Leading the Way: Insights and Takeaways from the Vision Centre Symposium on Senior Living Leadership
I boarded a plane to Chicago earlier this month.
“Work or pleasure?” my family asked as they dropped me off at the airport.
I shared the truth. It was a little of both.
Something exciting happens when you enjoy your work and the clients you partner with. Your work becomes a pleasure, and you grow personally invested in advancing your clients’ communication initiatives.
Currently, all my clients are in the senior living vertical, and my work in tandem with them often includes person-focused stories about residents, staff, multigenerational partnerships and innovative solutions to care. In my prior roles in the nonprofit and higher education sectors, I often had an opportunity to do similar work, and I found myself easily integrated into the world of aging services.
However, my work with Vision Centre: Leadership Development for Aging Services brought a fresh perspective with its dedication to advancing the field of senior living leadership. Throughout the past year, I have diligently utilized my background to weave together the organization’s messages and underscore the significance of progressing this field, not just for the industry itself but for our broader society as well.
When I made arrangements for my hotel and flight to Chicago, I focused my intentions on capturing photographs, crafting engaging social media content, discovering new media angles and taking meticulous notes. I anticipated that the 5th Annual Vision Centre Symposium would center on topics of great relevance to senior living leaders, academic faculty and association executives. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the subject matters resonated with me on a personal level.
The Symposium focused on bridging the gap between senior living and academics, including Vision Centre’s ambitious goal of growing 25 robust senior living leadership programs at colleges and universities across the country, and 1,000 paid field internships.
The event commenced with a stirring and intimate address from Steve Chies, Program Director of Long-Term Care Administration at St. Joseph’s College (Maine), and Sean Kelly, CEO of Front Porch. Themes such as “we’re all growing older” and “we all have parents and grandparents” began to elevate and struck a chord with me. It reminded me that the world of senior living and senior living leadership wasn’t as distant from my own life or the lives of people beyond the industry.
Another resounding theme echoed in the opening remarks, emphasizing that real change and progress in developing academic programs for senior living leadership will only happen if we harmoniously “sing together” to champion this cause in the public eye. This theme, and the idea of instituting real societal change, evoked memories of the meaningful initiatives I participated in while working in the nonprofit space. Mobilizing people to work together towards a shared objective with nationwide implications is no small feat and demands unwavering drive, persistence and effective communication. Just as in my previous experiences, this effort will need tools including advocacy, media relations and social media to carve a path forward.
As the Symposium progressed, I found myself leaning in and genuinely learning from each panel. Here are a few of my key takeaways:
1. Industry drives demand: Like many people, I assumed that academic programs started based on students’ demand or the available expertise of faculty at a college or university. In a panel discussion, “The Need and Strength of Coordinated Partnerships,” facilitated by Steve Nash, President and CEO of the Stoddard Baptist Home Foundation, industry experts, including Tana Gall, President of Merrill Gardens, shared that sometimes it’s the exact opposite. In Tana’s example, four major senior living operators approached the hospitality school at Washington State University with the idea of starting a senior living management track. These industry leaders raised their hands to help develop the curriculum, teach classes, and provide meaningful field experiences. The industry demand and commitment were so compelling that in 2020 the new academic program officially began under the guidance of Nancy Swanger, Founding Director of the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living at Washington State University. It was a concrete example of how collaboration across systems can lead to tangible change.
2. Gen Z is coming: Even at AKCG, we are starting to experience the first wave of Gen Z coming into the workforce. In the field of communications, it feels relatively easy to adapt to the preferences of this group as hybrid work schedules and integrating advancing technology are part of the gig. But for senior living, the shift in workplace preferences may take more work. Students and early career goers shared their fondness for increased social media presence and incorporation of new technologies. Students also shared that they wish they had an opportunity to learn about a career in senior living leadership while still in high school. As a media relations professional, this helped me see the communication gap between senior living, higher ed and the general public. It encouraged additional creative thinking about how to utilize the tools in my toolbox to bridge the gap.
3. Leadership diversity is essential in every field: Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives pepper throughout most organizations. But, as many trending news stories have highlighted, the enthusiasm that sparked in 2020 for it has died down a bit. This session reminded me, and everyone else in the room, that diversity in leadership, senior living and beyond is still critically needed and should be intentionally cultivated. Now is not the time to slow down.
Thankful for the chance to meet my clients in person, which is a rarity in today’s world of Zoom and emails, I felt a sense of hope and inspiration as I journeyed back to Philadelphia. Fresh perspectives and exciting ideas welled up within me, eager to be put into action. Since attending the Symposium, opportunities have already unfolded before Vision Centre. For example, we successfully collaborated with Bowling Green Daily to share the story about the need for leaders in senior living. Doug Olson, CEO and President of Vision Centre, and Riley Tagatz, a student at Western Kentucky University, passionately discussed with Bowling Green Daily the key themes that emerged during the Symposium. Looking ahead, AKCG is excited to continue spreading Vision Centre’s message through various media and social outlets.