Key Takeaways

  • This year's Trailblazers in Aging Award winners are being honored for their amazing work to support older adults.

  • The four individuals and one organization are being honored at the Age+Action 2023 Conference.

  • NCOA President and CEO Ramsey Alwin calls the awardees "a fantastic representation of the dedication and resiliency found throughout the aging network."


Simona Combi
Public Relations Manager

June 12, 2023, Arlington, VA—The National Council on Aging (NCOA), the national voice for every person’s right to age well, is celebrating the outstanding contributions of four individuals and one organization working to ensure that every American can age with dignity. The five honorees will receive Trailblazers in Aging Awards at NCOA’s Age+Action Conference, June 12-13 in Arlington, Virginia, and June 20-21 online.

“This year’s Trailblazers are a fantastic representation of the dedication and resiliency found throughout the aging network,” said Ramsey Alwin, NCOA President and CEO. “They saw the pandemic as an opportunity to innovate and find new and better ways to meet the needs of all older adults, regardless of background.”

Below are the 2023 NCOA Trailblazers in Aging honorees by category.

Innovator Award

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

Lisa Knoll, Chief Executive Officer, Aging Ahead 

Knoll leads the largest aging agency in Missouri. Recognizing the challenge of attracting people to traditional senior centers, she launched the Choice program in 2014, which is now identified as a community focal point by the Administration for Community Living. During the pandemic, Knoll spurred innovation again with Cumulus, a groundbreaking digital platform that enables organizations to coordinate services and improve outcomes for older adults. 

“During a time of significant challenge, it has been a privilege to be a part of critical, wide-ranging regional and statewide partnership initiatives that have made a passion for progress and innovation contagious within our agency and collective network,” Knoll said.

Change Agent Award

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

George Fernandez, President and CEO, Color & Culture

Fernandez says his goal is to help people who look like him and speak his language elevate their quality of life. During the pandemic, he developed a mobile response initiative to reach older adults disproportionately impacted by the virus. The effort broke down cultural and language barriers to provide thousands of COVID tests, vaccines, and flu shots—plus bilingual education and essential health resources. 

“My unrelenting goal is to help people who look like me, and speak my language, and to help give them every opportunity to access resources and education that elevate their quality of life,” Fernandez said. 

NISC Founders Award

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

Sheila Salyer, Director, Tallahassee Senior Center and Foundation

Over 27 years, Salyer has built an organization where everyone is welcome. By significantly growing her foundation’s resources, it has been able to provide innovative programming, including UPSLIDE, an award-winning initiative that offers older adults mental health support and relief from isolation. Salyer was instrumental in defining senior centers in Florida statutes and has served in multiple leadership roles for NCOA’s National Institute of Senior Centers.

“By faith and a great support system of colleagues and friends around the country, I’m pleased to accept this prestigious honor and represent the good work being done at the Tallahassee Senior Center and at senior centers throughout Florida and the nation,” Salyer said.

Champion Award

Recognizes members of Congress or the Administration for their leadership in protecting and improving public policy and programs for older adults.

Edwin Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging, U.S. Administration for Community Living

For over 30 years, Walker has served as the chief career official for the federal agency responsible for advocating on behalf of older Americans. He has championed evidence-based health programs that empower older adults to avoid or delay chronic disease. And his work guiding and promoting the development of home and community-based services has meant that millions of older adults are able to age with dignity.

“Aging—it was not my plan, but it has become my passion—and I am honored to work in partnership with the incredibly dedicated individuals of the national aging services network on behalf of older Americans and am truly humbled to receive the 2023 Champion Award,” Walker said.

Public-Private Partnership Award

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

Walmart Foundation

For nearly a decade, the Walmart Foundation has partnered with NCOA to increase older adult enrollment in food benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. With their support, NCOA has regranted $9 million to community agencies that have helped a quarter million older adults apply for the program. The foundation has helped advance the collective knowledge about successful ways to encourage diverse older adults to access this critical nutrition assistance.

“In support of our efforts to ensure healthier food for all, the Walmart Foundation uses philanthropy to improve food access by strengthening the federal nutrition safety net and investing in community food systems, particularly in rural and vulnerable communities. Over the past several years, we have been proud to support NCOA’s innovative work to connect more older adults with the resources they need to access healthy food,” said Eileen Hyde, Senior Director,

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.