new, innovative method of service navigation, integrating Community Health Workers (CHW) who will develop and provide evidence-based health programming to eliminate health disparities, and targeting culturally/racially diverse, rural, and low-income people. Promoting self-management of chronic disease, the senior center is also training CHWs to represent people of color in the greater St. Cloud area.

In partnership with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education Dual Training Program and Minnesota West Community & Technical College, the senior center has enrolled 10  CHW candidates in a 9-month certificate program. They will be providing long-term services and support navigation as liaisons/links between health/social services and the community. The CHWs will focus on outreach, education, chronic disease prevention, social isolation prevention, and caregiver support.

The project will assess needs, prevent chronic disease, and promote health partnerships through the work of a team of CHWs managed jointly by Whitney Senior Center and CentraCare Health. The senior center provides programming that is respectful, provides social inclusion, practices social participation, and is focused on aspects of health, well-being, and educational advancement.

To maximize caregiver support, the senior center collaborate with the Central Minnesota Dementia Community Action Network (D-CAN) to offer support services with the Dementia Resource Center (DRC) located in St. Cloud. The support focuses on patients, their caregivers, and their families in an ongoing collaboration to improve patient care and quality of life for all their caregivers. New partnerships within the aging services network including UniteCloud, the Center for Africa Immigrants and Refugees Organization (CAIRO), and the Minnesota Humanities Center. A new collaboration with CAIRO was co-hosting a vaccine clinic.

The senior center also has connections with Higher Ground/Higher Works Church in St. Cloud, a congregation of BIPOC community members, La Cruz Community, Discovery Community School, and the Community Outpost House (COP). We have also reached out to the African Women Alliance to explore partnership opportunities within this project. The senior center started two wellness workshops, particularly for the East African community, with translated curriculum (Stay Active & Independent for Life and the National Diabetes Prevention Program).

Key takeaways from the Community Health Worker Initiative:

  • The project relies on a partnership not only with a local community college and the state office of higher education but also throughout the aging services network.
  • Partners include UniteCloud, the Center for Africa Immigrants and Refugees Organization (CAIRO), and the Minnesota Humanities Center. CentraCare Health offered presentations at Whitney Senior Center, providing education about the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Future plans include working withminority populations to build and create a CHW network in the St. Cloud region to provide services through Whitney Wellness WithOut Walls (WWOW). The center will train four additional CHWs annually through MN West CHW certificate program. Once trained, they will provide services and lead evidence-based programming at off-site locations such as La Cruz Community Apartments, Discovery School, Community Outpost (COP) House, and others.

About the City of St. Cloud Whitney Senior Center

Whitney Senior Center was founded in 1977 and "strives to promote the holistic well-being of all people 55+ in the greater St. Cloud area by providing opportunities for social interaction, recreation, and education. We engage, enrich, and empower the diverse interests and needs of people with dignity, innovation, and joy." Offerings include social, recreational, and educational activities such fitness classes, nutrition and wellness workshops, and technology labs. WSC's Director provides leadership and administration, and  a Wellness Coordinator manages the wellness/evidence-based workshops, and markets, enrolls, and oversees workshop data management. Community health workers serve as liaisons between communities and health care agencies, provide evidence-based programming to community residents and caregivers, enhance community residents' ability to effectively communicate with health care providers, provide culturally and linguistically appropriate health education and prevention, advocate for individual and community health, and work closely with Senior LinkAge Line to provide referral and coordination.