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Spotlight on Innovations and Achievement: Arlington Agency on Aging

Read about how a AAA addressed decreasing participation at congregate nutrition sites through focus groups, vendor management and, ultimately, rebranding the program.

We're proud to highlight the award-winning work of the 2019 winners of n4a's Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards in this weekly spotlight feature. This week, we are focusing on Arlington Agency on Aging's Name Changer program. The agency was a 2019 Aging Achievement Award winner in the Nutrition category.
 
To combat a decrease in participation at congregate nutrition sites when participation in senior center programming was not declining, Arlington Agency on Aging scheduled a series of listening sessions to help identify the reason for this shift. Agency staff heard concerns about the quality and variety of food offerings and learned that senior center participants thought the congregate meal program was only for older adults and that the name “Congregate Meal Program” sounded too institutional. When the agency chose a new food vendor to improve quality and selection, it also rebranded the program with the name chosen by participants, Social 60+ Cafés.
 
In addition to the new name, a change in the food vendor and improved meal offerings led to increased participation in the congregate nutrition sites. Arlington Agency on Aging has seen new faces attend the Social 60+ Cafés and a greater number of older adults engaging in the program at a much younger age. The association of congregate nutrition sites only being for “old people” has been greatly diminished, and participants are creating new relationships and developing friendships across generations, races and backgrounds.
 
Participants like the opportunity to remain engaged and connected in their community, and many share that attending Social 60+ Cafés is the highlight of their day. Participants see the Social 60+ Cafés as not just a meal, but a place to visit with friends, attend activities or participate in exercises that improve wellness, giving them a sense of fulfillment.
 
For other AAAs considering rebranding their congregate nutrition program, or any other AAA program, Arlington Agency on Aging suggests starting with engaging your participants, as well as those who are not participating. Listening sessions to get to the core issues and then follow up are essential to success. Allowing participants to vote on the final name selection encourages ownership of the program among participants.
 
To learn more about Arlington Agency on Aging's Name Changer program, contact Rachel Coates, Program Director, at rcoates@arlingtonva.us.
 
For more information about the 2019 winners, read our press release and check out our book of winners to learn how your agency can implement this or similar programs in your community! You can also listen to our four-part webinar series, n4a Lunchtime Innovations, to hear your peers' secrets to success for these award-winning programs. Also keep your eye out for our February opening of the submissions process for the 2020 AIA Awards.

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