It is difficult to understand the important history of AgeWell Cincinnati without first understanding how the Cincinnati Jewish community determined that severe gaps in the services available to older adults were preventing them from aging gracefully, with dignity and respect. It is also difficult to grasp this history without recognizing that—as a coalition of Jewish community organizations—AgeWell Cincinnati is, in essence, an extension of the community itself.
Director of AgeWell Cincinnati June Ridgway believes the program’s rich integration with the community is what makes it unique—but also more challenging to define. “AgeWell Cincinnati is of the community, by the community, and for the community,” Ridgway said. “And because we so seamlessly engage with our wonderful providers, people sometimes struggle to see it for the simple, easy-to-use, older adult service program it is. So I often just say: ‘If you or a loved one is looking for a single, central solution that links older adults to amazing community resources, please give us a call.’ Then, if they have a little more time, I dive into the details and history.”
Ridgway proceeded to explain how, thirteen years ago, the 2008 Jewish Community Study revealed that important needs were not being met by the community. Among the revelations—older adults and their caregivers were consistently struggling to find the support and services they needed. In response, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati (JFC) decided to convene what was called the “Jewish Senior Services Coalition.”
“When these two organizations brought together representatives from across the community,” Ridgway said, “including the Mayerson JCC, JVS Career Services, Cedar Village, and Jewish Family Service—as well as key board members, staff members, and community leaders—it paved the way for some really valuable conversations to start happening.” Mayerson JCC CEO Marc Fisher took part in those conversations, and he recently shared some recollections. “As a group, we needed to find ways to work more cohesively in how we served our seniors,” Fisher said. “Where were the areas where we had gaps in services? How could we be forward-thinking, not institution by institution, but as a community that has organizations serving older adults in a variety of different ways?”
By 2014, the Jewish Senior Services Coalition determined that what older adults needed most was an “Information and Referral Access Point,” which they temporarily referred to as “IRAP.” At this time, it was also decided that Jewish Family Service would execute and oversee IRAP, which eventually was renamed, “AgeWell Cincinnati.”
Beth Guttman, who was then president of The Jewish Foundation, expressed the vision of the coalition as an effort to reduce confusion. “Just knowing where to start can be daunting,” she said. “AgeWell Cincinnati provides a way to connect older adults, their families, and caregivers to the wealth of services offered by our coalition’s providers. It was created to be that first call—to take the guesswork out of knowing where to turn.” Fisher agreed. “AgeWell Cincinnati was developed to be like your ‘one front door’ to any number of services,” he said. “Essentially, it is the branding of our coalition’s array of older adult services.”
On October 11, 2017, AgeWell Cincinnati was officially launched. And although community-wide awareness would naturally take time, recognition came quickly; in 2018, AgeWell Cincinnati was named one of the top three nonprofit programs in the state by the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations (OANO). In 2019, the program benefited from the addition of a full-time social worker. Overall, AgeWell Cincinnati has fielded thousands of calls—resulting in more than 1,500 cases being created. Clients seem to approve; AgeWell Cincinnati has a Net Promoter Score of 9 (out of 10), which indicates how likely one would be to recommend the program to friends, family members, or colleagues.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Ridgway said things changed rapidly as the team was required to work remotely—handling calls and requests from home offices—while attempting to configure new ways to help the community. “There were some technical challenges, but we really didn’t miss a beat,” Ridgway insisted. “Using our Salesforce platform, we were able to develop the Community COVID-19 Hotline. After roughly 17 months of operation, the Hotline has resulted in nearly 500 unique cases, and what’s more, it is robust enough to handle any future crisis situations that may impact Jewish Cincinnati.”
“In our Cincinnati 2030 planning survey, 68 percent of the respondents said that aging and caregiving are crucial health and social service concerns facing Jewish Cincinnati. We know that AgeWell Cincinnati will be central to addressing this important need.”
—Ariella Cohen, Cochair, Cincinnati 2030 Steering Committee
Looking ahead, efforts to understand the future needs of Cincinnati’s aging population are ongoing. The “Cincinnati 2030” Steering Committee of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati (JFC) is striving to anticipate community pain points. Cochair of the initiative, Ariella Cohen, noted that older adult services will remain a major need for the foreseeable future. “In our Cincinnati 2030 planning survey, 68 percent of the respondents said that aging and caregiving are crucial health and social service concerns facing Jewish Cincinnati. We know that AgeWell Cincinnati will be central to addressing this important need,” Cohen concluded.
Jewish Home of Cincinnati (JHC) steadily pursues its mission to support older adults in the Greater Cincinnati Jewish community by investing in innovative services and programs, and JHC Board Chair Patti Heldman says the work of Cincinnati 2030 and AgeWell Cincinnati is directly aligned with JHC’s efforts. “No organization can accomplish the task of providing service to our seniors—alone or in a silo,” she said. “Along with our partner organizations, JHC is building upon the legacy of our past thought leaders. The Cincinnati community is lucky; our predecessors had the foresight, passion, and commitment to positively impact the lives of Jewish seniors, and that is the commitment we collectively carry on to this day.”
One thing today’s community leaders seem to agree on is that the needs of our older adults are continuing to grow and change. Guttman explained how new societal and technological influences are disrupting the status quo. “Increased consumerism and more choices in the marketplace; changes in the way Medicare is administered to care facilities; older adults living longer than they planned for—these factors have all contributed to a new reality for Cincinnati senior care,” she said.
Fisher also believes there is a new and evolving reality. “As the baby boomers age, we’re not only seeing a growing population of seniors; what they actually need is changing,” he stressed. “Whether we’re dealing with computers or the internet or how Meals on Wheels will be impacted by DoorDash or even drones—those things will be dramatically impacting the needs and, subsequently, the services.”
When that impact is felt, AgeWell Cincinnati no doubt will rise to the challenge. It’s not just a goal, but a calling. “The Jewish value of taking care of our elders has been deeply rooted and ingrained in our community” said Heldman. Guttman voiced similar thoughts. “Honoring our parents is one of the Ten Commandments,” she said. “Older adults in our community are living longer, are staying longer in their homes, and some are outliving their financial means. It is our responsibility to help connect them to the quality resources they need.”