The Council on Aging (COA) of Middle Tennessee — known for its collaborative work on older adult issues including transportation, scam and elder abuse prevention, caregiver support and advocacy — presented Vickie Harris with the 2019 Elizabeth Jacobs Distinguished Service Award at its 34th Annual Meeting on Feb. 5 at The Temple in Belle Meade.
Harris has been an active COA volunteer since 2007 and board member since 2014, serving as secretary and board president in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Her visionary leadership steered the board through a critical time of strategic planning to choose priority focus areas. Harris also helped strengthen COA's board governance, staff infrastructure and community outreach.
Harris’ personal mission statement is "to create new opportunities for improving the quality of living of older adults across the state of Tennessee," a mission she lives both personally and professionally. She is a known activist and innovative thought leader for improving community systems of care and services for older adults.
“Tennessee ranks 44th in providing support services for older adults. This means that individuals are falling through the cracks,” she said. “I acknowledge the vision of Elizabeth Jacobs, and I am humbled, to say the least, to be among those that are honored with this award. While we do great things individually for older adults, we can do greater things together.”
The award, named for COA’s founder, Elizabeth Jacobs, a well-known and respected community volunteer, was established to recognize a volunteer or collective group of volunteers who have given selflessly of their time, talents, resources and abilities in furthering the mission of COA.
In addition to the award, the organization celebrated volunteers, reflected on 2019 accomplishments and discussed what’s on tap for 2020.
“As more of us live longer, we have an exciting opportunity to rethink the future of our communities,” said Grace Smith, COA’s executive director. “As we begin a new year, we renew our commitment to creating a community where the wisdom, knowledge, skills and experience of older adults and caregivers are respected and valued, and where helpful resources, support and information are readily available and easily accessible.”
In 2020, COA plans to continue empowering and supporting Middle Tennessee’s growing older adult and caregiving populations by launching an employer focused caregiver initiative to provide education and support for employees caring for aging relatives. Other priorities include focusing on livable communities and starting an intergenerational home sharing program, continuing to prevent elder abuse and scams and building organizational sustainability.
At the end of the meeting, Smith challenged attendees to use we/us language when talking about growing older and ways we can make our communities more age friendly.