Senior Connections

Seniors 2The Senior Connections meeting was held at the Abrahams Branch Library on Tuesday April 15th from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.  The meeting’s purpose was “Seniors in the Omaha community do not always receive the services they need.  Many are not aware of programs designed for them which affect their quality of life.  In this project we will bring senior service providers together to define the problem which keeps seniors from being aware of and utilizing all available services.”  The goal was to “Convene a meeting of senior service providers to identify and uncover problems which impede appropriate services.”

With three facilitators, Nancy Chmiel, Micki Dietrich, and Suzan Jank, two were able to greet participants at the door and direct them to the registration table.  The third person was free to talk to the arriving attendees.  She also encouraged them to complete the community engagement surveys in the meeting room.  This was essential to helping our participants feel welcome.  It also made us feel more confident and less harried.

To frame the meeting before even starting, we posted a question on the board, “What would Omaha look like if Senior Services were 100% successful?”  We used this same question later in the meeting to brainstorm possible services or areas for improvement for future group work.

Most participants arrived on time.  Four arrived late and missed some of the introductions.  One person missed our expectations discussion which proved to be a factor for our results moving forward at the end of the meeting.

We followed our agenda and paced the activities according to our plan.  Introductions were made.   Our ice breaker question, “What does it mean to be old?” set the tone for the next two hours.  All the answers were remarkably positive, upbeat, and turned out to be the real gem of our meeting. The responses included “To have the privilege of living an experienced and seasoned journey through life”; “Old is to be wiser, uninhibited, grounded, happy to be here enjoying fulfilling adventures with family and friends”; and “Aging is a state of mind comprised of wisdom and a desire to be independent”.  We felt that these answers really showed our participants’ commitment to serve their clients.  It also highlighted their organizations’ hope and desire to change the future for the better.  Because all the answers were so great, we posted them on the whiteboard as a reminder of the participants’ commitment to those they serve.

Micki presented some statistics compiled by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research about the increasing number of seniors who will need services in the next  ten, twenty, and thirty years.  This growing number will require more services and facilities.  This information framed the rest of our conversation addressing those future needs.

The twenty four participants were broken into groups of three or four.  We asked this aspiration question, “In a perfect world, with no constraints, what would successful senior services look like in Omaha?”  The group brainstormed many thoughtful and innovative ways to address seniors’ needs and to make Omaha a better place.  Their responses included creating a senior navigator program; finding ways to strengthen intergenerational relationships; and doing an ongoing needs assessment so service providers can provide new services as needed.

When we brought the groups back together, we asked them what challenges were keeping us from achieving these aspirations.  We purposely chose to limit the time.  We flip charted all the answers on only one sheet to minimize the negatives.

We then had the participants form small groups of different organizations.  We also asked that people from the same organization not be together for diversity reasons.  We then asked them to Seniors 3fantasize about creating a collaborative effort to address one of the ideas on the sheet.  Although there wouldn’t be actual commitment to the project, we asked them to find a way for their organizations to work together to solve the challenge.

All but one group chose to work on the challenge for creating an unbiased Senior Service Navigation system.  The centralized system would be available to people by phone or in some type of public building.  This need for available information for seniors and their needs was the challenge of most concern to the group.

In our “Next Steps” process we tried to sum up what happened in the meeting and determine whether there was any excitement to take on one of the proposed projects.  Here are our results –

  • One participant wants her organization to take a role in continuing further discussions regarding senior navigators.
  • Another, who arrived late and missed our shared meeting discussion expectations, expressed frustration with meetings like ours that led to no action.  This participant sees a need for a fully funded position which could be the point person for senior service providers moving forward.  There is so much work and coordination that doing it piecemeal with people who have other full time jobs is asking too much.
  • One participant felt encouraged in continuing his work due to the positivity of participants.  He was encouraging, appreciated the meeting, and thought it was productive and useful to come together to share ideas and dreams.
  • One agency publishes a comprehensive booklet of senior service providers in the Omaha metropolitan area every two years.  This resource is available as a print copy for a fee but is accessible online for free at

We allowed ourselves an hour and a half to set up and an hour and a half to clean up and debrief.  We thought that the meeting went well.  Having three partners allowed us more flexibility and coverage for the group meeting.

FIT TEAM Members

What did we learn?

  • A three person team is stronger and has more creativity and ability to deal with different project facets.
  • Three people are great for the actual meeting time and space – one greeter, one registration person, and one to help with surveys.
  • Our strengths and weaknesses complimented each other well.
  • Pilot Project 2 was more work – the extra person was needed to get the work done.
  • Not all attendees read their email, including expectations, which affected the meeting.
  • Expectations are important to go over –over and over again.
  • Have a plan to incorporate latecomers – mostly around expectations set during the meeting.
  • There are already some robust, established groups centered on senior topics – Omaha Public Library needs to be a part of them.  The groups have a history – some of it very political and divisive.
  • These projects feel forced and a bit inauthentic – mainly because we chose topics/named perceived problems first – rather than creating the relationships.  There is a huge learning curve related to delving into a topic that the library (or us personally) are not familiar with.  A better way to go may be to begin new relationships, then utilize topics that are imbedded within those relationships.
  • Everybody wants SENIOR NAVIGATORS – but we don’t know how we are going to get there.
  • Other states have a program called The Aging and Disability Resource Center.  Although Nebraska has the program, it is underfunded and being rolled into the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, State Unit on Aging.
  • Pace ourselves better – it is really hard to keep up the energy for all the post-meeting things that need to be done and are valuable.
  • Most people working in this arena do not have time to “lead the charge”. They would love a PAID point person to help coordinate, develop, and provide direction.

Did you get the outcomes you anticipated?

  • We thought we would leave with some project or a defined area of improvement to move forward with.  We did not quite get there.  We also anticipated that communication among providers and between providers and seniors were going to be the most pressing issue.

  If not, why? 

  • A latecomer derailed our “What’s Next” conversation by powerfully voicing group frustration (lots of these people get together regularly for various meetings) about gathering and leaving similar meeting without action plans.  We did not plan for a way to catch her up to speed when she arrived which meant she had not been part of our “expectations” conversations and agreements.
  • Our final activity about solutions did not push our groups far enough in being creative, thinking outside of the box, and/or owning a piece of making something that works.  They ended up coming up with solutions they would USE but not be contributors to make them WORK.

What would you do different next time?

  • Decide ahead of time whether to allow known latecomers to attend or no.
  • Plan for bringing latecomers (anticipated or not) up to speed.
  • Be courageous and challenge the group – trust the process.

Posted by Nancy Chmiel, Micki Dietrich, and Suzan Jank

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