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 Veterans' Gallery, a 2022 Programs of Excellence Award Honorable Mention in the Modernizing Senior Centers Innovation category.

NISC Programs of Excellence 

  • Year Awarded: 2022
  • Programs of Excellence Name: Veterans' Gallery
  • Hosting Organization: Essex Council on Aging, Massachusetts
  • Essex Population: 3,675
  • 60+ Population: 1,013
  • Senior Center Members: 360

About Veterans' Gallery

In the small, rural community of Essex, Massachusetts, the local senior center is the only real community space, and there are no community veterans organizations. Senior center staff wanted to honor the area's veterans with a photography exhibit and hoped to have 20 veterans participate in the photo gallery and 15 attendees at a Veterans Day Breakfast. Another goal: that the gallery nd we hoped that the gallery would at least be viewed by the 75 people who participate regularly at the senior center.

To the organizers' "delight and amazement," more than 60 veterans participated in the gallery by submitting their photos and bios, 30 attended the Veteran's Day breakfast, and the exhibition was viewed and experienced by 45 school children, and over 160 seniors and community members, for a total of well over 250 participants. The fact that we were able to shatter all expectations and reach record engagement numbers was an incredible validation of the community's interest and desire to connect with our seniors and veterans.  

Through the senior center newsletter, Facebook, and direct invitations to identified veterans, the senior center solicited photos of residents/former residents and family members who served in the armed forces. Photographs were mounted and put on display on the first floor of the senior center, along with a bio containing information about each person's service.  A grand opening of the gallery included a breakfast for local veterans and a presentation by The Museum of Old Newbury in Newburyport, Massachusetts about a local WWII veteran. The gallery was open throughout the month of November and concluded with a hot cocoa event in conjunction with the Town's Annual Memory Tree lighting.  The local third grade classes visited the gallery on a walking field trip, when two veterans talked with them about their service and staff spoke with the students about the senior center, who it serves, and why it's important.  To enhance engagement with the photos, the center also created a scavenger hunt for children who visited.  A virtual event was created and published on Facebook for those who could not attend the event.

This program was a new and different way to reach not only seniors, but to provide the community a way to honor its men and women who served our country.  It provided a unique opportunity for the community to better understand the Council on Aging/Senior Center, and to embrace the service of their Veterans. It was both a personal recognition of the individual veterans and also a wider recognition of the contributions of the people of Essex, enhancing community pride and celebration. It served as an educational opportunity, a community builder, an awareness campaign, and an intergenerational relationship builder. It was also innovative by utilizing our best community resource, our Seniors, as the central focus and providing a platform for them to be center stage. Rather than creating programs for them, this program was them, showcasing our aged population in a way that is both celebratory and ultimately deeply respectful.  

People looking at framed photos

Key takeaways from Veterans' Gallery:

  • The fact that the senior center was able to shatter all expectations and reach record engagement numbers was an incredible validation of the community's interest and desire to connect with seniors and veterans.  
  • The photo gallery provided a unique opportunity for the community to better understand the council on aging/senior center, and to embrace the service of their veterans.
  • The gallery featured approximately 60 photos of veterans with service dates from the Civil War through current day
  • The senior center created new linkages with local schools by having school children visit the exhibit, something the center hopes to expand and continue to cultivate in future years.

About the Essex Council on Aging

The mission of the Essex Council on Aging is to enhance and promote the quality of life for adults 60 and older in the community of Essex. The council achieves this mission by:

  • Providing an inclusive environment where all individuals can socialize, build relationships, and receive information.
  • Collaborating with community partners to identify unmet needs.
  • Developing programs and services that promote well-being and maintain independence.
  • Educating the community on the needs of our seniors and their support networks.
  • Treating those we serve with respect and dignity, and involving their input and ideas in Essex Council on Aging activities and programs.
  • Promoting aging in place with the help and support of the local community.