Every day, across the country, thousands of professionals and volunteers successfully link people in need of assistance to the programs, services, and nonprofit organizations that can best deliver it.
These critical links, which are typically free to access and use, are accomplished through a powerful network of interconnected people and agencies, collectively known as the information and referral profession. I&R professionals assist people in many ways – from finding housing and aging-care services – to securing medical transportation and mental health support. Additionally, the guidance provided by I&R workers can greatly reduce the anxiety people feel when they are overwhelmed by such challenges, and don’t know where to turn.
Despite the importance of this work, from the perspective of the broader public, it happens almost entirely behind-the-scenes – invisible to virtually everyone – until that day when a specific need arises in one’s own family. Partly because of this, Nov. 16 was dedicated as National Information and Referral Day – a day for communities and individuals to recognize and appreciate the work done through these powerful collaborations.
Beginning in 2011, when it was officially sanctioned by the U.S. Senate, I&R Day has been a meaningful way to thank those who strive to better the lives of others, through their caring service. Celebrated on the eve of the holiday season, I&R Day has also served as a way to increase public awareness, and rally support to this critically important field.
Recent statistics make clear how much these services are in demand:
• More than 40 million annual visits to I&R websites and resource databases;
• More than 28 million annual phone calls answered by I&R specialists; and
• A 300% increase, each year, in number of texts and emails received
The research further indicates that – on this issue – what is true for the nation as a whole is true for the Greater Cincinnati region, and true for our local Jewish community, as well. In fact, the 2008 Jewish Community Study found that among Jewish households with older adults, one in five were “just managing” financially” or “could not make ends meet.” The evidence also suggested that the needs of older adults were frequently so complex and multi-faceted that finding the right support presented significant challenges for all affected.
In response to these burgeoning trends, AgeWell Cincinnati was established in 2017. It is led by Jewish Family Service, in partnership with Cedar Village, JVS Career Services, and the Mayerson JCC. Funding is provided by The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
AgeWell Cincinnati is the first community-wide program to give community members – older adults, their family members, and caregivers – one touchpoint for information and referrals. AgeWell Cincinnati connects people to the programs and services they need through a single phone call or electronic message.
Since its launch, AgeWell Cincinnati has answered hundreds of calls from people looking for advice, relief, or help. When calls are received, the AgeWell Cincinnati team quickly determines appropriate next-steps, and then coordinates a “warm handoff” to the organization best suited to the caller’s specific needs. AgeWell Cincinnati doesn’t stop there; they provide regular follow-ups until a situation is fully resolved.
Whether an older adult lives out of town, or the family members or caregivers do, the professionals at AgeWell Cincinnati can connect them to the right resources. The program also claims a full-time, dedicated social worker, Katie Moore, who is very hands-on in her roll. Recently, when an elderly woman broke her hand and needed extra assistance in her home, Moore offered her expertise and compassion to help ease the minds of both the woman and her daughter.
“Her daughter was in town to assist in making arrangements,” Moore explains. “I met with them both to discuss options and assisted them in determining which program was the best fit for her. I also discussed things like durable power of attorney and a living will and sent the needed documents to them to complete.”
Ann Sutton Burke, director of Aging and Caregiver Services for Jewish Family Service, says, “More and more, older adults want to stay in their homes as long as possible. While that is a great way to maintain an active and healthy life, it can present some logistical challenges, so it’s no surprise many of our callers are looking for help in those areas.”
AgeWell Cincinnati Director June Ridgway says Baby Boomers are the largest group in the community,
“Many are still very active and are looking for ways to maintain their health and implement methods for aging in place in the coming years,” Ridgeway says. “And because people are living well into their 80s and even 90s, many Baby Boomers have parents who are still living and who require complex care. It is a lot to manage, so they’re calling us for support.”
Evidence to the quality care AgeWell Cincinnati provides was garnered in 2018, when the Ohio Association of Nonprofits Organizations (OANO) named the organization one of the top three nonprofits in the state.
Although National Information and Referral Day is a single day on the calendar, it is reassuring to know that I&R organizations, such as AgeWell Cincinnati, are always there – ready and able to help in times of need.